Quantum Theory: Physics and Philosophy
Last Updated: 11/14/2007
Faculty: Don Middendorf physics
Major areas of study include physics, mathematics, and philosophy.
Class Standing: Juniors or seniors; transfer students welcome.
Prerequisites: one year of calculus, one year of physics, one quarter of differential equations, one quarter of linear algebra. In addition, one quarter of second-year classical mechanics and vector calculus are strongly recommended.
Quantum theory is one of the two pillars of modern physics. The mathematical predictions of quantum theory are supported to very high precision by (literally) millions of experiments. However, the founders of quantum theory intensely disliked the probabilistic, non-deterministic model of reality that quantum mechanics requires and accepted the seemingly bizarre model only because its predictions matched the surprising experimental results.
This program will focus exclusively on quantum theory. For the first few weeks we will examine "modern physics" which focuses on the experimental results prior to 1930 that so annoyed the theoretical physicists of that era. In the next few weeks, we will explore the currently accepted theoretical paradigm and examine the mathematical "formalism" of the theory. The emphasis will be on the physical concepts, but students will be introduced to necessary mathematical concepts, such as partial differential equations and complex variables, as necessary.
The founders of quantum theory were all "mystics." Many thought that a full understanding of quantum theory will include consciousness and we will explore this idea. To understand the role of creativity and imagination in the development of science, we will study the philosophical views of the founders and current researchers in quantum theory. Students will present short lectures on selected material in quantum physics and the associated mathematics with critique from their peers. During the final weeks of the quarter, students will present hour-long lectures to the class on a specific paper from the early literature in quantum theory. There will be no laboratory opportunities in this one-quarter program; however, students will be expected to explore computer-based simulations of the experimental results in some detail.
This is a tightly integrated and rigorous program and students must register for all 16 credits. In addition, this advanced material requires a substantial time commitment; students should expect a total time commitment of well over 50 hours per week. For those with the required background and willingness to work hard, this program will excite you, confuse you, and welcome you into a new, experimentally-verified model of the nature of reality that may contradict much of what you currently believe.
Although this program is designed for students continuing from the Methods of Mathematical Physics program, it is open to new students who meet the prerequisites. If you have questions, please contact the faculty member by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Credits: 16 per quarter
Program is preparatory for careers and future studies in physics, mathematics, philosophy and science education.
Planning Units: Scientific Inquiry