Quantum drivel for ID

As a rule of thumb, never trust anything coming from a non-physicist with the word “quantum” in it. Hell, be wary even when it comes from a physicist. For example, don’t too easily trust philosophical musing about quantum physics emanating from the first generation of physicists who were inventing quantum mechanics. They were just trying to figure out what the blazes was going on, and inescapably they went down many blind alleys in the process. That’s how it goes.

Here’s an example of quantum drivel, from the intelligent design crowd, no less.

Feser notes that Heisenberg’s understanding of Aristote’s notions of potency and act is not precisely correct in several ways, but he points out that Heisenberg understood that classical hylomorphic understanding of nature anticipated some of the “counterintuitive” aspects of quantum mechanics.

. . . In my view, we are in the midst of a philosophical revolution. Like the materialist ‘Mechanical Philosophy’ revolution in the 18th century, the 20th and 21st century philosophical revolution is driven by contemporaneous advances in science. It began with quantum mechanics in the early 20th century, is now shaking the foundations of biology, and in time will cast aside simplistic materialist theories of the mind.

This bullshit is from Michael Egnor, the scientifically ignorant neurosurgeon in the ID camp who also fancies himself a philosopher. Read all of it.

I teach quantum mechanics in the morning, and then check pseudoscientific websites in the afternoon, where I invariably find people who couldn’t do a real quantum mechanical calculation to save their lives pontificating about What It All Means. This pisses me off.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07559081710058635050 Pulse

    I'm reminded of a posting here by Dianelos Georgoudis a while back regarding quantum mechanics.

    "According to quantum mechanics a physical system can evolve in many different ways. Only one of these ways will actualize in reality in accordance with a particular probability distribution (as described by the system’s wave function). Let us now consider the entire physical universe at some initial state as such a system. Quantum mechanics describes all possible physical universes that can evolve out of this initial state. Perhaps unbeknownst to many, quantum mechanics allows for the evolution of physical universes that would not be “naturalistic” or “causally closed” in the sense we use the terms, and indeed would strike one as strongly “supernaturalistic”. For example quantum mechanics allows for universes similar to ours but in which many people perform miracles, or where the Statue of Liberty now and then swims around Manhattan, and so on. Let us now define three properties that possible universes can have. The N-property characterizes the universes that would appear to be naturalistic and causally closed under any possible scientific test. So the supernaturalistic universes described above lack the N-property. The G-property characterizes the universes in which God’s will about physical facts would obtain. For example universes in which humans do not evolve according to God’s design would lack the G-property. Finally the H-property characterizes the universes in which the will of humans about physical facts would obtain – within the limitations of the N-property. So a universe in which we found ourselves incapable of moving our bodies according to our will (within the limitations of physical law) would lack the H-property. There is a huge number of possible universes which possess both the N, G, and H properties, and which therefore comport with the physical laws and facts that science discovers, and also with the traditional theistic story of a creator and interacting God, and also with our own experience of life including free will. God continuously actualizes one of these N-G-H universes by randomly picking one out of them (so that there are many physical events which are random and are not caused either by God or by any other person). Here then we have the description of a dualistic reality in which non-physical persons who exist in a separate spiritual realm (such as God and ourselves) freely and massively cause events in the physical universe (via the actualization of future physical facts), while all these events remain causally closed under any possible scientific test."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Taner Edis wrote: As a rule of thumb, never trust anything coming from a non-physicist with the word "quantum" in it. Hell, be wary even when it comes from a physicist. For example, don't too easily trust philosophical musing about quantum physics emanating from the first generation of physicists who were inventing quantum mechanics.

    Ah, but second and third generation physicists keep writing books about the same mystery, namely about how difficult it is to find a mechanistic description of objective reality which is consistent with quantum mechanical phenomena. As physicist Nick Herbert flatly wrote in his book “Quantum Reality”: "One of the best-kept secrets of science is that physicists have lost their grip on reality". As recently as 2004 physicists Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner published “Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness”. Other excellent books on the same topic are “Quantum Physics – Illusion or Reality?” by physicist Alastair Rae, and “The Ghost in the Atom” edited by physicist Paul Davies.

    The problem of the ontological implications of quantum phenomena is real and profound, and no good naturalistic answer has been found some 100 years after the problem was first detected and extensively discussed by such luminaries as Bohr, Einstein and Heisenberg, and later by eminent physicists such as Eugene Wigner, Pascual Jordan, John Wheeler, and others. And that’s why some naturalistic physicists keep coming up with ever wilder “interpretations” of quantum mechanics. It seems that while New Atheists make fun about theistic fundamentalism, or in general about the most primitive or extreme versions of religion they can find – they comfortably ignore naturalism’s very real problems. Some, like Victor Stenger, discuss the quantum problem by picking on the sayings of New Age gurus or of advocates of the paranormal – in order to give the impression that there is no serious problem there.

