Monday, August 28, 2006

Pub Philosophy

Went for a drink with friends the other day. Somehow or other the conversation turned to quantum physics. Well, it nearly always does when you go down the pub, doesn't it? Many's the punch-up I've seen down my local when tempers have flared over whether the Copenhagen interpretation is better than the transactional interpretation. Or whether Schrodinger's cat is dead or alive; a question made particularly tricky by the fact that, as a cat, it would have nine lives anyway. So although it may be scampering around the lab playing with a ball of superstrings it could well have left one of its lives behind in the box.

Anyway, this particular conversation led to me making a fumbling attempt to explain the basis of quantum physics through a description of the Double Slit experiment. This led into the problem of quantum physics being irreconciable with Einstein's Theory of Relativity. From there we ended up discussing the problem of what existed before the Big Bang. That is, something that existed outside of time and space. If we could solve such a riddle we would have the answer to the greatest mystery in the universe!

Needless to say we failed. We nearly had an answer but then we got distracted by trying to remember whose turn it was to buy the drinks.

So, stumped, we turned to an easier topic. Evolution. At least it would be an easier topic if I actually knew anything about it. So I just bandied around some knowledgeable sounding phrases such as natural selection.

"But," asked Katy, "why does nature select things that aren't useful? Look at pigeons -- they're just rats with wings."

"So are bats," I replied. "And they are useful because they inspired Batman to fight crime. So pigeons could do the same thing. Bruce Wayne could've become Pigeon Man -- 'Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot. I must strike fear in their hearts by flying over them and crapping on their heads.'"

At this point someone pointed out that nature doesn't actually choose which species will survive. It's all a matter of chance, like a huge lottery. Which seems a bit unfair as most animals don't have opposable thumbs and therefore can't use their scratchcards.

It was also pointed out that survival of the fittest didn't refer to athletic ability. So, contrary to my fears for humanity's future, joggers will not end up running the world. Well, I suppose as joggers they will be running the world. But they won't be ruling it.

That job is far more likely to fall to unhealthy types who spend far too much time in the pub, such as myself and my friends. Which, I'm sure you'll agree, is a reassuring thought. We are, after all, highly intelligent people.

You can tell by our level of conversation.

No comments: