Bell Goes Quantum

Speaking of bad uses for quantum physics, I see that Rob Bell has an interview on the Progressive Christian channel in which he gushes about the implications of quantum physics on spirituality:

It was Jeffrey Krueger at Time magazine last year who just said that with the Higgs Boson we are dealing with something spiritual. This is a mainstream, credible magazine saying that these latest discoveries at the fresh edge of quantum physics have a spiritual component.

First a minor point, it was Jeffrey Kluger – non Krueger – who suggested that the Higgs Boson should be Time‘s “person of the year”. Second, Kluger’s understanding of what the Higgs Boson is and what it does, and thus the foundation of his article, was taken to task by qualified physicists like Matt Strassler. A post from MIT suggested “Time’s Higgs Piece May Hold Record for Most Errors in Fewest Words“. Third, the idea that a mainstream news magazine is a reliable source for information about an arcane bit of physics is just adorable.

I know lots of scientists would be like “oh come one, that’s ridiculous,” but, you start talking about packets of energy that are 99.9% empty space, that are animated by probabilities and unpredictability, that somehow we’re able to harness into X-rays and iPods. What in the world? Actually, that’s the right way to put it: What in the world is this? And I think what’s happening, from my very basic layman’s perspective. You have the best scientists in the world talking with wonder and awe, which puts us into the land of poetry and theology and mystics. They all may be on the same team after all. And that’s just compelling.

This gets muddled. I don’t understand Bell’s suggestion here. Almost all scientists disagree with Bell’s understanding, and they understand the physics well enough to manipulate them into modern technology. But if these scientists speak poetically then … they agree with Rob Bell? I’m lost.

So these electrons firing randomly and forming pathways only when observed, leads you to say…?

Well, one of the things in the book I explore is simply involvement. For many people the fundamental way we see things is that we are these individual autonomous units. But when quantum physicists start talking about how things are affected when they’re observed, that just puts us all much more into a relational space.

It’s a bit of irony that a progressive Christian who interprets the Bible broadly and loosely wants to interpret the Copenhagen interpretation narrowly and literally.

So there is the power of the scientists in the lab and a white coat with a clipboard standing objectively over something, and there is a time and a place for that and we have lots of luxuries and conveniences because of this sort of understanding of things. But, at its core, the universe is far more inter-subjective; we are way more involved than we first realized.

“…luxuries and conveniences…” I think that line is telling. You’ll notice that science doesn’t give us medicine, energy and agriculture, all of which creates a society in which men like Rob Bell can be affluent enough to gad about writing incomprehensible prose, and gives him an audience with the leisure and health necessary to appreciate his brand of spirituality. Instead, science gives up inessential things like “luxuries and conveniences”. The implied sneer is unattractive.

I understand the drive to find some meaning behind the forces that animate our world. I am grateful every time I see a Christian draw theology from common descent or emergence. But you’re not going to help matters if you try to co-opt theories without understanding them, or get into pissing matches with the individuals who are trained and qualified to deal with those theories.

  • trj

    You have the best scientists in the world talking with wonder and awe, which puts us into the land of poetry and theology and mystics.

    Huh? Scientists get excited over something and suddenly we’re “in the land of poetry and theology and mystics”? I think Bell has never seen a scientific publication on quantum physics in his life. The uncompromising math and prosaic prose would bring him down to Earth pretty quickly.

  • MNb

    “the implications of quantum physics on spirituality”
    If any spiritualist goes quantum you can be sure of one thing: that person doesn’t understand physics, usually at all. And sure enough:

    “packets of energy that are 99.9% empty space”
    Don’t use a Newtonian understanding of space to QM, Rob Bell.

    “I understand the drive to find some meaning behind the forces that animate our world.”
    I don’t.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Oh. My. God. He’s gone full Borg on us. They also waxed poetic when encountering the Omega particle. Next thing you know he’ll be trying to assimilate us. Resistance in this case, however, is not useless.

  • kessy_athena

    Whatever training they may or may not have had, anyone who believes in a clockwork universe is patently unqualified to deal with QM. That’s kind of like someone who claims to be an economist who seriously says we should go back on the gold standard.

