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Last updated on Tuesday 6th June 2023

The Fundamental Heresy: The view from the cheap seats Abstract

In 1900, Max Planck created the ‘quantum’, a math hack that he used to solve the important ‘black body problem’. The ‘quantum’ referred to the fixed amounts, ‘steps’ that replaced what had previously been seen as a smooth, continuous change. The math worked, but Planck – and Einstein, who used it to explain the ‘photoelectric effect’ – weren’t fans of the concept. The name ‘Quantum Mechanics’ was created (by Max Born in 1934) to make the point that it cranked out answers without picturing what was happening. For years, as the math led to a stream of breakthroughs, physicists could not agree a clear picture of what was going on.

Math does not describe what it refers to: it is universal. Three plus three equals six, whether eggs or elephants. With only math to guide, explanations of fundamental physics have often become complex, sometimes contradictory, and occasionally mystical. The recent confirmation of ‘non-locality’ between things that are ‘entangled’ has radically transformed what explanations are possible. We can now say what quanta are and simplify the physics behind the math.

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