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Quantum Physics for the Masses

  1. May 8, 2010 #1
    Hello, world. This is my first post here...and an ambitious one it is indeed. I'm 15 years of age (I dont know how that is proportionally to the main contributors here, but anyway) and it has occured to me that there exists a mysterious ether in the non-quantum literate world that it is an extraordinarily complex and inaccessible topic. I'm looking for possible collaborators on a guide which helps even the most intellectually challenged understand Quantum/Submollecular phenomena. If there are any interested, I will publish a list of proposed topics. An articulate and concise language style is a neccessity, along with both a creative and academic mind. Thanks in advance.

    P.S Why did the chicken cross the Mobius strip?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 8, 2010 #2
    Welcome to PF PipBoy. May I ask what your current level of understanding of Newtonian Physics, SR/GR, and QM is? To write for people who are not necessarily in the know generally requires much more knowledge than it does to communicate with others who already grasp these concepts. In the case of QM especially, the math is a great hinderence for those who are unfamiliar with it, and for those who are.
  4. May 8, 2010 #3


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    Welcome to Physics Forums PipBoy (and welcome back Frame Dragger :wink:). Unfortunately I think it's impossible to understand QM without at least a working knowledge of complex numbers and linear algebra, and it would be hard to get the most intellectually challenged past that. It will probably be hard for you to find someone who wants to join in as a collaborator, but if you ask specific questions about the things you're interested in, there are lots of people here who can give you good answers.
  5. May 8, 2010 #4
    Hi PipBoy,

    The first step to learning Quantum Mechanics is learning about linear algebra and Hilbert spaces, which are the mathematical framework in which Quantum states and properties live.

    Since you're asking for "Quantum Physics for the Masses", I'm wondering if you'd benefit from a slightly unusual approach.
    Bob Coecke is working on a pictorial notation for the algebra of Quantum Mechanics that he claims could be taught in Kindergarten (I wouldn't go that far, maybe 2nd grade). It's really beautiful and easy to understand, and it makes a lot of things clear that are obscured in the usual way of writing things. It's also exactly the same as the usual approach, and it's extremely easy to translate between the two (though it's easier to write calculations in the usual way).

    Unfortunately, no one has yet written a book or any articles that try to teach the stuff to beginners. The closest is an article written by Bob Coecke, but it'd be hard to read for someone who's never read a college math book before. You should definitely take a look though: http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/quant-ph/pdf/0510/0510032v1.pdf

    Let me know how far you get.
    Last edited: May 8, 2010
  6. May 8, 2010 #5
    Well, I'm not much older than you, but I'll tell you that what you're trying to do is very ambitious. I suppose you have work for the next few decades cut out for you, good luck, hope you're successful. I'd consider helping you if I actually knew enough about this topic to write a book.
  7. May 8, 2010 #6


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    Richard Feynman's lectures are an excellent guide for the laymen. Well, the thinking laymen :wink:.


    (That ap won't run with Chrome btw, but it seems to run with IE.)

    PS I don't know the answer to your question, but if you made Mobius chicken strips, how would you know what side to put the sauce on?
  8. May 10, 2010 #7
    Hi all, my mathematical understanding is only fundamental (certainly in comparison to some of the stuff i've seen here) but I understand algebra and most principles well. My strength is not mathematical; I am far more able to articulate and communicate principles by way of models and further my own understanding in the same way (inb4 Einstein wannabe). Remember, I am only 15, afterall. I would dearly love to benefit from resources provided on this forum, and that by collaborating here, I can further my own understanding. On that topic...any resources on the EPR paradox? I am aware of it's effects but the theory behind it alludes me. Thanks guys ^^
  9. May 10, 2010 #8
    Again, asking specific question for specific answers is the best way to begin. What aspect on the EPR paper do you want to know about? Before leaping to QM (pun!) it might be wise to begin with a solid understanding of SR and GR, and without linear algebra (a different beast from the FOIL method) I don't believe an understanding of QM is possible. Articulate is wonderful, and it will allow you to better communicate those questions you have, but everyone has to learn the, well, I won't call them "basics", but we all must start somewhere. EPR without an understanding of GR and non-locality beyond what is written outside of math, is going to be somewhere between pulling teeth with salad tongs, and impossible.

