Understanding Quantum Mechanics

Science makes progress by confronting our lack of understanding. What’s surprising is that physicists seem to be O.K. with not understanding the most important theory they have

Quantum mechanics, assembled gradually by a group of brilliant minds over the first decades of the 20th century, is an incredibly successful theory. We need it to account for how atoms decay, why stars shine, how transistors and lasers work and, for that matter, why tables and chairs are solid rather than immediately collapsing onto the floor.

Scientists can use quantum mechanics with perfect confidence. But it’s a black box. We can set up a physical situation, and make predictions about what will happen next that are verified to spectacular accuracy. What we don’t do is claim to understand quantum mechanics. Physicists don’t understand their own theory any better than a typical smartphone user understands what’s going on inside the device.

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