Friday, December 3, 2010

A Quantum Leap in Cartoons

by Drew Martin

I had set out to write about cartoons and quantum physics in the previous post but ended up writing about radio. A decade ago, I used to listen to the wonderful, two-hour interviews between Dorian Devins and her science guests on her science radio show The Green Room on WFMU out of Jersey City, New Jersey. One guest was explaining quantum physics when he paused for an aside and said (roughly) "It's like that wonderful cartoon of the skier by Charles Adams whose tracks seamlessly diverge around a pine tree. You have evidence of what happened and yet you cannot observe it and it is impossible to witness."

You will find clippings of cartoons in the most curious places: they made someone chuckle enough to cut them out/print them out and stick them somewhere. Although they invite humor, they have a deeper power to redirect emotional circumstances, disarm threatening situations and to succinctly explain or interpret phenomena that gets lost in jargon or simply buried in words. The question is, what do we do with them? If they have such potential, why are they are so easily dismissed? No one is going to receive a Nobel Prize for trying to explain quantum physics with cartoons but it was quite interesting to hear a respected scientist referring to one in order to help explain something quite complex.