In Robert Colville’s article in the Daily Telegraph about the Higgs boson, he quoted two jokes. Both require a degree of knowledge, though not necessarily understanding, of particle physics and quantum mechanics.
- “The Higgs boson walks into a Catholic church, and the priest says: ‘What are you doing here?’ The Higgs says: ‘Well, you can’t have mass without me.’ ”
- Then there’s the one about the Uncertainty Principle, which holds that you can know the position of a particle, or its velocity, but not both. “Schrödinger and Heisenberg are speeding down the motorway, and get stopped by the police. ‘Do you know how fast you were going?’ says the officer. ‘No,’ says Heisenberg, ‘but I can tell you exactly where we are…’ ”
Why, you may ask, are they funny to me? Well, on my bedside table, in addition to a dictionary and my current reading, is Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher by physicist Richard Feynman. Here’s a description of the book, which includes a chapter on quantum mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle:
It contains the six easiest chapters from Richard P. Feynman’s landmark work, Lectures on Physics—specifically designed for the general, non-scientist reader. Feynman gave these lectures just once, to a group of university undergraduates in 1961 and 1962.
I dip into Six Easy Pieces now and again. The result is that it serves as a constant reminder to me that I lack the necessary intelligence to understand quantum mechanics and the mathematics associated with it. Oh, and much else besides.
Years ago I saw a BBC Horizon programme about Richard Feynman – The Pleasure of Finding Things Out [and HERE for the longer version, inferior picture quality though]. I was captivated by his immense humanity, and picking up his book Six Easy Pieces I somehow feel that his genius and humanity coming off the page. Odd I know. But he was a great man.