    While modern physics clearly has some pretty profound philosophical implications about how the universe works at a basic level and how it’s put together, going from there to spirituality in general and religion in particular is a pretty big leap.

    • Michael

      anyone who believes in a clockwork universe is patently unqualified to deal with QM

      I don’t know about a “clockwork universe” (whatever that means), but QM itself is fully deterministic, as I have already pointed out. Your response apparently was just to “giggle,” probably because you’ve heard plenty of misrepresentations of physics on the order of what Rob Bell spewed here.

      The Schrodinger equation is unequivocally deterministic. When the wavefunction “collapses,” that is said to be the nondeterministic event, but there is no evidence that such a collapse actually occurs; that’s merely one interpretation.

      • kessy_athena

        The Schrodinger equation describes an inherently probabilistic process. How the hell do you twist the meaning of the word “deterministic” to include an inherently probabilistic and unpredictable process? My response was to giggle because it’s just that silly.

        • Michael

          The Schrodinger equation describes an inherently probabilistic process.

          No, it doesn’t. I know you can’t math, so you prefer to just make stuff up, but suffice it to say that the Schrodinger equation is continuous and deterministic.

          What you think is “inherently probabilistic and unpredictable” (which, by the way, is not the case–it is clearly predictable) is not necessarily so. This is, I believe, the fourth time I have brought up the fact that the “collapse” is one interpretation of QM, not a definitive result of it.

          So, do you consider X, Y, and Z to be misrepresentations of physics?

          No, I just consider your understanding to be problematic, not the original texts. The Feynman Lectures in particular are great, but they are just Freshman lectures; they do not even cover the question of the origin of quantum randomness.

          Yes, my understanding is basic and not rigorous. But I still know enough to recognize BS when I see it.

          So your response to somebody who does understand the math and quotes actual science is to ignore it because you “know” that it’s BS? Do you have any actual arguments here, or just “LOL NO IT’S NOT, NDT SAID SO”?

          • kessy_athena

            So you think that because this is a public blog you can just claim to understand diffy q’s and therefore get away without being questioned with spouting utter nonsense that’d get you laughed at in a physics department? The Schrodinger equation is usually continuous, although since it’s a differential equation, there are solutions that aren’t. But deterministic? Seriously? Get real. The equations evolve over time in a way that’s usually well defined, but that’s not determinism. Schrodinger’s equation determines the probability that the quantum object being described will be observed at any given location. The equation describes a probabilistic wave function, and the actual object is observed as being at one particular location, not smeared out over all the probabilities. Copenhagen’s collapse is one possible interpretation of why that is so, but that it is so is a fact, Jack, and there’s no wiggling out of that.

            Now, if you’ve actually mastered QM, you should know all this extremely well. Which leads me to think that either you’re outright lying about your qualifications, or you’re the one deliberately misrepresenting QM in order to try to quash anyone questioning your beliefs.

            • Michael

              So you think that because this is a public blog you can just claim to understand diffy q’s and therefore get away without being questioned with spouting utter nonsense that’d get you laughed at in a physics department?

              So De Broglie and Bohm are laughed at? When Stephen Hawking described quantum determinism in The Grand Design, he was laughed at? Surely, Penrose was laughed at when he said this, in Road to Reality:

              …the environmental-decoherence viewpoint..maintains that state vector reduction [the R process ] can be understood as coming about because the environmental system under consideration becomes inextricably entangled with its environment.[...] We think of the environment as extremely complicated and essentially ‘random’ [..], accordingly we sum over the unknown states in the environment to obtain a density matrix[...] Under normal circumstances, one must regard the density matrix as some kind of approximation to the whole quantum truth. For there is no general principle providing an absolute bar to extracting information from the environment.[...] Accordingly, such descriptions are referred to as FAPP [For All Practical Purposes]“

              Perhaps you are realizing that it is actually you who are consistently laughed at and projecting that on whatever you read.

