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Silver Surfer Articles
47.  Quanta, Big Bangs and Black Holes

Ever since we started writing these ‘Silver Surfer articles’ we have tried to cover topics that are particularly pertinent or even helpful to this Silver Surfer generation which some of us belong to. This article may fall over the edge of that, but we’ll see. Now by way of a prologue, if you like, before I get into it in this article I must confess that my most favourite fairy story has always been Hans Anderson’s ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ which, just in case you haven’t read it, is about a couple of con-men who purported to make a special material that only wise people could see. The net result was that everyone agreed they could see this wonderful and beautiful material that was being used to make a new suit for the emperor but which, of course, wasn’t actually there!  On the great day everyone hailed the wonderful clothes except a young boy who had not heard what he was supposed to see and asked the inevitable question, “Why is the emperor wearing no clothes?”

Now I mention this because we live in some odd days. The origin of some of these things began when you and I were just children but they have come to full maturity today. I warn you, I’m aware I am either about to expose my staggering ignorance or reveal a lot of very silly clever people who ask the rest of us to believe silly things. This may not be your cup of tea, but here goes; we can’t please everyone all the time!


Let’s start with the subject of Quantum Mechanics, and I will in each case quote exactly from books or magazines in my possession. In case you haven’t been down this path it started in the early part of the 20th century with a German scientist named Max Planck who proposed that energy comes in tiny lumps called ‘quanta’. This theory has been extended by a number of other famous scientists but, and I quote, “quantum mechanics remains shrouded in mystery because uniquely among scientific theories, no one really knows how or why it works. It makes certain predictions about the microscopic world that go completely against our common sense. For instance it explains how an atom can exist in more than one place at the same time until we check to see what it is up to.”  When it says ‘it’ the writer surely means ‘scientists’ and note the word ‘predictions’. And if it goes absolutely against everything else, why didn’t someone have the courage early on to say, “What a load of old.....”?


Are you with me so far? It may be that these scientists are having a joke with us but if so they only prove the point Hans Anderson made, that you can get gullible people to believe anything. This is the age in which we live where we are more and more educated but asked to be more and more credulous.


Down at the subatomic level, we are being asked to believe, a microscopic particle at point A is also supposed to exist at point B that is different from point A. No it doesn’t; you are simply playing with language! By definition (i.e. the meaning we give to language) something at point A is NOT the same as that at point B, even if the particle does appear to move incredibly quickly. By definition of existence, if I am a defined being, I cannot exist in two places at the same time. If I do appear to, the second one is a copy.


So along comes this guy called Heisenberg who said (in 1927) that when it comes to atoms and the smaller particles inside atoms, we can never know exactly where, say, an electron is located while at the same time knowing how fast it is moving.  Isn’t this merely a matter of ‘size’?  If something staggeringly small (so small we can’t see or properly measure it) is moving staggeringly fast and we don’t have the technology to keep up with it because we as larger bodies move staggeringly slowly by comparison, of course we can’t anchor it at any microsecond because we can’t keep up with it. The uncertainty of this principle is whether we will ever be able to produce something that can measure billions of times a second this tiny particle.


But it’s when we come to Erwin Schrodinger that you begin to feel these scientists are taking the mickey out of the rest of us. If you haven’t heard about his cat I should admit that the quote I’m using does start that he “proposed a thought experiment to highlight how crazy quantum mechanics was.”  Now I am assuming the authors of this book meant how stupid the theories were, rather than how quirky nature is, because everything else in science is seriously about rational order.


Right, here’s the big quote describing his proposition: “Schrodinger suggested taking a box in which we place a cat, some lethal poison and a radioactive source. According to quantum mechanics we cannot say, unless we are checking, whether a radioactive atom has broken apart, or decayed, within a given time, so we must describe it as having both decayed and not decayed at the same time. Only when we check do we force it to be one or the other.   Inside Schrodinger's box, the experiment is designed so that any decayed atom will have spat out a particle that triggers the release of the poison, killing the cat. Since the cat, said Schrodinger, is also made up of atoms (albeit trillions of them) then it too is presumably subject to the laws of quantum mechanics. So, until we open the box to look, we must describe the cat as being both dead and alive at the same time. Only when we open the box do we force everything inside into one or other state.”


Now I think I read this right: he was making fun of Quantum Mechanics, he was the small boy in the Emperor’s New Clothes. So why does anyone take all these other very respectable scientists so seriously?


I was put in mind of all this recently when the news broke that some super scientists had just found stuff out in space didley-million light years away that took them within microseconds of the big bang, which for the moment we’ll assume happened. But it was the excitement: we’re on the edge of the most massive breakthrough in all of scientific history!  Hullo?  Isn’t it amazing how scientists can stand on their heads and deny in the left side of their brain what the right side is saying?   You see (and this is where Silver Surfer age is shown) I was brought up with that old (was it Newtonian) physics that said for there to be movement there has to be an originating force, or you cannot get something from nothing. Modern scientists try to escape this early stuff we were taught by talking about ‘energy’ but as we noted earlier, they’re scrabbling with that!


But here’s the thing: energy is ‘something’ and if energy existed before the big bang something acted on this ‘energy’ or within this ‘energy’ to bring about this ‘big bang’, and if we’re to believe even a quarter of what we’re asked to believe,  nothing existed before the big bang – but energy is ‘something’ so it doesn’t get you anywhere.  If there was absolutely NOTHING but NOTHING that existed before this famous big bang, then everything we’ve ever known and everything we’ve ever been taught UTTERLY DENIES that possibility, that if you can even imagine absolutely nothing, it is impossible for anything to come from that state because, back to the language games again, it denies the very meaning of the word existence. If NOTHING exists, it cannot produce something in what we call existence.  Our minds just can’t cope with that concept however clever we may claim to be.   Another set of the Emperor’s New Clothes.


If you think I’m being picky, I’m just pointing out all these weird and wonderful things incredibly well educated people dare to suggest, which makes me think rational thought has been suspended somewhere in the years of our existence.  I’ll finish with one more example of pointless words. National Geographic have just produced an article about black holes.  In some of the smaller print on one of their graphics, I came across this: “The singularity: According to Einstein’s equations, at the centre of a black hole a star’s entire mass has collapsed into an infinitely dense dimensionless point called a singularity. Singularities likely don’t really exist but point to a mathematical hole in our understanding of gravity.”  Note that last sentence which translated means, “Although we’ve just explained what goes on here, don’t take a blind bit of notice of us because Einstein got his maths wrong and no one else was clever enough to point out how he was wrong.”  And we pay these people money out of our taxes?


You know I may be getting cynical in my old age, but I can’t help but wondering what practical value some of this stuff has? Yes, I assume that dabbling with stuff at subatomic levels may well open ways up for great discoveries that will help the human race but some of it, be honest, does stretch the credibility levels a bit much and leave you wondering if some of the money spent on this might better be spent on feeding the poor of the world, but I realise I have just spoken heresy, but it was fun doing it!  Don’t ever say you don’t get education on Rochford Life!   And as we usually do, let’s finish with some light hearted or enlightening quotes:


In the past it never occurred to me that every casual remark of mine would be snatched up and recorded.  Otherwise I would have crept further into my shell.    -- Einstein to his biographer Carl Seelig (October 25, 1953)


"Like other occult techniques of divination, the statistical method has a private jargon deliberately contrived to obscure its methods from non-practitioners."    --   G. O. Ashley


“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.”   -  Albert Einstein


“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.”

― Douglas Adams


“In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.”  ― Terry Pratchett


“If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat.”

― Douglas Adams


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