Niels Bohr on the Quantum World

“There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.” – Niels Bohr

Great quote by Bohr.

This reminds me of Feynman’s knack for using objects of everyday experience to describe the behavior of things. I can’t remember the specifics but he would use objects such as plates to describe gravitation. If anyone has a link to this, I’ll use it to torture teach my children.

This technique is great because it makes learning relatable to the macro world of things, which means people are much less likely to run from the room than if you give them the equations first thing. You can explain things like why light can be viewed as both a particle and a wave (a wavicle?) and show simple experiments that show it behaving as one or the other.

Then once your student has gotten comfortable with that, you can explain that light is really neither a particle or a wave, that these are helpful metaphors but don’t represent “reality”. Reality in physics is modeled in equations. We measure phenomena with our instruments but can never approach the underlying noumena, the thing in itself. In fact, it may be meaningless to ask what light, or quarks, or anything else in that realm actually are. Then if the student is still interested, you can go on to explain that reality itself is just a model, created by your brain based on the inputs of your built in instruments, your eyes, ears, …

I’m rambling now, but I think I know what my kids are going to learn tomorrow.

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