              It is clear that I can talk about decoherence until I am blue in the face and I will not listen. You have demonstrated you neither understand nor care to understand what it means. You keep repeating shit like “that [wavefunction collapse] is so is a fact, Jack, and there’s no wiggling out of that.” Except it’s not a fact, as I have pointed out in literally every single post; it is an interpretational issue. Wavefunction collapse does not occur in Everett’s or De Broglie-Bohm mechanics, and it doesn’t in several other interpretations either. But you have already decided that these aren’t REAL physicists, and they clearly don’t understand what they’re talking about the way you do. So you can safely ignore them.

              And you have ignored the fact that the system is deterministic even if the wavefunction does collapse. As you say, it is the probabilities which are determined, which is still a kind of determinism. Randomness is merely part of the determining function.

              Now, if you’ve actually mastered QM, you should know all this extremely well. Which leads me to think that either you’re outright lying about your qualifications, or you’re the one deliberately misrepresenting QM in order to try to quash anyone questioning your beliefs.

              So when somebody contradicts your ideas, you assume they are lying or wrong rather than actually checking out the facts.

              Decoherence provides a mechanism for the appearance of wavefunction collapse without requiring actual collapse. See for instance the Wikipedia article. Most physicists view “collapse” as an apparent result of the uncertainty principle and decoherence, not actual inherent randomness. But again, it’s up to interpretation.

              Not that you care. You’ll stick to your guns, I’m sure.

            • kessy_athena

              “So De Broglie and Bohm are laughed at? When Stephen Hawking described quantum determinism in The Grand Design, he was laughed at? Surely, Penrose was laughed at when he said this, in Road to Reality:”

              I don’t know if you’re misrepresenting the state of the physics community, or if they’re really diving headfirst into Kelvin’s fallacy again, but either way it’s equally BS. Someone actually tried to make a deterministic interpretation of QM? Seriously? Does no one learn from history? I don’t know if that’s displaying more hubris or stupidity.

              “It is clear that I can talk about decoherence until I am blue in the face and I will not listen.”

              So the question is, typo or Freudian slip?

              “You have demonstrated you neither understand nor care to understand what it means. You keep repeating shit like “that [wavefunction collapse] is so is a fact, Jack, and there’s no wiggling out of that.” Except it’s not a fact, as I have pointed out in literally every single post; it is an interpretational issue.”

              And you accuse me of twisting your words and arguing in bad faith? That’s not what I said and that’s not what I meant. I wasn’t referring to wave function collapse, I was referring to the fact (and yes, it is a fact) that although quantum objects are mathematically described in terms of probabilistic wave functions, they are observed in a particular state. As I’ve indicated earlier, my purely subjective impression is that the Copenhagen version of collapse is inelegant and arbitrary. I’m not the one presenting the interpretation (interpretation being a nice way of saying a hypothesis with zero supporting evidence) that fits my ideology as How Things Are.

              “And you have ignored the fact that the system is deterministic even if the wavefunction does collapse. As you say, it is the probabilities which are determined, which is still a kind of determinism. Randomness is merely part of the determining function.”

              So your argument is that QM is deterministically indeterministic? Do I even need to point out how utterly ridiculous that concept is?

              “Decoherence provides a mechanism for the appearance of wavefunction collapse without requiring actual collapse. See for instance the Wikipedia article. Most physicists view “collapse” as an apparent result of the uncertainty principle and decoherence, not actual inherent randomness. But again, it’s up to interpretation.”

              And I suppose that the next argument is that the uncertainty principle is just the Universe being mean to us and hiding a particle’s “real” position and velocity?

              You’re just going to present a hidden variable scheme as fact and wave away the fact that there’s no evidence at all for the existence of such a hidden variable with a FAPP? Ockham who? And all this just so you don’t have to deal with the prospect of a universe that really is fundamentally random in nature. It’s sad, really.

            • Michael

              I don’t know if you’re misrepresenting the state of the physics community, or if they’re really diving headfirst into Kelvin’s fallacy again, but either way it’s equally BS. Someone actually tried to make a deterministic interpretation of QM? Seriously?

