Normally I would not pretend that Quantum Physics could come under the heading of Questions of the Day. However, the UK public is now having it inflicted on them by Ben Miller on the one hand and the approaching opening of the new CERN Supercollider on the other. Let me deal with these two one at a time as neither Ben Miller (lovely, brilliant and amusing man though he is) nor the builders of the CERN Supercollider (a collection specialized genii), understand the subject beyond the level of specialization they are at the moment. So, dear innocent reader, if you are puzzled by their failure to explain properly, that means your brains are working OK.

I will start of very slowly, taking just some current items with which you may have been assaulted, and just deal with then for a start. This morning on Saturday Live (BBC Radio 4, 9:00am) Ben Miller told us that General Relativity and Quantum Theory did not 'mesh' when it came to describing gravity. That is true, since General Relativity has a theory of gravitation and inertial mass at its heart, and Quantum Physics does not as yet have a theory of gravitation or inertial mass unless it assumes a 'particle' called a Graviton and another called a Higgs Boson. Furthermore, the properties, nature and behaviour of these do not conform to any geometrical reality that quantum physicists have offered (that is not to say there isn't such). So I will leave that part of the discussion there for the moment without further comment other than to say that top man Paul Dirac was satisfied his equations were compatible with both Gen Rel and Quantum Mechanics.

The next thing Mr Miller told us was about the speed of electrons, and here he may have mislead listeners. He gave the impression that electrons travel down a normal conducting wire at very high speeds, depending on the voltage. He will have (maybe unintentionally) reinforced the common impression that they can travel down the wire at near the speed of light, and this is how electric current works instantly as far as we are concerned. Not so.

When electric current in a material is proportional to the voltage across it, the material is said to be "ohmic", or to obey Ohm's law. A microscopic view suggests that this proportionality comes from the fact that an applied electric field superimposes a small drift velocity on the free electrons in a metal. For ordinary currents, this drift velocity is on the order of millimeters per second in contrast to the speeds of the electrons themselves which are on the order of a million meters per second. Even the electron speeds are themselves small compared to the speed of transmission of an electrical signal down a wire, which is on the order of the speed of light, 300 million meters per second.

I pinched the bit above in italics from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/HBASE/electric/ohmmic.html so you can read more there if you like.

Miller described current down a wire as chucking Smarties into a hollow tube, whereupon the same Smarties popped out the other end. Not so. If any analogy can have meaning it is more like forcing Smarties in at one end of a tube completely full of both Smarties and much larger vibrating marbles which can't get out, leading to some Smarties being forced out the other end almost instantaneously. I just thought I would clear that up for a start.

Miller went on to explain that his youthful Ph D paper was about what happens when you reduce the width of the conducting wire to a nanometre and put an obstruction in it. OK, at that point you will start to enter the world of 'quantum effects'. There is no doubt about quantum effects and the use we make of them in all our modern electronic devices. Quantum effects are NOT all that surprising, the difficulty arises in trying to describe them in terms of ideas and phenomena and geometry that are 3 dimensional and with dynamics that we are accustomed to considering in time intervals that we experience in everyday life or imagination. We need to develop new concepts and new geometries.

We were then treated to what has become a 'hoary old chestnut'. Because quantum physicists do not care for the multidimensional geometry that could explain it reasonably, they claim that the result of the experiments to solve the Einstein-Rosen-Podolski paradox (See Alain Aspect, Bell's Theorem, Two slit experiments with light etc) is that there have to be "Parallel Universes" in which observation affects physical reality and/or the different possible outcomes of quantum realisations start a new chain of events which, due to the number of such possibilities, could not possible be contained in a single coherent universal reality. All that is not necessary, you will be glad to hear.

First of all, although there is indeed something special about human observation, it has nothing to do with altering the external physical reality by simple ocular observation, that is to say the reception of data emitted or refelcted by external phenomena by the human eye. Things can indeed effect our individual and even our collective perception of physical reality, but that is another matter - very important but to be discussed elsewhere. As far as quantum physics is concerned Nature, organic and inorganic, is continually self-observing and continually resolving the results of the interactions that take place between its components. Laws of both thermodynamics and geometry apply. Quantum physicists claim that those who think they understand QP don't. That unless you don't see a (to date) insoluble paradox you have not appreciated what happens. None of this is true. What is true is we need to stop trying to visualise matter as being made up of three dimensional 'building blocks' and 'particles' when we get down to primitive levels. We need to realise that we cannot have a logical, aritmetical resolution of physics on the same basis at both macro and quantum level, there would inevitably be a conflict. One has to be at the 'service' as it were of the other. In assuming the quantum level is fundamental, quantum physicists make their fundamental mistake.

