Things get weird at the sub-atomic level

Okay, we live in a world. That world contains us and all the things we see. Of what are these things comprised? Matter! physicists say. Fantastic! And what is matter made of? Atoms, physicists say, but not as enthusiastic because they sense where this is heading. And what are atoms and their sub-atomic particles made of? the world asks. The actual stuff of life?

Here physicists are silent. Not because they don’t know—not exactly—but because the answer is too weird to be believed. At the sub-atomic level, particles become waves of energy and those waves of energy can sense when they’re trying to be measured. It’s true. Physicists talk about how the reading comes back all strange and mangled and just at spot of their attempted measurement.

Also: sub-atomic particles exist in two places at once. This is even weirder. This one particle is here, and also there, and at the same time. How can one thing be in two places at once? And what is the implication of that? Especially when that one thing is the literal building block of all life?

Paul Kix’s intro to this piece by Adam Frank, a physicist, in Aeon magazine

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