Some Second Glances
at some simple but difficult concepts that are "obvious" yet often go unobserved

The quantum jump (1) was discovered in the early 20th century.  It is the smallest change something can undergo.  The absolutely teeniest, infinitessimalest jump possible, because “between” values can’t exist.  Somehow “quantum jump” got turned on its head to mean a large jump, a “Quantum Leap.”  A new vision thing got seen through old vision, and it didn't come out right..

Exponential growth (2) is growth that for each subsequent time interval something gets multiplied by some constant factor; for example, it might double every year: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc.  Old vision easily sees adding the same amount each time, but multiplying sometimes mystifies, and the big numbers in short time looks like what’s important.  But the doubling might be every million years.  That’s exponential growth, but it’s very, very slow.  New vision sees the multiplication as the significant fact.

The old perceptions frequently see addition where multiplication belongs.  Addition and subtraction get substituted for multiplication and division.  Advertisers might make use of the old vision’s common confusion about ratios, proportions, multiplied factors, etc.    “Milli-” means a thousandth.  A thousand thousandths (3) is simply one.  Caveat emptor!  Also, if the medicine is really strong, the maker should brag about how little it takes. 

The “biggest” athlete (4) might be the heaviest (football) and might be the tallest (basketball).  The old insight sees everything that can be measured lined up in a line from least to greatest.  The new insight sees two, three, four...even infinity dimensions in the ordering.  This is vision of  “It depends...”  It’s also a vision of  “See like a bird.”  (A bird’s color vision is vastly superior to a human’s, in ways that the human finds very hard to understand.)

The dark side (5) of the moon?  We see more and more of the dark side as the moon goes from full to new.  It’s the far side of the moon that we had never seen until the sixties.  New vision sees three dimensional things better than does old vision.  Furthermore, it wasn’t NASA that revealed the far side: it was the USSR.

Most people who exclaim, “I could care less!” (6) mean the opposite: “I could not care less!”  It’s a matter of negation.  Simple negation is an old notion.  Negation of negation reaches a bit into the new, into the edges of human comprehension.  The new vision physics concept of irreversibility is a negation of negation, often unseen through old vision.

Real private investigators (7) who regularly use their fists, regularly visit their doctors to get their finger bones splinted.  As a movie critic once said, “The loud cracking sound you hear when the movie hero punches the villain in the jaw is the sound of finger bones breaking.  Jaw bones are stronger than finger bones.”  Movies like the old ways of “seeing.”   Real physicists (and PI’s) like the new.  The new vision sees the real meaning of Newton’s law of action (force on jaw) and reaction (force on fist), which has nothing to do with cause and effect (the forces are equal and opposite because they‘re two sides of the same thing).

Lotteries and casinos are designed to gull people who use only old vision—perhaps people also endowed with a healthy dose of wishful thinking.  Lotteries and casinos are run by people with new vision, who understand randomness, statistical reasoning, and that dusty corner of human nature (8) which clouds vision of such modern concepts.

Free energy is total energy minus that energy which is unavailable for doing work.  (A lot of people with old insight think “free energy” has something to do with utility and gasoline bills.)  If energy can be “unavailable for doing work,” we surely can’t define energy as “capacity for doing work.”(9).   Energy is necessary for doing work, but it is not sufficient.  The new vision reveals that  necessity and sufficiency are mutually reciprocal “If___then___” statements and are very different..

Old vision sees “heat” as something detected by our skin’s sense of temperature (10).  Old vision sees heat and temperature as pretty much the same thing.  New vision sees “heat” as  something more like the movement of money in a casino.  Heat is the movement of energy because temperature differs from place to place.  Heat is like the action at the tables: random, but with a bias.  Energy can also move without randomness—like the money bundles that go from the casino cashier to the bank.  That energy as it’s being transferred is called “work.”

Old vision sees “crystals” as being like glass with flat facets cut into its surface, and it sees glass as weak and brittle (11).  New vision sees “crystal” and “glass” as opposites, the difference being the way the atoms are arranged inside: crystal atoms are in regular, repeating patterns—and crystals are generally very strong.  Metals are virtually always crystalline when solid.  The part of the metal that looks crystalline is actually the part that remained strong to the end; the gun-blue, strong-looking part of the broken surface is probably a fatigue crack.

We can’t eat food, or burn fuel, more than once.  That’s very old knowledge.  Old vision sees “energy” as being like food and fuel (12).  New vision sees energy as something a lot more abstract than food or fuel.  It’s sole important property is that it is conserved:  nothing we can do (13) can create it or destroy it.  (Food and fuel cannot be reused because randomness, like that of the casino’s roulette wheel, happens—and that randomness is irreversible.)

Earthquakes happen deep in the earth.  We live on the surface of the earth.  The epicenter (14) is the point on the earth directly above the earthquake.  Old vision likes to exaggerate by making stereotyping associations.  Earthquakes are big.  Earthquakes have epicenters.  So, if you want something to sound big, you call the center of it an “epicenter.”

The gold eagle might be an endangered specie (15).  The spotted owl is an endangered species.   Your dictionary will explain all of this.

Old vision usually sees just one cause for each effect and one effect for each cause.  New vision sees whole webs of causes and effects.  Multiple causes that can be measured are called parameters (16).  That’s not a salient phenomenon to old vision.  “Parameter” and “perimeter” (an outer limit) get confused .  (They are look-alikes.)

Old vision often fails to see much difference between “all” and “some,” or between “one” and “several.”   “Unique” (17) is more a word for new vision seeing: It means “the only one in existence” to distinguish from “one of several.”  So, old vision often sees “unique” as meaning special, outstanding, unusual. 

You can find these, and many more, second glances on the Web at:

Knowledge for Use:

(Enter through the front door and click on the starry, starry night.)


What is life?  Up or down?  See like a bird  There's more than meets the eye  Post-Modern and ivory towered  Starry, starry night  Thimk!  What's to see  Memories  You can't get there from here  What's the use?

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