Quantum Physics for Dogs Preview

We're out for a walk, when the dog spots a squirrel up ahead and takes off in pursuit. The squirrel flees into a yard and dodges around a small ornamental maple. Emmy doesn't alter her course in the slightest, and just before she slams into the tree, I pull her up short.

"What'd you do that for?" she asks, indignantly.

"What do you mean? You were about to run into a tree, and I stopped you."

"No I wasn't." She looks off after the squirrel, now safely up a bigger tree on the other side of the yard. "Because of quantum."

We start walking again. "OK, you're going to have to explain that," I say.

"Well, I have this plan," she says. "You know how when I chase the bunnies in the back yard, when I run to the right of the pond, they go left, and get away?"

"Yes."

"And when I run to the left of the pond, they go right, and get away?"

"Yes."

"Well, I've thought of a new way to run, so they can't escape."

"What, right through the middle of the pond?" It's only about eight inches deep and a couple of feet across.

"No, silly. I'm going to go both ways. I'll trap the bunnies between me."

[...]

Because I keep getting odd looks when I describe my book project at this meeting, I whipped up a pdf version of chapter one, so I can point people to it and give them a feel for what it's like. This is just the latest draft version of Chapter 1, saved as a PDF.

Important caveats: this is not a final version, and I'm putting it up here for demonstration purposes only. It's subject to change dramatically before it gets close to publication. It's also subject to disappearing entirely, if I decide to take it down so as not to spoil things. But for the moment, at least, here's the first chapter, on Particle-Wave Duality.

The snippet above is just a teaser from the dog dialogue that opens the chapter. It's followed by a longer explanation aimed at human readers, with occasional interjections from the dog. The conceit is that she's reading along as I go through the draft, and pointing out spots where I didn't provide enough information to answer all her questions.

I hope you enjoy it, and I hope this gives a clearer picture of what's going on than the elevator pitch that keeps getting me sideways looks...

More like this

The dog is standing at the window, wagging her tail excitedly. I look outside, and the back yard is empty. "What are you looking at?" I ask. "Bunnies made of cheese!," she says. I look again, and the yard is still empty. "There are no bunnies out there," I say, "and there are certainly not any…
As I'm driving down the street, a squirrel darts out into the road a block or so ahead of me. From the back seat, the dog says "Gun it!!!! Hit the squirrel, hit the squirrel, hitthesquirrel!" "Will you sit down and be quiet?" We're having some work done on the house, and I'm taking her to work with…
When last we checked in with Snowflake Free-Ride, our intrepid white rabbit had not yet found the courage to venture all the way to the end of the drawbridge from her hutch. Well, on Tuesday, Snowflake got the bunny equivalent of a screened porch. This seems to have been enough to convince her to…
There I was, after moping all Monday and trying to catch up on Tuesday,I found myself looking at Wednesday. Somewhere in there, I had planned to get a few posts up. I may suggest to everyone else that life thrives on the edge of chaos (and we ought to ride the waves) but I often forget to remind…

That's a wonderful chapter you posted. Thanks for sharing that with us readers. Even though I'm far enough in physics that I'm not really the target audience, I'll probably buy a copy to lend to people when they ask what I study. Oh, and because the dogtalk is incredibly cute.

By Chris Granade (not verified) on 10 Sep 2008 #permalink

I was reading the beginning of the post and, being familiar with your conversations with your dog, was just about to suggest you write a book...

I managed to read the chapter, and it is really nice! I also like the dog dialogue. :) The way the dog puts quantum mechanic, if quantum mechanic effect would have existed in the macro level, it sounds awesome. Imagine, a dog refracting around the tree. ^_^

Dogs do refract around trees. Assuming that the tree's radius is roughly the same as the Compton wavelength of the dog = h/mc where
h is the Planck constant,
m is the dog's rest mass,
c is the speed of light.

Slightly rephrasing Wikipedia:

The Compton wavelength can be thought of as a fundamental limitation on measuring the position of a dog, taking quantum mechanics and special relativity into account. This depends on the mass m of the dog. To see this, note that we can measure the position of a dog by bouncing light off it -- but measuring the position accurately requires light of short wavelength. Light with a short wavelength consists of photons of high energy. If the energy of these photons exceeds mc^2, when one hits the dog whose position is being measured, the collision may have enough energy to create a new dog of the same type. This renders moot the question of the original dog's location.

Now, how fast can a rabbit run, compared to c? And what if your dog trees Schrodinger's cat?