Art of the Quantum Moment

Robert P. Crease and Alfred S. Goldhaber
Proceedings of Bridges 2012: Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Culture (2012)
Pages 307–314


For half a dozen years, the two of us have taught "The Quantum Moment," a course on the impact of quantum mechanics on culture and thought. The impact on art is one key topic of this course, and we discuss several different ways in which art of the quantum moment is intertwined with mathematics. Much of this has to do with various mathematical consequences of the fundamental quantum equation E = hν, which by various paths is responsible for complementarity, randomness, uncertainty, and alternate worlds, among other features that have shown up in art. Sometimes the connection to mathematics involves reimaginations, sometimes transformations and reconstructions, sometimes metaphors, and sometimes mere evocations. On the one hand there are incredibly precise and reproducible patterns, of which the earliest may have been spectrum of a hydrogen atom treated as a non-relativistic system. On the other hand, there are the random results of particle observations, such as the locations of strikes of individual photons in a diffraction pattern, which nevertheless in the limit of large numbers of photons becomes extremely precise and regular. Thus quantum mechanics, as well as the art it inspires, has a richness that invites us to expect a substantial future for artistic expressions of The Quantum Moment.