Friday, October 10, 2014

Quantum Mechanics: Sometimes Passions Run High . . .

This is a general comment for all readers of this blog. I am passionate about science in general and especially about physics, even though I am not a physicist. I am, however, a trained scientist with several years of experience in research. During that time I learned from experience how the pursuit of science can be difficult for those of us who are not wealthy or who do not live in a forward-thinking country, and sometimes even family and friends discourage us. It can be difficult for women in general and for the underprivileged. I have seen over and over again that even in these environments a deep curiosity and desire to learn can flourish. My passion is science but I feel even more passionately that information should be free and available to anyone everywhere, whoever wants to learn. I see my blog stats and notice that I have readers from around the world including those countries that are less well developed than Canada.

I chose to make my journey into physics a public one with the hope that my steps will inspire others to make their own journey toward what captures them most. Many of my subjects are difficult and challenging even for the experts and certainly for myself, as I am of average intelligence and skill. I deeply admire the efforts and patience of readers who have made the time to read my posts and to comment. It is clear to me that there are many people who share my passion and I believe that it will be through this kind of sharing of the mind that future breakthroughs will take shape. That includes everyone of any age, gender or culture. Curiosity and wonder make no distinctions. And there have been many advancements, thanks to the fresh perspectives and keenly creative thoughts of laypeople just like us!

Today the Nobel peace prize was awarded to children's rights activist Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, who at age 17 is the youngest recipient ever of this award. She was the young girl who was shot for attending school and who now fights for the rights of other children, especially girls, to a full life of opportunity and to an education. She is a very courageous young woman, a powerful role model and she is my hero!

It is because of my respect for science, for people like Malala and, especially, my respect for my readers that I hold myself to the highest professional standard as possible. I consider myself in my very small way to be a role model.

I don't often insert my personal theories into my explorations but I made an exception for the third article of the Quantum Mechanics series because this area of theoretical physics is unfinished and many tantalizing open mysteries remain begging for us to mull over, think through and imagine. QM is a wonderful puzzle for anyone with the courage to dive into its challenging material. My personal interpretation of QM is just that, one person's thoughts on the matter. I strongly encourage anyone to explore what others have said about QM and then consider formulating their own interpretation. You don't have to make it public and open to scrutiny. In fact, I urge you to nurture your thoughts and see how they develop and change over time as you continue to learn. I can tell you from experience that the journey is both fascinating and rewarding, and it is sometimes frustrating too. You can think of my words as guideposts and journey notes. I am not here to take your journey for you, away from you, or to force you to take my journey.

You don't need to be super-intelligent or talented to make your journey through theoretical physics. I have personally seen many very average students take off and fly when they discover their passion, and my husband, a physics teacher and textbook writer, can attest that he's seen many more! You only need curiosity. That is it.

I have been fortunate to attract many enthusiastic readers whose comments have deeply inspired me, and I have enjoyed several fascinating back and forth conversations from readers. I get lots of questions and I love them, some of which have been seriously challenging requiring a lot of research before I can offer an answer. Everything on this blog is open for both criticism and questioning from you, my reader, and I simply need to look down the road to my some great role models in this regard. Consider how quantum mechanics came to be and all the great minds that squabbled and argued with each other, who questioned everything from the reality and nature of the particle to the reality and nature of space-time itself. I've read that some of those exchanges got a little ugly and I suspect some unrecorded ones might have been even more "colourful." Those exchanges were intensely fruitful and it is thanks to them that we have this awesome field of physics before us to continue to argue over, tweak and play with today.

This being said, as serious explorers we must hold ourselves accountable for what we share. I often link to Wikipedia posts for example. In most areas of physics, peers, those who are experts in their particular field, tend to uphold the posting to fairly scrupulous standards and more iffy material is usually quickly flagged as "this needs attention by an expert" or something similar. Contrary to what we tend to think as kids reading our textbooks, physics is not written in stone, never to be revised or questioned in any way. It is fluid, alive and always being updated. I keep this in the back of my mind as I try to offer the most current, most accepted understanding of different phenomena and I know that some articles even in this few-years-old blog will soon be needing rewrites. In this environment I do my best to distinguish between very well established theory, theories that have less consensus and far out fringe theories. It is an on-going lesson in critical reading and thinking.

I encourage you to fervently argue your position and to question absolutely everything you read, my posts included. This does not mean that anyone has blanket permission to insult, belittle, intimidate or otherwise attack anyone else's comments made on this blog. I don't tolerate anyone's personal attacks made toward others or toward me, and those thankfully few comments are promptly deleted.

Scientific exploration can only flourish when all viewpoints and theories are allowed their place. If you are an avid reader of the history of science, as I am, you know that many theories that at first seem so outlandish and weird and get little if any fan-fare, have a sneaky way of resurfacing decades latter as the foundation of a transcendent conceptual breakthrough.

Now get back out there. Explore! Try my introduction to Quantum Chromodynamics for something fun to chew on.

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