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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What's in a name?

I am attempting to learn something about physics. To this end, I just read "Six Easy Pieces" by Richard Feynman. The biggest thing I got out this book is that all sub-atomic particles, and not just photons as I had previously believed, suffer from particle-wave duality. Sometimes they act like particles, and sometimes they behave like waves. So I feel it is a misnomer to call them particles at all. When I think of a particle, I think of a grain of sand, or a grain of salt, and if we are talking about sub-atomic particles, well, they are just the same, but ever so much smaller. But that is wrong. Sub-atomic particles do not behave anything at all like particles of your everyday experience, and it was a colossal error of judgement to ever append such an appellation to them in the first place. Of course, at the time, who knew?

We should have a better name for them. My first thought was that we should call them "things", after all, "Wheel of Fortune" uses "Things" as a category that includes not just physical objects, but also ideas. Or perhaps sub-atomic objects would be better, but maybe using objects in the abstract sense is assuming too much familiarity with programming, which most people do not have.

So how about "whosits", in honor of Dr. Seuss's "Horton Hears A Who!", wherein there is a civilization of very tiny creatures that dear Horton cannot see, but only infer the existence of. Perhaps that is projecting too much personality onto such simple items. Maybe "whatsits" would be a better term, since they are certainly "whats" and not "whos". Or if we really wanted to show our confusion we could call them "whoser-what-sits". I do not know, that name may be just too long, "whatsits" is my choice, my final choice, "sub-atomic whatsits".

Update October 2016 replace missing pictures.

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