The physics of social relations

Since high school, my physics teachers and professors have often trumpeted their discipline by saying that after the course their students would never look at the world the same way again. No experience of mine has ever contradicted this prediction.
In fact, I think that I might have stepped beyond the original bounds of this idea. While it is fair to say I employed knowledge of friction and torque while driving or climbing, I have begun to see everyday life through the lens of quantum mechanics.
Perhaps you have heard the term “wave-particle duality.” In physics, it is the observation that particles, such as electrons and photons, exhibit the properties of both particles and waves. While physicists have understood this theory for quite a long time, nearly 100 years, it has yet to be thoroughly understood. Thankfully, human beings’ double think-capable minds are capable of accepting this truth.
Strangely, the same logic that applies in this microcosm of fundamental particles is also found in the macrocosm of everyday life.
As individuals, it is fair to say that people can be unpredictable. Like single electrons, it is impossible to predict their movements and locations without a degree of Heisenberg’s uncertainty. And while some barriers seem impassable to the common understanding of man and the classical expectations of electrons, exceptional particles and extraordinary people tunnel through impossible barriers.
On the other hand, sometimes human beings can be entirely predictable. When photons, the smallest units of light, pass through thin slits, the light emitted forms a complex, yet completely predictable pattern based on their wavelength. In the same way, when people adopt a group mentality, they can make waves that particles can’t replicate.
The easiest metaphor would be a group of sports fans propagating a wave around a stadium. While each individual has his or her own reasons to be at the game and own thought process to participate in the actions, that microcosm is lost in the grand terms of scale.
Instead there is just a wave orbiting the playing field that pulled in the commonly attracted audience.
It is in our nature to be both particle and wave. Certain situations demand group-think while others require multitude of possibilities offered by the individual.
Still, there is something about the nature of the human wave that makes me prefer the individual person-particle. The beauty of the uncertainty and randomness of the individual is averaged out into predictability. Still, there is something reassuring in going with the flow of the wave, especially when accompanied by like-minded comrades.
Nevertheless, I have always been put off by the type of cheerleading mentality that binds large groups of people together, that fuels the tribal loyalty found around local sports teams, political parties and colleges.
While the compounding of individual efforts can certainly add wondrous things to the world, it doesn’t compare the power to have that infinitesimal chance to be found far away from normal.
And if we are particles, then we all have the chance of achieving the phenomenon known as superconductivity. If a simple electron can find its Cooper pair, its true complement, it can speed off into infinity unencumbered by the lattice world around it.

Matt Wilhelm is a junior in Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology. He is an assistant news editor for The University News.

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