Michio Kaku’s book, Physics of the Impossible, has helped me to understand a subject that I thought I never would: quantum physics. Ever since my first year of college in 1997, when my philosophy of religion instructor, Dr.Katz, talked about atoms being mysteriously connected, I wanted to understand this process and became curious about quantum mechanics.
Like many, I had avoided physics and chemistry because I found the technical aspects boring. However, I did have a natural curiosity to understand the theoretical aspects of quantum mechanics because it was just so bizarre. Things being in two places at the same time? Things being both waves and particles? It broke all the rules that my science teachers had taught me in high school.
Since then, I’ve read many books and articles on the topic, ranging from Quantum Mechanics for Dummies, The Holographic Universe, The Elegant Universe, etc. I’ve also watched numerous documentaries and videos too–What the bleep do we know, Dr. Quantum, and tons of other Youtube videos. These were all awesome and inspiring, and they propelled me happily on my journey to understanding quantum mechanics (later, string theory, supersymmetry and chaos theory), but I still failed to create a vivid, personal and intuitive image of these theories inside of me. They remained long chains of ‘thoughts’ that I could sometimes string together to create brief blasts of insight or understanding. Unfortunately, the links between those thoughts were weak and the understanding was tenuous; I didn’t have a personal knowledge, but rather a borrowed one–a memorization of facts, names, vocabulary, dates, formulas and packets of information.
Recently, this changed when I started reading Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku, who is a Harvard Physicist working on a Theory of Everything. He isn’t a particularly good writer, but he possesses an excitement for his subject and a boyish charm that makes his writing easy and fun to read.
The following passage is from his book that I found mind-blowing in it’s ability to express the theory of quantum mechanics in an extremely simple, yet vivid manner.
I hope it helps you to understand quantum mechanics too.
“If two electrons are initially vibrating in unison (a state called coherence) they can remain in wavelike synchronization even if they are separated by a large distance. …There is still an invisible Schrodinger wave connecting both of them, like an umbilical cord. If something happens to one electron, then some of that information is immediately transmitted to the other. This is called “quantum entanglement,” the concept that particles vibrating in coherence have some kind of deep connection linking them together.
“Let’s start with two coherent electrons oscillating in unison. Each electron is like a spinning top. …if the spin of one electron is up, then you know automatically that the spin of the other electron is down. According to the quantum theory, before you make a measurement, the electron is spinning neither up nor down but exists in a nether state where it is spinning both up and down simultaneously. (Once you make an observation, the wave function “collapses,” leaving a particle in a definite state.)
“Next, measure the spin of one electron. It is, say, spinning up. Then you know instantly that the spin of the other electron is down. Even if the electrons are separated by many light-years, you instantly know the spin of the second electron as soon as you measure the spin of the first electron. In fact, you know this faster than the speed of light! Because these two electrons are “entangled,” that is, their wave functions beat in unison, their wave functions are connected by an invisible “thread” or umbilical cord. Whatever happens to one automatically has an effect on the other. (This means, in some sense, that what happens to us automatically affects things instantaneously in distant corners of the universe, since our wave functions were probably entangled at the beginning of time. In some sense, there is a web of entanglement that connects distant corners of the universe, including us.)” End quote.
Now, that may not sound very fascinating to you, but it really helped me so I thought I’d share it.