[Marxism] Fwd: The paradoxes that sit at the very core of physics ...

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jan 21 06:14:15 MST 2016

Theoretical physics is beset by a paradox that remains as mysterious 
today as it was a century ago: at the subatomic level things are 
simultaneously particles and waves. Like the duck-rabbit illusion first 
described in 1899 by the Polish-born American psychologist Joseph 
Jastrow, subatomic reality appears to us as two different categories of 

But there is another paradox in play. Physics itself is riven by the 
competing frameworks of quantum theory and general relativity, whose 
differing descriptions of our world eerily mirror the wave-particle 
tension. When it comes to the very big and the extremely small, physical 
reality appears to be not one thing, but two. Where quantum theory 
describes the subatomic realm as a domain of individual quanta, all 
jitterbug and jumps, general relativity depicts happenings on the 
cosmological scale as a stately waltz of smooth flowing space-time. 
General relativity is like Strauss — deep, dignified and graceful. 
Quantum theory, like jazz, is disconnected, syncopated, and dazzlingly 

Physicists are deeply aware of the schizophrenic nature of their science 
and long to find a synthesis, or unification. Such is the goal of a 
so-called ‘theory of everything’. However, to non-physicists, these 
competing lines of thought, and the paradoxes they entrain, can seem not 
just bewildering but absurd. In my experience as a science writer, no 
other scientific discipline elicits such contradictory responses.


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