Friday, July 6, 2012

Wave-Particle Duality

What does sexism have to do with wave-particle duality? Not much, unless you have been reading the book reviews and letters in Physics Today. The February 2012 issue includes a review by Robert March of Quantum Physics for Poets by Leon Lederman and Christopher Hill, where we learn that "a window shopper at Victoria's Secret illustrates the probabilistic behavior of photons". This allusion seemed quirky but harmless until we read the fuller explication by Richard Wolfson in the June 2012 issue followed by a defense from the book's authors, who assert that "we have not received a single complaint thus far from anyone else that our book is sexist."

The book authors' test of reader reactions was incomplete; in quantum verse, they did not sum over all paths. Wolfson reports that his letter caused another reader to complain to Lederman and Hlll, and Hill told her they would change the example in a future version of the book.

There are a variety of lessons one may draw from this example depending on one's philosophical stance. One conclusion appears free of any personal views toward feminism or quantum wierdness: It is possible to change perceptions.

Is it possible to eliminate the implicit bias that fails to see how one's cultural metaphors exclude others? Sometimes I think that solving this problem is much harder than solving the many-body Schrodinger equation. Astronomers and physicists like intellectual challenges. This one is worthy of our sustained effort.