I was reminded once again last week why I majored in philosophy and not physics. I have always gravitated toward the humanities, and when I graduated from college opted to receive the Bachelor of Arts degree rather than the Bachelor of Science degree (which I was eligible for because I had completed Calculus), largely because I didn’t think it would look good to have a B.S. in Philosophy.
In college I satisfied the science requirement by taking the Astronomy/Geology sequence. What may be most telling are the connections I drew between what I learned in the Geology course and my real-world experience and previous knowledge. When we studied the geological feature “drumlins” I was reminded of a golf course of the same name located near Syracuse, New York (apparently now owned by Syracuse University). In addition, almost every Geology class made me remember an episode from the old Superman television series.
My clearest memory from my Physics class back in high school was the day I dressed up to look like the teacher and taught a lesson. It was a big hit, with a crowd assembled in the hall looking into the class, but if only I had paid more attention to the content of the course and less to my act, I might have avoided the mistake I made in the last post.
The last post was about being an eyewitness to a possible violation of the Statement of Principles of Good Practice, and in the midst of trying to get a cheap laugh with the interposition of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Einstein’s Bagels, I stated that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity states that the presence of an observer changes the reality itself. I didn’t get the cheap laugh, and I didn’t get the Theory of Relativity right.
The post was selected last Wednesday by InsideHigherEd.com for its “Around the Web” feature. Recognition by that excellent website is always gratifying and appreciated. Later that day, I received an e-mail from Dr. Fred Gray, Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. He had linked to the blog through InsideHigherEd.com, and he was writing to point out politely that my understanding of physics and Einstein were both wrong.
What I mistakenly referred to as relativity turns out to be quantum mechanics, to be precise the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, and the scientist behind the theory was not Einstein but Niels Bohr. (I am proud that I recognized the name Niels Bohr and that I wasn’t tempted to make puns based on his last name or the fact that Copenhagen is a brand of smokeless tobacco.) Not only is it not Einstein’s theory, but Fred Gray reports that Einstein fought against it on philosophical grounds and never fully accepted it.
I am grateful to Professor Gray for educating me about the difference and for giving me permission to credit him for helping correct my mistake. In his e-mail he requested that I feel free to send anyone interested in studying physics, or anything else, at a small Jesuit college in Denver to look at Regis. I hope readers of the blog will join me in doing so.
ECA will return next week with a post about a subject I know more about than Physics.