Sunday, November 23, 2008

Literary quantum mechanics ponderings with Adams and Langley

On a break from my quantum mechanics homework, I happened upon an à propos quote from Chapter 25 of The Education of Henry Adams :

In these seven years man had translated himself into a new universe which had no common scale of measurement with the old. He had entered a supersensual world, in which he could measure nothing except by chance collisions of movements imperceptible to his senses, perhaps even imperceptible to his instruments, but perceptible to each other, and so to some known ray at the end of the scale. Langley seemed prepared for anything, even for an indeterminable number of universes interfused -- physics stark mad in metaphysics.
The Langley to whom Henry Adams referred is one of the Wright Brothers many nemesises or nemesi, Samuel Pierpoint Langley, as described in John H. Lienhard "The Engines of Our Ingenuity" blog post:

"His guide through much of the Exhibition was the aeronautical pioneer Samuel Pierpoint Langley. Langley was a down-to-earth physicist, willing to explain things in functional terms. But Adams was too intelligent to take "this is how it works" for understanding."

The quote had the added relevance since Langley High School was my father's alma mater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and its yearbook was called the Aeronaut in honor of Samuel Pierpoint Langley's attempt at making an airplane. The school has apparently been shut down, from August 27, 2012  Pittsburgh Post Gazette article "Langley ready to take a new shape: Former West End high school will now host K-8"

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