A song by the best band ever concieved, They Might be Giants (and yes, that is a competely objective statement, really). The following lyrics for the song were harvested from the www.tmbg.org website, though I can vouch for them personally after having listened to Factory Showroom far too many times.


Spiralling Shape

Down, down, down you go
No way to stop
As you fall, hear me call
No, no, no
Listen to this warning and
Consider these
Simple words of advice
Stop, stop, stop

Fogging the view, cupping face to the window
In darkness you make out a spiralling shape
Putting all reason aside you exchange
What you got for a thing that's hypnotic and strange

The spiralling shape will make you go insane
(Everyone wants to see that groovy thing)
But everyone wants to see that groovy thing
(Everyone wants to see that thing)

And nobody knows what it's really like
But everyone says it's great
And they heard it from the spiral in their eyes

This could lead to excellence
Or serious injury
Only one way to know
Go, go, go
Go ahead, wreck your life
That might be good
Who can say what's wrong or right?
Nobody can

Put out your hands and you fall through the window
And clawing at nothing you drop through the void
Your terrified screams are inaudible drowned
In the spiral ahead and consumed in the shape

The spiralling shape will make you go insane
(Everyone wants to see that groovy thing)
But everyone wants to see that groovy thing
(Everyone wants to see that thing)

And now that you've tried it, you're back to report
That the spiralling shape was a fraud and a fake
You didn't enjoy it, you never believed it
There won't be a refund, you'll never go back

The spiralling shape will make you go insane
(Everyone wants to see that groovy thing)
But everyone wants to see that groovy thing
(Everyone wants to see that thing)

And nobody knows what it's really like
But everyone says it's great
And they heard it from the spiral in their eyes
(Spiral in their eyes)

Fogging the view, cupping face to the window
In darkness you make out a spiralling shape
Putting all reason aside you exchange
What you got for a thing that's hypnotic and strange

The spiralling shape will make you go insane
(Everyone wants to see that groovy thing)
But everyone wants to see that groovy thing
(Everyone wants to see that thing)

Don't spend the rest of your life wondering
(Everyone wants to see that thing)

Don't spend the rest of your life wondering
(Everyone wants to see that groovy thing)
Don't spend the rest of your life wondering
(Everyone wants to see that thing)


I and several of my friends have dubbed this the official song of quantum mechanics. If you've never learned quantum mechanics it probably won't make much sense. For those of you who have, just read through the song thinking that the "spiraling shape" represents quantum mechanics. Let me point out a few of the things that really make the connection for me.

  • "And nobody knows what it's really like/But everyone says it's great"

    It is said that no one really understands quantum mechanics; however, it has allowed us to predict a great many things, and so it has also been called the most successful theory in physics ever.

  • "Put out your hands and you fall through the window/And clawing at nothing you drop through the void/Your terrified screams are inaudible drowned/In the spiral ahead and consumed in the shape"

    This is sort of how you feel intellectually when you learn that nature behaves in such a bizarre, unintuitive, and seemingly impossible way.

  • "The spiraling shape will make you go insane"

    How you feel when working on problem sets.

  • "And now that you've tried it, you're back to report/That the spiraling shape was a fraud and a fake/You didn't enjoy it, you never believed it/There won't be a refund, you'll never go back"

    This is probably how you feel at the end of the course.

I'm not saying that this is how it is for everyone, but this is how it was for me to some degree and for others I knew. The worst part about it was that the more you thought about it the worse your confusion got. I believe it was Bohr who said something to the effect of that anyone who learned quantum mechanics and was not somewhat disturbed by it hadn't understood it. I think that the reaction of most people I knew to learning it was best summed up in the following quote from The Empire Strikes Back: "No...it's not true...that's impossible!"

Despite all this, don't think I'm disparaging quantum physics, because I'm not. It is a very successful theory that has allowed us to understand a great many things. This is mainly just a commentary about how it feels to learn quantum mechanics. It is a profoundly confusing and unintuitive subject at the beginning. For those of you that are learning or have learned it, it does get better eventually. Give it a while to sink in, and keep asking questions, but don't expect to understand it quickly or completely. You'll also probably have to do some outside reading on some things. And there are some lingering problems with the idea of measurement, which need to be explored further, but it is still a pretty good theory.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.