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quantum cycling … and the butterfly effect

It begins with a butterfly on a thistle plant along the side of the road as I ride by.  I think about a book I am reading and discussion of Edward Lorenz’ Butterfly Effect, as in chaos theory … and things like quantum mechanics and other principles of physics that I will confess I have a miserably inadequate understanding of – quite unlike my son, the soon-to-be-physicist.

We’ve had a brief window of opportunity to do some riding together before he leaves again to continue his summer research in Nashville.  I love having the chance to ride along and talk.  On quiet roads, we are relatively free from distractions and interruptions (except, of course, when I make him stop so I can take pictures).  The conversation unwinds like the curve of the road, rolls along, changes direction, circles back.  Sometimes serious, sometimes not.  Laughter almost always manages accompany us.

Recently I asked him to help me better understand the different branches/disciplines of physics – kind of a “Physics for Dummies” type of explanation.  While I have a very rough understanding of the research he is doing and where his interests lie for grad school – theoretical/computational high energy particle physics  –  I will confess that I am mostly clueless about the different fields of study within the physics world.

And, of course, he absolutely knows this – as he rolls his eyes, sighs, and tries once again to explain it to me.  I listen as he patiently tries to describe and define – and eventually I get lost.  Again.  So in the simplest of terms (yeah, even a cavewoman like me can understand – kind of… maybe?) this is roughly how he described a few concepts to me (and I hope I am recalling this correctly?) :

Classical/Newtonian Mechanics:  big slow things

Relativistic Mechanics:    big fast things

Quantum Mechanics:   small slow things

Field Theory:   small fast things

String Theory/M-Theory: un-testable things

Do I have any better understanding of any of this?  Probably not.  If nothing else,  I may have at least figured out that I am probably not a Quantum Cyclist (small and slow), but more of a Classical/Newtonian Cyclist (big and slow).   I hear you laughing, Mason…

I will keep reading, I will continue trying to learn more and understand.  In the meantime, I will just take a photo of the butterfly, and let my son figure out the rest.

Random scenes from recent rides – big, small, fast, and slow… all the usual suspects. Happy Memorial Day.