The Broken Scale

For those attending the popular Perimeter Institute lectures at the Bruce County Museum (see event planner), you may have noticed that almost every lecture revolves around or references scale.

We live in a scale of humans and the distances and speeds that we've gotten used to are human friendly for the most part. We can make scale work for us. Science deals with three different scales. 

We are not talking about the units, just the relative magnitudes.  In the end this is done in units, but no need to put any numbers before you now.

The scales are:

  1. Cosmological scale:  The distances and forces involved in our galaxy and beyond.
  2. Human Scale: The scale and forces that humans are used to in ordinary life.  This means forces and distances in our earth bound existence.
  3. Quantum Scale.  This scale reaches up to the atom and goes deep below

Cosmological scale involves the world of Einstein and Hawking and others.

Our world deals in Newton's laws and the mechanics of Archimedes

By far the strangest world and scale involves the Quantum world below even the atomic scale.  This is a world started by Plank and Einstein, carried forward by Heisenberg and others.

As ordinary human beings we do not realize that the three scales that science deals with are bedeviling to everyone, most of all to scientists.

(next column)

13/01/2009 04:24 PM


What is being done at the Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss border is to attempt to make some sense out of these three scales by looking smaller and deeper.

The question is ... Are there laws that unify all 3 scales?

What is hardest for non-scientists to understand is that the rules of the game change in the 3 scales mentioned.  That is, the laws of physics seem to break down.  There are mismatches at the boundaries of the scales.  In a human sense they don't fit well.

For example, Einstein found that Newton's laws did not apply in certain circumstances and had to be modified to fit reality.  This was where mass approached the speed of light or mass became so large that it distorted space itself.

On the smallest scale many of our long held ideas about reality change as the scale of our observations diminish.  The ideas of cause and effect, position and velocity have to be modified to fit the strange laws of nature that exist there.  Instead of cause and effect we must consider probability.  You are forced to drop human experience.

Can these three scales be unified into a single theory of nature that fits and is predictable?  Can this theory be known to man with his broken ideas of scale?  That is the quest of modern Physics.

So the next time you listen to something on NOVA or the Discovery Channel or you attend a Perimeter Institute lecture at the Museum, keep scale in the back of your mind as the information is presented.  We think you'll find it helps to understand what's what or at least what's broken?