              Again, incredulity is not an argument. Yes, as the quotes I gave show, the current majority opinion in particle physics is that wavefunction collapse is an apparent but not fundamental phenomenon. That it is the result of decoherence due to the particle interacting with the universe, which is essentially random in the many layers of chemistry between the particle in the detector and the readout that we can see. Want another quote? Here it goes, this time from Huw Price:

              There is a world of difference between saying “the environment explains why collapse happens where it does” and saying “the environment explains why collapse seems to happen even though it doesn’t really happen.

              You should also note, as Griffiths does in his Afterword, that a continuously observed unstable system actually never decays at all. This again is strong evidence that our naive view of wavefunction collapse is insufficient.

              I was referring to the fact (and yes, it is a fact) that although quantum objects are mathematically described in terms of probabilistic wave functions, they are observed in a particular state. As I’ve indicated earlier, my purely subjective impression is that the Copenhagen version of collapse is inelegant and arbitrary. I’m not the one presenting the interpretation (interpretation being a nice way of saying a hypothesis with zero supporting evidence) that fits my ideology as How Things Are.

              It is true that they are “observed in a particular state,” but this does not prove there is any discontinuous or random collapse. One interpretation with “zero supporting evidence” is that it does collapse, and another is that it does not. The issue here is not that one has better evidence than the other, but that one is deterministic and one is not. You seem to think that because the nondeterministic model is older, it must be correct. I am telling you that that is not the case. We cannot (yet) prove either one false, and I have clearly stated this, but you seem to be under the impression that we can, and THAT requires some evidence, which you seem to be loathe to present.

              So your argument is that QM is deterministically indeterministic?

              No, it is that traditional notions of determinism might not be sufficient for describing quantum systems, in the same way that traditional notions of energy conservation are not sufficient for describing relativistic systems.

              And I suppose that the next argument is that the uncertainty principle is just the Universe being mean to us and hiding a particle’s “real” position and velocity?

              Strawman much? I never said anything of the sort. And the statements are not comparable. Uncertainty is an easily proved result of the Schrodinger equation. Collapse is an ad hoc assumption.

              You’re just going to present a hidden variable scheme as fact and wave away the fact that there’s no evidence at all for the existence of such a hidden variable with a FAPP?

              De Broglie-Bohm theory does not include hidden variables. By the way, there is no (direct) evidence at all for the existence of wavefunction collapse.

              Let me be absolutely clear. It is possible that wavefunctions collapse randomly into particular states at every interaction. It is also possible that they don’t, and that this apparent collapse is merely the result of the complicated interaction of particles with their surroundings. Both work mathematically, and we don’t yet have the technology to prove that one or the other is the case. However, only one of these models is deterministic, does not require an ad hoc assumption, and is accepted by the majority of particle physicists. This is the one you have decided, for no clear reason, must be wrong. You who already admitted do not understand QM at all, and have already made several blatantly false claims, such as the quantum-woo description of the observer effect. Explain yourself, dammit!

            • kessy_athena

              ~_~ Why are you convinced I’ve been talking about wave function collapse? I’m not talking about that at all. I’m talking about the measurement problem, of which wave function collapse is one possible explanation. I don’t have a preferred interpretation of quantum mechanics – for me it’s an open question. Of course, as I’ve said, I’m still studying, so it ought to be an open question for me. See, I don’t like to imply that I possess some sort of qualifications that would make me an “expert” whose opinions dare not be questioned. In my experience, that’s typically the behavior of liars, trolls, and con artists. When the question comes up, I explicitly state how much I know and how much I don’t.