    EPR is an objection to the formalism of QM, on the grounds that non-locality would seem to allow FTL action. The "solution" so to speak, is that while action appears to take place FTL, only through means of classical communication can information be transmitted, thus preserving causality. That is really skimming the surface, but it's a start.
  10. May 10, 2010 #9
    yeah i don't see how you can understand quantum mechanics without understanding the math behind it. Sure you can read a rudimentary guide to QM, but you won't have an understanding of it without, as most people here have mentioned, a basis in math and basic physics/chem principles.
    What do you mean by you know algebra? Abstract algebra, or the more likely middle school algebra which won't get you very far in physics much less QM?
  11. May 10, 2010 #10
    I believe middle school to be the equivilant to our GCSEs, so yes, of course you would be correct that I have a limited understanding of algebra. However, from what i've read and by listening to lectures online, Quantum Theory appears to be as much about broadening the mind and to an extent, philosophy, as it is hardcore mathematics. Certainly this is what I find infinetly (I resent using that word....) more interesting than exact and precise mathematics. My chemistry is probably as good as my Physics, although Physics is far more interesting if you ask me. Philosophy is also as interesting, and the cross over with uncertainty, entropy, the nature of reality and existence is really my passion. Can you reccommend a more appropriate board or forum for this topic, as most of the users here seem to beyond educating a Secondary student. Thanks for the posts.....they flatter me
  12. May 10, 2010 #11
    Answer to the mobius chicken question.......to get to the same side
  13. May 10, 2010 #12
    I don't want to be rude, but you seem to have been impressed by what i call "quantum chatter". Quantum mechanics isn't philosophy, and the way to "broaden" your mind is by getting truly aquainted with the mathematical and physical way of thinking, but the real thing, not the one presented in most "science for everyone" books. There is no way to understand Quantum mechanics without a solid background of ADVANCED math, and algebra IS NOT linear algebra. People without this background entering to the world of QM is in serious hazard of understanding everything wrong and believing things such as those presented in the movie #What the %&&$Y#$ do we know?".

    It is nice to see young people interested in QM though, I would advice you to build a very solid math background (second year college, which i believe can be achieved with a serious effort before turning 18)) in the next couple of years, and then you are more likely to get a grasp of the basics without thinking about QM as some sort of esoterical stuff.
  14. May 10, 2010 #13
    I would second Richard Feynman's third volume. The math might not be understandable however you should be able to understand a lot of the results at which he arrives.

    Remember math is just a tool, it is the actual physical results that matter.
  15. May 10, 2010 #14
    The wikipedia article on quantum mechanics seems like a pretty good place to start.

    Feynmann has some readable books.

    Some of the older Scientific Americans (i.e. before 1995 when they went totally downhill) have very nice and readable descriptions about quantum mechanics.
  16. May 10, 2010 #15

    Since joining, I have become aware that I am wandering blindly into a subject people know alot more about than me. I seriously regret the OP (written whilst under the influence of alcohol and arrogance) and would like to say that i've withdrawn any interest in the project (and have since been asked to write for people of my age). Maths fascinates me in the same way an observer may appreciate the intricacies of a computers inards; unaware of the engineering that produced it. Perhaps QM is not for me? Quantum Chemistry or Nanotechnology may be more suitable?
  17. May 10, 2010 #16


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    There's no knowing if any of those subjects would appeal to you, until you learn some solid math and really get into them. QM, chemistry, and nano-stuff all require math to learn, and it may be a tough subject but it's well worth it in my admittedly biased opinion. Really, the view from the inside and the view from the outside are *totally* different. Science is so cool and beautiful and mind-blowing.

    I'm curious about what you said, that you've been asked to write for people your age. Are you working on a writing assignment, and looking for a topic?
  18. May 10, 2010 #17
    It's not that you should withdraw interest, rather gain enough interest to take the steps to understand the material. The mathematics are just as important as the physical interpretations which are made based off of them; however, math in this sense is closer at truth than the anthropomorphic interpretations which don't necessarily reflect reality, but our perceptions of reality.
    No need to be so dramatic, you asked for collaboration in writing a guide to quantum mechanics for the masses--a subject that is popularized all over the media and which no doubt influenced your enthusiasm--despite your lack of preparation and understanding.
  19. May 10, 2010 #18
    As others have said, you can still ask us questions and get answers. It's not as cool as instant mastery, but it's more practcal. Put aside the need to instantly know, and you'll still be ahead of the game starting research now. Don't get suckered in by attempts to make you choose a specialty at fifteen years of age, and when you DO need to choose you'll be better prepared! You don't have to impress anyone here, just start to learn, and part of that means keeping an open mind, doing some research, then asking loads of questions.
  20. May 10, 2010 #19
    Also, I think that people here are being overly harsh. Yes, QM requires some math, but one thing that I haven't seen done that could be done is to make that math much more accessible by using visualization technology.


    Basically the only point of the math is so that you can draw these pictures inside your head. The only thing that you really need to do to understand QM (as well as anyone understands QM) is to have some intuitive about waves.
  21. May 18, 2010 #20
    Read all the popular books on QM, get a physics degree, moonlight as a student reporter for your school & college newspapers, take the Imperial College MSc in science communication (while attending physics courses as well.) Take a PhD in 'educational physics', focusing on teaching QM 'to the masses', then, grasshopper, you *might * be ready...
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