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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.

Posted by savaconta on May 26, 2012
  1. 05/26/2012

    I love the way you captured the florals!

  2. 05/26/2012

    If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.
    Niels Bohr

  3. 05/26/2012

    As always,very gorgeous pics you’ve shot,my friend,and happy Memorial Day back to you as well 🙂

    Ah…physics-LOL,I’m just a simple country boy myself,only having a basic rudimentary awareness of how physics plays a role in my own world,but I am facsinated (I KNOW I must have mispelled that,LOL :P) by the various diciplines. Mad props to your son for his work,and to you for raising him right,my friend 🙂

    The DC

  4. 05/26/2012

    Great shots! Also, the effort you put into understanding what your son is into brought a smile to my face. My son is only 5 now, so his detailed explanations are of the current video game that he has found and what it takes to defeat the bad guys. He also rolls his eyes at me when I ask what seems like an obvious question to him.

    I guess that no matter how old they are, or how much smarter than us they become, they will always be rolling their eyes at us.

    I kind of take comfort in that thought!

  5. 05/27/2012

    I have the same experience with my physicist daughter. She graduates this year from UCSC, and has worked at Stanford linear accelerator. I never know what she’s doing there!

  6. 06/11/2012

    Beautiful mix of bicycles and nature! Nice bike too!

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