Science Seen Physicist and Time One author Colin Gillespie helps you understand your world.
Potter in Physics
Thinking about physics showing up in unexpected places gets me thinking about Harry Potter movies. A whole muggle generation cut its independent-thinking teeth on that magic. How much of it might be almost true?
For example, there is Hagrid, late for his appointment with Dumbledore, teleporting off the overpass at King’s Cross Station. Teleporting? Maybe magic, surely physics fiction, but no more than that. Everybody knows that planetary-personnel transporter was a low-cost Star Trek set.
But wait. Real teleporting is not even news; it’s done in lots of places here on Earth. Not teleporting people―not this decade anyway and likely not this century (although in 1902 Lord Kelvin said that aeroplanes would never carry passengers)―but teleporting single atoms is old hat. ‘Teleportation’ is an item in the index of the latest physics texts.
Harry Potter’s popularity and magic made a mix that led to criticism. Their said-to-be-occult message should not, some critics said, be inflicted on unsuspecting children. Me, I imagine them to be a youthful introduction to the kind of magic we call quantum mechanics. As Arthur C. Clarke says (it’s his Third Law of Prediction), ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’
Is J.K. Rowling a fine physics teacher or what?
Arthur C. Clarke (1962), “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination”, in Profiles of the Future, An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible, p. 36; http://www.amazon.com/Profiles-Future-Arthur-C-Clarke/dp/0446321079
Kenneth Chang (2004) “Scientists Teleport Not Kirk, but an Atom”, New York Times, June 17; http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/17/us/scientists-teleport-not-kirk-but-an-atom.html