              My comment about the uncertainty principle was meant as sarcasm, not a strawman. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

              A pilot wave is pretty much the epitome of a hidden variable scheme. As for De Broglie – Bohm, to quote the wiki article you referenced, “Decoherence… was first developed by David Bohm in 1952 who applied it to Louis DeBroglie’s pilot wave theory, producing Bohmian mechanics, the first successful hidden variables interpretation of quantum mechanics.” Any hidden variable scheme starts with one strike against it due to Occam’s Razor. That doesn’t make it automatically wrong or not worth pursuing, but it does mean it has a somewhat higher bar to meet. And when you start invoking FAPP to explain why your hidden variable can’t be observed, that should be like the Lost in Space robot shouting, “Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!” So I find the way you’ve presented decoherence to be dubious and full of ad hoc assumptions (like that quantum randomness *needs* an origin.) And I’d point out that when you say that QM is deterministic in a casual conversation with a bunch of non physicists and then later say that classical notions of determinism may not be adequate to describe quantum phenomena, that makes the original statement poorly worded and misleading at best.

              If by “quantum woo description of the observer effect,” you’re referring to the earlier discussion of the effect of detectors on the double slit experiment, what I said is that adding detectors makes the interference pattern disappear, but turning off the detectors while leaving them in place makes the interference pattern reappear. Is that wrong?

              What exactly do you want me to explain? I’m someone with a reasonable background in basic physics, science and math, and I feel that overall the universe looks more like it’s fundamentally random in nature, not deterministic. I’m sorry if that bothers you, but, well, that’s about you, not me.

            • Alex

              I’m not involved in this, and it’s far too long to fully address, but I have to step in: Kessy, I’m afraid Michael is completely correct. Modern, post-decoherence interpretations of quantum mechanics are entirely “deterministic,” as you understand the word. I’ll try and explain how this is possible.

              The Schrodinger Equation absolutely *does not* describe “an inherently probabilistic process.” It is an Ordinary Differential Equation, and it entirely governs the evolution of a wavefunction. (It’s non-relativistic, but that’s unimportant.)

              It’s an ordinary differential equation, so it has a *unique* solution (given a holomorphic potential and boundary conditions, again unimportant here). A solution to Schrodinger’s equation completely describes the wavefunction at all times. This complete description satisfies the definition of determinism in physics; it also satisfactorily corresponds to lay notions of determinism. And solution (i.e. a wavefunction) is always continuous. Not “usually continuous,” always continuous.

              Schrodinger’s equation does not purport to do anything else. Again, all it does is *exactly* describe the evolution of a wavefunction. Also for our purposes, the wavefunction *is* the particle. It’s always taught this way, and it’s easiest to understand the varied consequences of Quantum Mechanics by convincing yourself of this first.

              Now the beef:

              We connect the wavefunction to classical mechanics through Observables. It’s complicated, and there are loads of important details, but I’ll try and gloss over it. Observables correspond to classical quantities (e.g. position, momentum, Energy), and are represented as Hermitian Operators. These operators transform the wavefunction to eigenfunctions whose eigenvalues correspond to classical values, and the Expectation Value of an operator corresponds to the average value of repeated measurements of that observable. Empirically measuring an observable of a wavefunction collapses that wavefunction to an eigenstate of the operator.

              Pre-decoherence Quantum Mechanics says absolutely nothing what actually happens during collapse: it avoids the issue entirely by postulating a non-deterministic “leap” of the wavefunction to this new eigenstate. This is a placeholder postulate, as we shall see. Here only, the wavefunction doesn’t evolve deterministically according to Schrodinger’s equation. The question of what actually happens during collapse is the measurement problem. It’s related, but not identical, to the interpretations of Quantum Mechanics. As I’ll explain, they exist regardless of whether QM is deterministic!

              Copenhagen is the oldest, and (despite Extremely common misconception), is no longer a mainstream interpretation. It hasn’t been since the 1980′s when decoherence was discovered. Copenhagen was the simplest, and proposed that the collapse postulate is the fundamental behavior of nature. Contrast it with Hidden Variables (collapse is an approximation to true point-particles), and Many-Worlds, which argues collapse is the deterministic result of Everettian-Decoherence (very different from modern decoherence), and that infinitely many worlds peel off the universe on each collapse event.

