Life, as you and I know it, is sort of a predictable event. It acts reasonably normally (as we experience it) because we are not looking very closely or at a very fine level.

If we had the penchant and the tools to look very closely, what we would see would be a world so far removed from our usual thought patterns that we would be sure to be stuck in another dimension. The reality is so strange.

When we examine the toddler, it doesn’t take too long to start delving into the particular world of quantum physics, a study that allows things to be in place A at a time and place B in place. other without ever having them. This area of ​​study predicts that things will not be so solid but essentially like frozen light. This is the realm of uncertainty and probability.

Look very closely and you will see that electrons do not exist in the form of points but in the form of clouds. They orbit the nucleus of atoms at predictable distances, but unlike a satellite whose position in the sky you can predict with great precision, you cannot tell where they are; right where they’re likely to be. One of the most interesting notions that plays with this phenomenon is what is called the Quantum Zeno effect.

In quantum mechanics, things exist in specific states, whether they are orbital distances or combinations of particles. It’s the transition from state A to state B that’s a bit strange because it’s not some kind of concluded interaction; it’s a kind of probabilistic action. Think of this process not as getting in your car and going to Grandma’s, but rather the odds of winning a trip to Grandma’s. Going from state A to state B is likely to happen for a period of time, and if you wait long enough and have purchased enough lottery tickets, it is highly likely to happen (but not guaranteed to happen). ). The really weird thing about it is that this act of watching this transition disrupts the likelihood of it happening, tending to suppress the likelihood. In quantum mechanics, particles act more like waves than stones and the probability function collapses towards the observed initial state. Presumably, if you watch it often enough, it will never happen (such is the life of a shy particle). This is the Zeno effect.

Most scientists have a disjoint notion of the two realities, quantum and classical. Our senses stick to classical (some would say natural) physics where thrust reacts with thrust and apples always fall down at very predictable rates. Quantum mechanics generally inhabit worlds that are either so energetic that they are outside of our experience (black holes or temperatures similar to the sun), or so small that they are not appreciated (molecular or atomic size). This point of view may be changing.

A few years ago, researchers discovered that a chemical called cytochrome reacts selectively to a specific light in the blue-green range. When this wavelength of light hits this chemical, it absorbs it by splitting a pair of electrons in the process and creating two pairs of ions. Normally these decay very quickly in the original bound state, but in one of two combinations. The mix of how it decays, a research team found, could be influenced by a magnetic field. With one appliqué, the resulting chemical reaction was a little different than without. Since this process takes place very, very quickly and the required magnetic field must be strong to influence it.

However, a recent research team found that when a weak magnetic field is applied to chemistry, the reaction takes much longer than expected and the resulting chemical reaction product is biased by the magnetic field itself, even in these weak conditions. The magnetic field had to be applied to windows of particular values, corresponding to the quantum predictions of a Zeno effect; the field acts like observation and retards the speed of movement from state A to state B. It turns out that this weak field is the strength of the earth’s magnetic field.

It would be interesting on a workbench, but the chemical in question is found near the nerve layers of birds’ eyes, suggesting that this quantum chemistry could allow birds to see the Earth’s magnetic lines in some way. of another, perhaps by color or by other luminous patterns. If you have a pair of polarized sunglasses, look through them at a bright blue sky, then tilt your head toward your shoulder (rotating it 90 degrees). You will see a very different sky and perhaps this is what birds work with for long distance navigation, in fact being able to see where they should be going.

This example illustrates a little appreciated point of what science is: science is the description of the reality that surrounds us. It is not the reality that surrounds us. Things don’t exist because science hasn’t described them, rather the reverse – things exist for science to describe.

Humanity tends to see the world through a rather narrow lens which is opening more and more. What we desperately need to keep in mind is that this goal is still pretty narrow and the world around us, with things like quantum mechanical navigation aids built into birds, is still a wonderful place. and mysterious that we, as a species, have only just begun to see.

“Pericious for all of us are the devices of an art deeper than what we ourselves have. “- JRR Tolkien

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