Thanks to Dr. Sam Beckett, Al and Ziggy, my first exposure to the idea of quantum anything was through pop culture in the early 1990s.
The opening narrative:
“Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Doctor Sam Beckett led an elite group of scientists into the desert to develop a top secret project, known as “Quantum Leap”. Pressured to prove his theories or lose funding, Doctor Beckett prematurely stepped into the Project Accelerator and vanished. He awoke to find himself in the past, suffering from partial amnesia and facing a mirror image that was not his own. Fortunately, contact with his own time was made through brainwave transmissions with Al, the Project Observer, who appeared in the form of a hologram that only Doctor Beckett could see and hear. Trapped in the past, Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, putting things right that once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.”
Twenty-seven years later, I am finding the foundational ideas of quantum physics really interesting. I’ve decided to incorporate them into my journey.
Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize Winning physicist. He has also become one of my favorite science teachers. If you are looking for a massively entertaining book about all facets of science, you should check out Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman. Feynman was known as the great explainer, as he had an amazing knack for explaining complex concepts in a digestible way. This book definitely sparked my motivation for further discovery into all aspects of science.
Quantum physics is the framework for explaining how really small things work.
If you watch a blacksmith working, one piece of metal is heated in order to form it into a desired shape. Why does the end of that black metal stick glow? As the metal is heated, the atoms move around in an excited state. When they vibrate, they emit electromagnetic radiation, which, depending on the frequency, shows up as different colors of light.
That light can actually be two things.
Light can be a wave.
Light can also be a particle.
This concept is called Wave Particle Duality.
Let’s take this a step further.
A particle can exist in all of its theoretical states at the same time.
This concept is called Superposition.
Meet Erwin Schrodinger.
Here is his famous thought experiment …
One cat in a box.
The box contains a device that has a 50% chance of killing the cat.
After one hour in the box, what is the state of the cat?
According to common sense:
The cat is either dead or alive.
According to quantum physics:
At the moment before the box is opened, the cat is equal parts alive and dead.
Only when the box is opened, can we see a single, definite state.
Conveniently, the state of superposition cannot be observed.
The position is only confirmed when it is observed.
Moving even further out … let’s consider the Many Worlds Interpretation.
In this case, when the box is opened, two branches of the universe are created.
Universe #1 – Cat is alive.
Universe #2 – Cat is dead.
At the very core, Wave Particle Duality and Superposition both illustrate that things are not always what they seem, one thing can be many things, and the explanation of really small things is very different from the explanation of very big things.
The state of a particle is only decided when it is observed. Observation can have its limitations. The main one being the person observing.
The elephant and the blind men
I ran across an old story that illustrates how a narrow viewpoint on a particular topic can limit your understanding of the topic as a whole. In this case, a very big thing is explained like smaller things. The story involves six blind men and an elephant. The concept of an elephant was new to the men. Each of them made their way up to the elephant and used their sense of touch to experience and understand it. One man grabbed the trunk, another man took hold of the tusk, a third man put his hands on the ear, the next man wrapped his hands around the leg, yet another man found the torso, and the last man secured the tail.
Their experience of the elephant was limited to the personal observation of each man.
To one man, the elephant was sharp and pointy.
Another man was convinced that it was a snake-like creature.
So, what is an elephant?
The answer is not a trunk, tusk, ear, leg, torso, or tail independently.
The experience of the elephant is really something like this …
What if we applied this story and quantum physics to how we interact as humans?
In discovery or innovation, I love the idea of there not being yes OR no, but YES AND KNOW. In the legal world, the concept of quantum thought is prevalent. In order to properly debate one position, you need to truly understand and immerse yourself in the opposite position. Empathy equals understanding. Similar to the idea that light is both a particle and a wave, a thought or idea also has multiple positions.
This is quite contrary to general human nature. We are taught to make a decision and defend it fiercely with the full support and the negative benefits of our Ego.
ELEPHANTS ARE SHARP AND POINTY!
Identifying patterns of this concept in the world around us isn’t difficult. Consider the last time you were in a “discussion” about politics or religion. It usually consists of a cacophony of binary broadcasts emanating from two opposing pie holes not so elegantly masked as a gracious collaboration of differing perspectives.
Don’t worry everyone … its not all your fault.
Ego presents a tremendous challenge to our understanding of the world.
It lives to be correct.
It sees light as a particle OR a wave.
To Ego, an elephant is the one element that it experiences.
While its extremely difficult to release the vice grips securely attached by your Ego’s authority, it can be a truly liberating experience to admit that you are wrong.
What if your thought is both correct and incorrect?
What if the opposite side of your thought is both incorrect and correct?
Most amazing innovations are developed by combining individual ideas or thoughts.
Science, while not immune to Ego, is a series of collective and additive conversations.
What if each of your conversations started with listening instead of hearing?
Hearing is physically absorbing a broadcasted signal. Hearing allows you to begin to generate a counterpoint since you are not taxing your brain with the pesky idea of comprehension. Remember the exercise on multitasking from #17?
Listening is immersing yourself in the soul of that signal. Listening is understanding before acting. Listening is embracing the other positions. Listening is being able to explain what you heard to a five year old. Listening is the superposition.
Well, we certainly trotted through a few dramatically different ideas today.
My hope, as always, is to find a common thread between vastly different things.
Ideas, like particles, can exist in all theoretical states at one time.
Theoretical cats can be alive and dead until we look at them.
We found another example of why reigning in your Ego is important.
Instead of discarding anything opposed to your position, why not try to achieve the Superposition on a particular idea or thought? I’m not saying to hold both opinions to hedge your bets. Embrace both positions and see where it takes you.
If you find that you are experiencing partial pachyderm perception syndrome …
Don’t worry. The remedy is simple.
Loosen up the constraints of your Ego.
Experience the entire elephant.
See the light.