Strange Musings *hyuk*
Thursday, July 14, 2005
  8:42 PM — BBC says Quantum is "beyond most human understanding."
No wonder there's such a strong social stigma against learning science, when even the BBC says the average person is too stupid to understand one of the most profound discoveries in modern science. Quantum is to physics what evolution is to biology. I'm trying to picture what it would be like if the common person couldn't understand the concept of evolution. People DO understand evolution; there wouldn't be such controversy without it.

Evolution is a simple concept really: small changes happen, some are perpetuated, and species change over time. Quantum physics isn't all that much harder: when you look at really tiny things, you can't predict exactly what they'll do, you can only suggest possibilities. (The concept of genetic drift can be thought to even bridge the two.)

Quantum is like saying if you throw a basketball on rough pavement, you know it's going to bounce pretty close to how it would if on the court. But if you throw an eentsy high-bounce ball on the same surface, who knows where it'll go. What's so hard about that?


Hi, thanks for checking out my response to your comment:
unknowable and mysterious are two different things. God has revealed some things for us to know (the Bible, Jesus coming to this Earth), which means that some theories about the trinity can be a heresy (what goes against what has been revealed).

Wow...that sounds confusing. Anyway, sorry for my feeble attempt to explain...have a good day!
Heh, I think I just posted the same think at Jackie's blog... ;)

Have you taken any quantum mechanics classes? Most of physics (especially quantum mechanics)is actually quite different than evolution.

Heh, I'm a physics prof. But the last time I had any biology was 9th grade.
Heh, ask a silly question... Although I would think being a physics prof would make you believe the opposite! My BS is in both physics and astronomy and have strengthened my belief that most people do not understand physics at all! Although,I don't think most really understand evolution either...

Thanks for coming by!
I'll admit I never particularly liked quantum, but I got through it. My point was that the concepts behind both quantum and evolution are relatively simple, though I'm sure the details to evolutionary biology are every bit as intricate in their fashion as the Schroedinger equation in the coordinates of your choice.

BA Physics, MS Astro. I actually teach intro physics and general science, and the latter fuels many of my rants about evolution and people not believing it. :-P
Quantum kicked me in the butt - differential equations did not sit well with me I think. I suppose in general the concepts are similar, but as soon as you start speaking any sort of "science talk", no matter how simple, people tend not to follow.

I think one reason I like physics over something like biology is that they are equations! I like theories that have equations because you can test things out. It seems with much of bio, especially evolution, there aren't many concrete equations that predict anything of any use. Now I know that is a huge generaliztion, but I think it often holds.

To be perfectly honest with you, I haven't decided one way or the other on evolution. I just don't see the evidence as being that strong to suggest that macro evolution actually takes place. Micro evoltion seems to have pretty strong support as far as adaptation and the like goes, but (as far as I know) we still haven't seen a species jump from one to another (as macro would suggest). It has been a while since I have studied this in any detail though. But really, this is why I like physics, it seems much easier to prove and disprove theories.

Cross posted at this post at my blog.
I definitely agree on the equations! :) In high school I always did ok in science but never particularly cared for it until I took physics. Everything else was too hand-wavy and wishy-washy.

When it comes to evolution we definitely do see it on the small scale, and maybe medium scale as well--though I am sure I am not using technical terms here. I consider small scale to be adaptations within a species, such as antibiotic resistant bacteria. Medium scale could be the selective breeding we've done with things like dogs (chihuahua vs. Great Danes) or corn (prior to genetic modification, not sure where that fits in).

I think the reason we don't have more evidence for the large scale (one species changing into another) is (1) our own species hasn't been around long enough to have direct evidence, and (2) the indirect evidence of fossils is too spotty to have a totally concrete trail to trace between two species.

It's kinda like stellar evolution in my opinion. We can't WATCH a molecular cloud collapse, hydrogen fusion begin and turn over into helium fusion, red giant branch, and the neutron star or white dwarf eventual death. It takes waaaay to long for us to observe the whole process. Instead we have to make do with snapshots along the way, and computer modelling.

Too bad we can't yet model entire organisms on the computer!
You have a good point about people's attdudes to science. No wonder people switch off because we are led to believe it is too complicated. When in fact some of those ideas could be made more acessible to the ordinary person and if that was done, and we had more of a climate to talk about science as much as we talk about celebrity gossip then I reckon we would have more people able to go all the way and study it in depth.
I think one of the problems with the perception of quantum is that the popular explanations of it dive right into the apparent paradoxes -- before you get to the idea that you don't really know where an electron is, you hear about Schrodinger's Cat and the two-slit experiment and waveforms collapsing all over the place. "What do you mean, the probabilities don't add up? What's a superposition of states?"

Of course, the reason these are the things people hear about is because they're the cool things. A particle in a 1-D well just doesn't sell. I guess you need to sex up the boring bits, somehow.
I suppose I could agree that many could indeed understand much of physics or science in general if they just allowed themselves to get past the terminology. One "problem" that physics has is that to really understand a concept you have to build up to it, everything builds on everything else. Generally speaking, the "common person" (whatever that actually means) likes to have things in little independant pieces that are self sufficient so you don't have to think as much. That usually doesn't happen with science very well.
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