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January 23, 2008

It’s a very interesting thing to be a quantum scientist (is that what I am?) in a world which worships Einstein. You all know Einstein of course. He’s a genius. He discovered everything worth known except for a guy who dropped an apple and whoever that was with the telescopes, right? He knows everything and is the smartest person ever, right?
People who work with quantum mechanics seem to take a strange pleasure in needling Einstein. The sentence that motivated this is from a paper by W. E. Lamb, a physicist who studies photoelectric processes. He says “Of course, in 1905 and 1917, Einstein did not have quantum mechanics (and would not have liked it if he had).” In that graphic novel Yin has about Bohr, Einstein is seen floating by with a new reason why quantum is wrong, and Bohr casually refutes it while getting on with his life, much to the dismay of Einstein. Most quantum textbooks love to point out how Einstein couldn’t solve the UV catastrophe.
See, Einstein just didn’t like quantum. “God does not play dice”, he said, referring to the fact that quantum says that nothing can ever be determined exactly. He didn’t like the subject, and spent much of his life futilely trying to disprove it. And that’s the joke when it comes to quantum. Yeah, it took a couple guys a couple of years to solve, whereas Einstein did relativity in one basically on his own. (Though actually he did it twice over the course of over a decade…but that’s beside the point.) You can’t talk about the discoverer of quantum, and to list all the major players (Schrodinger, Dirac, Born, Heisenberg, Planck, Bohr…) involves too much ink and too much effort learning to pronounce foreign names. But these guys all got relativity. They could do Einstein’s thing, understood it, and accepted it. And here was Einstein, the lonely genius, trying unsuccessfully to disprove them all.

All that being said, I don’t get relativity, and, as much as I love it, I don’t buy quantum. Like Einstein said, God doesn’t play dice.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2008 5:31 pm

    “God does not play dice.” –Einstein
    “Einstein, stop telling God what to do!” –Bohr
    It may be apocryphal, but it was in a biography of Einstein I read recently and thought it was cute.
    PS. Did you ever get your Christmas present?

  2. January 24, 2008 9:43 pm

    Re: Quantum
    Oh crap! I’m sorry! I meant to write you ages ago (thought I did…whoops) thanking you for the beanie pig. He’s cute and wonderful and slept with me last night.

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