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In 1964, physicist Richard Feynman delivered his “Messenger Lectures,” concerning the nature of the laws of physics, at Cornell University. He said, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” That has certainly been true of me. I haven’t given up, though.

When I first studied quantum mechanics in college, I found myself utterly mystified. I learned that an electron can be in two places at once. I learned that an event can happen without a cause. I learned that you can measure the position of a subatomic particle, or its velocity, but never both.

How could such things be? When I was in school I never felt I understood this bizarre theory. Always I was telling myself that someday I really ought to sit down and figure it all out. But to tell the truth, I did not really have much time for such matters. I was too busy learning all those nuts and bolts.

For quantum mechanics is not just strange: it is also complicated. Throughout my studies I was barely keeping my head above water. Being a student is hard. There are so many new things to figure out all at once. Looking back on it now, I realize that I was learning a whole new language. It is a strange language, utterly alien, and it took a lot of getting used to. And why should this not be so? It is a language suited to the bizarre world of the quantum—not the everyday world of tables and chairs.

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Category: Science