Quantum Physics is Amazing and Nobody's Happy

In an interview published in Scientific American, physicist James Kakalios talks about his book, The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics, which describes in a "mostly math-free" way "what quantum physics has done for us lately," according to the magazine.

The University of Minnesota physics professor offers a list of everyday technologies - the transistor, for example - that owe their development to a growing understanding of physics and the natural world. Like the microcontroller, which was created during the Apollo program to make possible the command and control of tin moon landers, these technologies are deeply embedded in our everyday life. So much so, that it's easy to forget just how revolutionary they are.

The question and answer below effectively makes the point that big change doesn't come with a guide to the future, and hints at one proper response - thank goodness! 

One of the ways you keep this book lively and accessible is to use anecdotes from early science fiction. How well have those predictions held up?

The main problem is that they believed that there was going to be a revolution in energy, which would lead to jet packs, death rays and flying cars. But what we got was a revolution in information. This information age, of course, came about because of semiconductors and solid-state physics, which were enabled by quantum mechanics.

For a no less insightful explanation of how quantum mechanics and the science and technology-enable revolution is often received by the public at large, check out the video of Louis C.K. posted at SciAm and reproduced here. If it all seems like a bit too much in a time of national retrenchment and nostalgia, if it's all just too much, too fast, consider the alternative. Chairs really do fly in the sky. Discovery - and life - are what happen between expectations.

Wayne