    Taner Edis wrote: "people who couldn't do a real quantum mechanical calculation to save their lives pontificating about What It All Means.

    There are two common misconceptions related to the problem of quantum weirdness:

    The first misconception is that the problem is about our difficulty to conceptualize a quantum reality because we are used to thinking about mid-sized objects. What’s in fact the case is that quantum phenomena appear to point at a reality whose conceptualization does not fit will with traditional naturalistic preconceptions about reality, such as determinism and locality. Much more seriously quantum phenomena appear to imply that many of the properties of physical things, including such basic properties as position, are not objective – which renders physical reality itself non-objective.

    The second misconception is that the problem is an implication of quantum mechanics, and as all scientific theories are provisional there may well be a better scientific theory in which the problem will not obtain. In fact the problem is entailed in observations that quantum mechanics predicts, but these observations have now been made in the laboratory and will remain observational facts no matter how science may involve in the future. The problem is about how to make sense of these observations, to consider what these observations tell us about reality. Indeed one can explain the problem without mentioning the theory of quantum mechanics at all. So the problem is entirely independent from being able to "do a real quantum mechanical calculation".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16275488047072609654 Baal

    Dianelos :"What’s in fact the case is that quantum phenomena appear to point at a reality whose conceptualization does not fit will with traditional naturalistic preconceptions about reality, such as determinism and locality. Much more seriously quantum phenomena appear to imply that many of the properties of physical things, including such basic properties as position, are not objective – which renders physical reality itself non-objective."

    If the implications of quantum phenomena are such that that our conceptualizations of reality like determinism and locality are approximate, imprecise, and ultimately only appearances, doesn't that mean that other conceptions such as selfhood and individuality, will and causation are also undermined.

    Our languages evolved and were built upon our perceptions and intuitions of reality at the scale we inhabit, the middle world.
    While useful enough for organisms struggling to survive, they are useless to try to give an accurate and complete description of reality.

    If what you describe as the 'naturalistic preconceptions of reality' are invalid, then how are the theistic descriptions of reality any more tenable?

    Do you actually believe that Jesus was literally god as well as the son of god, that he actually healed the sick, that he bodily resurrected three days after death?

    If so, then given what you have said, isn't this just special pleading?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Baal said: “Our languages evolved and were built upon our perceptions and intuitions of reality at the scale we inhabit, the middle world. While useful enough for organisms struggling to survive, they are useless to try to give an accurate and complete description of reality.

    As I said I think this is a common misconception. Traditional language is not the problem as naturalistic physicists have no trouble at all coming up with concepts as far removed from every day experience as one wishes (for example that the universe we inhabit is all the time splitting into almost identical copies, and that we don’t notice a thing because we too are being split into copies). Ultimately the problem is not that we can’t conceptualize a mechanistic reality which is compatible with some observational facts we know about; rather it is that the mechanistic realities we can conceptualize turn out to be immensely implausible. How implausible? Well, far beyond John’s-Apocalypse-understood-literally kind of implausible.

    Baal said: “Do you actually believe that Jesus was literally god as well as the son of god, that he actually healed the sick, that he bodily resurrected three days after death?

    I find it pointless to discuss Christianity with an atheist. It’s akin to trying to explain to somebody who does not believe cars exist that one drives a Toyota.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16275488047072609654 Baal

    Dianelos,
    Implicit in every observation is the fact that there is a where, a when, even the scale of what is being observed.

    If you talk about conceptualizations, the mind that is conceptualizing is inextricable from that.
    Traditional concepts of reality are about that part of reality available to the human mind and senses.

    On our human scale it does make sense to talk about discrete objects having position.

    Now that humans have extended our senses with technology, human minds are struggling to reconceptualize reality.
    Our everyday language isn't up to the job.

    Isn't that why physicists use Maths?

    When you say -
    "…..quantum phenomena appear to imply that many of the properties of physical things, including such basic properties as position, are not objective – which renders physical reality itself non-objective." – it is actually hard to parse.

    The fact that it's impossible to plot the exact path of an electron doesn't mean that the orbits of the planetary bodies can't be plotted.
    Obviously they can be.

    If you make a statement about physical reality then you must specify at what resolution you are talking about. Otherwise it is so nebulous as to be misleading.

