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    Physics Schmysics!

    Okay, I’m only going to say this one time (though I may repeat myself and/or be redundant):


    And even then, what it “says” is often hotly debated.

    Quantum Physics provides no insight into:

    • human psychology
    • religious philosophy
    • new age theory
    • getting what you want
    • Bea Arthur

    Remember, that Quantum Physics was developed when the physical laws that we see every day, right in front of our non-Quantum faces, weren’t working when examining of sub-atomic “particles” (while particles is not the most accurate word, let me assure you that VIBRATIONS is completely not accurate).


    If you are not a physicist and you’re talking about any of those topics, or anything else that IS NOT QUANTUM PHYSICS, please remember and remind your listener that you are using your ideas about Quantum Physics AS A METAPHOR.

    For example: QP does NOT say that “we are all connected.”

    If you want to be a bit more accurate, try this: In Quantum Physics, there is a highly unusual experiment that shows, again under highly unusual experimental conditions, the likes of which which we’ve never seen in nature and can barely sustain using millions of dollars of precisely tuned scientific equipment, that certain particles, which we create using even more expensive and complicated scientific instruments and which we don’t see isolated in nature, exhibit peculiar and currently inexplicable (so inexplicable that when/if we *do* find an explanation, it may undermine the theories of Quantum Physics) connections over an infinite amount of time and space (though we’ve only actually tested this phenomenon over finite amounts of time and space)… poetically speaking, if those infinitesimally small particles exhibit that kind of connection, don’t you love the vague and not-inherently-logical leap to suggest that we do, too!?

    Similarly, our observing something does NOT change the composition of the thing.

    Most people pull this one out of their hats by saying, an electron is either a particle or a wave, depending on how you look at it.

    Excuse me while I apply standard physics to map the trajectory of my projectile vomiting.

    An electron is not a particle OR a wave… when examined in a particular way, we see particle-characteristics. Examined another way, we see wave characteristics. This, in an of itself, is pretty wacky. And, perhaps, we’ll find another way to examine electrons and see it exhibiting yet another type of “behavior” (or “behaviour” if it’s observed in the UK). Frankly, we have no frickin’ clue what an electron “is” or even if “is” is the right word (proving that Bill Clinton was also inappropriately bringing in Quantum Theory when discussing a sexual relationship whose pushing and shoving was, clearly, Newtonian).

    Also, that, mathematically, a sub-atomic particle COULD BE SAID TO exist everywhere in the universe, that does not mean “we are all one.”

    The probability that any SINGLE particle is anywhere other than exactly where it is (and don’t get me started on how we can’t really know where that is), is so close to ZERO that it may as well be ZERO. And that’s for a SINGLE PARTICLE (I was hoping that the initial capitalization would make that point, but again, as I said before, I may be redundant). Add together enough particles to make, say, a basketball, or a Lexus, or JUST TWO PARTICLES… and, trust me, whatever you’re looking at, sitting on, driving, wearing or eating will not suddenly disappear only to be found on the other side of the galaxy.

    Oh, and for those who say that our observation creates the universe we experience, let me just ask two stupid questions:

    1) And so, after we all die, the universe will cease as well? (let me answer: Uh, yeah, right)

    2) Well who is aware of, and therefore created, the observer?

    Anyway, let’s continue…


    If you are not a physicist and you’re talking about any of those topics, or anything else that IS NOT QUANTUM PHYSICS, please remember and remind your listener that you are using your ideas about Quantum Physics to demonstrate that your cranium might be mislocated somewhere in your anal orifice.

    I’ll let the physicists argue that they don’t have a case of rectocephaly, but let’s talk about physicists for a moment…

    Remember the guys in high school or college who majored in physics? (I know there were girls who did, too, but if you were a female physics major you will soon understand why I’m leaving you out of this example.)

    Think back for just a moment (or go back in time because, remember Quantum Physics can’t see why time only moves forward) to those physics guys… what names did you call them then?

    Nerds, geeks, dweebs… shall I continue? (And do I need to reiterate and repeat my point?)

    Do you honestly think that a PhD or Nobel Prize in physics magically confers superior insight into metaphysics and the human condition upon people who couldn’t get a date for the prom and were unable to dress without the help of GrrrAnimals?

    Now, clearly, I don’t believe that all physicists are unable to grasp emotions and philosophy and, instead, have to be home at 6 for Wopner. But, look, just because someone is smart, doesn’t mean they aren’t stupid!

    That is, we’re ALL prone to making silly leaps in logic, believing in magic, landing on AN answer without knowing it’s the WRONG answer, and confusing something that “feels true” with something that IS.

