Talking to Your Human About Physics

A conversation with Emmy Orzel

So, why do you talk to your human about physics?

Lots of reasons, but mostly because he won't shut up about it. It's always "Blah, blah, Physics, blah blah Quantum blah blah blah."

Sounds like he needs to lighten up a bit.

He definitely needs to get out and chase some more squirrels, if you know what I mean. And bunnies.

It's not too bad, though. Physics is pretty cool.

What's cool about it?

Well, for example, there was this guy named Erwin Schrödinger, who had this idea about a cat. You see, if you take a cat, and you stick it in a box with a thing that will kill it 50% of the time. And before you open the box, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time.

Isn't that brilliant?

That's not a real experiment, is it?

Well, technically, it's a gedankenexperiment, an imaginary experiment used to argue that the "Copenhagen Interpretation" that provides the philosophical framework for understanding quantum mechanics leads to absurd results.

But, I mean, think about it: putting cats in boxes! That's brilliant. You need to be some sort of genius human to come up with a great idea like that.

Um, yeah. OK. I guess.

If I had a research grant, I would definitely do that.

You might have a hard time getting approval for that.

And thumbs. I would also need opposable thumbs.

Maybe I could hire some chimpanzees as post-docs...

Moving along, how did the writing of this book go? What was the process like?

It was mostly the big human, to be honest. I was, like, the inspiration, and provided the dialogue, and he did all the bits with math. And typing. He did all the typing.

Once he finished it, though, we read it over together, and I helped him fix it up. He transcribed my comments, and put them in the final draft. They're the best part, if I do say so myself. Which I do. Because I'm the best.

So, what's your favorite part of the whole experience?

I'd have to say the treats. I got a bunch of treats when we finished the book. I like treats!

What sort of physics things are you thinking about these days?

Well, I've been toying around with trying to learn some relativity. I've also been thinking about quantum information quite a bit. It has some interesting applications.

Such as...?

Well, for exaple, there's this thing called Grover's algorithm, that lets you use a computer to search for things really fast. If you have a million things to look through, a regular computer would need a million operations to find something. A quantum computer using Grover's algorithm could do it in only a thousand steps.

And what is that good for?

Well, I'm thinking, I could make a quantum computer, and use it to find the bunnies in the back yard really quickly. Right now, I can only find them by sniffing everywhere, and that takes a long time. With a quantum computer, I'd know right where to go, and I could catch the bunnies.

Um, actually, Grover's algorithm is for searching a database. It will let you go through computer records more quickly than a classical computer could do. It won't search your back yard for you.

It won't?

Sorry, but no.

Oh. Well, I guess it's back to sniffing, then.

We'll let you get back to it. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. It's been... interesting.

My pleasure. Say, you wouldn't happen to have any treats, would you?

How to Teach Physics to Your Dog is published by Scribner can be ordered from, IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, and Powell's.

How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog is published by Basic Books and can be ordered from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's.

This page was last updated on: