George Musser explains the central role of weirdness in physics, and shatters the dreams of those who hope humans can one day tap into psychic powers.
If you tell a physicist they’re weird, the correct response should be, "Why thank you." Science journalist and editor George Musser says this particular branch of science is supposed to engage the zany. One hundred years ago, people doubted the existence of atoms; the job of physics is to go beyond our everyday experience, to think of ‘what if’ ways to explain the world and prove them by relating the truly strange back to reality until one day, invisible things like atoms are a given.
Physics is fun precisely because it’s so weird, and the weirdness of it really is pivotal. "In fact if the theory isn’t weird, you kind of doubt it because you might worry that your own biases are intruding into the theory and causing you to think the world is a certain way when you’re not listening to the way the world actually is. So weirdness is in a sense a test of theory," Musser says. However there’s an important ‘but’ clinging onto this push for the strange, and that is that a theory can’t be weird just for weird’s sake. The ideas physicists propose have to connect back to what we observe in the world, which is what makes the field so challenging – can we be playful and creative and then rigorous enough to learn the truth about how subatomic particles work?
One of the most wonderfully weird ideas humans are fascinated by is psychic powers – telepathy, telekinesis. But the connections between different particles and objects in the universe don’t support these ideas and Musser states that they undermine the foundation of the spatial laws that our existence is built upon. So as much as we would love psychic ability, it undermines physics. Playfully imagining what those powers might be like, he warns it’s a ‘careful what you wish for’ scenario anyway. It would be great if only you had these powers; your team would always win the baseball! But assuming we’re all equals, each team would have a multitude of brains fighting each other for momentary control. The interference and mess caused by mass mental manipulation of physics would be catastrophic.