Date: Mon, 12 Feb 1996 12:04:14 -0500


Subject: Re: NEW -- quantum leap

On Mon, 12 Feb 1996, Dan Moonhawk Alford wrote:

What are y'all out there hearing when people talk about quantum leaps?

Although it would technically have to refer to the smallest imaginable

leap ever imagined by humankind, if space were the issue, I keep hearing

people use it to mean some HUGE difference; but maybe it's not a

quantitative but a qualitative change that's being pointed to. So does

'quantum' now mean 'qualitative'?

Reaching back to my undergraduate days, when I took more physics than was

probably good for me, I can tell you what it's supposed to mean: A

quantum is a discrete unit of energy, and a quantum jump is a transition

from one energy level to another in a molecular or atomic system (think

of the old model of electrons leaping to higher orbits). So it's not a

huge difference or a qualitative one but a discrete one rather than

gradual. So that's how I use it: "Children don't acquire their syntax

gradually, they acquire it in quanta, so you'll see a kid who never used

question syntax making that quantum jump and suddenly producing it pretty


It'll be interesting to see how people who never had quantum mechanics

use the phrase these days ...



Joan C. Cook Imagination is

Department of Linguistics more important

Georgetown University than knowledge.

Washington, D.C., USA

cookj[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] --Albert Einstein