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 Quantum Quackery

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Maschile Capra
Numero di messaggi : 2142
Data d'iscrizione : 04.02.09
Età : 37
Località : Roma

MessaggioOggetto: Quantum Quackery   Lun 19 Ott 2009 - 12:39


Quantum Quackery

« Now This is ScienceQuantum Quackery follow up – the culprits »Midweek Cuckoo: Quantum Quackery
Quantum Mysticism is everywhere these days. It all started with Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics, was made a lot worse by Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu-Li Masters and Deepak Chopra’s Quantum Healing, and has recently reached a cacophonic crescendo with What the Bleep Do We Know? But does quantum mechanics actually provide any proof of psychic healers, homeopathy or eastern mysticism?

The answer is a resounding NO. But how is it possible that all these people could be so very far off course?

Historically, all this quantum flapdoodle began with Niels Bohr’s interpretation of quantum mechanics, the famous Copenhagen Interpretation, and Erwin Schrodinger’s response to it, the even more famous Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment. Most people interpret these to mean that all reality is interconnected, including the human mind, and that the conscious observer is able to affect reality by will alone. Some take it even further and take it to mean that we actually create reality with our thoughts.

There are of course serious problems with this extrapolation. The biggest issue of all is that the Copenhagen interpretation is almost universally misquoted by non-physicists to mean that the presence or actions of a conscious observer are what is required to collapse the waveform. This is rubbish. What is specified in the interpretation is that the act of measurement collapses the waveform. The reason for this is simple and obvious – when we measure something in a laboratory, we have to interact with it. There is no way to measure something without it coming into contact with another particle. In doing so, the system is altered. There is nothing mystical about this. Perhaps the reason people don’t intuitively understand why measurement at a particle level has such an effect is because in the world we are used to, measuring something doesn’t change it. When the cop on the side of the road measures your car’s speed with a radar gun, the speed of your car is not noticeably affected by the few electromagnetic waves that bounce off it and back to the gun. But on the quantum mechanical scale, the equivalent measurement would involve smashing another car into your car, seeing where the two cars end up, and using that to calculate your car’s speed before the smash.

Secondly, the Copenhagen Interpretation is only one of the many interpretations of quantum mechanics, and was offered up 80 years ago. Quantum Quacks tend to ignore all other interpretations and advances in the thinking of quantum theory since then. This is of course a common thread in mysticism, which for some reason claims that ancient knowledge is better than any knowledge that came after it. Why they aren’t all driving around in horse-drawn carriages and dying of small pox is a mystery to me.

Thirdly, the Copenhagen Interpretation is useful only in a very specific set of circumstances, namely where a reproducible phenomenon is studied under laboratory conditions and in which the system is closed. This is something that is often done in physics – an interpretation or theory is put forward to explain phenomena in one domain, not because it is necessarily true for all domains but because it is useful in solving problems set in that specific domain. It is not generally useful in circumstances beyond those which it was designed to explain. Such a theory is referred to as ’special’, such as Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, which only applies to inertial frames of reference. You can’t use that theory to explain accelerating systems, any more than you can use the Copenhagen interpretation to explain the macroscopic world.

And then we have the issue of Schrodinger’s Cat. This needs a little history: firstly, Einstein never liked quantum mechanics, mostly because he didn’t like the idea that the universe was at its basest level probabilistic (’God does not play dice’). As such, he put forward a thought experiment, known as the EPR paradox, to show that quantum mechanics, as described by the Copenhagen Interpretation, was not a complete physical theory. Schrodinger’s Cat was part of a response that Schrodinger penned to the EPR paradox, in support of it. The whole point of Schrodinger’s Cat was to lampoon the Copenhagen interpretation. It was intentionally farcicial, and was not intended to state that the cat is actually both dead and alive at the same time, nor that by opening the box the observer somehow affected the state of the cat, but rather that both positions are nonsensical in classical terms. Of course, advances have been made in quantum mechanics since then. It’s now understood that the EPR paradox only violates classical assumptions of how the universe works, and does not violate quantum mechanics at all. Yet this has been ignored by the general populace, who continue to use a satirical representation of the Copenhagen Interpretation as if it is truth.

