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A Quantum Quandary

19 Aug 2009, 16:26 UTC
A Quantum Quandary
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Maybe you've heard of Zeno's Paradoxes. Zeno was a Greek philosopher who liked to argue that motion was impossible using paradoxical examples. One of the most famous is the tale of swift Achilles, who embarks on a foot race against a tortoise. Since Achilles clearly has the advantage, the tortoise gets a head start. How long does it take for Achilles to catch up? Zeno argued that first he would have to halve the distance between them, then decrease it by a quarter, then by an eighth, and so on for infinity. But since the tortoise is also moving forward -- albeit at a slower pace -- Achillese can never completely close the gap between them. He never catches up. It's a nonsensical argument by modern standards, but it's one of many reasons we have calculus today. (Did I mention I'm writing a book about my adventures finding calculus in the real world? Well, I'm writing a book about that. It's due September 18. Ack!) But that's just for classical mechanics; quantum physics makes its own rules.On the subatomic level, something very similar to Zeno’s
paradox really happens. In 1977, researchers found that a radioactive atom
would never decay if ...

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