# Anthony Zee's quote

1. Nov 7, 2008

### Shaun Culver

I'm not sure if this post belongs in this forum; feel free to move it.

In his book, 'Quantum field theory in a nutshell', Anthony Zee writes:
"Quantum field theory arose out of our need to describe the ephemeral nature of life."

What does he mean by this?

2. Nov 7, 2008

### George Jones

Staff Emeritus
This is a standard motivation for quantum field theory that Zee has phrased in an unusual way.

Two paragraphs down, Zee writes "It is is in the peculiar confluence of special relativity and quantum mechanics that a new set of phenomena arises: Particles can be born and particles can die. It is this matter of birth life and death that requires the development of a new subject in physics, that of quantum field theory."

3. Nov 7, 2008

### Shaun Culver

So, "the ephemeral nature of life", here, refers to the observed fact that particles 'are not forever' in some abstract sense. What confuses me about his quote is the possibility that he may be referring to biological "life" in some way.

4. Nov 7, 2008

### George Jones

Staff Emeritus
Even though Zee purposely makes it sound that way, Zee is not referring to biological life, he is referring to the fact that, because of $E=mc^2$, a theory is needed that can accommodate the creation and annihilation of particles.

5. Nov 7, 2008

### atyy

If quantum field theory is truly "fundamental" enough for us to understand how the properties of biological organisms arise from the properties of elementary particles, then by describing the nature of the elementary particles, one would also be describing the nature of life. We don't know if this is true, but as far as we know quantum field theory is consistent with quantum mechanics, which is consistent with chemistry, which is consistent with biology.

6. Nov 7, 2008

### Shaun Culver

In one of Anthony Zee's ASTI lectures (http://www.asti.ac.za/avi/14-Zee-QuantumFieldTheory-2.avi), he comments on this quote. After reciting the quote (3.30 min.), he says:

"Which I feel more and more as I get older."

Then he recites a Chinese phrase which "describes the nature of life": (at 3.40 min.)

"Life is just clouds and smoke passing in front of our eyes."

This seems to obscure the neat explanation that George Jones has given.

Last edited: Nov 7, 2008
7. Nov 7, 2008

### olgranpappy

Not really. Zee is just being poetic.

This is typical of him.

Life is just clouds and smoke is just a metaphor. And a metaphor is just a metaphor is a rose.

8. Nov 7, 2008

### vanesch

Staff Emeritus
Aah ! Literary criticism on PF on a quantum physics book :!!)

9. Nov 7, 2008

### Shaun Culver

Zee may be being poetic, but what about the quote:

"Quantum field theory arose out of our need to describe the ephemeral nature of life; which I feel more and more as I get older."

If indeed the quote is stated in the same sense as George Jones' explanation, why would the creation and annihilation of particles/photons be a source of doubt each day for many years. Am I missing something?

Last edited: Nov 8, 2008
10. Nov 8, 2008

### atyy

Quantum field theory describes ephemeral particles, which underlie life, which is also fleeting, which he understands more and more as he gets older.