Posted tagged ‘probability’

Episode 5: Ted gets himself in a blur (the uncertainty principle)

April 28, 2010


Episodes 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

I was surprised and happy this week to get a twitter mention from proper science  journalist Alok Jha, saying he was enjoying following Ted’s adventures. But it’s just as important to me that non-sciencey types enjoy and hopefully understand what I’m getting at. Thanks especially to Joe Adams and Ian Box for messages of support… much appreciated!

So far Ted’s exploits have touched upon

Probability- the idea that individual events are unpredictable, but taking enough events into account, trends are very predictable if you know the probabilities. So light bouncing off or passing through glass is unpredictable at the single particle level, but with a lot of light it’s very predictable.

“Quantisation” of light: i.e. light comes in lumps which can’t be broken down into any smaller constituent parts.

Superposition of states: it’s impossible to find out about quantum objects without affecting the result. Until you do some test, quantum objects seem to be in two states at the same time.

Quantum nonsense: just because there are strange ideas at the quantum level, doesn’t mean you can extrapolate into other areas of philosophy!

Ted’s story continues after meeting his bearded friend Mike in a pub, having had a frustrating conversation with someone who believed that quantum mechanics explains (it doesn’t) how homeopathy works (it doesn’t).


“How do you explain to someone that their worldview is wrong without sounding like a git?” Ted asked his friend after the homeopathy fan had left.

“Dunno, why does it matter?”

“Because we spend so much time and effort as a species to understand…

“Hang on.”

Mike left Ted steaming in his own frustration while he went to the bar, before returning with two pints and two shot glasses.

“Hang on.”

He returned from his second trip with two slices of lemon and a salt shaker. An unknown number of tequila chasers later Ted found himself standing with some difficulty in another bar, or maybe nightclub… (more…)

The Quantum Disco, Episode 1

March 30, 2010


Last week, in a comment on this blog, Marty Walpole challenged me to explain what quantum physics is in layman’s terms. Well I’m not one to let a challenge like that pass, so here goes… It’s going to take several posts…

Ted is a young quantum physicist, but he’s also single and determined to do something about it. He’s heard that there’s a good place to meet girls in the city, so he cranks up some Stevie Wonder on the stereo to get himself in a funked up party mood, and gets ready to head out.

As he sits on the subway, foot tapping to the beats of Superstition still in his head, Ted catches his reflection in the window. It’s dark in the tunnel, so it works pretty well as a mirror, reflecting the light from inside the carriage. Sometimes, Ted might think about the physics behind that, why some light passes through the window but some is reflected, but he’s preoccupied with more Darwinian thoughts for now so just checks himself out one last time before his stop. (more…)


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