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    Water is not water (and other things Quantum Physics DOES NOT say)

    Every January 1st, I join about 600 other “Polar Bears” (a.k.a. boneheads) and head to the Boulder Reservoir for our annual plunge (if you were wondering about the “a.k.a.” a moment ago, you probably understand it now).

    If you don’t know how this works, here’s the deal:

    The ice has been cut away from a section of the “rez” so you can jump into the 32-degree water. If you’re particularly brain damaged (me), you’ll swim around for a bit… until your bits retreat as far as possible and then go totally numb. Then you hobble your way out of the drink, and make your way to the nearby hot tubs, which are closer to warm and have more chlorine and human detritus in them than actual water molecules.

    The next few hours are a fascinating experience as your body screams, “What did you just do to me?!” — getting hot on the outside and cold on the inside, then cold on the outside and hot on the inside, then every other combination of temperatures you can imagine. Sort of like what happens when you microwave a bowl of frozen chili — boiling in one part and still frozen in another.

    Sometimes I’ll hit the steamroom as part of the post-polar process.

    Now, there’s a reason I’m telling you all this, and it has nothing to do with convincing you to join me on the 1st (though I will tell you that everyone I’ve ever talked into becoming a Bear has come back to do it again).

    My reason is to highlight that once a year you can experience the seemingly obvious phenomenon that ICE is not the same as cold WATER which is not the same as hot water which is not the same as STEAM.

    Oh, sure, they’re all H2O, but they are not the same. Confuse them on January 1st and you’ll be be a headline: “Par-boiled frozen dead bear found floating in tepid tub.”

    You can CONVERT ice to water to steam (and, of course, vice versa), because they are EQUIVALENT, but they are NOT the same. You wouldn’t make a margarita with steam, try to de-wrinkle your clothes with water, or lounge in a towel in a block of ice (and, what David Blaine did was a TRICK).

    “Duh, Steven, we know that H2O takes different forms. What’s your point?”

    Glad I-pretending-to-be-you asked.

    Because I’m on a personal crusade to find everyone who claims, “Quantum Physics says that everything is energy!” and throw a Newtonian pie in their non-Quantum face.

    QP does NOT say “everything is energy.”

    Einstein’s equation, E=mc2 (wordpress won’t let me make the 2 a superscript), means that energy and matter are equivalent, that you can convert one to another, NOT that they are the same.

    And while turning matter to energy makes a big boom, I’m not aware of anyone who has gone the other way. If they were equal, wouldn’t we be able to turn on our microwave and get popcorn without needing to put in a bag of Orville’s?

    A million one dollar bills equals a million dollar bill… but I wouldn’t want to hope the 7/11 can break a mil for a late-night Slurpee.

    Volcanoes spew out liquid earth, but I’m not investing in that lava-bottomed condo complex, thank you very much.

    Electricity can convert to magnetism (and, again, vice versa), but I’m not replacing the compact fluorescents with refrigerator magnet powered illumination.

    For whatever reason, I’ve reached my limit of people co-opting a misunderstanding of Quantum Physics as “proof” of some bit of New Age magical thinking.

    On that note, while we’re at it, Quantum Physics also does NOT say:

    • We’re all one
    • We’re all connected
    • The universe is conscious/aware
    • Everything came from nothing (a singularity is not “nothing”)
    • Thoughts are “energy” (and since “everything is energy, you can control the universe with your thoughts)
    • An atom is 99.9% empty space (so, of course, we should be able to walk through walls)

    And let me give a special shout out to, “The act of observing something CHANGES it.”


    Quantum Physics thieves use this one to suggest that if you change your perspective you are, literally, changing the outside world. This is like saying if you put on red tinted glasses, everything really does become red! Holy massive pigmentation change, Batman!

    What Quantum non-Physicists (and, amazingly some actual-physicists) use to support this idea is: Depending on how you observe an electron “it is either a particle or a wave.”

    ACTUALLY, it’s like this: When you set up an experiment to see wave-like qualities, an electron exhibits wave-like qualities. And, when you set up an experiment to see particle-like qualities, an electron exhibits particle-like qualities.

    If we could figure out an experiment to show the pizza-like qualities of an electron, no question that Dominos would be delivering pizzatrons in 30 nanoseconds or you get it free.

    We have no idea what an electron REALLY is.

    And, more, the idea that our observation CHANGES reality is suggesting that, somehow, we are separate from reality, some non-changing entity that’s independent of the rest of the universe. Hello?

    For what I can only hope is the last time: Quantum Physics is one way of attempting to describe the sub-atomic world. And, look, even Quantum Physicists have knock-down, drag-out, pocket-protector-throwing fights about what QP “says”.

    The day someone comes up with a better description than Quantum Physics (with predictions and experimental proof to support it), “An electron is a particle or a wave” will sound like “You have a cold because your phlegm humors are backed up and these leeches will un-block that.”

