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Platform 9.75

3 min read

This is a story of personal development, mistakes and unanswerable questions...

King's Cross School of Physics

I wrote something on the platform of King's Cross, doing the minimum necessary research, all from my smartphone. It wasn't me being smart, or my phone, but the programmers, engineers, physicists, philosophers and authors of all the content, who selflessly published into the public domain, via the Internet, which enabled me to do this.

Of course, there had to be a seed too. That seed was Oxford, and the academic sons & daughters who attended state comprehensive during my childhood, including Ben Werdmüller (CEO of Known, where you are reading this post) who taught me how to program a computer and not just use it for consuming video games. Technology then became both my means of consumption for literature (e.g. Cornell University's ArXiv library) but also low-fi tech, such as the Microfiche film I used to view the first photographs of the Middle East, at St Anthony's College, Oxford Univesity.

Ben's father, Oscar, was at St. Anthony's, with my mother, Gillian. This connection has serendipitously given me a career, a love of photography and an appreciation for the physical books, photographs and human relationships, which can be obfuscated by computer screens and Microfiche viewers. Oscar & Ben also inspired in me a love of sport and teamwork, which is only coming to the fore in the 36th year of my life. Debbie, Ben & Hannah inspired in me a love of writing, drawing and creativity that would normally have been stifiled by my move into a technical industry.

Design Museum Quote

The Werdmüller/Monas family's book of drawings by the children - Ben & Hannah - was one of the most precious objects I have ever had the priviledge of handling. Now my own mum looks after priceless manuscripts and first editions of every book ever printed, for the Bodleian Library, Oxford University. These connections are easy to overlook, if you hadn't lived 36 years in my shoes, which is understandable. We all have our own outlook. We are all independent and unique observers in the Universe.

Thanks to a great piece of writing by Ben, it dawned on me that what I do with my 'head start' in computing is often indistinguishable from magic for the vast majority of people, who are playing catch up. Ego and humility always duke it out in my brain, depending on whether I consider my own unique experiences and opportunities, or whether I compare myself to an 'average' set of experiences and opportunities.

So are ordinary people able to stay abreast of developments in theories pertaining to the fundamental nature of reality? Can a kid from a state comprehensive school read and understand the literature that is published in books and academic papers? The jury's out, but I can highly recommend J S Bell's Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics for anybody who would like to read about the probability of a Physics PhD's socks being of different colours.

In the interests of my own reputation... I don't think I've 'solved' or 'discovered' anything. Just a curious mind.

Quantum Eraser Experiment

Nick Grant repeating the classic "Quantum Eraser" interferometry experiment with a laser and polarising filter, at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, UK (July 2011)