What it all comes down to is that human beings are not naturally equipped to ‘get’ quantum mechanics. Our brains have evolved to handle a very small range of phenomena, which occur at a small range of speeds, in a small range of distances, in a small range of durations. These, we ‘get’, because getting them makes us better hunters, better gatherers, better survivors. There is absolutely no need for the human being to evolve an intuitive understanding of what it’s like to travel at the speed of light, or what a billion years feels like, or exactly how far a nanometer is. But physics is not limited by the bounds of everyday experience, and can measure all these things. So how does the scientist cross the boundary between what he can intuitively understand, and what he knows to be true? He makes analogies, interpretations, and hand waving arguments. These are only there to help him ‘get’ it. In the end, how you interpret the mathematics does not change the results. What it does seem to change, though, is how badly the public is going to misuse your interpretation to its own ends.

Get this straight, ladies and gentlemen: the world of the quantum is different to the macroscopic classical world that we experience with brains. At the quantum level, things aren’t deterministic, they don’t behave the way we expect them to, and in that sense it is weird. But when you add all the weird quantum effects together in going from one particle to systems of billions of particles, the interference terms tend to cancel each other out, and what you get is a simple set of probabilities that are no stranger than which horse is going to win at the racetrack today, or who is going to win the lotto, or who is going to get struck by lightning. The weirdness all gets smeared out and fuzzed out and goes away at the macroscopic level, because at this level no particle is an island. At the end of the day, it is the very fact that everything is connected, that no system is a closed system, that completely invalidates the use of quantum mechanics to explain everyday phenomena. The ‘everything is connected by a quantum field’ idea actually discounts quantum mysticism instead of supporting it, because it is the very interconnectedness of things that means you can’t use quantum mechanics to explain the world we experience with our limited, fleshy, human brains.

But none of this stops quantum quacks from continuing to misunderstand quantum mechanics, and continuing to make things up as they go along. The only thing that saves them is that their audience is as willfully ignorant as they are.
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Maschile Capra
Numero di messaggi : 2142
Data d'iscrizione : 04.02.09
Età : 37
Località : Roma

MessaggioOggetto: Re: Quantum Quackery   Lun 19 Ott 2009 - 12:40


Quantum physics is claimed to support the mystical notion that the mind creates reality. However, an objective reality, with no special role for consciousness, human or cosmic, is consistent with all observations.
Victor J. Stenger

Certain interpretations of quantum mechanics, the revolutionary theory developed early in the century to account for the anomalous behavior of light and atoms, are being misconstrued so as to imply that only thoughts are real and that the physical universe is the product of a cosmic mind to which the human mind is linked throughout space and time. This interpretation has provided an ostensibly scientific basis for various mind-over-matter claims, from ESP to alternative medicine. "Quantum mysticism" also forms part of the intellectual backdrop for the postmodern assertion that science has no claim on objective reality.
The word "quantum" appears frequently in New Age and modern mystical literature. For example, physician Deepak Chopra (1989) has successfully promoted a notion he calls quantum healing, which suggests we can cure all our ills by the application of sufficient mental power.

According to Chopra, this profound conclusion can be drawn from quantum physics, which he says has demonstrated that "the physical world, including our bodies, is a response of the observer. We create our bodies as we create the experience of our world" (Chopra 1993, 5). Chopra also asserts that "beliefs, thoughts, and emotions create the chemical reactions that uphold life in every cell," and "the world you live in, including the experience of your body, is completely dictated by how you learn to perceive it" (Chopra 1993, 6). Thus illness and aging are an illusion and we can achieve what Chopra calls "ageless body, timeless mind" by the sheer force of consciousness.1

