Sunday, January 06, 2013

Time travel and God particles. Also, the biggest illusion of all

For a change, I am returning to my roots. On a hunch, I bought a book called The Big Questions in Physics, written by Michael Brooks. This book is a masterpiece, and also a mind bender. It has enough material in it to amaze even a reasonably aware person like me, and is written simply enough for a totally out of touch person to understand the key points.

The book tries to simplify and state what the current cutting edge thinking is on fundamental questions like Can we travel through time? Is any one of us unique? How large is the universe? What is reality? and so on.
It is astounding, or so it seems to me, that modern day physics is so close to metaphysics or religion. Spooky, in many ways.

Sample this - matter (the stuff that anything is made of, including you and me) exhibits duality. It behaves sometimes like a wave, and sometimes like a particle. What it actually is, depends entirely on the observer!! And not only on the observer's current actions, but also the observer's future actions!! Confused? Read on -

In an experiment where a single photon is passed through a double slit (you may remember this from class XII physics practicals!), the resulting pattern exhibits interference, showing that the photon is a wave (or that it passes through both slits simultaneously). Now, it we add apparatus to the experiment to measure which slit the photon actually passes through, the interference disappears! The photon starts exhibiting particle properties. In other words, the photon is at multiple places AT THE SAME TIME. Only the observer's actions (past or future) determine which of the millions of possibilities it will actually exhibit.

I may not have explained this very well, but I highly recommend a read. If nothing else, it will remind you of the Matrix, where all reality is an illusion. 

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