German has some wonderful words, and this – says my granddaughter – is one of her husband’s favourites. He – my grandson-in-law – does clever things with particle accelerators, so knows a lot about quantum physics, which to me is wizardry.
Schrödinger’s cat would know about Aufenthaltswahrscheinlichkeitsraum.
It may look long but actually it’s an elegant, simple term in German that turns into a clumsy, awkward phrase in English. Aufenthaltswahrscheinlichkeit is probability distribution, the probability of finding a particle somewhere. Add “raum” at the end and it becomes the area or space where there is the probability of finding that particle.
No wonder German speakers are good at quantum physics. You need a word for a concept, not a paragraph, and the German language is great for these kinds of things. It’s no coincidence that Einstein, Schrodinger and Max Planck all spoke and thought in German.
My unscientific mind has been boggling at physics since I was twelve. Perhaps, if I had learnt German first, I might have unravelled some of the mysteries that caused me to fail my O-level science exam.
But back to Aufenthaltswahrscheinlichkeitsraum. Like many German words, it’s a compound of several other words.
“Aufenthalt” means a stay or sojourn, being in a place for a while – a residence permit is an Aufenthaltserlaubnis (“permission to stay”). It’s related to the verb “sich aufhalten”, literally “to hold oneself up” but which actually means to stay a while, reside, or that beautiful antiquated word “abide”.
“Raum” is space (including outer space), room, area, region – depending on the context. An Aufenthaltsraum is a common room, lounge, dayroom – a place to sit and do nothing much, and available to anyone who cares to spend time there. A pleasant, sociable place.
“Wahrscheinlichkeit” is literally “true-seeming-ness” or, more mundanely, probability.
Can you see what my imagination pictures?
That elusive little particle playing hide-amd-seek with the physicists, making its quantum leaps and able to be in more than one place at a time, hops around in its own dimensions where it has comfortably furnished rooms to sit and daydream for a while before its ADHD kicks in and it decides it needs a change of scenery. No wonder they can’t pin it down; it has more rooms than Buckingham Palace to wander about in.
Aha, but scientists know about probability. Where is it most likely to be? The answer is simple: in the most comfortably appointed room with the best view. And that, if I were an electron, is where my Aufenthaltswahrscheinlichkeitsraum would be – with Schrödinger’s cat purring on my lap.
PS I’m not sure what the picture is – something to do with quantum theory and hydrogen, that Wikipedia found for me. Must ask my grandson-in-law. Isn’t science beautiful?