    Let’s turn this upside down for a second… when Einstein (who once said, “Even *I* am no Einstein”) came up with the theory of relativity, many physicists thought he was a bonehead and wrote him off with, “Yeah, right. Like an assistant patent clerk can solve a problem that has perplexed us real physicists for decades.”

    If they were so wrong about him, then why do we think they’re so right about how we “create reality” with our thinking?

    I can’t help but end this rant by paraphrasing the really cool, incredibly witty, quirky sketch artist, bongo player, safe cracker and Nobel Laureate in Physics, Richard Feynman, “Anyone who thinks they understand Quantum Physics doesn’t understand Quantum Physics.” And let me add, “And if they tell you ‘Quantum Physicists say…’ then they’ve clearly never been to a physics conference, where there are often more opinions than there are attendees.”

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get into my wormhole so I can go back in time fix the rift I made last time where I accidentally caused my grandparents to not meet in that coffee shop, resulting in the non-birth of my father and, therefore, me and… hey, if you’re reading this, I guess it worked!

    15 Responses to “Physics Schmysics!”

    1. Jonathan Cohen Says:


      Thank you for your blog. I enjoy reading it – and I found it from Cosmic Connie’s blog.

      But one thing…for some reason your text width is fixed and is too wide for my browser. When (for my failing eyes) I need to expand the text the width of the blog gets so wide I have to scroll back and forth.

      Am I the only one? :)

    2. Ann Says:

      These last several blogs all keep leading me back to the question:

      How do we tell the difference between what *feels* true and what *is?*


    3. sashen Says:

      Hi Ann,

      Where to begin?

      “Truth” is not a “feeling.”

      And there are many times where we look for the “truth” when that’s not the appropriate line of reasoning to begin with.

      What some refer to as “feeling true” is actually a “feeling of knowing” which, as is described in “On Being Certain,” is akin to the feelings we call anger, fear, joy, and sadness… that is, they are initiated outside of our awareness and control and can be stimulated electrically and chemically (in ways that non-primary emotions, such as gratitude or disdain, cannot).

      So, all that said, trying to ascertain the difference between something “feeling true” and “being true” is one of those endeavors that, because we can imagine a resolution, *seems* like a valid pursuit, but it’s actually a bit of a non-sequitur and is more like asking, “How can I tell the difference between something that SEEMS green and something that’s 4 pounds?”

      The more interesting and useful questions may be, “What process do I use to determine the validity of something?” “Is it possible to determine whether that process is accurate?” “What is the role of the ‘feeling’ I get in this process?” etc.

      Burton’s point in On Being Certain is that we cannot use the “feeling of knowing” to evaluate the accuracy of the feeling of knowing, because we get into a loop — we’re using an inaccurate measure to measure itself. That’s why he suggests that the notion of “rational thought” — where we use the feeling of knowing as the final arbiter — may be a complete farce.

    4. Ann Says:

      Thank you, Steven.

      That’s all pretty clear, at least as far as I can tell, knowing that my ideas about how to tell what’s clear and what isn’t aren’t necessarily valid.

      I guess that’s why we land at something like just doing what we do and being peaceful about it or not?

      I ask that way based on “Which way do you think you would you be more effective – peaceful or stressful?” And I always come up with “peaceful” since I’m not evaluating truly life-threatening situations.

      Love, Ann

    5. Ed Says:

      Actually, Steven, the universe *will* end when I die. At least as far as I’m concerned. I can’t speak for whether it will continue for the rest of you. But then, I doubt I’ll be in a position to care. 😉

    6. sashen Says:

      Oh, one more thing:

      Everything is NOT energy.

      In physics, there is great debate about what “everything” is… or whether there even IS an “everything”.

      E=mc2 means that matter can be converted to energy, there’s an equivalence, not that it IS energy. The equation also suggests that you could convert energy into matter.

      We’ve seen an example of the former — an atomic bomb — and look how much effort/energy it took to make that bit of matter convert to energy (not perfectly, either). I don’t think we’ve seen an example of anyone turning energy into matter, which further highlights that they’re not equal in the real world, just equivalent in a theoretical world.

      Oh, part 2 — everything is not VIBRATION either.

      This idea went through the roof when string theorists proposed — PROPOSED, as in “It’s mathematically possible, but we don’t have any example of this” — that the fundamental unit of “stuff” is a ONE-DIMENSIONAL “vibrating string.”

      Again, the idea that this means “things vibrate” is a METAPHOR. Something ONE DIMENSIONAL is not even remotely like anything that we can imagine which vibrates.

      That there are many things in the world that do vibrate at different frequencies does not mean that EVERYTHING vibrates.

