Monday, October 08, 2007

shades of pink, contrast, quantum weirdness

In the October sunshine in the Pantiles, I see shades of dark red, pink and even yellow in a glass of rosé wine.

Next to a tarmac-covered area, marked out for basket ball, some schoolboys throw and bounce a ball, shout and push each other, kick the ball and leap up to catch it. Separated by some wire netting is the Royal Tunbridge Wells Croquet Club, where middle aged and elderly people play a sedate game of croquet on an immaculate lawn.

Why is the universe so strangely adapted to support life? The physicist Paul Davies asks, and to some extent answers, this fundemental question in his book The Goldilocks Enigma. He argues that aspects of the cosmos from the properties of the carbon atom to the speed of light, and even the laws of physics themselves, seem to conspire to make life possible. Though I understand much of them imperfectly, I enjoy reading statements like "quantum weirdness implies that a particle such as an electron possesses an intrinsic uncertainty", and "quantum uncertainty cannot be ameliorated by 'looking harder'. Though "uncertainty" there refers to the behaviour of particles, they appeal because they seem to mirror my own uncertainty about most things. There is a delicious mystery about learning what happened fractions of a second after the big bang, where we all began.

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