“If you understand the behavior of electrons and the behavior of photons (light) then you understand everything that matters in the everyday world, except gravity and nuclear power stations.”
“Apart from gravity, everything that is important in the home can be described in terms of the way electrons interact with one another, which determines the way that atoms interact with one another, and the way they interact with electromagnetic radiation, including light.”
The quotations come from the introduction to John Gribbin’s “Q is for Quantum: An Encyclopedia of Particle Physics.” Whether we understand it or not, quantum physics, what Gribbin called “the subatomic world of particle physics,” dominates our lives today and tomorrow’s future.
Well, it’s the ever increasing application of quantum physics that really impacts us, not the science itself. From infrared heating in toasters and microwaves in ovens and telecommunications systems to the semiconductors inside cell phones, computers, cars, and home appliances and the lasers in DVD players to the technology that makes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, atomic clocks, GPS systems, fiber-optic communications work to the processes involved in genetic engineering, to superfast quantum computers, the applications increase and become more complex every day.
Indeed, we now live in a world heavily dependent upon scientific complexity that we little understand. Even as they develop new and wonderful applications, scientists don’t yet fully understand the complexities of the theory of quantum mechanics and its interaction with Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity.
Nevertheless, we live in an ever more complex world dominated by science-based technology. Therein lies a problem. An article entitled “Simple thinking in a complex world is a recipe for disaster,” published by The Conversation, has a warning.
“For all our sophistication, we react to the world in simple ways. Our world is complex, but our ability to cope with it is limited. We seek simple solutions that hide or ignore the complexity.”
This inability to fathom complexity, the article continues, “leads to a belief that any worthwhile solution to a situation must be simple. This attitude perhaps explains the widespread mistrust of science today: it has become too complex and technical for the public to understand. So people often ignore or reject its messages, especially when its findings are unpalatable.”
Rather than rely on science, the article suggests, we choose to rely upon popular figures who scoff at or ignore science and offer us simplistic prescriptions that are often wrong.
What does any of this have to do with Mississippi?
We need a quantum leap (pun intended) in our understanding of science and technology to ease fears and help us take advantage of the economic opportunities they offer.
That begins with much more robust science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in our public schools with amped up resources to provide up to date textbooks, equipment, and instructors. (The computer science bill passed this year was a step in the right direction.) It continues with choosing leaders who want to harness science for its benefits rather than bedevil and fear it for their lack of understanding.
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” – Genesis 1:31.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.