Few days back I had my own version of the classic “I told you so!” moment. And as expected it had to do with Quantum Mechanics and Chaos Theory, so I am quite excited to write something about it :). Here is my story: ask any theoretical physicist out there, and he (on some rare occasions, she) will boldly tell you that you just cannot observe quantum peturbations on a macro scale.. forget observing, they just do not happen. Simply put: Quantum mechanics == atomic world, Newton’s Laws==Real world. But I always believed the line of thought that the quantum “magic” does not only occur within the walls of the sub-atomic world, its everywhere.
Before you start yawning, just read me out…I don’t want you to lose on me on this one :).
Since 20th century, there were two major theories (or rather discoveries) which we thought governed everything around us:
1. Theory of Relativity (by Einstein): changed our perception of the Universe completely. Latest experiments by NASA have proved the groun-breaking theory and changed our perception of both space and time.
2. Quantum Mechanics (Heisenber, Planck): observed only in sub-atomic particles.
3. Chaos theory: the “mother” of all theories! At least I believe that..quite strongly 🙂
Until last few years, it was thought that the normal physical laws “lose” their meaning in the quantum world, and quantum mechanics has no relevance in our day-to-day physical world unless we deal at microscopic sub-atomic levels.
Just to understand better, consider a practical example. If you throw a ball up in air, it is bound to come down, unless there is some external force acting on it apart from gravity. Similary, if you push an object using some force, you can calculate its next position given basic values like the amount of force use, friction etc. This is our real world where we can see, feel and experience different events as they occur. This includes the Universe around us.
But things radically, or rather magically, change in the sub-atomic world, which is also a “real world” … one which we cannot observe with our naked eyes because the dimensions are so small that we need instruments more powerful than an electron microscope just to understand the basic events in the sub-atomic world. Here surprisingly all known mechanical laws either fail or are just not applicable, much to the frustration of scientists looking for some kind of unified theory which can bind both the sub-atomic and Universe (observable world) in some common field equations. For example, if we throw a sub-atomic ball up, it might not come down, but just disappear and then re-appear at some other location! This weird Cheshire cat like behavior is just one of the conundrums of Quantum Mechanics puzzling scientists the world over…until now.. 🙂
Two of the major foundations of Chaos Theory are:
1. Self similarity
2. Self organization
Both of these imply that every single particle around us, be it an electron or a tree-leaf or even the Moon, follows the same set of “rules” and is inter-twined in a similar self-replicating fashion. A good example of this is the beautiful and striking similarity between the planets in our Solar System, revolving around a central sun, and the atomic orbital planes, with electrons revolving around a core central nucleus. All this points to the interesting hypothesis that quantum rules might apply in real world too, with some obviously different rule sets.
Finally we have some evidence, and this recent article from Science Daily summarizes:
Dartmouth researchers have discovered a potentially important piece of the quantum/classical puzzle — learning how the rules of physics in the quantum world (think smaller than microscopic) change when applied to the classical world (think every day items, like cars and trees).
Finally, this article on Chaos Theory in quantum mechanics hits the nail on the head, and makes me wonder if my “understanding” of the non-linear (aka super complex) relationship of our life, quantum phenomena and Chaos Theory would soon be proved right!
I am sure if none of these electrons, neutrinos or the mighty Higgs boson (the God particle) interest you a bit, the effect of Chaos theory on your own personal life will definitely make you sit up and wonder the beauty of the universe around us! It is a great moment, the caterpillar is coming slowly out of the cocoon, ready to flutter its tender wings and create the next butterfly effect.