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Quantum Physics

The topic for today is quantum physics. Quantum physics was developed in the 1930's, as a result of a bet between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, to see who could come up with the most ridiculous theory and still have it published. Most people agree that Bohr won hands down, although Einstein did very well in the swimsuit competition.

One of the most important researchers in quantum physics is Werner Heisenberg, a man with a wonderful sense of humor, who was always cracking one-liners, like "delta-p times delta-x is less than h!" Ha! ha! What a card! This is known as Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which is closely related to Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem, which says that some things are true, but you can't prove them, like when my wife and I argue over whether it's her turn to take out the garbage or not.

What Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle says is that if something is small enough, you can't say anything about it. Anyone with the I.Q. of baking powder immediately understood that this means that if you look at something so small that you can't even see it, like my dog, Oscar Wilde's, brain, then you obviously can't tell, say, what color it is.

But some people didn't get the joke, and decided to investigate this principle further. They would gather and sit around all day, drinking beer and performing "Gedankesexperimenten," or "Thank God we're theoretical physicists so we don't have to get our hands dirty with particle accelerators and other heavy machinery." The most famous of these is Schroedinger's Cat, where several physicists kidnap Erwin Schroedinger's cat Fluffy and lock it up in a box, along with a radioactive source such as Cheez Doodles. Then they walk around with concerned expressions on their faces, commenting about how they don't know what's going on inside the box. This goes on until the cleaning lady discovers the box, opens it and tells the physicists whether the cat is dead, or whether it has mutated into a man-eating flea the size of Norway.

The point of this experiment is to show that uncertainty at the quantum level can be detected in the macroscopic world and produce widespread anxiety and paranoia. It also explains why paper clips just lie there while you look at them, but as soon as you turn your back, they run away, giggling wildly, and transform themselves into coat hangers.

Another famous researcher is Richard Feynman, who invented Feynman diagrams, which are bunches of squiggly lines with greek letters next to them. The way they were discovered was, one day, Hans Bethe came in to Feynman's office to say that some of the guys down in particle research were having a jam session down by the cyclotron, and would Richard like to come over and bring his bongos? Feynman was out, at the time, cracking a safe or something, so Bethe tried to leave him a note. On the desk, he found one of Feynman's daugter's kindergarten drawings. Bethe couldn't make head or tail of it, and figured that if even he couldn't understand it, then it must be something Terribly Clever, and promptly called it a Feynman diagram.

This was a major scientific breakthrough, and ever since, proud parents have been hanging their children's Feynman diagrams on refrigerators with little muon-shaped magnets, confident that their Little Darlings are developing important scientific theories every day, because they are, after all, Gifted Children.


-Andrew Arensburger

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