Friday, July 11, 2008

Quantum Mechanics for Beginners

(image as posted in Wikipedia)

This is a response to a query a fellow made on BackReaction which I’ve taken the liberty to address here rather then clog up the space as it is in regards to an unrelated matter to the mentioned post. However, in as my interest in the question supersedes what I perceive as the true motivation for the query I offer the following.

Dany asks:

“Please suggest sequence of three books (time ordered) best suitable for the beginner to grasp QM (independent or tutored learning)”

For basic (non relativistic) QM, disregarding the math prerequisites, I would say perhaps the following:

  • (1) The Feynman Lectures on Physics-Volume III (Feynman-Leighton-Sands)
  • (2) Quantum Mechanics and Experience (David Z. Albert)
  • (3) The Undivided Universe (David Bohm and Basil Hiley)

If on the other hand one only wants the whole thing as just the facts and nothing but the facts, you can simply read Bohm’s initial primer on the whole subject - Quantum Theory. However, since just after writing this book Bohm was prompted to come up with a clearer explanation I view this book more from of a historical perspective rather than an explanative one.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Time, Mind, Body & Soul

As a consequence of recently being exposed to a wonderful blog, written by couple of married (to each other) physicists, I was lead to an interesting group of discussions pointing out changes of mind that certain contemporary intellectuals have had recently. In reading them I came across two, that not only interested me, yet also seemed to correlate as to my present way of thinking, from both my own scientific and philosophical perspectives. What you find here is as it is to be found as a comment I left on this blog and continues as follows (I take the liberty here to clean up a few mistakes I originally made):

The articles you point to on the changes of mind, truly are both interesting and indeed thought provoking. Two in particular now will have me go into one of my own protracted wonder modes. The first is a quote taken from that of Lee Smolin, who of course is one of Perimeters Institute's leading and founding researchers. He is referring here to his change of mind as to time being merely an illusion. He sums up his thoughts as follows:

“It is becoming clear to me that the mystery of the nature of time is connected with other fundamental questions such as the nature of truth in mathematics and whether there must be timeless laws of nature. Rather than being an illusion, time may be the only aspect of our present understanding of nature that is not temporary and emergent.”

I must admit that I share Smolin’s thoughts in regards to this. That is not that I should be compared as to fully having his depth of understanding on the matter. Einstein himself wrestled with this and once when asked if he thought that it could be simply as Smolin first thought said (I have paraphrased):

“It all could be an illusion, yet if so, it is a stubbornly persistent one.”

The second one is that of the change of mind of Todd Feinberg (Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the US). Here is expressing his change of mind as to whether a human being possessed a soul. As taken from the article, he previously believed that the notion of a soul was a fanciful religious invention. However, he has had a change of heart in saying:

“I have come to believe that an individual consciousness represents an entity that is so personal and ontologically unique that it qualifies as something that we might as well call ‘a soul’.”

Although he has come to this new way of thinking, he qualifies this in adding, that although convinced that the brain and the mind could be regarded as separate, though dependent, entities. He reminds that the soul dies with the body. This also is something that from a scientific and philosophical perspective I have also struggled with for years. My current line of thinking, although not exactly the same as his, runs pretty close.

The interesting thing for me is that Dr. Feinsberg’s position could be slightly modified by that of Dr. Smolin’s. That modification would be that time, if truly one aspect of nature proven not to lose its status as being a true aspect of reality and that reality is that of Einstein’s, insisting that time being a dimension. Then any one part of this dimension would also have permanence of sorts (as any part of a dimension would have). In this way, Dr. Feinsberg’s soul, although not immortal in the usual sense, could be at least permanent in the context in which Dr. Smolin suggests. I know all this is mere conjecture and a conjecture as science considers is nothing until empirically supported. It is however interesting to imagine that this too one day may also be decided.