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Quantum physics for dummies

Sept. 26, 2014

Nebula. Wow.

Today is the Autumnal Equinox 2014. Actually, today is Monday and this post is scheduled to be published on Friday so, by the time you’re reading this, it will be after the Autumnal Equinox, perhaps even years into the future. Kind of like looking at distant galaxies through the Hubble telescope, peering millennia into the distant past. Just a whole lot less awesome.

I observe solstices and equinoxes and the four cross-quarter days that mark the midpoint between them – Imbloc and Beltane and Lammas and Samhain. The changing of the seasons, the dying of the light and its rebirth . . . . These serve to divide my life upon this Earth into manageable chunks; they provide a mechanism by which I can mark the slippage of time between my now and my no-longer-me-what-then. Turn, turn, turn. There is a season.

Right now my husband and I are binge-watching seasons of Through the Wormhole, a documentary series which first premiered on the Science Channel in 2011. Astrophysics is our guilty pleasure. Hosted by Morgan Freeman (who better than Hollywood’s idea of God?) and featuring a geek’s gallery of rock star scientists, it addresses all the big questions: “Is There a Creator?” “What Happened Before the Beginning?” “Does the Universe Have an Edge?,” and, of course, the great granddaddy of all queries, “Is There Life After Death?” Not a one of us that doesn’t have a dog in that fight.

The series bedazzles me, which is not to say that I comprehend the science behind it. My math skills, or, to be more specific, my appalling lack thereof meant that I never was able to rise to the occasion of chemistry and physics and instead was left to languish in the lowly slough that was General Math where I learned to work a cash register, a role that the Digital Age would soon render . . . along with most of my other skills . . . redundant. I cannot divide fractions or, for that matter, calculate a tip to save my life, but I stand amazed before the immensity of the Universe and those rarest of individuals who, in defiance of all that was cool, chose a career in Science.

I long ago abandoned conventional religion as too puny a construct to account for so ginormous a thing as a multiverse. Would you choose to have your child’s serious illness treated by a Stone Age physician or a modern specialist? Why then would you look to the religion of a nomadic Stone Age tribe for answers to the kind of questions Through the Wormhole poses? But physics . . . that’s big enough. That’s a different story.

If only someone had told me as a teenager how not-boring science was. If only someone had mentioned that it had the potential to unlock the mysteries of the Universe. But would I have listened, adrift in hormonal soup as I was?

If there’s one thing I have learned, it is this: education is wasted . . . utterly wasted . . . on the young.

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