Reductio ad Absurdum part 2.
Known for a couple hundred years, the double slit experiment clearly demonstrates that we, as middle size creatures (with the subatomic on one side of the scale and stars on the other) evolved not to understand reality as it is, but to survive in our environment by perceiving reality through practical illusions (look at any solid object in front of you right now and realize that it is literally almost entirely empty space. Doesn’t feel like it though does it? It feels like stuff – *BAM* reality is faking you out every second of your life). Intuition, human logic or armchair philosophy simply cannot predict experimentally proven subatomic reality.
The double slit experiment demonstrates the particle-wave duality of matter. Photons are fired at two slits and the result is an interference pattern. So it looks like light acts as a wave interfering as it passes through the slits resulting in enhanced and cancelled bands on the screen behind (the same thing you would see when you drop two pebbles in a pond). So far your mind is intact.
Now fire individual photons, one at a time. You would expect to see them pass through one or the other slit and hit the screen behind creating two bands. And when it is calculated to see which slit a particular photon has passed through, this is indeed what happens. Now fire photons one at a time without detection, and watch as they hit the screen one at a time and build up an interference pattern! (this experiment has also been done with electrons, and even molecules!). This means that each particle passes through both slits at the same time and interferes with itself. This is the stuff we are made of. Lol wut? Yeah.
The Heisenberg uncertainty principle tells us that particles do not have precise locations, only potential locations (which is why in Star Trek the transporters work with the aid of ‘Heisenberg Compensators♣”).
The wave-particle duality of matter is a paradox, and it can be interpreted as either a fundamental property of the universe, or a limitation of the observer. I have no preference.
On the one hand it’s incredibly frustrating to realize that reality is not what we understand it to be from everyday experience, and the deeper we probe the more it looks like our perceptions of reality are just an emergent consequence of macro evolution. The actual nature of reality does not seem to have our experience in mind at all. On the other hand it’s amazing that animals which evolved to survive mundane earth conditions can actually grasp at the fabric of reality and question and even break through our limitations to explore counterintuitive results that explain a realer reality than we have ever understood before.
Contemplating all this I’ve always craved answers. Why is it that the wave function of an electron only collapses when it is observed? Why doesn’t it just exist somewhere for sure? WTF electron!?
What kind of an explanation would satisfy such a craving and how much of an illusion are we really living in, you ask? Well there are some fun ideas out there that I will be exploring in the next exciting installment: Part 3, Smoke and Mirrors! So, y’know, don’t touch that dial!
♣When Star Trek technical adviser Michael Okuda was asked by Time magazine how the Heisenberg Compensator worked, he replied “It works very well, thank you.”
Just some announcements today, kiddos. I didn’t want to trample all over Nadir’s fine posts with hopeless speculation and daydreaming, so You can expect another Xeno’s Paradox comic in the near future. Just don’t expect too much out of it.
If you haven’t already, you really ought to check out the new blog Mad Art Lab. It’s a sister site of Skepchick.org and it features articles and creative musings about art and science. You can expect some amazing interviews coming up, and there is always some great writing and artowrk making its way onto the feed. Oh, and Nadir and I will be there too. Just saying. So go check it out, and if you are here because of MAL, we salute you.
The Red Flags of Quackery have become a bit of a success on the internets this weekend. I’ve been seeing it pop up on Tumblr blogs all over the place. If this was your doing, you rock. Spread that stuff around.
Related to that infomercial of a comic, if you ever want to use any of our comics as promotional material for your skeptic/freethinking/curly-fry-macramé organization, go for it. Just let me know. Not for legal reasons mind you, I’m just really curious about where the comic pops up around the globe. Also, we’d love to announce it on the site! Free advertising!
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