An Infinitely Long Short Piece of String

Nothing makes people resist science more than the times when science defies common sense. A lifetime of experiences have taught us that reality is a solid structure built based on cause and effect. Drop a ball and it falls to the ground because of gravity and we are smart enough to figure out that that is the same reason why a crashing plane falls back to the ground. But what if the ball you dropped not only falls to the ground directly beneath it, but also a bit further from that point ? What if the ball drops to different places every time you drop it ? What if, when you drop the ball, it falls to two different places at the same time ? Now, that defies common sense.

Quantum mechanics is that area of science that deals with phenomenon that a lot of us would call magic. Studies in quantum physics involve working, not with large molecules of elements, but tiny sub-divisions of a molecule, called particles. Particles are little packets of energy which form such small units of matter that their properties and behavior exceed anything that was previously thought possible in our physical world. The implications of the ways these particles behave question our basic understanding of reality and the universe. These sub-atomic entities are so bizzarre that they even frustrated Einstein.

[I can’t accept quantum mechanics because] “I like to think the moon is there even if I am not looking at it.”
– Albert Einstein

Take the case of standup-comic-turned-physics-enthusiast Alan Davies who, in this BBC documentary, tried to find out the accurate length of a piece of string.

Of course, to measure a string you pick up a measuring tape or a ruler and measure it. That is the common sense way of doing it. But when you want to measure it accurately, you have to be more precise. You have to get closer, include every contour of the individual fabric of the string. You can get even more closer down to the molecular level to measure the length and then you end up at the particle level and that is where things get a little out of this world.

Your string does not actually possess a length. Somehow, by measuring it, we create a length for the string.

If you ever thought that reality is just a mirage then this documentary will show you things you probably did not even imagine. Rules of our physical world – rules that define and dictate our understanding of our lives – get thrown out of the window pretty quickly and a new world of possibilities become the norm.

A dead cat is not really dead because it is dead only within our observable reality….Reality, in some sense, does not exist unless we’re actually observing it. And it’s our act of observation that makes things real.

Drop this on the bombastic egomaniac in the office next time he or she tries to tell you how sure they are of what they know. It is a humbling experience to realize that many of the beliefs that we take for granted, something even as concrete and tangible as a piece of string, are not as simple as they appear to be. Truth is that we have no idea what reality really is.


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