    The way things work in the ittiest-bittiest world is not the way they work out here… using QP to describe the macro world is just a metaphor.

    Later: When you raise fruit flies in a jar with a clear lid, and then take off the lid, how fast the flies LEAVE the jar.

    Followed by: When you raise fish in a tank with a clear divider in the middle, and then remove the divider, how they instantly swim into the other half of the tank.

    And then: How frogs jump out of water as it heats up, no matter how slowly you heat it.

    Next: Why you CANNOT trap a monkey with a hollowed out coconut and some candy.

    Last but not least, just because something is really tiny, or has to do with molecules or atoms does NOT make it “nanotechnology.” Discuss amongst yourselves.

    16 Responses to “Water is not water (and other things Quantum Physics DOES NOT say)”

    1. Ariana Saraha Says:

      Hahaha – that’s sharp!

      Thanks for wielding your balloon-poppin’ needle well :-)

    2. Ed Says:


      Well, I think the real mystery/complication of quantum mechanics is the change in probability functions. Of course, I did spend a year as a quantum optical physicist studying quantum states that, like Bose-Einstein condensate, are ways of making groups of atoms demonstrate quantum properties. We called them Schrodinger Cats.

      But again, Schrodinger Cats are a mystery that new age folks often misunderstand. The question/mystery is *when* does a probability convert to a definite event? When the dice are tossed at the craps table, because at that point, the imparted forces, air resistance, and table friction will determine the final number? When the dice stop rolling? When the people around the table see them? When the guy at the next table hears the cheers?

      When, exactly, is *now*? Because probability is a ‘guess at the future’ and at some point that ‘future’ stops becoming a probability and becomes a definitive event. And that moment is damn hard to pin down in the quantum world. 😉

    3. sashen Says:


      People don’t get the collapse of a wave function. And the metaphors demonstrate that they don’t get the effect of combining multiple wave functions, either.

      Who cares if the probability wave suggests that, mathematically, an electron *could* be anywhere in the universe? That doesn’t mean “everything is one” or “we’re all connected.” And it especially doesn’t mean that *this* electron will suddenly be on the other side of the universe. That electron is most likely pretty close to where we think it is. And once you add in more electrons (and protons and neutrons and the like), the odds of some macro-sized object being anywhere other than exactly where it is becomes infinitely small (small at a quantum scale? 😉 ).

      Or, “scientific” New Agers use “strange/spooky action at a distance” to say “we’re all connected,” even though that effect takes place in a highly unusual artificial environment… and if the particles interact with ANYTHING prior to measurement, the magic trick is ruined… and, it sure seems particles interact in the macro world. So there goes that.

      And thanks for bringing up Shrodinger’s Mysterious Felines… another QP concept that’s taken WAY out of context in New Agistan.

      What floors me is how really smart people can make these massive logical leaps. I’ll save for another post how giddy the New Age has become over some of the things coming from John Wheeler which sounds like he’s agreeing with The Secret. Ah, but I’ll save “Smart People are Idiots” for another post 😉

      BTW, I’m in Boulder, where they’ve done lots of cool B-E experiments — pun intended (for those who don’t know, some of this research takes place at near-absolute zero).

    4. Sid Leavitt Says:

      New Agistan — nice neologism. But I digress. I’m here to help with Einstein’s formula in WordPress. To get a superscript, try text. If you really want to be cool and reduce the numeral 2 into exponent size, make it smaller this way: text. Thus, E=mc2 becomes E=mc2.

      Glad I was able to help.

    5. Sid Leavitt Says:

      Well, I wasn’t able to help. Because your WordPress, as you already knew, o wise one, totally ignored my html commands. Just for the record, I was using the html brackets around the commands sup and small. I’ll try again with space between the commands. E=mc 2 .

    6. Sid Leavitt Says:

      No, that didn’t work, either. You’ve got a balky WordPress there, Steven.

      Anyway, a very interesting post. Thanks.

    7. sashen Says:

      Yeah, I tried editing the html in the post and that didn’t work either. Must be some quantum physics issue, or maybe the correct format is showing up in one of the universes in the multiverse.

    8. Stacy Clark Says:

      I read this post just a couple of hours after it came out and found nothing at all to say. I’m so glad Ed responded – you scientific guys, go for it! I get it. I agree (so what?) but I have nothing to add.

      I’ll wait till Steven goes back to New Age myths about enlightenment, like, aren’t we supposed to be All Happy All the Time?


      I tried watching “Red Dwarf” last night, which is using some kind of traveling at the speed of light does this and does that kinda thing, but it was lame. Any *good* science fiction TV series I missed that I would enjoy?

      ~ Stacy

    9. Ed Says:

      Steven–I spent three years working across the hall from the lab where the B-E work was done. Pretty familiar with it. 😉 It’s some pretty cool stuff.

