Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Quote of the Day

with 2 comments

James Jeans

We go beyond the mathematical formula at our own risk; we may find a model or a picture which helps us understand it, but we have no right to expect this, and our failure to find such a model or picture need not indicate that either our reasoning or our knowledge is at fault. The making of models or pictures to explain mathematical formulas and the phenomena they describe is not a step towards, but a step away from reality; it is like making a graven image of a spirit.

James Jeans, The Mysterious Universe

Written by nevalalee

November 17, 2016 at 7:30 am

2 Responses

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  1. So often we want a picture, a metaphor, and when we have one we feel like we understand, but we don’t. Students will ask me, ‘so is an electron a wave or a particle? Or is it both?’ and I’ll say, ‘well, in my opinion its neither. It’s something that we do not have an intuitive example of and that has qualities of wave and qualities of particle but is really something else altogether. But to keep you happy and give you something to hold onto, we sometimes say wave and sometimes particle, because you know what those are.’ As I understand it, quantum mechanics can be developed without recourse to either concept — and gives excellent predictions of behaviour of the particle. SO what is an electron? Dunno. A collection of properties, I suppose. Any more picturesque description is coming out of human need, not our objective understanding.


    November 17, 2016 at 4:08 pm

  2. @Darren: You’ve just given me an idea for another post.


    December 6, 2016 at 8:23 pm

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