Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sunday Salon 9 November 2008

A short post - because I am reading (heh). This week Hodmandod Senior realised that we haven't had a holiday for the last couple of years and decided to take the week off. Consequently we have been gadding about in the car and on trains, and one day had to endure an exhibition of Pre-Rapahelite art (Hodmandod Senior loves the stuff). There was one sketch which I liked, but generally I can't see how Pre-Raphaelite art is that much different from other (sentimental) Victorian art, although Hodmandod Senior has tried to explain...

Anyway, food at the art gallery (which shall remain nameless) was very bad: dried up bread rolls, unbearably (and mysteriously) hot spicy soup which made our eyes water and noses run, even drier cakes and it took so long to pay for our tea that by the time we took it to our table it was cold. Null points - as they say in all the best Eurovision Song Contests.

However, I did read a book: FRED AND EDIE by Jill Dawson, which I loved - a mainly epistolary tale about a woman on trial for murdering her husband ... and not because he'd made her go and see questionable artworks in unfavourable conditions. At the end of it I briefly considered whether I preferred this book (which was short-listed for the Orange Prize and the Whitbread (now the Costa)) over another of her great books, WILD BOY, and decided I did not. Although both books are excellent, WILD BOY haunts me still - it is very clever, moving and made me reconsider few things I thought I knew.

Ah well, back to Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You: I am, of course, learning a lot. It is the Salavador Dali of science. Nothing is what it seems. Concepts seem to flow and distort like semi-liquid clocks...and I have just read an explanation of why quantum mechanics only applies to the microscopic world, and why a photon can be at two places at once. Marcus Chown made this all seem like prefect sense when I was reading it, but unfortunately, now I try to recall it, it doesn't. It was something to do with a photon having the properties of both a particle and a wave ... and that if you take a single photon, since it is a wave it can have two components, so one component can go through a glass window while the other component is reflected back and so - voilá - two places at once.

Then, again, looking at it from the point of view of Everett's multiple universes, one component is in one universe and another is in another, and when they finish travelling, in order to see them they must come together in a sort of constructive (or destructive) interference ... but these interferences are vulnerable, delicate things - easily degraded by the environment, even the act of looking at them can extinguish them ... which is why, in the macroscopic world, where everything is necessarily observed, the interferences are destroyed, and so nothing, in quantum mechanical terms, can be measured ...argh...back to Marcus, who makes much more sense.

Added later: For another take on 'this sort of thing' see Gordon McCabe's hilarious review of the film 'Quantum of Solace'.

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Anonymous Mary said...

Clare - I have exactly the same problem with quantum physics that you have. I can understand it when an author explains it, but in trying to explain what I've read to someone else, my brain becomes all thumbs. I think you've done a good job in your post, though.

Sun Nov 09, 05:51:00 pm  
Blogger Gordon McCabe said...

The problem with most popular expositions of quantum theory is that they fail to clearly distinguish between those aspects of quantum theory which are commonly agreed upon, and those claims about quantum theory which are interpretation-dependent.

For example, the Bohm/de Broglie interpretation holds that all the values of a microscopic system are definite at all times, and the actual state of the system evolves deterministically, but the quantum state provides an incomplete description of this state. Under this interpretation, each particle is always in a definite position, and the probabilities of quantum theory are merely expressions of incomplete knowledge.

The Copenhagen interpretation holds that the values of a microscopic system are capable of being indefinite, and the state of the system is capable of changing randomly. Under this interpretation, the probabilities of quantum theory are expressions of objective indeterminacy.

And the many-worlds ('Everett') interpretation holds that the state of a microsopic system evolves deterministically, but the world branches when a measurement-like interaction takes place.

Sun Nov 09, 06:39:00 pm  
Blogger Kay said...

There is some very good pre-raphelite painting and some very bad. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has a wonderful painting called 'Last of England' by Ford Madox Brown which is stunning. But some of it can seem sentimental, especially the later stuff.

Sun Nov 09, 07:14:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Mary: I like that expression:'my mind becomes all thumbs' - often my state too!

Gordon: Thank you! I've read what you've written a couple of times now and I think I see. After the Chown I am going to read Quantum by Kumar so I'll bear in mind what you've said as I read that too.

Kay: Strangely enough the sketch that I liked was by Ford Maddox Brown - I think he's actually pretty good. Well I like his work, anyway.

Sun Nov 09, 08:19:00 pm  
Blogger Susangalique said...

yay for little mini break holidays!

Tue Nov 11, 04:45:00 am  
Blogger jem said...

I used to have a lot of large pre-raphelite posters. I think they portray women very beautifully and some of the colours are gorgeous, but I've moved into more abstract tastes now.

Glad you liked 'Fred & Edie' - I'm still excited by Jill Dawson, and I'll never tire of saying it :)

Thu Nov 13, 03:36:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, Susangalique - little breaks are sometimes better than the bigger ones I find.

Jem: Yes, I can imagine posters would work very well. I know this is a matter of taste - but I have not yet seen a Pre-Raphaelite picture I have considered to be great art. Gorgeous romantic images, perhaps, but not great art. I'm not sure why - I'm going to have to think about this, a bit.

Fri Nov 14, 09:45:00 am  

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