The ultimate cause of Modern Physics Abuse Syndrome (TM) is that the subject matter cannot be understood in the way our minds have evolved to understand.

To clarify; "Modern Physics" usually refers to Quantum Mechanics, and the first question anyone considering the subject asks is; "What is this stuff?" or "What's really happening?"

The problem with these questions are that QM isn't anything, doesn't refer to 'things' (AKA, 'objects') at all, and the only thing that we can know about what's really happening are the various measurments made during experimentation. 'Thing' doesn't apply to micro-scale phsyics; It's about events, not stuff.

The only actual knowlege of QM physics resides in mathematical formulations of the general principles governing the outcome of experimental data. Anyone who fails to tackle the math will remain fundamentally ignorant of the subject.

Newton's "F=ma" can be understood intuitively when we find more massive objects harder to move, or feels their body pulled to one side while rounding a curve in an automobile.

Even Einstein's "E=mc^2" (and all that it implies) can be understood intuitively, with practice...or when contemplating how an atomic explosion can come from such a small package.

But no amount of practice will change the fact that QM phenomena cannot be intuited. Richard P. Feynman (a good start for the beginner) pointed this out decades ago.

The effort to make analogies without considering this fact will always result in nonsense.

This is not to say that analogies using the facts of Modern Physics cannot be developed, but they are typically quite different than the ones most often bandied about.

For example, it is demonstrably true that people are not things, as a result of being composed of trillions of cellular-scale events, each of which is composed of trillions of atomic-scale events; a collection of nothing but events cannot be anything other than an event, albeit an incredibly complex one.

Though our minds are designed to intuit each other as things, even a cursory consideration reveals this intuitive understanding false; We are in a constant state of change (indeed, all life is), we have a continual flow of material into and out of our bodies, which will total several hundred tons in a typical lifetime. The only 'thing' in the whole scenario is the symbol you use to think about such events; The idea in your head that means 'that person/event', and which you experience at any one time as a discrete entity. If you have understood this dissertation, even that has now changed; ideas are actually events, as well.

As elegantly expressed by R. Buckminster Fuller; "I seem to be a verb."


In response to ariels (with whom I tend to see eye-to-eye on many things), I must point out that 'intuitive' is not synonymous with 'obvious'. The best description of 'intuitive' I've learned is 'unconscious learning.'

Ariels' suggestion to the contrary, many a prehistoric (and later, historic) human had great intution about physics, as evidenced by their leavings: The only way for an ancient human to gain possession of a healthy animal was to raise or catch it.

Whether we consider the formation of the tools (which required knowledge of fracture patterns and material strengths); the use of spears, slings, arrows or even a thrown stone (knowledge of vectors, forces, and momentum, AKA ballistics); the breeding of animals (which required knowledge of inheritiability of traits...whoops, that's biology!); or the use of the animal parts for clothing or housing (knowledge of thermodynamics, statics and engineering), it's clear that although such people had not formalized their knowledge of general principles with mathematics, they certainly had knowledge which those later formulations elucidated.

If they didn't have the knowledge, they would not have acheived their goals of successful hunting, tool-making, or - in short - living.

Modern ballistics equipment can lob 1000-lb projectiles several miles, and with the help of mathematics, physical princples and computers, accurately hit their target by measuring the movement of the target, launch-pad, wind, and Earth, then calculating and applying the forces at the proper time and angle necessary for the projectile to go where the operator intends.

Prehistoric humans could consistently hit their targets from several hundred yards despite moving targets, launch-pads, and winds, with only their well-designed skeleto-musculature structure, crude but effective tools, and their practice-honed (and therefore intuitive) skills.

If that is not evidence that physical principles can be intuitited, I would ask; what would ariels consider convincing, or even strong, evidence?

You will get tired holding up a book only when using your arms, which require a continual expenditure of energy, because humans - comprised entirely of hydraulic technology - must constantly rearrange material to exert force using muscles. Lie down and lay the book across your shins, and you'll never get tired of holding it that way, despite exerting sufficent force the entire time.

Unfortunately, Quantum Mechanics will never be intuitive as long as we keep using brains evolved to deal with macroscopic-scale phenomenon, like moving targets, people, or animals. The only human knowledge of QM is that which resides in the mathematical treatment of experimental results. Only esoteric possibilities such as genetic engineering or uploading your mind into a computer, can alter this fundamental limitation.

Finally, it does take force to stop a moving airplane. Modern commercial jets use plates to reverse their engine's thrust - that's why they rev the engines on landing. Most airplanes have brakes - force being applied to the discs or drums - and all airplanes experience forces of friction, both laminar and drag from the air, as well as that of wheels or skid-plates across the ground (which is, of course, increased by the application of brakes).

As my favorite boss used to tell me: We do physics to test and improve our intution, not to confirm it.