The Expansion of Brooklyn and Puzzles about Physics

By | March 9, 2010

Recently I heard an exchange concerning some of the mysteries of theoretical physics. Two friends, Raul and Samuel, exchanged views on one of the paradoxes of QM found in an article, “The quantum world,” which appeared in Newsweek a few years ago.

Raul: …. how on earth can the electrons go through the slits and THEN have the blinds opened? The time for that to occur is in nanoseconds I would imagine. Can physicists really “fool” the electrons in the way described? Is it possible that the future could effect the present? That would mean the future is really already here in some sense. At any rate, it boggles the mind!

Samuel: Not only do we have a wave-particle duality, but we also have the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (uncertain what that is?). I have tried to argue with you that — with Special & General Relativity, superstrings, higher dimensions, & brane theory — the future exists (as well as ‘will exist’); I went on to argue that a Transcendent Super-Entity that existed in higher dimensions could sense the future as well as the past and thus sense/detect what ‘will’ happen & thus It knows our Future. But the future can never influence the present – otherwise, causality is destroyed!

Raul and Samuel left me in a state of bewilderment. “Higher Dimensions,” “brane theory,” and “the future already existing”?! Add this to the idea that the future can affect the present and we’re really lost?! My head was spinning!

Then I recalled Alvy’s mother and decided it was time to consult with her.

Remember her, from the Woody Allen movie “Annie Hall”?

Below is the text from the opening scene in Annie Hall when the mother has taken the young Alvy Singer to the family doctor:

MOTHER: He’s been depressed. All of a sudden he can’t do anything.

DOCTOR: Why are you depressed, Alvie?

MOTHER: Tell Dr. Flicker. [Answers for him.] It’s something he read.

DOCTOR: Something he read, huh?

ALVY: [Head down.] The universe is expanding.

DOCTOR: The universe is expanding?

ALVY: Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that will be the end of everything!

MOTHER: What, is that your business? [Then, to the doctor.] He stopped doing his homework.

ALVY: What’s the point?
MOTHER: What has the universe to do with it? You’re here in Brooklyn, and Brooklyn is not expanding!

I like Alvy’s mother. She tells it like it is. BROOKLYN IS NOT EXPANDING and THE FUTURE DOES NOT INFLUENCE THE PAST!
So stop worrying and do your homework!

In all seriousness, admittedly quantum physics presents us with tough paradoxes. But it is a mistake to translate the language and formulations of the world of sub-atomic particles (where the arrow of time is irrelevant) to the world of macro-size objects. Our evolved brains/minds, our natural languages, and our intuitive concepts do not apply to the quantum world. Any attempt to apply them results in paradoxes and nonsense.

But this shouldn’t surprise or alarm anyone, right? Listen to Alvy’s mother!

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