Sunday, January 22, 2012

Higg's Boson meets Peter Rabbit

Sweating the really small stuff in the 'Peg

While visiting family yesterday, our sister-in-law showed us a comical essay on the word “up.” I suggested to Agnes that she email it to herself so we could have it, and she did. Her brother said, “I’m still amazed that you can, with a few key strokes, take a piece of information here in the countryside and place it on your computer far away. I mean, how does it get there?” and he waved a hand toward the ether.
            I, too, stand amazed.
            On average, our concepts of the world of quantum mechanics, quantum electrodynamics (QED) are probably comparable to a rabbit’s concept of parliamentary democracy. Unless you’re a physicist, that is, in which case your visualization of QED might be compared to the young rabbit’s concept of snow: the “what,” the “why” and the “how” are still mysterious; the nature and effects, however, are becoming clearer by the minute.
            Over generations, we’ll gradually come to be more conversant with the world of photons, quarks, leptons, neutrinos and all those other hadrons that mean little to us now.
What is probably even more difficult for us to grasp today, though, is the vista of possibilities that familiarity with the basic workings of the universe may open up. The idea that mass could be converted to waves, transported at the speed of light and reconstituted as mass again puts a whole new light on time and distance. (A tantalizing dream this, but it may be through QED that some will come closer to embracing the possibility of a non-material soul, life that is never ending and the possibility of places that are not evident in any physical exploration of the universe: heaven comes to mind. Not to mention intuition, second sight, a fourth dimension and—shudder—even demons, ghosts!)
Early discoveries in the area of quantum mechanics were also incomprehensible before their time; how could a voice possibly be transmitted for miles over a wire?? A technology so very simple by today’s standards was, in fact, an accidental stumbling on some principles of QED. A next step was exemplified by Marconi’s famous trans-Atlantic radio transmission. How can a voice be transmitted without even a wire when no apparent physical material is passed from A to B?? And then television pictures, cell phones, etc., etc. And now: how can entire books complete with illustrations be transported through space and appear in an intact—although still virtual—form, nanoseconds later, on the other side of the world??
How far away are we from the transportation of the actual physical book with such speed and integrity? Who knows? I’m sure many would say that such a thing is impossible, but that might be an overly-hasty response. That a heavier-than-air machine could fly was until recently—as long-time goes—considered a patent absurdity.
I am currently 800 kilometres from home and it was –25o C when we arrived in Winnipeg, and the drive here and home takes 9 hours each way and the price of fossil fuel is $1.11. I would relish the idea of being converted to my waveform in some phone booth-like apparatus and momentarily rematerializing in Rosthern, Saskatchewan, hopefully with my head still right-side-up on top of my neck and my arms and feet in their proper places.
Hello, Higg’s Boson! Hello neutrinos that travel faster than light (maybe; the jury’s still pondering)!
I can virtually hear you raising your eyebrows.
Skeptic! Ludite!


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