Amit Goswami, in The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World, argues that the existence of paranormal phenomena is supported by quantum mechanics:

. . . psychic phenomena, such as distant viewing and out-of-body experiences, are examples of the nonlocal operation of consciousness . . . . Quantum mechanics undergirds such a theory by providing crucial support for the case of nonlocality of consciousness. (Goswami 1993, 136)
Since no convincing, reproducible evidence for psychic phenomena has been found, despite 150 years of effort, this is a flimsy basis indeed for quantum consciousness.2
Although mysticism is said to exist in the writings of many of the early century's prominent physicists (Wilber 1984), the current fad of mystical physics began in earnest with the publication in 1975 of Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics (Capra 1975). There Capra asserted that quantum theory has confirmed the traditional teaching of Eastern mystics: that human consciousness and the universe form an interconnected, irreducible whole. An example:

To the enlightened man . . . whose consciousness embraces the universe, to him the universe becomes his "body," while the physical body becomes a manifestation of the Universal Mind, his inner vision an expression of the highest reality, and his speech an expression of eternal truth and mantric power
Lama Anagarika
Govinda Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism3
(Capra 1975, 305)

Capra's book was an inspiration for the New Age, and "quantum" became a buzzword used to buttress the trendy, pseudoscientific spirituality that characterizes this movement.4

Wave-Particle Duality
Quantum mechanics is thought, even by many physicists, to be suffused with mysteries and paradoxes. Mystics seize upon these to support their views. The source of most of these claims can be traced to the so-called wave-particle duality of quantum physics: Physical objects, at the quantum level, seem to possess both local, reductionist particle and nonlocal, holistic wave properties that become manifest depending on whether the position or wavelength of the object is measured.
The two types of properties, wave and particle, are said to be incompatible. Measurement of one quantity will in general affect the value the other quantity will have in a future measurement. Furthermore, the value to be obtained in the future measurement is undetermined; that is, it is unpredictable-although the statistical distribution of an ensemble of similar measurements remains predictable. In this way, quantum mechanics obtains its indeterministic quality, usually expressed in terms of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. In general, the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics can only predict statistical distributions.5

Despite wave-particle duality, the particle picture is maintained in most quantum mechanical applications. Atoms, nuclei, electrons, and quarks are all regarded as particles at some level. At the same time, classical "waves" such as those of light and sound are replaced by localized photons and phonons, respectively, when quantum effects must be considered.

In conventional quantum mechanics, the wave properties of particles are formally represented by a mathematical quantity called the wave function, used to compute the probability that the particle will be found at a particular position. When a measurement is made, and its position is then known with greater accuracy, the wave function is said to "collapse," as illustrated in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Wave function collapse in conventional quantum mechanics. An electron is localized by passing through an aperture. The probability that it will then be found at the particular position is determined by the wave function illustrated to the right of the aperture. When the electron is then detected at A, the wave function instantaneously collapses so that it is zero at B.

Einstein never liked the notion of wave function collapse, calling it a "spooky action at a distance." In Figure 1, a signal would appear to propagate with infinite speed from A to B to tell the wave function to collapse to zero at B once the particle has been detected at A. Indeed, this signal must propagate at infinite speed throughout the universe since, prior to detection, the electron could in principle have been detected anywhere.
This surely violates Einstein's assertion that no signals can move faster than the speed of light.

Although they are usually not so explicit, quantum mystics seem to interpret the wave function as some kind of vibration of a holistic ether that pervades the universe, as "real" as the vibration in air we call a sound wave. Wave function collapse, in their view, happens instantaneously throughout the universe by a willful act of cosmic consciousness.

