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January 17, 2005



Finally, a fellow Harvard grad getting into some real science! Awesome stuff. I, on the other hand, was an econ major, but only recently started reading Hawking (Theory of Everything, Universe in a Nutshell), Brian Greene (Fabric of the Cosmos, Elegant Universe), Bill Bryson (History of Nearly Everything), and Ken Ford (The Quantum World). Problem is, after reading all of this stuff, I'm INSANELY INTERESTED in quantum mechanics, M-Theory (superstring theory), and the concepts of non-locality and the Exclusion Principal. Is it really true that a scientist conducting an experiment can "spin" a photon in one lab, communicate its axis to another person, say, a trillion miles away, and its sister particle will instantaneously spin at the same velocity on the same axis??? How can I ask other quantum mechanics questions for dummies? Is there anyone over at SLAC that I can have a general dialogue with? I work right down the street in Menlo Park.

Tommaso Dorigo

Hi Raymond,
I did not graduate at Harvard, but worked there as a postdoc. However, for your question: what you mention is a gedankenexperiment, a "thought experiment" (which in practice may not practically be feasible - if only for the fact that it would be hard to send a physicist a trillion miles away just to record a proton's spin), which serves the purpose of illustrating some puzzling features of the wave function of two identical particles (if I guessed what it is about).
I'm no good at explaining quantum mechanics to laymen, I'm afraid - one first needs to have understood it to do that. But I'm quite sure there's a few fellows at SLAC that can take pride in doing that, maybe in front of a beer at Stanford. Why don't you ask Caolionn (a fellow diarist here)? She works there...

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