      The ‘Schrodinger Cat’ work I did in grad school was based on a similar priniciple. Some researchers in Germany (collaborating with my then-advisor) had created a facility in which you could shoot an atom through a very very very cold chamber and hit it with a small number of photons that could cause a transition. Then you’d measure the atom’s state as it exited the chamber. So do this to a bunch of atoms one at a time and plot the distribution. It falls into a strange function that’s doesn’t match newtonian physics–purely a quantum based probability wave function. It really is a “cat” in the sense that the probability function is a mixture of “did interact” and “didn’t interact.”

      The thing that made it interesting was–you could shoot 10 atoms into the chamber at the same time and get the same quantum based probability function. So the question-that-matters-only-to-theoretical-physicists was–how big of an ensemble of atoms could you force to stay in a purely quantum state?

      Basically, I walked away convinced that a mesoscale “Schrodinger Cat” (that displayed properties of both photon-atom interaction and non-interaction simultaneously) was indeed possible. However, we’re talking very very unusual controlled circumstances. Much like B-E. Not something you or I are ever likely to encounter in our daily lives.

    10. sashen Says:


      Put me in a chamber that cold and hit me with photons and I guarantee I’d display some unusual properties.


    11. Tim Says:


      “Red Dwarf” is *supposed* to be lame. 😉 (Maybe you have to be a Brit to appreciate how important lameness is to a lot of “our” comedy.) :)

    12. bill Says:

      Bose-einstein affected my perspective, yet “waking” (a 13 yr. boy disabled in car accident account)
      changes the ‘working’ context, and necessarily so. Maybe why Tolle makes as much sense as Sashen.

    13. bill Says:

      Thanks for posted intelligence. Can anyone expand on Mandelbrot in respect to above subject (or/and) beyond.

    14. suresh Says:

      according to QM, there is no reality out there. It is the observation itself that collapses wave function. It is stupid to talk about “it”,when we are not looking .

      it is comforting to know that the moon is not out there when we are not looking.

    15. sashen Says:

      Oh, I almost hate to do this, but since I’m writing a book with an actual Quantum Physicist, here goes:

      QM DOES NOT say “there is no reality out there.”

      The collapsing of a wave function is a mathematical construct used to DESCRIBE the physical world.

      To say that nothing exists when we’re not looking/observing is a solipsistic confusion. The more accurate statement is: “In my direct personal experience, I have no evidence for the existence of anything I’m not currently observing, but this in no way addresses the question of existence.”

      And why doesn’t it address the question? Simple. Stand with your back toward the moon (or any object). According to your theory, “it doesn’t exist.” Okay, well what if you then put 2 people in your field of vision (who, then, do exist), and they’re facing the object in question and assure you that based on their experience (the same one you would have if you turned around… which you could do to verify), the object does in fact exist. This is, in many ways, equivalent to a QP experiment, since the physicists are not seeing the actual data, but the representations of that data reported by experimental devices.

      That help?

    16. katesisco Says:

      I love it that the Celts Cernunous (actually older than the Celts whose name we do not know) is depicted with hair of six sided forms set next to each other like honey bee cells. The ancient Egyptians Nun is the void of nothingness from which Atum the creative principle parts the void for light. Ma at. Atum depicted as a scarab beetle with a dung roll (which since I read E O Wilson and his insight that the scarab larva feeds on gastrointestinal parasites, I know understand the importance), breaths in Ma at, breaths out Shu (space) and Tefnut (moisture). Again, I know see why Tefnut is necessary as science has discovered that water is a product of the magnetic trap at the center of the galaxy. Like my Dad, who had the highest grade point average ever to come out of Sacred Heart high school in Indianapolis, IN, said: Nothing is new under the sun. He not only didn’t get the scholarship he should have (this was depression time, his first job was as a bill collector) because it went to a ‘contributor’ to the church for their son, he volunteered but was rejected (Irish of 13 so undersized) but was drafted later and then because of the guilt trip inflicted by the church, he did not go to college on the GI Bill because he had a family to support. What a waste of a brilliant mind. My Daddy who taught me to love learning.

      I agree with W Thornhill and the Electric Universe, but the unanswered question in the previous science still stands: Where are they? Even with lengthy travel time, the proposal that they would not know because they are cultivated under a brown dwarf sun is not acceptable. So where are they?

      Could it be that since we are between the devil and the deep blue sea (Daniel Webster) meaning Sol and Fluff, we are in a ‘do not go’ area? Since travel cannot be shortened (we assume they master cyro aka Avatar), the problem is that the risk of being in a no-go zone when Sol and Fluff energetically engaged each other would be too dangerous.

      Forgive my digressions; but then perhaps it doesn’t matter if you believe S W Carey.





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