Having sons is proving to be one of the most awesome things so far in this life o’ mine. I love how odd our discussions can get. Recently, they were asking me about some weird science question and if I could explain it better to them. I forget exactly what it was. But after I’d finished giving my best layman’s explanation, there was a short silence followed by the ten year old saying, “tell us something us really weird about science.”
So I thought ok, just about the weirdest thing I have ever heard in my extensive science-for-dummies reading has been from the world of quantum physics, the idea of observer dependent reality.
As soon as I started trying to explain it though, I realized that it might prove fruitless, seeing as I just barely have a grasp of it myself.
“Well, it seems to some scientists that the world might only exist when someone looks at it. Einstein didn’t want to believe it, but he was bothered by the facts that made it sound like this is the way the world is. He once said that he couldn’t believe that ‘the moon exists because a mouse looks at it.’”
Of course, they didn’t really get what I could be talking about, which I can understand because I felt exactly the same the first time I heard the idea. So I tried to go a concrete example.
“Ok, see that tree over there? It seems that if some sort of consciousness is not observing it, it doesn’t really exist as a tree like you see it - it is just a fuzzy mess of waves.”
Of course this was a mistake because then I had to go into a further explanation of “observe” and “consciousness”.
“So like, it might be that when you or someone, looks at that tree, all those waves crunch together into a tree.”
I was impressed when the ten year old quickly moved to concrete applications of this crazy idea. He said that just the previous day he had walked into a pole while looking the other way.
“I wonder who the jerk was who looked at that pole?” says he. “Because if they hadn’t looked I would have been fine right?”
“Well, hmmmm, it’s like…. Ah, ask your teacher….”