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Readers' response: the world of quantum mechanics

After publication of the five-part series ``Making the Quantum Leap,'' June 13-17, we received scores of letters. We're sorry we can't answer them individually or print each one, but the following is a sampling.

I read every word of this series and was fascinated. Although I am a mathematician and once taught physics, I felt the series was written so that any interested reader could absorb its essence. It raised enough questions so that anyone interested in delving further had an idea of what questions to pursue. The series certainly helped me update my level of knowledge in this area.

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It must have taken considerable research and thought to collect all this information and package it so that it would be meaningful to the reader. The result is well worth the effort.

I greatly appreciate the Monitor's commitment to keeping readers up to date on scientific research. It's wonderful to have a newspaper that expects readers to be interested in such subjects rather than assuming that the substance of the research may be beyond them. Janice Delacy Bellevue, Wash.

How important it is to be aware of what is happening to the very foundations of our culture. The influence this science will have on the quality of our lives will depend on the way we educate our children.

If it be with an attitude of respect for ideas and reverence for the realm of nature, the inevitable changes will turn into blessings. Anne Day Rochester, N.Y.

One of the aspects of quantum physics not covered, although briefly alluded to, concerns logic.

Quantum physics has given rise to quantum logic, which accepts mutually contradictory facts. For example, conventional logic would deny that a photon of light could be both a particle and a wave at the same time. Quantum logic admits to this seeming paradox. The overturning of conventional logic would have far-reaching philosophical implications for 21st-century thought. William Kenny Warren, Mich.

I have just read this series in one fell swoop. Magnificent, and may the Pulitzer in science writing be yours! Far and away the closest I have come in my nonscientific life to belief that at last I know something about quantum theory's essence and implication. This is a remarkable feat - for sure! I do congratulate you. Robert Nisbet Washington Schweitzer Professor Emeritus Columbia University

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As a layman with little physical science background, it has been interesting to consider the various possibilities in which science influences thought in other areas of life. The explanations of classical science and quantum mechanics have opened new areas of thought. Mavis Purtle Culver City, Calif.

This admirable series on quantum mechanics has one shortcoming. It does not make clear that these discoveries do not destroy or exorcise Newton's world. The moon still goes around the earth predictably. A full box falling on your foot hurts more than an empty one.

Quantum mechanics extends our knowledge, explains events and relationships, opens up new applications, and sometimes modifies the interpretation of observations. But the everyday facts remain. Progress is additive, seldom subtractive. Richard Haswell Springfield, Mo.

I have never studied physics, but this series has made the subject so interesting that tomorrow I am going right out to procure several of the books listed for further reading. This series has indeed enriched my life and greatly broadened my outlook. I intend to pursue the subject to the very best of my ability. Margaret Pleasant Shreveport, La.

I am surprised to see that in choosing the title, ``Making the Quantum Leap,'' you appear to have overlooked the excellent book on the same subject, ``Taking the Quantum Leap,'' by Fred Alan Wolf (Harper & Row, 1981). I would recommend this book as an addition to the list of titles for further reading. J. Douglas Pinkham Orinda, Calif.

Only two words describe this series: simply sensational. If we had an awards program, you would walk away in a quantum leap. On behalf of the Science Journalism Center's staff, our congratulations. Robert Logan Columbia, Mo. Director, Science Journalism Center U of Missouri

I detected a note of condescension and defensiveness toward Eastern philosophy in this otherwise intriguing series.

For the layperson who is willing to be a bit more open-minded and less reflexively disdainful of other cultures, I'd like to recommend a fascinating book on the subject: ``The Dancing Wu Li Masters, an Overview of the New Physics,'' by Gary Zukav. Bekki Johnson Martinez, Calif.

Although the metaphor ``quantum leap'' is used carefully in this series, common usage contributes to misconceptions about the rigors of science.

A great irony in everyday usage is that ``quantum leap'' is used to mean a very large change, whereas a quantum jump in physics is often the smallest jump possible, a jump that is well-nigh incomprehensibly small in everyday terms. In this way, a fundamental characteristic of the real quantum jump is stood on its head.

``Quantum leap'' has become one more tool for overstatement in this age of exaggeration. Good scientists take great care not to exaggerate, to state things as precisely as they possibly can; to do otherwise leads to error.

It is unsettling - and even offensive - to see a good concept, defining a tiny change, distorted and used loosely to make outrageous claims that some device, social principle, business method, or whatever, is a major ``quantum leap.'' Harry Larson Fullerton, Calif. Fellow Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

The series' design and graphics, with the use of color on the front page and pullout section, attracted the attention necessary for reader participation.

My training as an electrical engineer in the late 1940s and acquaintance with the simple Bohr atom was little help in trying to grasp the real concept and theory of these subatomic particles. The author of this series performs a yeoman task in trying to make a most complicated subject relevant and understandable. W.J. Hammons Jr. Gravette, Ark.

I would argue with the assumption stated throughout the series that the developments in quantum mechanics will be a driving force behind a coming new social awareness. Niels Bohr proclaimed, and the series referenced the proposition, that the observer may create reality. If society had not been ``observing,'' recognizing, funding, and awarding the individuals and programs that have implemented quantum mechanics, it would not be existing. Society has been the driving force behind quantum mechanics, instead of the converse. Bruce Rossi Tooele, Utah

If we refrain from the attempt to explain absolutely everything in reality by quantum mechanics, we could draw valuable images for social, political, and emotional realms from its findings.

To recognize that a measure of emptiness - vacation, as it were - is built into our normal structure of consciousness can literally give us room to breathe and go a long way to dispel the myth of the rat race. We need not pack our days like a solid mass of continuous activity in order to achieve or produce something.

It is not necessary to draw strict correlations between quantum theories and other aspects of reality. However, the images generated by speculation and experiment can creatively transfer into fields apt for some relationship. Joe Goss'e Allentown, Pa.

Physicists tell us that quantum mechanics does not deal with reality. In the words of Niels Bohr, ``There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum description.''

As Einstein taught, scientific theories are ``free creations of the human mind,'' not accurate descriptions of reality. He likened man's endeavor to understand reality as something akin to trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. Unable to open the watch and see inside, the observer can only guess at what causes the ticking sound and the movement of the hands. If ingenious, he may form some picture of a mechanism that explains this phenomenon, but he will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism.

Any attempt to extrapolate from the quantum world to this human world would seem to lead to intellectual confusion and harm. Ronan Hoffman Columbia, Md.

One purpose of the series was to examine how quantum mechanics might affect politics, culture, and theology. Yet no party competent in both physics and theology contributed to the series. It deserves critique from an explicitly theological, Judeo-Christian perspective. John Hadd McLean, Va.

It seems to me that this ``new'' view of the creation is already influencing theology. The concept of an ``observer-created reality'' confirms what theology has said all along concerning why the creation is - because God beholds it.

Is the search to understand the universe leading the scientific world to an understanding of the nature of God? As with all those quantum particles, we can't see the Spirit, measure it, or keep it. But religious people have long known that it's there - just as the scientists, who can only trace the quantum particles in the flashing, evanescent light of computer screens, know those particles are there. Three cheers for the quantum physicists - perhaps the new ``theologians'' of our time! The Rev. John Kelley Bridgeport, Conn. Calvary Episcopal Church

The Monitor's reporting in areas which may be difficult for the layman to grasp is illustrative of why I hold my new subscription so dear. It is just this kind of investigative reporting into remote but terribly important matters which sets your newspaper apart and makes it the beacon of inquiry which it is. Lynn Lindsay St. Paul, Minn. American National Bank VP, International Dept.

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