Physics inside our lives

Article by Suraj

It is the common opinion of many people that Physics, and the study and appreciation of Physics, is something that’s purely for the scholarly and the learned. But, when you pause for a minute and think, there is no way you can miss its mainstream role in our lives today. By this, please do not think of the practical implications of Physics – like how semi-conductors work for us inside our TVs, how the famous Carnot cycle of heat sources and sinks is used in our refrigerators or, perhaps how Bernoulli’ principle of viscous drag is used in the designing of our aircrafts. There is another equally important way in which Physics impacts our lives: this facet deals with the close agreement the laws of Physics have with those of everyday life and how it helps us understand the purpose of our lives better. You would be surprised to find how some universal laws of Physics are actually mirrors of our day-to-day experiences.Seven years later Shakespeare is recognized as an actor, poet and playwright, when a rival playwright, Robert Greene, refers to him as "an upstart crow" in A Groatsworth of Wit. A few years later he joined up with one of the most successful acting troupe's in London: The Lord Chamberlain's Men. When, in 1599, the troupe lost the lease of the theatre where they performed, (appropriately called The Theatre) they were wealthy enough to build their own theatre across the Thames, south of London, which they called "The Globe." The new theatre opened in July of 1599.

There are lots of theories in Physics which bear a strong connection with our commonly-held, “matter-of-fact” opinions in life. Just look at Newton’s 3rs law of motion, which says that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The real- life equivalent of this theory can be easily understood: just punch a person walking on the street and look for his reaction! Sticking with the same subject, take a look at Newton’s 1st law, which is about inertia. Inertia is a universal property of all bodies by which their current state of rest ( or motion ) is opposed their surroundings. Speak about this law to a person starting a new project or a new business and he would readily believe agree with it. Or, better still, try working on some mathematics yourself; the first few problems would really rack your brains out but as you continue, you would feel more and more comfortable with it. It’s the same everywhere: it’s always easy to keep something going as opposed to getting it started. Conversely, it is equally difficult to stop something that is already in action. This is the basis of the law of inertia, in Physics as in real life.

Let’s now hop on to another important principle. This is Bohr’s Correspondence Principle. According to this principle, any new theory or law does not disprove or eliminate the corresponding previous theory. It only makes the understanding of the old theory more complete. To take an example from Physics itself, we say that the new theory of quantum mechanics did not disprove old Newtonian theories about motion and force; it merely made Newtonian mechanics a part of itself. Guess what is the real-life equivalent of this principle. It is the way in which society and social customs evolve in our lives. New social customs or practices don’t actually negate old ones. They only make the old customs more meaningful. Let’s look at the popular view of marriages. Decades back, there was only one way to get married and that was to have it arranged. Then came “love-marriages.” However, the latter has not eliminated arranged marriages. They have only given a better choice to people. We now live in an age where both ways of getting married peacefully co-exist and that’s exactly what Bohr’s principle has to say about the new and the old.

Before you think this has probably gone too far, take one last look at another of such comparisons. Enter the famous Uncertainty Principle of Werner Heisenberg. This principle says that the degree of certainty or accuracy of the knowledge you can have about things is finite and cannot be 100% percent. This means that no one can have absolute knowledge about anything. Technically speaking, what it actually means is the very method by which we try to observe or measure a system under study radically alters the system. It thereby makes it impossible to know exactly how the system was before we interfered with it. This principle is also easily understood in the context of our day-to-day lives because the amount of uncertainty associated with our lives is enormous. How much certain are we about our ability to predict the future? Are we absolutely confident about how things would turn up every time? The answers to these questions are certainly (!) no. It is possible to guess about how things may take shape but impossible to be absolutely sure of them. This is the crux of the uncertainty principle and no doubt it is a clear reflection of real life.

So, at the end of the day, if someone were to say that Physics was something far removed from everyday life, you’d be right in saying that he is far from the truth!

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