Quantum snails

The following bit of information I got from an episode of QI, a quiz that is presented by Stephen Fry and specialises in useless but at the same time interesting facts. As an aside, it gets rid of quite a lot of common myths (for instance: it´s not true that dictators are general smaller than other people, champagne was not invented by the French but by the British, and the earth has not one but two moons).

In this particular episode, it is mentioned that once there was a guy that believed that snails who had mated were henceforth for ever telepathically connected. And so, he came up with the idea of a snail telegraph. Have a set of 26 snails in Paris and label each one of them with a letter of the alphabet. Send all their 26 ex-lovers to New York, and – again – identify each one of them with the same letter as their telepathic partner in Paris is associated with. Then spell out a word by wriggling the tails of those snails in Paris that make out the letters of that word. Their telepathic partners in New York would immediately receive their signal from their soul mates and hence wriggle their tails too. A reader in New York would then be able to figure out what the word is. In that way, one could send out messages from Paris to New York without losing time.

Interestingly enough, in quantum-mechanics, there is a principle called “entanglement” that means that isolated electron pairs (or polarized photon-pairs), would exactly show this behavior. It´s what the whole extremely interesting field of quantum-cryptography comes from.

What´s excruciatingly hard to understand for most people is that the quantum mechanic laws that describe fundamental particles do not describe phenomena of macroscopic structures such as bottles of water, nicely shaped stones or people dressed up as gurus. Hence, for these people it might come as a shock that the snail telegraph did not work. Meanwhile, various experiments have shown that the entanglement between electron pairs (or polarized photon-pairs) does exist (see footnote 1).

The conclusion of the previous paragraph is that the following basic facts should be remembered:

  1. Electrons are not snails.
  2. Macroscopic phenomena do not obey quantum-mechanics.
  3. Quantum-medicine, quantum-spirituality and quantum-quack-quack means as much as rock-opera, or, in other words: nothing.
  4. If the Buddha is in everything, it will also be in modern physics. However, there is hardly any modern physics in Buddhism apart from a slight archaic dress sense of their main practitioners.

Footnote 1:

The reason why fundamental particles (which is physics) do not obey the same laws as macroscopic phenomena (which is physics too) is not as strange or paradoxical as it might seem. It is based on the quite simple mathematical concept of “small effects cancel each other out when big numbers are involved”. Like almost all mathematics, it sounds more complicated than it is. It means that if one person talks to you, you can hear perfectly well what he says. When a whole stadium full of people are talking to you at the same time, you only hear “barrum barrum barrum”. Actually, that´s quite something else, but it does get the point across that dealing with one person is different than dealing with millions. A more accurate example would be the difference between throwing one die or 20 million dies. When you throw one die, the result might be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. When you throw 20 million dies at the same time, and divide the total number by 20 million, the resulting number will be very near to 3.5 (with a negligable chance of a deviation). One die obeys the rule: every value has a chance of 1/6 to occur. Twenty million dies together obey the rule: the average value will be 3.5.


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