In their book The Conscious Universe, Menas Kafatos and Robert Nadeau identify the wave function with "Being-In-Itself":

One could then conclude that Being, in its physical analogue at least, had been "revealed" in the wave function. . . . [A]ny sense we have of profound unity with the cosmos . . . could be presumed to correlate with the action of the deterministic wave function . . . . (Kafatos and Nadeau 1990, 124)
Thus they follow Capra in imagining that quantum mechanics unites mind with the universe. But our inner sense of "profound unity with the cosmos" is hardly scientific evidence.
The conventional interpretation of quantum mechanics, promulgated by Bohr and still held by most physicists, says nothing about consciousness. It concerns only what can be measured and what predictions can be made about the statistical distributions of ensembles of future measurements. As noted, the wave function is simply a mathematical object used to calculate probabilities. Mathematical constructs can be as magical as any other figment of the human imagination-like the Starship Enterprise or a Roadrunner cartoon. Nowhere does quantum mechanics imply that real matter or signals travel faster than light. In fact, superluminal signal propagation has been proven to be impossible in any theory consistent with conventional relativity and quantum mechanics (Eberhard and Ross 1989).

Romantic Interpretations
Not everyone has been happy with the conventional interpretation of quantum mechanics, which offers no real explanation for wave function collapse. The desire for consensus on an ontological interpretation of quantum mechanics has led to hundreds of proposals over the years, none gaining even a simple majority of support among physicists or philosophers.
Spurred on by Einstein's insistence that quantum mechanics is an incomplete theory, that "God does not play dice," subquantum theories involving "hidden variables" have been sought that provide for forces that lie below current levels of observation (Bohm and Hiley 1993). While such theories are possible, no evidence has yet been found for subquantum forces. Furthermore, experiments have made it almost certain that any such theory, if deterministic, must involve superluminal connections.6

Nevertheless, quantum mystics have greeted the possibility of nonlocal, holistic, hidden variables with the same enthusiasm they show for the conscious wave function. Likewise, they have embraced a third view: the many worlds interpretation of Hugh Everett (Everett 1957).

Everett usefully showed how it was formally possible to eliminate wave function collapse in a quantum theory of measurement. Everett proposed that all possible paths continue to exist in parallel universes which split off every time a measurement is made. This has left the door open for the quantum mystics to claim that the human mind acts as sort of a "channel selector" for the path that is followed in an individual universe while existing itself in all universes (Squires 1990). Needless to say, the idea of parallel universes has attracted its own circle of enthusiastic proponents, in all universes presumably.

Effective Nonlocality
Admittedly, the quantum world is different from the world of everyday experience that obeys the rules of classical Newtonian mechanics. Something beyond normal common sense and classical physics is necessary to describe the fundamental processes inside atoms and nuclei. In particular, an explanation must be given for the apparent nonlocality, the instantaneous "quantum leap," that typifies the non-commonsensical nature of quantum phenomena.
Despite the oft-heard statement that quantum particles do not follow well-defined paths in space-time, elementary-particle physicists have been utilizing just such a picture for fifty years. How is this reconciled with the quantum leap that seems to characterize atomic transitions and similar phenomena? We can see how, in the space-time diagram shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2. Effective nonlocality. How an apparent instantaneous "quantum leap" can be made between two points in space. An electron-positron pair is created at C by a quantum fluctuation of the vacuum. The positron annihilates an electron at A, undoing the original vacuum fluctuation so that there is zero net-energy change. The electron thus appears to make an instantaneous quantum leap from A to B. The distance AB is comparable to the wavelength associated with the particle, so "holistic" wave behavior results.

On the left, an electron (e-) is moving along a well-defined path. An electron-positron pair (e-e+) is produced at point C by a quantum fluctuation of the vacuum, allowed by the uncertainty principle. The positron annihilates the original electron at point A while the electron from the pair continues past point B. Since all electrons are indistinguishable, it appears as if the original electron has jumped instantaneously from A to B.
In Figure 2, all the particles involved follow definite paths. None moves faster than the speed of light. Yet what is observed is operationally equivalent to an electron undergoing superluminal motion, disappearing at A and appearing simultaneously at a distant point B. No experiment can be performed in which the electron on the left can be distinguished from the one on the right. A simple calculation shows that the distance AB is of the order of the (de Broglie) wavelength of the particle. In this manner, the "holistic" wave nature of particles can be understood in a manner that requires no superluminal motion and certainly no intervention of human consciousness.

