Atoms (part 3): The Illusion of Reality

In the first episode of this documentary series narrated by Professor Jim Al-Khalili, you learned about the battle between the Einstein and Neils Bohr schools of thought and the subsequent birth of quantum mechanics as the right discipline to explain the behavior of subatomic particles. In the second episode you learned how combining the incompatible disciplines of relativity and quantum mechanics we arrive at an explanation of how the elements that make up the universe, including you, were made. Yes, you are literally nuclear waste...

The heroes of today's episode are Paul Dirac, Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann. These giants of theoretical physics have consistently proposed increasingly outrageous mathematical models to explain the behavior of quantum particles that make Neils Bohr seem like a conservative! Funny thing... those outrageous models, which even seem to contradict logic (think the non-emptiness of emptiness, for instance), seem to explain the nature of reality better than any alternative hypothesis.

The universe is a lot stranger than you think. Philosophers have been showing us this fact for millenia, and scientists have taken up the baton and run with it like madmen. Not only are you and everything around you primarily made up of empty space (don't try to run through a wall, though)... that space is not even empty, even while it's empty. If that's not strange enough for you, and as you might gather from the kitty pics, today's documentary explains the weirdness behind Schrödinger's cat.

I wonder if there is some deep significance about Schrodinger's cat being named Dawkins... :)

Of course, I would count the cat as an actual observer, in which case there would be a definite answer as to whether it was dead or alive before we opened the box ;) but I get the point... sort of...

Watch related videos and documentaries:

The Elegant Universe, with Brian Greene (part 1, part 2, part 3)

E=mc2, Einstein and the World's Most Famous Equation

The Large Hadron Collider: The Six Billion Dollar Experiment

Einstein's Unfinished Symphony

Einstein's Equation of Life and Death

Richard Feynman on The Pleasure of Finding Things out

Or anything in the Elegant Universe tag... lots of goodies there.
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