Getting Physical

“Let’s get physical, physical, I wanna get physical, let’s get into physical”
– “Let’s Get Physical,” Olivia Newton John

I’m not much of a gambler. In fact, on a recent trip to Las Vegas, I was actually sitting in my room watching a Nova special on PBS about physics. It was sort of a “Physics for Dummies” type of show, which means I actually thought I knew more about physics after watching it than before.

It really was informative, putting things like the Theory of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics into terms that even I could understand. They did a history of Albert Einstein and how he researched and developed the Theory of Relativity. Einstein, like most people, did his best work before he turned 26. That was in 1916. After that, he just kind of grew his hair long and rehashed the same thoughts over and over. Due to limits in technology at that time and because he eventually just became a stubborn old man, he was never able to expand on his theories.

In the 1920’s, a group of scientists, however, thought there was more to physics that what dear old Albert had been able to identify. Whereas Einstein dealt mostly with gravity, time and the speed of light, this group was talking about things like atoms and particles and sub-particles, things that I haven’t pondered since I was still an “active” child of the ‘60’s.

Now that I thought I knew what I was talking about, I called my brother, who graduated college with a degree in physics, and said, “I’ve got a question for you. What is more valid – the Theory of General Relativity or the Theory of Quantum Mechanics and are they truly tied together with the Unified Theory of Physics known as the String Theory?”

After one of those moments known as a pregnant pause – and a rather long pregnant pause at that – he said, “Why are you asking me this question?” to which I answered, “Because you’re the only rocket scientist I know that I can call on my cell phone, ask a question like this and actually almost get an answer.” And, I did – almost get an answer.

My brother evidently is a quantum mechanic. Without going too much into detail, because he did and I got lost, he said that the Theory of Relativity is fine for when you’re studying stars and planets and heavenly bodies (Catherine Zeta-Jones excluded.) Quantum mechanics was used to study the smallest things in the universe leading to discoveries like lasers, fiber optics, nuclear weapons and my bank account. Seems like my relative was telling me quantum mechanics was a relatively much more practical area of research than relativity.

What intrigued me the most about quantum mechanics was that the guys who developed this theory said that anything imaginable that could possibly happen did – in parallel universes. OK, all you science fiction fans, you understand what this is all about. For the rest of us, though, the explanation is that in some universe somewhere:

JFK was not assassinated.
The Chicken Dance was never written.
The Eagles won the Super Bowl – 6 of the last 8 years.
Miley Cyrus and Rush Limbaugh were never born.
The role of Einstein in his movie biography was played by Arnold Schwarzennegger.
Neither Bush ever became president.

When presented with these competing theories, our old friend, Albert Einstein, had one retort. “God does not play dice with the universe.”

Dice! Wait a minute. God doesn’t play with dice, but that doesn’t mean I can’t. Maybe, just maybe, Las Vegas is actually the nexus of the great Quantum Mechanics gambling hall. And maybe, just maybe, if the Theory of Quantum Mechanics is valid, I could walk out of my room with a couple of bucks, go down to the casino and come back in a half hour $3 million richer with Halle Berry on one arm and Susan Sarandon on the other. Why not? Who’s to say that it’s not this universe that that happens in!

Well, two hours and $200 later, I figured out I was not in the universe I’d hoped I was in. No Halle or Susan. No millions of dollars. Though I did get a drink and a smile from a cocktail waitress.

So the next time you play Rock, Paper, Scissors, just think – in another universe it just might be Rock, Paper, Machine Gun. For real.

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