Physics Van 3-site Navigational Menu

Physics Van Navigational Menu

Q & A: Deepak Chopra Chops Baloney

Learn more physics!

Most recent answer: 05/24/2012
Q:
I am reading Creating Affluence by Deepak Chopra and I am trying to find objective support for his quantum physics references. The premise is that the subatomic atoms, the ones we can't see except by seeing the trails they leave behind... don't necessarily exist unless we observe them. "Physcicists tell us that as we go beyond the realm of subatomic particles into the cloud of subatomic particles which makes up the atom, which makes up everything in reality, that when we try to examine and understand these particles --which have fancy names like quarks and bosons and leptons, and so on -- these particles are so small that we can never measure them. There are no instruments that are available or will ever be available that will measure the minute smallness of these particles. In fact they are so small that we can only think about them. ...we know that they exist by the evidence of the trails they leave behind in particle accelerators. ...but there is another very interesting facet to these particles and that is that they come into existence only when we observe them. So, if we are looking at a quantum field, every time we look at it these particles blink into existence. And every time we turn our attention away from them they disappear into a void." I have found support for the "can't see them except where they've been" but I can't find anything online from any scientific community explaining that they don't actually exist until we put our attention to seeing them...
- catherine (age 18)
Parsippany, NJ
A:
You're right. Small particles can exist in quite an ordinary sense. They can leave a trail in one spot, travel through empty space, then show up at a detector somewhere else, all in a predictable way. If you want, you could say they don't exist when you aren't looking, but you could also say that about the Moon, or your dog. Why would you?

There are circumstances in which "virtual particles" can be converted to real particles, ones that can travel around, by various probes. For example, strong electric fields can pull electron-positron pairs out of the vacuum. Maybe somehow that sort of effect has stimulated Chopra's literary imagination.

By the way, even the point that one only sees the little particles by the traces they make is not particularly distinctive. The same is true for the Moon and the dog. It's just that certain sorts of traces (some patterns of light on our eyes) are so familiar that we feel as if they are direct experiences.

Mike W.


(published on 05/24/2012)

Follow-up on this answer.