The development of Quantum physics nearly turned the world as it was known upside-down: it shook the very foundation of a belief system worldview that the study of science was the only rational truth. All of a sudden, Science was full of uncertainty. It seemed as though, the more we learned, the less we knew.
It is this philosophical legacy behind modern science that has inspired this series. In seeking to reconcile the absoluteness of scientific theories with the transient nature of physical phenomena, the photographer often finds herself dwelling in the ambiguity of them both.
This series has been selected for the Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF) 2012.
Burden of Earthly Weight
The desire to fly is an innate one. For centuries, humans have tried to soar the skies like birds. Wings made of feathers or lightweight wood have been attached to arms to test their ability to fly. The results were often disastrous. In the 16th and 17th Century, Galileo Galilei, and subsequently, Sir Issac Newton, developed the theory of gravity. It was probably then that we finally understood why we can’t fly on our own, or so we thought.
The Universal Law of Gravitation
Sir Issac Newton (1642 - 1727)
All objects attract each other with a force of gravitational attraction. This force is directly dependent upon the masses of both objects and inversely proportional to the square of the distance that separates their centers.
Tale of a Time Traveller I
Against all intuition, Albert Einstein showed that time is not constant, but connected to velocity. If you look at a pair of twins with one traveling close to the speed of light and the other not, the first one experiences a slower running clock than his brother. If he meets his brother after his space travel, he will be much younger. However, this does not mean that he has had more time. In his own universe, seconds remain seconds as he experiences it.
Thus, in Einstein’s own words, our conception of the past, present and the future, are but a “very convincing illusion”. Yet, it is precisely within these confinements of our own spacetime cubicle that we live.
If we could escape from this spacetime cubicle, perhaps by jumping into a blackhole (a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape; a point of no return) we might find ourselves in a parallel universe, where life might have unfolded very differently.
Special Theory of Relativity (Time Dilation)
Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)
The Special Theory of Relativity of 1905 is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference. Based on the idea that the speed of light is the same value for all observers (moving or stationary).
Time dilation states that moving clocks run slowly compared to stationary clocks. The time lapse between two events is not invariant from one observer to another, but is dependent on the relative speeds of the observers' reference frames.
Tale of a Time Traveller II
While Special Relativity provides a theoretical solution to future time travel, General Relativity (the extension of relativity to include gravity) offers the possibility of travel into the past. In General Relativity, masses place pressure on different parts of the universe, they can combine eventually to create a kind of tunnel. This tunnel joins two separate times and allows passage between them, like a worm’s tunnel through an apple, acting as a shortcut through space and time.
A time traveler who visits the past is just someone whose worldline (the sequential path of their life events) somehow loops back in time, where one can intersect with oneself.
Special Theory of Relativity
Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)
Einstein states there is no such thing as a ‘force’ of gravity that pulls things to the Earth; rather, the curved paths that falling objects appear to take are an illusion brought on by our inability to perceive the underlying curvature of the space we live in.
Instead of being rigid arenas where events take place, space and time are dynamic actors in physics; capable of being changed by the matter within them and in turn changing the way that matter behaves. Together, they form a unified object called “spacetime”.
The Uncertainty Principle
“One can’t have the cake and eat it too.” - Old English Proverb
On the subatomic and atomic scale, all particles exhibit both wave and particle properties. A central concept of quantum mechanics, this duality is one aspect of the concept of complementarity, that a phenomenon can be viewed in one way or in another, but not both simultaneously.
Classical physics is deterministic in nature. In applying a force, we expect another form of counter-force in return, that is a simple cause-and-effect structure. Quantum physics rejects this structure completely. What we now have, or what we can measure, is just this one property; the rest is subject to probability.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
Werner Heisenberg (1901 - 1976)
The Uncertainty Principle implies that it is impossible to simultaneously measure the present position while also determining the future motion of a particle, or of any system small enough to require quantum mechanical treatment. It basicallysays that the combination of the error in position times the error in momentum must always be greater than Planck's constant.
So, we can measure the position of a particle to some accuracy, but then its momentum will be inside a very large range of values. Likewise, we can measure the momentum precisely, but then its position is unknown. Every measurement destroys part of our knowledge of the system that was obtained by previous measurements.
Cat in a Box
Schrödinger's Cat is a famous illustration of the principle in quantum theory of “superposition”, proposed by Erwin Schrodinger in 1935. Imagine a cat in a box. Present with this cat is a relay system containing a small amount of a radioactive substance (which has a 50/50 chance of decaying), a Geiger counter, a hammer and a vial of hydrocyanic acid (poison). If even a single atom of this substance decays, a relay mechanism will trip the hammer breaking the vial and killing the cat.
As long as the box is sealed we cannot know if an atom of the substance has decayed or not, whether the vial has been broken and the hydrocyanic acid released. The cat is deemed to be in a state of superposition, being both dead and alive. It is only when we open the box that the superposition is lost, and we discover which state cat is in (dead or alive). Even though we know that a cat can only be either alive or dead, what Quantum mechanics has proven is that on a subatomic level, before an observation is made, a particle is not in one specific state but exists in a range of possibilities.
Schrödinger’s Thought Experiment
Erwin Schrödinger (1887 - 1961)
Schrödinger's Car paradox demonstrates the apparent conflict between what quantum theory tells us is true about the nature and behavior of matter on the atomic or subatomic level and what we observe to be true about the nature and behavior of matter on the macroscopic level - everything visible to the unaided human eye. This situation is sometimes called quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox: the observation or measurement itself induces an outcome.