Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Quantum effects all around us...

Quantum effects all around us...  Most of us generally perceive the world around us as essentially Newtonian – that is, for any event or action there is a predictable outcome.  For example, if I throw a ball up into the air, I know it's going to come down – and I know, to a fair degree of accuracy, where it's going to come down.  Newtonian.

If you know anything at all about the world of quantum physics, then you know that it's full of very strange and counter-intuitive phenomena.  Some of these things are extremely difficult to wrap one's brain around.  Yet quantum physics famously describes all sorts of observable phenomena with spectacular success.  We're forced by this success to concede that way down at the sub-atomic scale, where quantum phenomena generally happen, there really must be quantum weirdness happening.  But it's safely hidden at those teensy-tiny scales, so we can ignore it and get along in live just fine by pretending we live in a strictly Newtonian world.  Personally, I'm much more comfortable that way :)

This morning I read this fascinating article, which has several examples of quantum phenomena that we can perceive.  There is considerable (and increasing) evidence that some senses (for animals and humans) are dependent upon quantum phenomena.  One that seems particularly convincing to me is the discovery that fruit flies can distinguish between chemical substances that are identical except for the isotopes of some of the constituent atoms.  Unless you want to believe that tiny little fruit flies are carrying around a mass spectrometer, then quantum phenomena are the only way anyone can think of to explain this.  The article has several other examples as well.  For instance, there's evidence that at least some enzymes employ quantum tunneling – and nobody even has an alternative theory for how they work.  There's also the one example I've previously read about: work that started five years ago strongly suggests a quantum explanation for the otherwise mysteriously high efficiency of photosynthesis.  That's how nearly all plants employ sunlight.

Fascinating stuff.  I'm looking forward to hearing more about it...

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