    The reason I brought up that stuff about Jesus is because you cherry-picked quantum weirdness as if to cast doubt on propositions about the world that would undermine naturalism, like whether physical things can be said to have position, while ignoring what that would mean for other propositions, such as the literal existence of Jesus.
    After all, the bare minimum for belief in Jesus would be that he was physically located in Palestine, what to speak about the rest.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16275488047072609654 Baal

    By the way, your analogy about Christianity and cars is terrible, given that there is plenty of evidence for the existence of cars, while I've yet to have someone even define god in a meaningful way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos wrote:
    Baal [asked the yes/no question]: “Do you actually believe that Jesus was literally god as well as the son of god, that he actually healed the sick, that he bodily resurrected three days after death?”
    [Here is my reply:] It is pointless to discuss Christianity with an atheist.

    Instead of replying in that way, Dianelos should have given Baal the one-word answer ("yes" or "no") that he asked for and then seek to head off the discussion of Christianity later on. That one-word answer might have been of interest to other readers.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted Drange wrote: “ Instead of replying in that way, Dianelos should have given Baal the one-word answer ("yes" or "no") that he asked for and then seek to head off the discussion of Christianity later on. That one-word answer might have been of interest to other readers.

    I really don’t think it’s very useful to discuss Christology with somebody who does not think that God exists in the first place, and who moreover probably does not understand the concept of God the way I do (observe that “God” is the name in English of a particular person, but Baal writes it in lower case as if it weren’t).

    Further, “yes” or “no” answers do not express the confidence one has in the respective beliefs. In any case let me try to respond Baal’s questions as I understand them:

    Do you believe that Jesus was literally God? – No. For example Jesus had a nose but God does not have a nose.

    Do you believe that Jesus was the son of God? – Yes, even though that’s symbolic language. More precisely I would say that Jesus was the incarnation of the second hypostasis of God.

    Do you believe that Jesus healed the sick? – No. As it happens I don’t believe that Jesus performed the various miracles narrated in the Gospels, because I believe that Jesus experienced life the way we all do, including all its physical limitations.

    Do you believe that Jesus bodily resurrected three days after death? – Being an idealist this question isn’t meaningful to me. What I believe though is that Jesus’ disciples did experience the bodily presence of Jesus in several occasions starting a few days after His death, and that these experiences felt as real and as intersubjective as any normal experience of life.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    I was thinking about the simplest possible way to describe the trouble that some observational facts cause for naturalism – without using the “Q” word at all. So here it goes:

    We shall perform four table-top experiments. To set up the experiments we shall need some channels (basically empty tubes) to interconnect boxes. One box (the “generator” or “G”) has a button on top and connects to one channel, some other boxes (the “detector” or “D”) have a light on top and also connect to one channel. Here then is the simplest experiment possible (where “—“ symbolizes a channel):

    G—D (1)

    We observe that every time we push de button of G, almost instantly the light at D flashes. For a naturalist the only possible interpretation is that that G produces some kind of physical thing or effect (a “phyt”) which travels through the channel to D and causes its light to flash. Within parenthesis we display the probability that D will flash if the generator’s button is pushed. These probabilities are the observational results of the experiments.

    To set up our four experiments we shall need one generator, two detectors (D1, D2), and three more boxes (B1, B2, B3), each with one channel connection at one side and two channel connections at the other side. What is inside these boxes is not specified, indeed they may be different. Finally, in some experiments a channel is blocked which is symbolized by “-|-“. So here are the four experiments and the observed results in parenthesis:

                 —D1 (0.5)
    G—B1<
                 —D2 (0.5)

                 —                   —D1 (1)
    G—B1B2—B3<
                 —                   —D2 (0)

                 -|-                   —D1 (0.25)
    G—B1B2—B3<
                 —                   —D2 (0.25)

                 —                   —D1 (0.25)
    G—B1B2—B3<
                 -|-                   —D2 (0.25)

    In all experiments the phyt produced by G is fed into B1. In the first experiment the two channels to the right of B1 lead to two detectors. At each push of the button one of these detectors flashes, in an apparently random fashion. In the second experiment on the contrary only detector D1 flashes. In the third and fourth experiments we block one or the other channels between B1 and B2. In half the tries no detector flashes, and in the other half either D1 or D2 flashes, again in a random fashion.

    That’s all. The question now is to describe a mechanistic reality that would give rise to such observational results, and particularly what happens when the phyt produced by the generator leaves B1. It turns out this is extremely difficult to do; perhaps the reader would like to try to search for a solution him or herself.

    The interesting and unexpected insight here is that while it is easy enough to mechanistically model the observations themselves (indeed science does that), it turns out to be quite difficult to mechanistically model the reality which gives rise to the same observations. Which by itself speaks volumes against scientific naturalism.

