Monday, August 20, 2012

Quantum Physics And ..... Golf?!

While article like this are often done tongue-in-cheek, I can't help feeling that it also helps to reinforce a tremendous misunderstanding of physics, especially quantum mechanics. What I dislike the most about this type of article is that they pick and choose certain aspects of physics, and then ignores others that could easily nullify the original assertion.

This "science fiction" writer is doing a "what ifs", applying certain aspects of quantum mechanics to see how it would work in the sport of golf. Yes, golf! Let's take a closer look at the  problems with each one of his ideas:

But if the golfer and the ball could somehow be entangled, then every movement the golfer makes would instantly have an effect on the golf ball. The golfer could literally steer the ball in midair.

Remember, quantum physics deals with teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy particles that are smaller than atoms. Not macroscopic objects like golfers and golf balls.

However, both the golf player and the golf ball are composed of uncounted gazillions of subatomic particles. If it were possible to entangle one of the particles of the golfer's body with one of the particles of the golf ball, then the golfer's contortions would have an instant effect on the flight of the ball.

The body English would work!
No, it would not. Whenever people are using quantum entanglement, they often overlook one extremely important aspect of this phenomenon - the preservation of coherence of all the entangled particles! This is extremely important because in the destruction of the original entanglement is EXTREMELY EASY. In fact, even a single interaction has been shown to destroy the original piece of information! We only need to look at the gymnastics that we had to put a system through to preserve such entanglement and made such measurement - it isn't easy! We have had success with entanglement phenomenon with photons over long distances, because they weakly interact in air, but we certainly do not have a lot of success so far with  particle entanglements over long distances because they tend to interact very, very easily with their environment. So golf ball and golfer being entangled? I don't think so!

In quantum physics there's a phenomenon known as tunneling. An electron, for example, can run into a solid wall and come out the other side, seemingly without drilling its way through the wall or leaving a hole in the wall behind it.

Imagine a situation on a golf course where the golfer's ball had landed in the deep weeds or behind a rock or some trees. It might take several shots to maneuver the ball around such an obstacle and get back onto the fairway.

But if the ball could somehow be made to tunnel the way electrons do, the golfer could aim his shot at the pin and blast away. The ball would approach the obstacle, be it weeds or rock or tree, and come out the other side, free to sail unimpeded toward the green.

It sounds like magic, but that's the way electrons can be made to behave. Would it be impossible to make golf balls tunnel the way electrons do? It could take strokes off the golfer's score.
First, let's call on the inconsistencies in this scenario. If the golf ball can "tunnel" through the weeds or the rock, what is to stop it from tunneling through the ground as well and miss the hole completely? If it goes through things unimpeded, why would the ground be any different? So already he is expecting a law of physics that turns itself on and off on a whim. As someone once said "God is subtle, but not malicious".

The problem with the application of tunneling of macroscopic object is the same as in the previous point. For the entire macroscopic object to tunnel through a barrier, it must be in completely coherence with each other. If not, the probability of one part of the object tunneling through will be different than other parts of the object. An electron, or a quantum particle does not have that problem. We describe the electron using one coherent wavefunction. We can't do that for a golf ball.

We note that in experiments that showed how particles such as buckyballs can undergo quantum interferences, the experiments were done under extreme conditions such as very low temperature. This is to ensure that the entire buckyball are in coherence with each. Introduce thermal effects, and there goes your interference pattern!

An atom can gain energy by absorbing a photon, the basic particle of light. Or the atom can lose energy by emitting a photon.

Now picture a golfer faced with a long putt. If the ball is hit too slowly it won't make it to the cup. If hit too hard, it will go past the cup. Perhaps the ball might skim the rim of the cup and zip away instead of plopping in.

If the golfer could somehow induce the ball to gain energy or lose energy, depending on how the putt's going, the ball could be guided right into the cup every time. All you have to do is figure out how to make the ball gain or lose energy at your command.
This is where one thing does not have anything to do with the other. Induce the ball to gain and lose energy? How is this related to an atom absorbing and losing energy? It seems that this person seems to think he can violate conservation of energy with the golf ball. Unfortunately, even if he could do this, his ball is already busy tunneling its way to the other side of the earth.



Ciaran said...

The last point seems to boil down to blowing on the ball to speed it up/slow it down!

ZapperZ said...

Yeah but from a hundred feet away?