              However, the notion of collapse should set off alarm bells in your head. How can a Classical system interact with a Quantum system at all? The mathematics of wavefunction evolution never address these microscopic concerns! What about the (billion trillions of octillions of) wavefunctions that make up the Classical system, that’s doing the measuring? Physicists long worried about this, and in the 1980′s hammered out the mathematical framework of Quantum Decoherence. It’s obscenely complicated, but it essentially pegs collapse down to the einselection of certain eigenstates, based on the instantaneous phase of the quantum state of the observer/measurer. The observer’s quantum state is deterministic, following Schrodinger’s equation, but ungodly large & well mixed, the same way that thermal movements of molecules are technically deterministic but so extremely well mixed as to appear almost-random! Quantum Decoherence is extremely experimentally successful, and its explanation of collapse and other predictions have been verified numerous times, primarily via Quantum Optics.

              Once decoherence is taken into account, collapse is easily understood as an approximation to environment effects. Consider the following example: there exists only an electron, inside a machine that can measure the electron’s position, floating in space. If you consider just the wavefunction of an electron, it will exhibit collapse on interaction with the machine (e.g. when its position or momentum is measured by a machine). However if you consider the wavefunction of everything (the electron’s wavefunction + the octillions of wavefunctions that make up the machine), they will always obey Schrodinger’s equation and interact via Schrodinger’s equation, and they will evolve deterministically. Decoherence is a natural consequence of Schrodinger’s equation; non-deterministic collapse is discarded as an unnecessary, impotent assumption, now that we have a fundamental explanation for the very epiphenomenon it sought to explain.

              I know this is counter-intuitive (as is everything in QM!), and unfortunately there is a long-standing public misconception that Quantum Mechanics is non-deterministic. This stems from the fact that QM did not properly explain collapse until the 1980′s, and before decoherence, the best-argued interpretation was non-deterministic. However times change, and Copenhagen was superseded by Consistent Histories, which is often described as “Copenhagen done right.” It’s basically Copenhagen, except without the collapse postulate, because we can explain the fact that we observe collapse without it! Hidden Variables and Many-Worlds don’t change much with Decoherence.

              For all of this, I cite Griffiths’ Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, 2nd edition. It’s far more than introductory, and I encourage you to read it if you don’t understand anything I said, but want to. If you want the good stuff, I recommend Zurek ’01, Zurek ’09, and Schlosshauer’s review of decoherence. You may need your university’s library to help you access some of these journal articles, but they’re detailed, accurate, and thorough. Schlosshauer discusses how Decoherence impacts all modern QM interpretations, and some of the problems Decoherence creates for Hidden Variables and Many Worlds.

              In the future, I’m sure both of you could convey your points much more effectively without sarcasm. As you saw, that only compounds misunderstanding in an online argument.

            • kessy_athena

              Alex, thank you for taking the time to write a detailed and polite post, however, I believe most of what you’ve talked about has already been covered in this thread or the previous one, and my objections remain pretty much the same.

              Saying that the currently favored interpretation of QM is deterministic is not the same as saying that QM itself is deterministic. And the wavefunction is a mathematical model describing a quantum object, not the object itself. There’s an old Buddhist saying, “Do not confuse the moon with the finger pointing at the moon.” Wavefunctions, by their nature, are not directly observable, and the difference between the wavefunction and what actually is observable is the root of the measurement problem. (Brief aside: I consider it telling that this would be referred to as the measurement problem, instead of, say, the measurement phenomenon.) Decoherence does not address the measurement problem, right? So long as that’s the case, you’re inherently talking in the language of probabilities, no matter what sort of interpretation you use. As I said before, to my mind, arguing that since an equation that describes something that can only be described in the real world probabilistically evolves in a deterministic fashion is akin to saying that this makes the entire system deterministically indeterministic, which I still regard as silly. Yes, I understand the argument that we’re looking at something that is only pseudo-random due to the very large number of uncontrolled variables. However, if that’s the case, it ought to be demonstrable by constructing a simpler system that eliminates most of those variables. For example, you can demonstrate that flipping a coin is pseudo-random by building a rig that will throw the coin with a far more precise linear and angular velocity then a human could. If it’s not possible to demonstrate this, then what’s the point of adding an extra layer of hidden determinism? Occam does not approve. (Another brief aside: thermal motion is only deterministic in the classical approximation. Adding the Uncertainty Principle does bad things to claims of determinism.)

