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    Archive for the 'quantum physics' Category

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

    Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

    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.

    You can be Tony Robbins!

    Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

    How’s this for a reality show:

    You can be the next Tony Robbins!

    Now the question is: Is this a show about becoming a self-help teacher or the freakiest makeover show ever on television?

    Then answer is actually… wait for it… motivational speaker.

    And this isn’t just an idea. This was a real show called “The Messengers.” It, thankfully, didn’t get much traction so you’ll have to hunt for it (and, frankly, being in traction would be more entertaining).

    I only watched one episode, but it left quite an impression on me (and almost left a permanent vomit stain on my couch), and I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit (and wondering how Dante would have envisioned Hell were he writing today).

    The gist of the show is that they took a collection of wannabe moto speakers, most of whom already had careers in the biz, put them into some sort of “life situation,” and then they had to whip up an inspirational speech which they delivered to a panel of, uh, experts.

    Side note: I’m trying to imagine what makes you an expert who can judge a motivational speech, or what the criteria are for rating such a speech. Sure, I know that Toastmasters and the National Speakers Bureau have something set up for this, but their list of “what’s good” is probably a bit suspect. I’m betting there aren’t categories like:

    • Made me think “I can do it” for no good reason
    • Made me cry after hearing about a touching moment that he probably didn’t see first hand and even more likely never happened at all
    • Made my testicles retract just thinking about how painful that must have been
    • Made me want to lose a limb, get caught in a fire, and become disabled so that *I* could make a living talking about what happened to me and how if *I* could overcome *this*, just imagine what YOU could do!

    Speaking of “If *I* can do this…” let’s go back to the show.

    On this episode, they split the wannabes into two groups. One group was put in wheelchairs and spent the day with a guy who had been paralyzed (I can’t remember how, but it must have been something perceived of as heroic and not something like, “My shirt was wet and I wanted to dry it, but I forgot to take it off before I put it in the dryer, so while I was spinning around, well, you get the picture.”), and the other group had their eyes bandaged and went off with someone who had become blind (again, probably not from, “I was juggling Ginsu knives at Hooters one night and, well, you can probably guess the rest.”).

    Now, I’m not much for suggesting that Quantum effects — which are only descriptions of events that take place an sub-atomic dimensions — manifest in the macro world, but if there were ever a demonstration of Quantum Entaglement (where you separate 2 particles, affect a property of one, and notice an instantaneous change in the same property of the other), this was it.

    Both groups, without any provocation or communication, kept harping on the same philosophy.

    For you die-hard Quantum Mechanics geeks, I know that if this were a perfect example of entanglement one group would be doing the opposite of the other. But ignoring that for the sake of the story (in the same way that people who suggest that “Quantum Physics says that everything is energy,” when it says nothing of the sort)…

    Each group kept fawning over their leader, in tears about how brave, courageous, powerful, resourceful and good-looking they were.

    Okay, okay, the group with the blind guy didn’t say that because they couldn’t see him. But they may have said something about his “great energy.”

    Each time the sycophants, I mean, contestants, tossed out one of these saccharine-mixed-with-Splenda-Aspartame-Agave-and-Stevia laden compliments, it was received with a look of confusion and disgust, like, “Ummm… dudes, I’m not sure who you’re talking about, but whatever you think I am, I’m not.”

    Then at the end of the day, every single one of the future remainder-bin-book-writers spoke about how amazing and inspiring it was to spend the day with someone who had clearly triumphed over such an unthinkable obstacle.

    And while some of the judges became genuinely ferklempt (you say “verklempt,” I say “verklempt;” let’s call the whole thing off), everyone seemed to be oblivious to reality — typical on a reality show — and miss the real point.

    First of all, they succumbed to a classic cognitive bias: they imagined what they *thought* it would feel like NOW for them to become paralyzed or blind and then projected that SAME feeling into the future, imagining it would continue forever. Obviously, our own life has some, if not many, examples of painful events from which we thought we would never recover… except that most of us have recovered from most of them and some of us have even noticed that these events were great boons.

    In “Stumbling on Happiness”, Daniel Gilbert discusses how when he asks people to imagine how they would feel in 2 years if they lost a child today, the (annoyed, since he often asks this question at dinner parties) respondents talk about how they would be destroyed. Yet, when you ask actual parents who have lost a child, they function MUCH better than they ever imagined they would. Sometimes they have bad days, like we all do for other reasons, and most of the time they don’t.

    And, secondly, they totally missed how the REAL message is not how these two people were special, but how we ALL are, how most if not ALL of us will rise to some challenge, will roll with the punches (or ear bites if you get a Mike Tyson-level whoopin’), will find a way to thrive in what *seems* like an insurmountable event (to those who are not LIVING it).

    This reminds me of all the goal-setting workshops where nobody thinks to ask the teacher, “Did you set a goal of giving goal-setting workshops? Or did it just sort of happen, but you ran with it?” Or the better question (because it addresses the counter-proof): How many good things have you gotten in your life that you never planned for, or that you didn’t set a goal for, or that were accidents or freak events or, if you believe in things like this, fate or luck or grace or chance?”

    Setting goals, ironically, is limiting. Because it’s not that we can be/do/have anything we want. It’s that we have no idea what we’re really capable of and, odds are, we won’t find out until the proverbial poo hits the proverbial spinning device.





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