To end this opening entry on Quantum Physics, a few words on the new Large Hadron Collider built by CERN (European Nuclear Research Centre) near Geneva.

LHC functions by accelerating two counter-rotating beams of protons toward each other at high speeds. By cooling magnets to near absolute zero (-273 degrees celcius) with an enormous cryogenics system, the LHC can move particles toward each other at speeds only one millionth of a percent away from the speed of light.

And while Physicists have the logistics of the LHC well in hand ideas about its outcome are strictly theoretical. According to one scenario tiny black holes could be produced which hopefully would decay into what is known as Hawking radiation (the tinier the black hole, the faster it evaporates). If these black holes fail to decay, however, the consequences could be disastrous. CERN software developer Ran Livneh has expressed some concerns about the project:

While the chances of destroying the Universe are nil, the chances of causing an unforeseen happening at the LHC are not nil. However, in my view the outcome of the experiment will not lead to enlightenment for all. Different people will come to different conclusions as to the meaning of the results, just as they have in previous experiments to resolve what are seen as opposing models of reality. I would condemn it as a colossal waste of time, money and energy if it were not for the fact that there is absolutely no way this would not have to be gone through by humanity on this planet at this stage in this context. The same was true of WWII for that matter. The latter led to a change of view on how to develop international relations in the future. I trust that the result of the experiments at CERN will have the same effect on how to proceed with basic scientific research.

Here endeth the first lesson.

FEBRUARY 12th 2008
I was going to go on here but have been caused to pause by listenting to the reviews, on BBC Radio 4 "A Good Read" of Paul Davies "The Goldilocks Enigma".

I have not read it. I assume its contents hold no surprises.but some excellent descriptions of alternative theories and interpretations of the origin, nature and possible purpose of the observable universe and its activity.

What gave me pause was the reaction of one of the reviewers, Robin Lustig, a highly articulate and imaginative BBC presenter (you can look up his CV no doubt via Google). Lustig was disappointed angry at finding the book difficult to understand and, at the end, offering no 'answer'. Fair enough, but he then produced an example of the text that really annoyed him, read it out and said: "What am I supposed to make of that?".

The paragraph in question was in fact a important suggestion that there was scientific evidence to show that the 'mass' of the universe was not a static quantity or property but a dynamic manifestation. When everything is taken into account mathematically the mass of the universe is in fact ZERO. It is the sort of observation that can assist those trying to work out the solution to "The Goldilocks Enigma" a puzzle concerning the reason for our world being so extraordinarily, exactly suitable for the development and continuing sustenance of human life and the surrounding universe so benign in its distant arrangement, yet there is no evidence of a divine design or designer consistent with scientific observation. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but the enigma remains in the minds of most people.

We are inclined to think of the universe having some static property like a violin string at rest, and all that we observe to be like notes that emanate from its vibration,.the origin of the string itself being on a different level. Physicists talk of 'the building blocks of the universe' and 'mass' (inertial, gravitational and otherly defined) as a 'property or properties of matter'. I think this is not so reasonable. Even at this level it could be an activity and not a property.

So while I accept that Paul Davies may not have pointed readers towards a closer understanding (I will now have to read the damned thing) I am really disappointed by Lustig - to such an extent that I decided to stop writing any more here for the moment. I am not sure there are any readers worth the effort - though the other members of the Good Read team made a bit more of an effort.

There is a solution to the Goldilocks Enigma. Various people have got quite close to cracking it, but then have always gone for a single way out which ends up in an infinity of of one sort or another in terms that they prefer (like an infinite number of universes of which we are one, or an effective infinity of possibilities within the one we can observe which (as Derren Brown has shown by tossing a coin) would end up in something like what we know anyway. That's the 'monkeys can write Shakespeare' theory. Then we have the famous Weak Anthropic Principle to take into account. They are all important theories and all wrong or incomplete, lacking some philosophical or mathematical dimensions. Monkey's DID write Shakespeare anyway, or rather one of their cousins many times removed did, but not by chance at that stage of the game.

There is an answer to the Goldilocks Enigma. It is excellent. But on reflection it is a good thing most people do not get a glimpse of it as they would probably stop what they are doing, go out and get pissed with their friends. Hold on..... I keep reading that's what too many people are doing anyway, because they CAN'T understand why or how they are here in the first place. Talk about Catch 22!