(this is a re-post of something I wrote a couple of years ago. I've tidied it up, and kept the obscure joke, only after spending a minute trying to work out what the hell I was on about)
On the way home this evening I was musing about quantum mechanics. Now, I know little more than a layman, but I know enough to be aware that nobody really understands it. It struck me that it must have destroyed several promising academic careers - for someone with an analytical mind, it looks like something that you don't understand, but if you just learn a little more, and try to put the different bits together then eventually the penny will drop and it will all become clear.
In reality, of course, what happens is that you get sucked into it more and more, until you realise that there is no way you or anyone else will understand it. If you're lucky, that's after you have retired from a successful career as a theoretical physicist. But then the truth hit me.
One of the problems with quantum mechanics is that it happens at very small scales, so we can never see it directly. Hence, they have to use instruments to measure the effects. So although all sorts of bizarre and counter-intuitive result are found, they are never observed directly. Perhaps this is no accident. Perhaps it was designed.
just-so story theory. Everyone knew that physicists were the only real scientists, finding Great Truths, and telling us that philately will get us nowhere. So, as a joke a technician decided to set up the latest instrument they were toiling away at to produce non-sensical results. The experiment was performed, and the results published. Thus was quantum mechanics began.
Of course, the technician couldn't admit to it, but that didn't matter. He just persuaded his friends and colleagues to play along with the joke, and build ever bigger instruments to produce ever more non-sensical results, and laugh behind the backs of these great Nobel-winning scientists. Late on Friday night someone must have suggested digging out the inside of a Swiss Alp. And they even fell for that.
So, now we have a whole subject that makes absolutely no sense, because it is a fiction brought about by a conspiracy of instrumentalists. They can't admit it, because they have invested too much in the scam (as, come to that, have several governments). Instead, they go on building their machines to produce random results, safe in the knowledge that whatever odd squiggle is seen as an output, some theoretical physicist will be able to explain it with some weird theory (just stringing us along, eh?).
Of course, biologists would never fall for something like this, would they? After all, what could we be given by a technician? A machine that magically produces all the DNA we want? Who would fall for that?
There. Two obscure references for the price of one.