Apr 26, 2011

Schrödinger's cat is alive and kickin'

After some remarks on my comment to Dr Kaku's (a popular figure from bigthink.com) overpopularization of physics one more comment on the wave-properties of an electron seems appropriate:
There is a famous experiment illustrating the consequences of the wave-description for the probability to find an electron at a given point in space.
If an electron-source is placed in front of a metal-sheet with two narrow slits, a recording-device behind this screen would detect a distribution of incoming electrons that is identical to an interference-pattern of waves passing through the double slit (as would be seen when shining coherent, monochromatic light (a laser produces this kind of light) on the two slits).
This interference-pattern shows up no matter how low the rate of electrons coming through. Even if only one single electron per hour would pass through the slits, there would, finally, be a distribution of detected electrons given by the well-known interference-pattern.
This experiment clearly demonstrates the wave-characteristics of the electron - or more precisely, it demonstrates that the probability to find an electron at a given point in space and time is given by a wave-function. It is this probability-distribution that passes the double-slit and, quite logically, results in an interference-pattern on the other side - giving the resulting probability-distribution for the position of an electron behind the double-slit. So the electron *is* no wave. It's position is given by probabilities *that are described* by a wave-function.

Apr 25, 2011

My Computer turns vegetarian

We got some angry reactions and shows of disgust and sadness to our report on carnivorous computers, which get their energy by digestion of small animals. While that brilliantly despicable idea was merely a design concept with no proof of real functionality, another designer popped up to save our soul: vegetarian lamps! Marieke Staps http://www.mariekestaps.nl/?/Design/Soil-Lamp-2/ from the netherlands developed soil-powered LED lighting that, according to her words only needs some watering every now and then, just like her chicque and totally pc eco-watch. (a little closer look reveals some copper and zink electrodes which, together with water of the right pH, are nothing but standard batteries. Nice idea though.)

Apr 15, 2011

Thinking Big or Rather Big Talking?

Michio Kaku is featured on the website bigthink.com as a sympathetic elderly man able and willing to explain everything. On April 13 he tells us "why quantum physics ends the free will debate".
Well, sure.
I am very supportive of the idea to popularize big scientific thoughts and achievements so that the broader public gets a glimpse of what is being mulled over in the head of those big shots. But I am totally allergic to oversimplification at the expense of the real message.
Why does quantum physics supposedly end the free will debate? You guess it: because with Newtonian physics everything, every thought, every move you make every step you take was in principle predictable. The world was supposedly completely deterministic. You would just have to know all the parameters of the universe at the time of the big bang, then calculate and calculate until you arrive at your phase space of now and, voila, you could extrapolate into the future of your tremendously boring life.
Now quantum physics has added some dice to the system - much to the annoyance of Einstein - (Mr Kaku mentions Heisenbergs uncertainty relation), and with that you get rid of predictability, determinism is out and free will is in. According to Mr. Kaku, Heisenbergs principle tells us that an electron (for example) could not be pinpointed, it could be anywhere at any time. This sounds great but it is an oversimplification and wrong. Quantum mechanics deals with probabilities. It is not true that an electron is a wavefunction. The probability to find an electron at a specific point in space is *described* by a wavefunction. The result may be that the probability to find it anywhere in a given box is equal at any spot - but that does not mean that it is actually everywhere at the same time (the probability to win big in Lotto is equal for any combination of allowed numbers but that does not mean that any combination actually wins - you get it, I assume).
And even if you allow for unpredictability - why exactly does that explain Free Will? Is the lack of predictability equivalent to free will? Is white noise the same as free will? Is randomness free will? Is free will erratic? Is the concept of determinism in contrast to free will? It is very much likely that I will go and have a beer tonight - but I tell you this is my absolutely free will, albeit terribly deterministic.

(there is an anecdote on Mr Kaku's skills of drawing a giraffe that you should not miss)

Apr 7, 2011

Anybody seen Ai Weiwei recently?

In our small universe the thought of supressing an idea, an ideal by simply locking up one person representing it, seems so very archaic. Nevertheless, this still is the approach of chinese authorities, who detained the internationally renowned and sometimes mercilessly critical artist Ai Weiwei on sunday. The voices for free speach became louder ever since.
Cultural Development folks at Platoon (www.platoon.org) suggest to print out this image of Ai Weiwei and display it everywhere in public. Read this: http://blog.platoon.org/home/3/viewentry/1233