    (For those who wonder what is in the boxes: G is a generator of photons polarized at 45 degrees. The D’s are photon detectors. The B's are polarizers (basically containing a birefringent crystal such as a calcite crystal); B1 and B2 are 90/0 degrees polarizers, and B3 is a 45/-45 degrees polarizer.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    According to Dianelos, “God” is the name in English of a particular person, but Baal writes it in lower case as if it weren’t.

    I do not agree that "God" is always the name of a person, whether fictitious or not, for the term is sometimes used in English to refer instead to an impersonal force.
    However, I do agree that Baal's question "Do you believe that Jesus was literally god as well as the son of god?" was linguistically improper. For the lower case noun "god" to be used properly in that context, it would need to be preceded by an article ("a" or "the"), which would of course change the meaning of the question, and would not be what Baal intended.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16275488047072609654 Baal

    The reason I wrote god with a lower-case g was for the same reason I wouldn't write truth with a T.
    To me, it seems to concede to a traditional usage that I find incoherent.
    By capitalizing god it has always struck me as lending more weight to it than it merits.
    I'll have to think about it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Common nouns in English are divided into count nouns, which can be pluralized and which take an article ["a(n)" or "the"], and mass nouns, which can't and don't. Some nouns have both forms. "Truth," for example, can be either, depending on its use. You can say "His report contained five truths" or "There was some truth in his report."
    The English noun "god," spelled in lower-case, is a common count noun (e.g., "Hinduism has many gods").
    To refer specifically to the god of Christianity, it is only proper to use "God," with the capital "G," as it is akin to a proper name. To spell that name with a lower-case letter would be as improper as spelling Conan Doyle's character as "sherlock holmes."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16275488047072609654 Baal

    Thank you for the explanation Ted.
    My not using the capitalized form is probably influenced by Buddhist ideas of not being seduced by words into taking conventions to be more than they actually are.
    This would seem to be one of those cases where it results in lack of clarity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03190524739107446297 Nick

    Sorry to jump in, but if the principle at work in the original post is "we can't talk about what a certain result in a field means without being knowing how to actually participate in that field", then the poster is hopelessly confused. As a musician, I accept that people who can't play or sing have the right to talk about music and what it means, and as a philosopher, I understand that people should be able to talk about the principle of non-contradiction without knowing how Aristotle proved it.

    Speaking of Aristotle, It is also standard, when calling something drivel, to show why it is drivel. I admit, I don't recall the whole doctrine of hylopmorphism, but perhaps it did anticipate certain strange features of modern theoretical models. If you think it didn't, then say why. If you can't, you're guilty of the same kind of ignorance you're decrying in the post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    This is a follow-up post to my previous one, where I explain how some observational facts make trouble for a naturalistic understanding of reality. Specifically, experiment #1 appears to be saying that the photon when leaving B1 travels either through the upper or the lower channel, thus behaving like a particle. Whereas experiments #2 to #4 appear to be saying that the same photon travels through both channels at once, thus behaving like a wave. Now it’s not really that problematic for physical things to have different properties (in our case the properties of particle-like-behavior and of wave-like-behavior) depending on the experimental configuration. The problem in our case is that the experimental configuration to the right of B1 can be set up *after* the photon has left B1, as if our decision which experiment to perform has the power to define photon’s properties backwards in time.

    Now there are several ontological interpretations of such experiments. The so-called many-worlds interpretation offers a materialistic description of reality. Indeed according to physicist Steven Weinberg most (naturalistic) physicists today believe this interpretation correctly describes reality. David Deutsch is another well-known physicist who believes reality is like that. So here is what these physicists believe: At all experiments when the photon leaves B1 the entire physical universe (including us in it) is split into two copies. In one the photon travels through the top channel and in the other through the bottom channel. If we perform experiment #1 the copies of ourselves living in the former universe observe D1 flash, and the copies of ourselves living in the latter observe D2 flash. At experiment #3 the universe splits again after B3. In the case of experiment #2 it gets even more interesting: After splitting at B1 the two copies of the universe seamlessly reunite into one universe again at B2.

    At this juncture, the reader may wonder how many copies of our universe the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics claims exist. The short answer is that the number of universes is so large as to encompass all universes with states not prohibited by quantum mechanics. So there are universes where the reader will become the next Pope, universes where the reader will never die, and universes where the reader will bodily rise three days after dying. There will be universes where the Statue of Liberty takes a swim around Manhattan every morning. Or consider any moral choice one has made in one’s life; there are universes out there where one has made the opposite moral choice.


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