Our house can be a frightening place. Having a young kid and a being married to a physicist means that within the same minute I can be tripping over a copy of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends and then placing my backside on a rather thick tome about Quantum Mechanics. Sometimes I dare to open the latter and usually quickly regret the decision, wishing I’d stuck with Thomas and his mates. I may be an engineer and have my degree and my IET membership but nothing prepares mere mortals for such assaults on the mind as full on quantum mechanics. During periods where my better half is teaching, pieces of paper litter the house covered in hundreds of equations that look like they’ve fallen out of a low budget sci-fi movie where the director needs to demonstrate that the mad scientist character is a genius and is working on something very hard. And forget ever trying to use that phrase “It’s not rocket science” in our home, because as I am sharply informed, “Rocket science is easy”.
Today I began looking through the book Optics by Eugene Hecht. The introduction gave me false hope of actually getting somewhere since it was a brief history of optics covering the ancient Greeks and Romans. And then there was something interesting. Essentially in Europe for a period of approximately 1000 years from around AD475 science stood still. This fact made me pause. I skipped a few pages to chapter one and quickly changed my mind as the first equations slammed into view. What does it mean that scientific progress essentially stopped for 1000 years? Could that happen again?
If you’ve not seen it then I highly recommend tracking down the film Idiocracy, directed by Mike Judge. Mike Judge is more famous for Beavis and Butthead but this film is far more deserving of attention (his other film Office Space is also excellent). In Idiocracy he takes the concept that intelligent people are having less kids compared to say less intelligent people. He even touches on why. The result is that in 500 years time the world is populated by complete morons. Technology still exists but no one knows how it actually works. A totally average man who was frozen in 2006 wakes up in the future to discover he is the most intelligent man on earth. Much hilarity follows.
When I visit companies today a common point of discussion is the difficulty in finding skilled and motivated personnel. What is happening here? Northern Europe is hiring the brightest minds from the cash strapped southern regions because they cannot find enough of the right people at home. If that is the case what do people in the affluent lands actually want to do for a living? My wife gets complaints from students that her lectures feature “too many equations”. Since student complaints are taken very seriously by the powers that be, a retort that “this is quantum bloody mechanics not Thomas the Tank Engine” will not suffice. But before deriding today’s students we should also compare previous generations with their forebears – did they also make a slide backwards? What does it mean that more respect and reward is now available for the pseudo-geeks who write a chat app or an obese vexed avian app than the scientists who design the lithography systems that create the chips? Why study physics for hard won, meagre returns, most likely in an increasingly brutal academic position when you can learn Java in a weekend and ride a bubble to riches?
Anyway I will let you draw your own conclusions from the above comments. I should not need to do any conclusion drawing for you. It’s not quantum mechanics. It’s not even rocket science.