Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Guest.

Do I really look like 
Sheldon from Big Bang?
The following is not intended to make fun of physicists, or quantum physicists for that matter.  It is an account of a (slightly exaggerated) experience I had as a junior faculty member, and it is meant only for your reading enjoyment.

I was invited to a talk given by a guest lecturer for the Hamsterology Club.  The guest Ph. D. was presenting his research in the nature of hamster superposition within multi-sectioned hamster dwellings.  When the lecturer appeared, he was pulling with him a giant cart with a blanket covering it.  He was dressed in slacks and a white t-shirt, had white frizzy hair and a beard that reached as far as his waste.

The man began by introducing the theory of surface integrals, vector fields, and flux.  The board was filled with equations.  He demonstrated that the flux through a hamster will approach zero as the constipation level approached some finite upper bound (beyond which the flux spiked to infinity).  He concluded his first result:  The flux through the surface of a hamster can be modeled in part by a generalized function.

He expounded further on issues relating to hamster rotation, hamster surfaces as smooth manifolds, an upper bound for the number of diffeomorphisms on a hamster surface, and the fact that hamster intersection is always non-trivial.
For his final topic, he turned to the cart and motioned toward the blanket covering it.

"I shall demonstrate to you today that, underneath this blanket is 100 hamster cages that are simultaneously being occupied by a single hamster."

You could hear a pin drop in the room as he lifted the blanket off the cage.  Indeed, there were many many cages.  However, only one was occupied by a hamster.

He continued, "As you can see, the wave function for this hamster has collapsed upon our observing the system.  That is why we can only see the hamster occupying a single cage once we lift the blanket off."  He then proceeded to repeatedly cover and uncover the cages.

He added, "Surely, the cages are simultaneously occupied when we're not looking at them."

Sighing, one of the Zoology instructors posed a question.  "How come the other cages appear to be undisturbed?"

"What do you mean?"  the lecturer replied.

"I mean that, to put it plainly, there's no poop in any of the other cages!"

The lecturer paused and answered, "Ah!  That's a good question.  You see, it all disappears when the wave function collapses!"

Another instructor from the Biology department chimed in, "Just exactly how do you intend to demonstrate this phenomena to us?"

The lecturer replied, "What phenomena?"

The Biology professor commented, "I see.  So you've already forgotten what you are talking about."

The lecturer gave a blank stare.

The Biology professor continued, "The phenomena regarding the hamster's supposed ability to occupy all 100 cages simultaneously.  How do you intend to establish that?!"

The lecturer responded, "Ah yes!  I intend to show today that the hamster can simultaneously occupy all cages at once when the cages are covered."

The Biology professor would not let up, "I get that.  I suppose what I'm wondering is how you intend to make this conclusion without observing the system?!"

A Philosophy instructor chimed in, "I have a question too.  Why does the wave function keep collapsing to the same point, or cage rather?"

The lecturer packed up his belonging and left.  Oddly enough, the Dean of Sciences stopped him in the hall and offered him a position.  It turns out that the lecturer had been awarded several grants for his research.

As we left the meeting, a colleague of mine turned to me and whispered, "The Hamsterology Club is going to hell in a hand basket."  He was pointing to the weekly itinerary of guest lectures.  Next week's guest lecturer would be giving a talk on numerology and its applications to the hamster community.

"What in the world does that have to do with hamsters?"  I whispered.

My colleague whispered back, "About as much as today's lecture did."


  1. $ unhampsterize emh_post.txt

    Parse error: hamster function overloaded

  2. At least the cat, I mean, hamster wasn't dead.

  3. > A Philosophy instructor chimed in, "I have a question too. Why does the wave function keep collapsing to the same point, or cage rather?"

    Oooohhh! I can answer that one.

    The wave-function evolves in time under the action of a unitary Hamstertonian followed by selection at probability equal to the square of the wave-function's inner product with the cage basis, and if we do not allow enough time for the evolution to proceed the odds will strongly prefer the previous cage. Especially if the commuter between the Hamstertonian and the cage basis represents a small perturbation (and guaranteed is the commuter goes to zero); unless there are some of those tunnel and ball thingies in which case all bets are off.

    1. Just so that I could write "Hamstertonian". My day has been made.

    2. Nice. That deserves a drink. I'll buy a round at the h bar.

    3. I've been to the h bar. Nice place. What I've always liked about it is the old-time tavern feel, what with the sawdust on the floor, giant wood kegs of beer behind the bar, and the rustic Planck tables. Good times.

    4. I heard that Heisenberg drank there, probably.

  4. Now you know why Einstein had the sneaking suspicion for the rest of his life that "we must've screwed up something somewhere." But then, QM beats postmodernism, in that at least you can make digital cameras with it.

  5. What I find amazing is one of the clips that EMH linked to was also used in the first every RYS video, "I Dated a Proffie."

  6. Etot brilliant post got me thinking about Hamster EPR experiment. Normalerweise thought-experiment, but with hamsters is possible, is possible! Create system of entangled hamsters, spherically symmetric. Then separate them with magnetic machine, which also hurls them at humane speed towards opposite sides of room. With hamsters in mid-flight, randomly rotate elongated baskets, previously positioned in flight paths. Depending on orientation of baskets: hamster caught safely or hamster splats! And if baskets parallel (with any orientation) and hamsters quantum--both caught or both splat! Prekrassna! Somebody will try this, no? Real physicists in audience will correct me, no?

  7. The answer lies in loop quantum gerbology.

  8. "...a beard that reached as far as his waste."
    C'mon people, don't get all snowflake-y! Basic proofing skills- should be easy even for the hard science folks.

    1. A post and comments this brilliant, and you focus on a misspelling?

    2. I say that as a spelling-and-usage hardass who's been a copy editor since age 17. I've been known to correct ads on buses and subways with a Sharpie, and I tore out and used up the apostrophe stickers at the back of "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves". Before you jump on that last sentence, let me note that I feel awful about not having the capability of underlining the title, and that putting the end mark after the quotation marks is an acceptable alternate use in American English and the preferred use in Britain.

      We on CM came to an informal agreement some time ago that we'd let minor lapses like "waste" go without comment rather than get our collective knickers in a twist.

      Hmmm, collective knickers. I'm uncertain whether we could ever observe who was in which pair at a given time.


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