From Atom to the Quantum Ordeal

Visualization of the atomic constituents: Image Source: ed.ted.com

Binod Bhattarai

It is obvious that there is no proper way of telling the current state of your mind neither the time of the day nor the weather outside while you are here reading this. I won’t even surprise you if I say that I never knew you were going to read this article. (I hope you will not take it as some challenge and run away closing this book…). It is outlandish to think about but it really did happen; a beautiful work of science and mathematics to get you here right now reading this article. Here, Science and Math just does not mean numbers and physical laws that govern but a wonderful combination of phenomenon and figures that works beautifully together to get you here.

The piece of paper you are holding, the ink in which this very text you are reading, you and everything that exists around your surrounding are made up of electrons, protons and neutrons. Make a little twist in their numbers and they work together to create something else. Every drop of water out there or the cool air we breathe, the sun and the stars that shine in the sky and everything else that exists; they all have things in common if we look deep inside their very fundamentals. There is again electrons, protons and neutrons, which you can visualize after cutting out this layer of the paper of the magazine into equal halves for 30 times. Together they can form different atoms by varying their number in their combination. In addition, those atoms finally become elements and compounds and on a large scale when they combine, we begin to see things around us the way they are right now. This combination of atoms of different elements taking account to their current position and state around you as a whole never happened before and would only exist like this once. Moreover, those particles never had any plan of creating things the way they are around us. The best example is you, yourself. The atoms inside you of various elements exist like this for now and it will only exist like this once for the age of this universe. When we die, those atoms and molecules transform into other compounds.

Imagine you wake up suddenly in the middle of a night and you find darkness all around you. No, it is not the NEA doing power cuts. Here I mean serious darkness, nothing but only emptiness all around you. Even your bed is gone and you cannot even see where you are standing. Now if you move, can you tell where you were moving and how far have you gone? It may sound eldritch but there is nothing creepy. Ok let us make it easier for you by adding the bed there with you. Ok now start with the presence of your bed and you and nothing else in our experiment. If you move, you can always tell whether you moved away from the bed, towards left or towards right or even up and down if you had wings. See as soon as we add a reference point all the things start making sense all of sudden.
Let us say we can never tell for sure where a matter is exactly located. In our earlier thought experiment when we saw nothing, there was still a probability that our bed was somewhere in the space. You may say, “Hey we can easily visualize the state of a particle by knowing its position and momentum.” “For one particle in ordinary 3-Dimensional space, there are six numbers, the position in each of the three directions and the momentum in each of the three directions. If we could fix a reference point and know all the positions and momentum of every particle in the universe, we could predict the future and the past with perfect accuracy blah blah.” However, unfortunately, there is something wrong with our world where uncertainties start counting and leads us to a very different world called the quantum world.

page 18..Probability densities of an electron in a Hydrogen atom

What if I say I will define a wave function that will tell us the probability of getting a certain result for any observation or measurement we could imagine doing. The complete wave function will consist of some value of amplitude for every possible observational outcome that specifies the state just as the positions and momentum specify the state of the object in general. Now that is it. Welcome to the quantum world and keep counting the probabilities. You will be surprised to know that it solves all the beautiful mess around us. Staring with this one, “there is amplitude that your bed is somewhere and your whole house could be somewhere in the universe. So no worries you’ll get back there soon.” Tonight be certain no matter what happens your bed is going to be there somewhere here or somewhere else.

“It is not that modern physics has rediscovered ancient Buddhist wisdom or something but the quantum world is leading us to brilliant future possibilities and is arguably the greatest triumph of human intelligence and imagination in all of history.” – Sean Caroll

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