Furthermore, since the quantum jump is random, no signal or other causal effect is superluminally transmitted. On the other hand, a deterministic theory based on subquantum forces or hidden variables is necessarily superluminal.

Thus quantum mechanics, as conventionally practiced, describes quantum leaps without too drastic a quantum leap beyond common sense. Certainly no mystical assertions are justified by any observations concerning quantum processes.

Quantum mechanics, the centerpiece of modern physics, is misinterpreted as implying that the human mind controls reality and that the universe is one connected whole that cannot be understood by the usual reduction to parts.
However, no compelling argument or evidence requires that quantum mechanics plays a central role in human consciousness or provides instantaneous, holistic connections across the universe. Modern physics, including quantum mechanics, remains completely materialistic and reductionistic while being consistent with all scientific observations.

The apparent holistic, nonlocal behavior of quantum phenomena, as exemplified by a particle's appearing to be in two places at once, can be understood without discarding the commonsense notion of particles following definite paths in space and time or requiring that signals travel faster than the speed of light.

No superluminal motion or signalling has ever been observed, in agreement with the limit set by the theory of relativity. Furthermore, interpretations of quantum effects need not so uproot classical physics, or common sense, as to render them inoperable on all scales-especially the macroscopic scale on which humans function. Newtonian physics, which successfully describes virtually all macroscopic phenomena, follows smoothly as the many-particle limit of quantum mechanics. And common sense continues to apply on the human scale.

For a review of alternate medicine, including "quantum medicine," see Douglas Stalker and Clark Glymour, eds., Examining Holistic Medicine (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1985).

For a fuller discussion and references, see Victor J. Stenger, Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1990).

L. A. Govinda, Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism (New York: Samuel Weiser, 1974), p. 225, as quoted in Capra 1975, p. 305.

See, for example, Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980s (Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1980).

Of course, in some cases those distributions may be highly peaked and thus an outcome can be predicted with high probability, that is, certainty for all practical purposes. In fact, this is precisely what happens in the case of systems of many particles, such as macroscopic objects. These systems then become describable by deterministic classical mechanics as the many-particle limit of quantum mechanics.

For a fuller discussion and references, see Victor J. Stenger, The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology (Amherst, N.Y. : Prometheus Books, 1995).
Bohm D., and B. J. Hiley. 1993. The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. London: Routledge.
Capra, Fritjof. 1975. The Tao of Physics. Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala.
Chopra, Deepak. 1989. Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. New York: Bantam.
---. 1993. Ageless Body, Timeless Mind: The Quantum Alternative to Growing Old. New York: Random House.
Eberhard, Phillippe H., and Ronald R. Ross. 1989. Quantum field theory cannot provide faster-than-light communication. Found. Phys. Lett. 2: 127-149.
Everett III, Hugh. 1957. "Relative state" formulation of quantum mechanics. Rev. Mod. Phys. 29: 454-462.
Goswami, Amit. 1993. The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.
Kafatos, Menas, and Robert Nadeau. 1990. The Conscious Universe: Part and Whole in Modern Physical Theory. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Squires, Euan. 1990. Conscious Mind in the Physical World. New York: Adam Hilger.
Wilber, Ken, ed. 1984. Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World's Great Physicists. Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala.

Dr. Victor J. Stenger is the Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy, University of Hawaii Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, University of Colorado President, Colorado Citizens For Science CCFS Research Fellow, Center for Inquiry CFI Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal CSICOP. He is an honorary member of Mukto-Mona.

* This article appeared in Skeptical Inquirer Vol. 21. No. 1, January/February 1997, p. 37. It was based on an invited talk at the World Skeptics Congress in Buffalo in June, 1996. Published in Mukto-Mona with author's kind permission.
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