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Opinions on the use of the expression Quantum Leap

  1. Feb 13, 2008 #1
    Opinions on the use of the expression "Quantum Leap"...

    It is an oxymoron, right? Quantum leap is the the physical distance moved by an electron when changing energy levels, correct? If you are making "quantum leaps" in technological developments, wouldn't you be going absolutely nowhere?

    I've even seen this term used in physics papers! For instance, in a paper about Arrayed Waveguide Gratings/DWDM (basically some telecom photonics) that I have in front of me, "This provides a quantum increase in network capacity without the need to laying new lines."

    I just think it is funny that a term that is so wrong is used even by technical people who probably know that it is incorrect.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 13, 2008 #2
    I hear it and think more of a jump by some physical amount(a quanta) rather than a gradual increase.
    The size relative to anything else is meaningless. The fact that it is a jump is what makes it quantum.
  4. Feb 13, 2008 #3
    That is true...but you are talking about going so small that you can actually talk about discrete energy levels. I guess I just can't help but think in in relative terms.

    I guess it could make sense if you figure "we were *there*, but now we are *here*" rather than a gradual development. I never thought about it that way. I guess it depends on how you look at it.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2008
  5. Feb 13, 2008 #4


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    The word Quanta doesn't mean small - it means 'discrete'
    The quantum = small scale is a misunderstanding on the part of physicists, the important fact is that energy only changes in discrete lumps.
  6. Feb 13, 2008 #5
    Darn, here I thought I had a legitimate case against the expression...:)

    My Modern Physics Prof has never liked the term either for the same reason...But to be fair he is probably biased due to having taught quantum mechanics. I am taking quantum in the summer with a different Prof, so I guess I will see how the opinions vary among physicists...

    And I guess I have just proved the case against myself. I just abbreviate the class name as "quantum" and hence associating the word exclusively with the topic in physics...

    Edit: Ok....I haven't given up yet! I looked up the definition and returned with "an indivisible entity or energy level in physics." In physics...indivisible entities are generally very small since you are talking about mono-something...Even if it doesn't have to be energy levels of an electron.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2008
  7. Feb 13, 2008 #6
    I think the term "quantum leap" alludes to a revolutionary advancement in physics which caused a transition from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics to describe the atomic world.

    So by taking a "quantum leap" would be to make substantial progress in something, with the same intensity and impacts as the transition from CM to QM was.

    That's just how I interpret it. It's an oxymoron nevertheless.
  8. Feb 13, 2008 #7
    I look at it as being discrete, meaning there is no middle ground between the two.

    Sort of like vacuum tubes to transistors. Transistors are just infinitely better than vacuum tubes, and there really was no "in between" between the two to gradually go from, vs. something like computers where even though computers today are like a hundred or more times better than computers from 10 years ago, there was no "quantum" leap, because it's all really similar technology, just made more efficient and smaller.
  9. Feb 14, 2008 #8


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    I think that it was a really good show, despite the religious crap. I'm glad that Bakula got to continue his career with 'Enterprise'.
  10. Feb 14, 2008 #9
    Maybe they use the term 'quantum leap' as the the leap between the state of the physics and general community before and after quantum theory. That was a big leap indeed.

    In popular saying, it always refers to a giant leap.
  11. Feb 14, 2008 #10


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    Seriously, I think that it just comes down to public ignorance. The people who use the term to suggest a great advance of some sort are probably the same ones who will say that someone is 'light-years' ahead of a competitor. Unfortunately, most of the press these days seems to consist of illiterates, so it propogates at a disturbing rate.
  12. Feb 14, 2008 #11

    Ivan Seeking

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    I think you mean students and non-physicists, not physicists.
  13. Feb 14, 2008 #12


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    Yes you're right :redface:

    I have been trying to find out when the phrase 'Quantum leap' came about - it looks like it came after QM and so is partly a joke/pun by the physicists using it as a big jump based on a theory about the very small.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2008
  14. Feb 14, 2008 #13
    As I was saying...I do know a physics *professor* who knows very well that quantized means discreet (I mean, that's exactly what he told us in Modern Physics class anywho - and he better know anyway since he teaches quantum mechanics). Still he is on my side that quantum leap is an oxymoron.

    Then again, he maybe just likes pulling peoples' legs, lol.

    I think again it is important to point out that the word "quanta" even though not exclusively referring to electron states usually it does refer to something that is to be studied at the level where you are talking about individual entities (which are naturally very small). Like photons for quantum optics...Several online sources say that the word Quantum is exclusive to physics, even if we are not talking electrons.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2008
  15. Feb 14, 2008 #14


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    Maybe it's just my lack of education showing through, but I've always been of the understanding that 'quanta' is the modern day version of the Greek 'atom', meaning something that is indivisible. That would indicate leptons such as photons or neutrinos, or atomic particles like electrons or positrons or protons.
    As an energy unit, it would imply the least possible energy that could be expended by an entity. That, to me, would appear to be the transistion from one electron orbital to another. Am I missing something?

    edit: By the bye, the plurality of the word escapes me. I know that 'quanta' is the singular, and 'quantum' refers to the scene as a whole... what the hell is the proper plural of 'quanta'?
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2008
  16. Feb 14, 2008 #15
    Just to reiterate what people have already said above, “Quantum Leap” doesn't have anything to do with quanta or distance, it refers to the rapidity, abruptness, and radical change in thinking of the historical transition between classical understanding of atomic-scale phenomena and QM in physics. Speaking of ignorance, Danger! Sheesh.
  17. Feb 14, 2008 #16
    Not that Wikipedia should be considered especially authoritative but note the paragraph beginning with “In the vernacular…” in the quantum leap article. And I'm sure the people at the electronics company producing this computer weren't ignorant. (Okay, the marketing guys who name products can be pretty ignorant. But I'm just sayin'.)
  18. Feb 14, 2008 #17


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    I converse in English, not Yankee Newspeak.
  19. Feb 14, 2008 #18
    Sorry, I was saying that lampooning the unwashed masses as ignoramuses was premature.
  20. Feb 14, 2008 #19


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    Okay, I'm cool with that. It wasn't, in fact, the 'unwashed masses' that I was perturbed about. It's the media, who should know better but insist upon being stupid for the sake of ratings. It's the same as on our local news, when an anchor will say "There's lots of traffic situations to watch out for..." Would it really kill him/her to say "There are several..."? Sadly, it probably would. Even though they're teaching our children to be illiterate, people would probably switch channels away from someone who spoke properly because it would appear condescending. That's the only reason that the Calgary (or any other city) Sun exists. Journalistically, it's half-way between the Calgary Herald and the National Inquirer, but they call police officers 'cops', and half of the paper is sports, and they have a bikini girl somewhere in that sports section. It's also tabloid size. Naturally, some guy whose head is half-full of Tim's coffee and half-full of vacuum will read that on the C-train.
  21. Feb 14, 2008 #20
    Yeah, I fully agree. The media is very frequently a bunch of flamboyant airheads.
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