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Nov 9, 2022

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Uncertainty

Posted by in categories: education, mathematics, quantum physics

Like most physicists, I spent much of my career ignoring the majority of quantum mechanics. I was taught the theory in graduate school and applied the mechanics here and there when an interesting problem required it … and that’s about it.

Despite its fearsome reputation, the mathematics of quantum theory is actually rather straightforward. Once you get used to the ins and outs, it’s simpler to solve a wide variety of problems in quantum mechanics than it is in, say, general relativity. And that ease of computation—and the confidence that goes along with wielding the theory—mask most of the deeper issues that hide below the surface.

Deeper issues like the fact that quantum mechanics doesn’t make any sense. Yes, it’s one of the most successful (if not the most successful) theories in all of science. And yes, a typical high school education will give you all the mathematical tools you need to introduce yourself to its inner workings. And yes, for over a century we have failed to come up with an alternative theory of the subatomic universe. Those are all true statements, and yet: Quantum mechanics doesn’t make any sense.

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