I have a fascination for quantum physics. Not that I can say I understand it that well; but no less than Nobel laureate and generally brilliant guy Richard Feynman said (in his lecture "The Character of Physical Law"), "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." I have a decent, if superficial, grasp of such loopy ideas as quantum indeterminacy, superposition, entanglement, and so on. Which is why I find the following joke absolutely hilarious:
Heisenberg and Schrödinger were out for a drive one day, and they got pulled over by a cop. The cop says to Heisenberg, who was driving, "Hey, buddy, do you know how fast you were going?"
Heisenberg says, "No, but I know exactly where I am."
The cop says, "You were doing 85 miles per hour!"
Heisenberg responds, "Great! Now I'm lost."
The cop scowls at him. "All right, pal, if you're going to be a smartass, I'm going to search your car." So he opens the trunk, and there's a dead cat inside it. He says, "Did you know there's a dead cat in your trunk?"
Schrödinger says, "Well, there is now."Thanks, you're a great audience. I'll be here all week.
In any case, a paper came out last month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences called, "Experimental Demonstration of the Quantum Pigeonhole Paradox," by a team of physicists at China's University of Science and Technology, which was enough to make my brain explode. Here's the gist of it, although be forewarned that if you ask me for further explanation, you're very likely to be out of luck.
There's something called the pigeonhole principle in number theory, that seems kind of self-evident to me but apparently is highly profound to number theorists and other people who delve into things like sets, one-to-one correspondences, and mapping. It goes like this: if you try to put three pigeons into two pigeonholes, one of the pigeonholes must be shared by two pigeons.
See, I told you it was self-evident. Maybe you have to be a number theorist before you find these kind of things remarkable.
[Image licensed under the Creative Commons Razvan Socol, Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) in Iași, CC BY-SA 3.0]
... that when you compare the polarization states of the three photons, no two of them are alike.
Hey, don't yell at me. I didn't discover this stuff, I'm just telling you about it.
"The quantum pigeonhole effect challenges our basic understanding…. So a clear experimental verification is highly needed," study coauthors Chao-Yang Lu and Jian-Wei Pan wrote in an e-mail. "The quantum pigeonhole may have potential applications to find more complex and fundamental quantum effects."
It's not that I distrust them or am questioning their results (I'm hardly qualified to do so), but I feel like what they're saying makes about as much sense as saying that 2+2=5 for large values of 2. Every time I'm within hailing distance of getting it, my brain goes, "Nope. If the first two photons are, respectively, horizontally polarized and vertically polarized, the third has to be either horizontal or vertical."
But apparently that's not true. Emily Conover, writing for Science News,writes:
The mind-bending behavior is the result of a combination of already strange quantum effects. The photons begin the experiment in an odd kind of limbo called a superposition, meaning they are polarized both horizontally and vertically at the same time. When two photons’ polarizations are compared, the measurement induces ethereal links between the particles, known as quantum entanglement. These counterintuitive properties allow the particles to do unthinkable things.Which helps. I guess. Me, I'm still kind of baffled, which is okay. I love it that science is capable of showing us wonders, things that stretch our minds, cause us to question our understanding of the universe. How boring it would be if every new scientific discovery led us to say, "Meh. Confirms what I already thought."
A particularly disturbing field in biology is parasitology, because parasites are (let's face it) icky. But it's not just the critters that get into you and try to eat you for dinner that are awful; because some parasites have evolved even more sinister tricks.
There's the jewel wasp, that turns parasitized cockroaches into zombies while their larvae eat the roach from the inside out. There's the fungus that makes caterpillars go to the highest branch of a tree and then explode, showering their friends and relatives with spores. Mice whose brains are parasitized by Toxoplasma gondii become completely unafraid, and actually attracted to the scent of cat pee -- making them more likely to be eaten and pass the microbe on to a feline host.
Not dinnertime reading, but fascinating nonetheless, is Matt Simon's investigation of such phenomena in his book Plight of the Living Dead. It may make you reluctant to leave your house, but trust me, you will not be able to put it down.