You know sometimes I really hate math. Every once in a while, I come across a problem that has no answer. After all this integration, differentiation, U-substitution, and good old addition and multiplication, all of it was pointless. It always irritates me. When the math professor, who has studied math his whole life, tells me that there is no solution, I never believe it. I mean there must be an answer.
You know something I do like though, TED talks. I always feel like an old man when I sit in my bed on the weekend with my BEATS headphones plugged in listening to some TED talk about the meaning of life. God I love feeling old. Last weekend, I stumbled across this video titled “Double Slit Experiment Explained! By Jim Al-Khalili.” I decided I had nothing better to do, so I clicked on it. Little did I know, the Double Slit Experiment demonstrates an anomaly in quantum physics. It blew my mind.
The experiment involves a particle gun, which shoots particles, then a sheet that had two slits in it and another sheet behind that one. The scientist decided to block one of the slits and then shoot the particles. As expected, the particles made a line on the back sheet that looked almost identical to the sheet. The next time, the scientists didn’t block any sheets and then shoot the particles. The result was puzzling. Instead of making two lines on the back sheet, the particles had made lines across the whole back sheet, not just two lines where the slits were. The scientists noticed that this interaction was very similar to how light interacts with two slits. The scientists were confused, but they had hope. The next time, instead of firing all the particles at once, they would shoot the particles one by one and see what happened. To their surprise, the result was the same as the last experiment, lines of particles across the whole back sheet. Now the scientists were really stumped. They decided to put a motion detector on one of the slits to determine how often the particles were going through that slit. The motion detector determined that after all the particles had been shot one by one, 50% had gone through the top slit and 50% had gone through the bottom slit. However, this was not the big anomaly from the experiment. When they looked back at the last sheet, I’m pretty sure their jaws dropped. Instead of creating lines throughout the whole back sheet, there were only two lines of particles. The back sheet was no longer full of lines, but rather only had two lines were the sheets were. The scientists were much more than stumped now. They were simply confused (Jim Al-Khalili).
When looking back through all our readings and my essays, I noticed a reoccurring theme. I realized that people always want an answer. Websites like Google have created a means of find answers to everything. We are one search away from being able to learn anything we want. It’s remarkable, but at the same time it’s dangerous. Anomalies like the Double Slit Experiment are simply unacceptable, yet they demonstrate that sometimes things do not have an answer. The answer is in fact that there is no answer. When reading the books Columbine, which talks about the school shooting at Columbine High School, or Eating Animals, which talks about the issues with the meat industry, both Cullen and Foer seem to try and find one cause for the tragedies at Columbine and in the food industry. In reality, however, the blame for both of these events cannot fall onto one person or action. It is unexplainable.
In Columbine, Cullen investigates everything about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the shooters of Columbine. Cullen talks about everything from their own personal journals, their popularity at school, to even the effect that the town of Columbine had on Eric and Dylan. Cullen tries to explore every possible explanation as to why Eric and Dylan did it. In an article written for Slate, Cullen claims “At least we know why the Columbine killers did it” (Cullen). From what I see, however, I believe we honestly have no idea why they did it. Cullen explains that the media “focused on his hatred,” the public labeled them as “psychopaths,” others believed that it was Harris’ influence on Dylan, a couple believed that they were in it for the “fame,” and Agent Fuselier, an FBI agent, thinks they wanted “to create a nightmare so devastating and apocalyptic that the entire world would shudder at their power” (Cullen). With all these different theories, it’s hard to know which one is more valid than the other ones. All of these different explanations demonstrate that there is no way of knowing why Eric and Dylan did what they did. There is no right answer.
When looking at Eating Animals, Foer comes across a similar issue. Foer talks about the violence that emerges from the food industry, specifically to the mistreatment of the animals in factory farms. Foer explains that the workers are the ones mistreating the animals and for the most part that is who the public puts the blame on. Foer, however, explains that big food corporations, like Tyson, put the workers in a high stress environment, which makes the workers violent. At the same time, you can also put the blame on the general public for creating such a high demand for food, which causes the need for mass production and slaughter of factory animals. There really is no right answer here; everyone is to blame, but that’s not how the public sees it. When I surveyed Santa Clara students asking them whom they thought the blame fell on for the mistreatment of animals, 90% of them blamed the workers.
At the end of the video about the Double Slit experiment, Professor Jim Al-Khalili says, “If you can explain this suing common sense and logic, do let me know, because there is a Nobel Prize waiting for you” (Khalili). Although Khalili’s comment is meant more of a joke, at the same time, he too is searching for that answer. Why is it that we must always have an answer? The truth is that the unknown scares us. H.P Lovecraft, a famous American author, once said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest of fear is fear of the unknown” (Lovecraft). Not knowing what caused the shooting at Columbine or realizing that no one can really be blamed for the mistreatment of factory animals are scary thoughts. Putting the blame on one single thing brings comfort to people as a whole, but it is a false sense of comfort. It is ok to not have an answer for something and to admit that you do not know. I like math because it brings reason and logic into our world, but now, I really love math when there is no solution.
Cullen, David. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009. Print.
Cullen, Dave. “At Last We Know Why the Columbine Killers Did It.” Slate. N.p., 20 Apr. 2004. Web. 10 June 2015.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.
Al-Khalili, Jim. “Double Slit Experiment Explained! By Jim Al-Khalili.” YouTube. Video. 10 June 2015