      Oh, part 3 — you can order one of my “Quantum Physics – It’s not just for physicists anymore” t-shirt at 😉

    7. Nina Amir Says:

      I’m wondering if my innocent little remark a few blogs ago sparked your tirade. Doesn’t matter. Out of curiousity, how’d you get so knowledgeable about quantum physics?

    8. Nina Amir Says:

      Oh…and where’s the best place to get simple, current info for the layperson who wants to understand quantum physics. That might be useful info to hand out while you’re at it!

    9. sashen Says:

      Hey Nina,

      Nope, your remark was not the inspiration.

      To answer question #2… oh, geez, I’ve had a thing for physics ever since I became a ham radio operator when I was 12 (it used to freak out my parents when some 50+ year old guy would show up at our house so I could tutor him in electronics and antenna theory… though that wasn’t until I was 14 😉 )

      For your 3rd question about what books to recommend… hmmm… the most layperson-friendly books are by Briane Greene (The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos). He’s a bit string-theory happy, but is a great writer. Stephen Hawking’s books are good, too.

      The bibliography in any of those books will point you in some good directions.

    10. Elizabeth Says:

      QP does NOT explain Bea Arthur?! And you are only saying this NOW? Sheesh, Steven…

    11. sashen Says:

      It’s true, Elizabeth. Not only does QP not explain Bea Arthur, it’s COMPLETELY silent on Paris Hilton!

    12. Stever Robbins Says:

      Stephen, you wrote: “That there are many things in the world that do vibrate at different frequencies does not mean that EVERYTHING vibrates.”

      I seemed to recall from Freshman physics that the deBroglie wave equation showed that every particle had wavelength and frequency (though for particles as big as you and me, our wavelength is extraordinarily low). Everything vibrates, but not everything “is” vibration.

      You can see the MIT lecture on wave/particle duality at the below link on the MIT Open Courseware platform (requires RealPlayer from The professor uses a baseball as the example, implying that even macro objects do have wavelength. He also points out that the wavelength of a baseball is so small that it isn’t relevant.

    13. sashen Says:

      Great link, Stever

      And, you made the point perfectly: “every particle had wavelength and frequency”

      Part of the implication from those who say everything is vibration is also that everything is, fundamentally, particles… an arguable proposition. 😉

      But, more to the point, even if it were possible to measure the wavelength of a thing, say a BMW, the notion that some other macro thing, say someone in a New Age bookstore, could change themselves to match that wavelength, and that through resonance this would “attract” the car to them like a magnet is, oh, what’s the technical term? Nonsense.

    14. Mike Says:

      Hi Stephen,

      Well, any theory which does not explain Paris Hilton is certainly incomplete.

      The thing is that everything is what it is. People talk about a chair being mostly space so you ought to be able to put your hand through it if you believed strongly enough because … well, because it is mostly empty space. But while it is empty space on the atomic level, it is damn solid on the level we exist on. If we existed on the atomic level (were little people wandering in the spaces between electrons and nuclei, then yeah we could do that. But since we don’t, we have to be subject to the laws that operate on the same level that we do.

      The other thing that seems to baffle people (well one of the many other things) is that the scientific method is in the business of making educated guesses based on evidence, proposing tests, then conducting experiments, and repeating … gradually expanding what we know. The woo-woo crowd seems to take a layman’s interpertation of an often very complex mathematical description of the latest guess and take it as a sign from on high that indeed we are all transcendent beings, or vibrating, or empty space or …

      One of my latest favorites is the multi-verse. What seems to fall out of the equations describing our current guess about how things are is that the universe exists in as many as 11 dimensions. The thing is that “dimensions” are a mathematical construct and that idea has no meaning that anyone can figure outside of the equations. And the implication that follows that there are infinite universe in other dimensions is just more mathematical artifact. Even if it could be proven to be true and made any real sense to us, I’m not sure what practical effect it could have. I mean, American Airlines won’t be selling tickets to a parallel universe any time soon. (OTOH, maybe Virgin?)

      I think it is incumbent on us to become educated consumers of scientific theory and a good survey of the field using books written by REPUTABLE scientists is no doubt a good idea … just so we remember that we will always be getting a watered down interpertation. Unless a person decides to spend years coming up to speed on some pretty incredible math … before even starting to understand the physics … we will never understand what the theories really are.

      I think the take away message is that things are just what they seem to be, for all practical purposes. If you jump off the roof you will hit with a splat, no matter what the math says about things at the atomic or smaller level. Or, to put it in today’s vernacular: “What happens on the quantum level STAYS at the quantum level.”

    15. sashen Says:

      What I like to point out is that QP was developed when scientists saw results that they’d NEVER SEEN and that MAKE NO SENSE in the Newtonian world. Scale is everything.





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