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HO ME BOOKS SOFTWARE COURSES CONTACT You are viewing the html version of Simple Nature , by Benjamin Crowell. This version is only designed for casual browsing, and may have some formatting problems. For serious reading, you want the printer-friendly Adobe Acrobat version . Table of Contents (c) 1998-2009 Benjamin Crowell, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license . Photo credits are given at the end of the Adobe Acrobat version. Contents Section 13.1 - Rules of Randomness Section 13.2 - Light As a Particle Section 13.3 - Matter As a Wave Section 13.4 - The Atom Chapter 13. Quantum Physics 13.1 Rules of Randomness
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a / In 1980, the continental U.S. got its first taste of active volcanism in recent memory with the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective positions of the things which compose it...nothing would be uncertain, and the future as the past would be laid out before its eyes. -- Pierre Simon de Laplace, 1776 The energy produced by the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine. -- Ernest Rutherford, 1933 The Quantum Mechanics is very imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is still not the final truth. The theory yields much, but it hardly brings us nearer to the secret of the Old One. In any case, I am convinced that He does not play dice. -- Albert Einstein However radical Newton's clockwork universe seemed to his contemporaries, by the early twentieth century it had become a sort of smugly accepted dogma. Luckily for us, this deterministic picture of the universe breaks down at the atomic level. The clearest demonstration that the laws of physics contain elements of randomness is in the behavior of radioactive atoms. Pick two identical atoms of a radioactive isotope, say the naturally occurring uranium 238, and watch them carefully. They will decay at different times, even though there was no difference in their initial behavior. We would be in big trouble if these atoms' behavior was as predictable as expected in the Newtonian world-view, because radioactivity is an important source of heat for our planet. In reality, each atom chooses a random moment at which to release its energy, resulting in a nice steady heating effect. The earth would be a much colder planet if only sunlight heated it and not radioactivity. Probably there would be no volcanoes, and the oceans would never have been liquid. The deep-sea geothermal vents in which life first evolved would never have existed. But there would be an even worse consequence if radioactivity was deterministic: after a few billion years of peace, all the uranium 238 atoms in our planet would presumably pick the same moment to decay. The huge amount of stored nuclear energy, instead of being spread out over eons, would all be released at one instant, blowing our whole planet to Kingdom Come.
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