Entangled in Sports Analogies

Having written in defense of analogies in physics yesterday, I should note that not all of the analogies that are brought out in an attempt to clarify physics concepts are good. For example, there's this incredibly strained opening to a Science News article on entanglement:

If the Manning brothers were quantum physicists as well as NFL quarterbacks, one of them could win his game's opening coin toss every time. The night before they played, the brothers would take two coins from a special quantum box to use the next day. If Peyton's game came first, after learning the outcome of his coin toss, he would know without a doubt how his brother's coin would land. Say Peyton's came up heads; he could text "tails" to his little brother. Eli would correctly call tails in his later game and win the toss (not that it would do the Giants much good).

Look, I like football, and even root for a team quarterbacked by a Manning, but this is just dopey. And the occasional calls back to it later in the article don't add anything either. It feels less like the natural outcome of an attempt to explain an odd piece of physics than the result of an editor saying "You know what this needs? Some sort of sports reference. Football's popular, put some football in it."

Which is a pity, because it's otherwise a pretty good survey of recent research on entanglement in quantum mechanics. A few of the details are a little bit off, but it hits most of the important points. If you took out the strained and perfunctory mentions of the NFL, it would be even better.

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Modern physics is like a cross between quoits and sepak takraw. Just remember that in the long game, the spike is flush with the clay, and that the takraw has twelve holes and twenty intersections. The rest is just algebra.

To be honest, I think it works quite well, in terms of explaining the issue of entanglement versus randomness in an analogy that connects accurately to real world occurrences. I'm always very wary of ANY analogies which relate "full scale" objects with quantum physics; I'm an ill-informed amateur, but I know enough to spot contradictions in the metaphor, and it is annoying as well as potentially misinformative. This one, I don't think qualifies in the same way.

Ack, sports references.

Could one of you scientist types rent me a time machine? I'd like to go strangle Vince Lombardi in his cradle and replace him with someone who isn't going to evolve into the Messiah to every loudmouthed Texas salescreep I've ever slaved for.

By speedwell (not verified) on 06 Nov 2010 #permalink