            • Michael

              the wavefunction is a mathematical model describing a quantum object, not the object itself.

              Well we know that energy is quantized in all real (small) systems, so it would seem that reality is quantum. It makes no sense to distinguish a “quantum object” from an “object itself,” only a quantum vs. classical object.

              Wavefunctions, by their nature, are not directly observable, and the difference between the wavefunction and what actually is observable is the root of the measurement problem.

              Of course wavefunctions are observable. They are observable by the predictions they make, like every other phenomenon. What you are confusing is observables (i.e. classical properties) with particles. It doesn’t make sense to measure “a particle,” only specific properties of that particle (position, momentum, etc.). The measurement problem is explaining how a classical system (the observer) can interact with a quantum system. Of course, in reality, that classical system is also quantum at some level, so the real problem is dealing with the gajillions of particles in the observer. The Copenhagen interpretation avoids the issue altogether, making the ad hoc assumption of a nondeterministic “collapse” postulate, while Consistent Histories explains it statistically via quantum decoherence.

              (Brief aside: I consider it telling that this would be referred to as the measurement problem, instead of, say, the measurement phenomenon.)

              Do you consider the name of the two-body problem “telling” as well? You sound like a Creationist pointing out that evolution is “only a theory.” But yes, when the problem first arose, no solution was known, as is usually the case. But we’ve had an acceptable solution for thirty years now.

              Decoherence does not address the measurement problem, right? So long as that’s the case, you’re inherently talking in the language of probabilities, no matter what sort of interpretation you use.

              Decoherence is merely an observed phenomenon. It doesn’t seek to “explain” anything, but it can inform explanations of many things, including the measurement problem. Alex already explained how it does so. And no, we are not “inherently talking in the language of probabilities” (whatever that means), we are talking in the language of statistics, in the same way that thermodynamics (and the theory of evolution) is statistical.

              And if you’re still thinking that the Schrodinger equation is “inherently probabilistic,” let me point out as Alex did that its solution is continuous and unique, meaning there is no “probability” involved at any step. Probability only comes into play when a quantum system interacts with a classical one–that is, when we don’t take the environment into account. It is we who induce this probability by averaging over a large system; it is not “inherent,” and certainly not in the Schrodinger equation. This is the only way to make sense of the fact that collapse only occurs when a quantum system (e.g. a particle) interacts with a classical system (e.g. a machine), and not when it interacts with another quantum system (e.g. another particle in a vacuum).

              Yes, I understand the argument that we’re looking at something that is only pseudo-random due to the very large number of uncontrolled variables. However, if that’s the case, it ought to be demonstrable by constructing a simpler system that eliminates most of those variables.

              They have already done so, again, as was already pointed out. This article explains in better detail what is going on. Decoherence is a well-established phenomenon. Superselection requires no additional assumptions in QM and can explain many known processes such as the Higgs mechanism and, in this case, wavefunction collapse. We know it happens and we know what its results should be at the macroscopic limit. Why keep acting like collapse is mysterious and random when we have a good, deterministic explanation for why it happens? You’re literally just ignoring modern physics so you can live in the fifties and pretend QM is nonsense.

              If it’s not possible to demonstrate this, then what’s the point of adding an extra layer of hidden determinism?

              What? Explaining observations with testable predictions is the goal of physics. There is no “extra layer” here; we already know that the quantum system interacts with the environment, and we already know that the result is selection of a particular state. Einselection explains the math behind this, based only on equations we already know work (in particular the Schrodinger equation). You do not proffer an alternative explanation, and instead simply say “it’s random.” By your logic, Occam’s razor would prefer the assumption that the universe randomly appeared yesterday to the gradualistic evolution understood by science, because the latter has many “extra layers of determinism.”

              To be clear, it is (random) collapse that is the unfounded assumption here, not decoherence.

