As we took the winding roads on the island of La Palma one evening, we were greeted by the most beautiful starry sky I had ever seen. Directly above us, the Milky Way stretched like a tight blanket across the sky and millions of stars shone with its presence. Excitement and curiosity spread within me. What really exists outside our galaxy?
I stood there, 2,000 meters above sea level, and remembered my curiosity about space that had awakened me as a child, and that it was precisely curiosity that three years ago made me choose physics at university.
beauty in chaos
Like most others, I took the opportunity to read during my summer vacation and came across Julia Ravini’s book beauty in chaos. I have spent the past three years at Uppsala University teaching mathematics and physics courses. But the more I read the courses, the more I realized that I don’t understand the world.
In the first year, we read a lot about mechanics and did simple systems, calculated friction and moments of force and learned all the mathematical tools we might need as a physicist.
But a turning point occurred when we were about to start reading our first course of quantum physics. Suddenly, at 8 am on a Monday morning, I was sitting and staring blindly at chalkboards with characters similar to those usually included when a scientist is portrayed in a movie.
Two places at the same time
Quantum physics opened new doors—suddenly there were endless possibilities. Raffini writes about how difficult it is to get an intuition of what quantum physics is and I can’t help but agree with him. One of the most amazing conclusions of quantum physics is that a particle can be in two places at the same time, until we measure its position or velocity (or momentum). I remember not really understanding what the lecture was talking about when I brought this up, but I wrote it down in my notebook.
Now, after reading Ravini’s book, I was reminded of this phenomenon. What made me think differently was that she draws something parallel to something we can all experience, or experience almost every day. In our hearts, we can be on our way to two different goals at the same time – we usually don’t choose an easy path. Our dreams, our plans, our feelings, our anxieties, our joy, our sadness – yes, rarely everything that makes us human depends on a single event or cause.
like two electrons
To go back to physics, for example, quantum physics describes how particles such as electrons can become entangled and that the measurement of one particle affects the properties of the other, something Albert Einstein refused to believe for example. A feeling like love can give us a bit of an intuition for this phenomenon. The bond we share with someone we love is not affected by the distance between us. The feeling is real and tangible as something is right in front of us. In the same way that we feel connected to someone we love on the other side of the world, a property of one particle can affect another particle, regardless of distance.
Perhaps life has more affinities with physics than I previously realized and that ideas about emotions can provide intuition for physical phenomena that otherwise look like magic.