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Friday, 11 February 2011
"I think I can safely say," said Richard Feynman, who understood everything, "that nobody understands quantum mechanics."
Quantum mechanics just doesn't gel in the human mind. We can use the mathematical language of quantum mechanics simply enough, but it doesn't paint a picture in our heads. Language only has meaning, according to Wittgenstein, to the extent that it paints a picture. He later revised this principle (the principle itself has obvious meaning, but paints no picture), but for many physical explanations that picture is still essential.
And almost the whole of our technology depends upon quantum mechanics, in the form of electronics. Just think what more we could achieve if we all found quantum mechanics as intuitive as we find Newtonian mechanics.
My modest proposal, therefore, is to teach quantum mechanics at primary school to everyone, starting sometime around the age of five. Of course, not every child will get it. But then not every child gets music, or poetry. That doesn't stop us teaching those subjects.
But for many children the principles and ideas of quantum mechanics will sink into their subconsciouses, which will work their usual magic, making the ideas instinctive when some of those children, as adults, encounter them again.
Then we will have a whole generation the physicists and engineers who will both understand the mathematics of quantum mechanics, and also find that it chimes with their subconscious idea painter.