Quantum leaves in fact and fiction

When one tries to wrap one’s brain around quantum mechanics chances are that the distinctions between fact and fiction blur, and on most good days that which we think to be logic eludes us. Those are the good days!

It surprised me to come across this little piece: Material witness: Quantum leaves in fact and fiction : Nature Materials : Nature Publishing Group: “Quantum coherence refers here to the way that electronically excited quantum states of the pigment chromophores called excitons maintain a correlated phase relationship for long enough to assist transfer of the excitation energy towards the reaction centre, where an electron is ejected from chlorophyll. These quantum dynamics depend on the precise nanoscale arrangement of the pigment molecules.”

Why? Oh why! I get excited about these things, passionate even. I think that what we think is logic is an insufficient (if not inadequate) guide to understanding our universe and the rules by which it plays with what we call chemistry and physics. The only trouble is that I have  yet to figure out what would complement or evolve our logic.

I have spent a few weeks around thoughts centered on nanotechnology, technology, discovery and invention because, whether you like it or not, there distinctions here that are economically relevant and that may infringe in that which we consider the common good. The common good that comprises humanity’s knowledge of the arts and sciences is what I like to call culture.

I can argue that perhaps information does not want to be free, only because information lacks a will, but when it comes to the rules by which the universe plays chemistry and physics, these are facts of nature that belong to us all. Now imagine that some multinational comes up with the idea of making a photovoltaic process that does nothing else than mimic what nature does in photosynthesis and then vaults that process in a patent. What consequences would that have? What kind of patents would be allowed? What kind of patents would not be allowed? Is the present patent system capable of adequately preserving our access to culture and knowledge?

Indeed, how the average plant leaf transfers energy from one molecular system to another is nothing short of a miracle (Ian McEwan, Solar). By the way, I have not yet read Solar, but it promises some delights in the confusion of climate change. What I find of more interest than the climate change debate itself, nanotechnology as such,  quantum mechanics, is the fact that humans will label anything which they can not comprehend with the rudiments of their logic as a miracle.

Written under a different tone but echoing some of my sentiments is another piece by Daniel Sarewitz that expresses in more details some of the ideas hinted at above.