Quantum Crosswords

Uncertain Principles: Quantum Crosswords: My TED@NYC Talk

[W]hen we look around us, we see waves in water and particles of rock, and they’re nothing alike. So, what bizarre thought process could make physicists think they’re the same? The answer is surprisingly familiar. We were led to the dual nature of the universe through the same process you follow to solve a crossword puzzle.

I don’t mean dictionaries full of words sorted by length. I’m talking about the puzzle as a whole—those theme clues that run all the way across the grid, and contain a five-word phrase or a dreadful pun. You can’t look those up, and you won’t guess them. Instead, you piece them together a letter at a time from the simpler clues that cross them. If all of those other crossing words fit together in a satisfying way, you can be confident that you’ve also got the right the theme answer.

I think this is an excellent analogy. Like the jigsaw puzzle analogy, it conveys that the bit of science one proposes has to fit in with other science (whether part of a model that’s not being replaced and/or the evidence we have gathered) so if your “word” is the wrong length, it doesn’t matter that it matches that you know that “a” is the third letter. It has to fit in with what we observe to be true. (This, by the way, is where a lot of crackpots fail — they’re so fixated on one specific area of science that they ignore all the other bits with which a new theory must be consistent.)

One could take this a step further and note that you always do the crossword in pencil, because at any time you can get to a part that shows all of the other words around them are wrong, even though they made sense when you first filled them in. But the more the words interlock and are consistent, the more confidence you have that you’re right.

Can’t wait for the book to come out.