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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blog 001: A Theory in search of an Understanding!

Quantum theory has been around for nearly a century now. Yet, universally physicists aver (see quotes below) that the theory itself is "not understood" —  in a specific sense that we will explore further in this blog.  Just as people are able to use a TV without an understanding of its underlying structure that makes it work, similarly quantum physicists have learned how to use quantum theory without really understanding it.  From cell phones, computers, and medical electronic equipment, even in the chemistry behind your improved dish washing liquid - quantum theory is at work.



updated: 25 August 2011

A Theory in Search of an Understanding!

Quantum theory has been around for nearly a century now. Yet, universally physicists aver (see quotes below) that the theory itself is "not understood" —  in a specific sense that we will explore further in this blog. Just as people are able to use a TV without an understanding of its underlying structure that makes it work, similarly quantum physicists have learned how to use quantum theory without really understanding it.  From cell phones, computers, and medical electronic equipment, even in the chemistry behind your improved dish washing liquid - quantum theory is at work. Yet, the same quantum physicists have not reached a commonly accepted understanding of “reality” that the theory describes, or whether it even describes a reality at all.

Historically speaking, the German physicist Max Planck introduced within physics in the 1890s, a constant that got called eventually "Planck's constant" (written symbolically as ћ, pronounced h-bar) and that eventually led to the full-blown quantum theory. Subsequently, a number of great scientists - Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Louis de Broglie, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac, Erwin Schrodinger, Max Born, and Wolfgang Pauli are the major ones - contributed to developing the theory in major stages by 1926. Each of the scientists named above won a Nobel Prize for their work in quantum theory. It is worth noting that even Einstein won his Nobel Prize for his work in quantum theory, not for relativity theory.

In this continuing blog, I will write about what is quantum theory (more accurately called the non-relativistic quantum mechanics), what kind of problems it is presumed to pose for our understanding, why these problems  much written about in popular literature  are all only symptoms of a real deep problem that has so far not been uncovered. I shall also write about my own approach to identifying that deep problem underlying quantum theory, the solution I am working toward, which I tentatively call MQM (Macroscopic Quantum Mechanics), and its potential rewards both for improving our understanding of the reality around us, and for greater technological revolutions.

Let me conclude this opening blog by citing quotes from Nobel Laureates in quantum theory from throughout its history over one hundred years, emphasizing that quantum theory is yet to be "understood".

100 Years at a Glance !
Nobel Laureates in Quantum Physics About Quantum Theory
“There is no doubt that the stage that quantum physics has reached is beyond the grasp of even its creators.” 
[Max Planck, 1935]

“At present, the theory is more intelligent than us. It knows why it works, we don’t.”
[Max Born, 1940]


“What does not satisfy me in that theory, from the standpoint of principle, is its attitude towards that which appears to me to be the programmatic aim of all physics: the complete description of any (individual) real situation as it is supposedly exists independent of any act of observation or substantiation.”
[Albert Einstein, 1949]


“It is probably justified in requiring a transformation of the image of the real world as it has been constructed in the last 300 years...[for] now it seems to work no longer. One must therefore go back 300 years and reflect on how one could have proceeded differently at that time, and how the whole subsequent development would then be modified. No wonder that puts us into boundless confusion!”
[Erwin Schrödinger, creator of the modern (non-relativistic) quantum mechanics, to Albert Einstein, 1950]

“I think it is safe to say no one understands quantum mechanics...Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, ‘But how can it be like that?’ because you will get ‘down the drain’ into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.”

[Richard P. Feynman, 1965]

“The interpretation of the [quantum] formalism, is today, almost half a century after the advent of the theory, still an issue o unprecedented dissension. In fact, it is by far the most controversial problem of current research in the foundations of physics...” 

[Max Jammer, 1974]

“Quantum theory, that strange thing we all know how to use, but understand very little.”

[Murray Gell-Mann, 1979]

“The mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics was far quicker and easier to establish than a full understanding of the physical essence of the quantum phenomena. Indeed, a full physical understanding is not yet in hand, even now.”

[Braginsky et al, 1992]

“Why the quantum? After 100 years, we still do not know.”

[John A. Wheeler, 2000]

“Physicists today are in a similar conundrum with quantum theory as those who were at the 1911 [Solvay] meeting.”

[Prof. R. Kollosh, Stanford University, 2005]

“Physicists are [still] in a period of utter confusion.” 

[David Gross, Nobel Laureate, 2005]


Copyright 2011 © Ravi Gomatam

1 comments:

sciencephilosophytheology said...

Very pleased to meet you here..just when i was attempting to 'comprehend' quantum mechanics!! You may know me from Chennai..been to both '86 & '96 World Congress. Always found your presentations very fascinating. Looking forward to interacting & learning a lot of things from you..thanks.

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