Published by swansont on June 1, 2012 08:40 am
under Cartoon, Physics
(Clear throat, ascend high horse) Quantum does not mean small. Quantum means discrete. The opposite of quantum is continuum, not big.
A “Quantum Leap” is in fact something very small that most people think is very large. The comic is not inaccurate.
I would like at least one reference to the use of “Quantum Leap” to mean electron orbit transition–aside from Wiki. I would still argue that the reference is to a discrete transition and not relevant to size, despite implied nature within specific reference. Quite the conundrum! xD
Re: the original post.
In practice, quantum leaps are often small, but it is not because of the definition. A jump from one step to another on stairs fits the bill of being a quantum leap.
But it is within the definition that a quantum leap is the smallest advance one could possibly make. A penny is a quantum leap ahead in one’s salary.
I prefer to think of a quantum leap as a change to an orthogonal state – as in, it’s a complete shift from the previous situation. So, as Tom pointed out, it has nothing to do with size … for example an electron in an hydrogen atom could change from the ground state to a crazy high, n=10^9 state. That would be a huge change, but still a “quantum leap”.
It’s an awful phrase that really isn’t used in physics, so maybe we should just let the english language have it?
If you were Phil Plait the comic would be amended, or there would be a followup comic.
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