              (Another brief aside: thermal motion is only deterministic in the classical approximation. Adding the Uncertainty Principle does bad things to claims of determinism.)

              Again, you’re just wrong. The Uncertainty Principle describes the precision with which we can make measurements, and has nothing to do with this discussion.

            • Alex

              “Decoherence does not address the measurement problem, right?”

              Reread my post: that’s the sole purpose of decoherence. The decoherence phenomenon answered the “measurement problem”. You’re quite correct, the name “problem” is a misnomer nowadays, and it could properly be called the “measurement phenomenon,” since it’s purely the result of a large density matrix with unknown environmental microstate elements. But we’re stuck with the terminology, just like “the Big Bang” (not a bang), “heavy metal poisoning” (not necessarily heavy), and “Rattus norvegicus”: “the Norwegian rat” (not from Norway).

              “pseudo-random … ought to be demonstrable by constructing a simpler system”

              That was done 20 years ago when decoherence was proven. Read the Zurek papers I summarized & cited.

              “Saying that the currently favored interpretation of QM is deterministic is not the same as saying that QM itself is deterministic”

              No one doubts that. But QM is deterministic, in and of itself: this is because the only fundamental time-evolution postulate of QM is the Schrodinger Equation: a differential equation with a *unique* solution. Ergo, if you knew the wavefunction of the universe at one time, you could solve the Schrodinger equation on it to find the universal wavefunction for all future times. This is determinism in QM.

              With laborious effort, you could inspect this universal wave function and observe very large, entangled wavepackets behaving approximately as classical systems (e.g. the wavefunctions of a baseball or electron microscope). You’d see these titanic masses interact with and entangle individual particles, einselecting eigenstates. If you ignored the multitudinous wavefunctions and just analyzed the individual particle, its choice of einselected eigenstate would appear completely random. This is collapse.

              Moreover in decoherence tests, for extremely carefully set up classical systems we can predict which eigenstate will be einselected. Ergo when we actually control “the very large number of uncontrolled variables”, collapse is no longer random: it’s completely determined.

              “the difference between the wavefunction and what actually is observable is the root of the measurement problem.”

              No. The measurement problem is the question of the nature of wavefunction collapse, nothing more. It asks: “By what physical mechanism does a classical system induce wave function collapse in a quantum system?” As mentioned above, it’s answered by decoherence.

              “I believe most of what you’ve talked about has already been covered in this thread…”

              Unfortunately while everyone here meant well, it seemed no one in the thread had actually *taken* Quantum Mechanics. While thought provoking, the consequences of QM (collapse, entanglement, etc) are, for the most part, meaningless curiosities without formal training. Necessary fundamental concepts like eigenstates & operators are lost. I tried to produce a (factually correct) summary of the formalism for you. Ask if you have any questions.

              I’m afraid you all appear to have bizarre preconceptions about quantum mechanics. I strongly advise you abandon, or at least defer, your “objections” and read a textbook on QM. Michael has mentioned Griffiths several times: it’s an excellent resource. You’ll find your “objections” may come from simple misunderstandings.

          • 100meters

            Hey, you guys.
            Schroedinger’s Cat here.
            Somebody either kill me already, or let me out of this goddam box.
            Thanks.

            • kessy_athena

              LOL, here, kitty, have some tuna and stop complaining. ;)

      • kessy_athena

        So, do you consider the Feynman Lectures to misrepresentations of physics? How about Halliday and Resnick? Or Nick Herbert’s Quantum Reality? How about what Leonard Susskind, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Michio Kaku have to say? (Although I admit the latter two have a bad tendency to oversimplify things, at least for my tastes.) Yes, I’m still working on mastering diffy q’s. Yes, my understanding is basic and not rigorous. But I still know enough to recognize BS when I see it. And trying to use some convoluted rationalization to make QM look like some sort of deterministic neo-Newtonian scheme is BS of the highest order. It’s just not, and no amount of wishing will make it so.

  • Noelle

    I do have to say that I understand Quantum Mechanics about as well as I understand Rob Bell, but that’s the extent of it.

  • John C

    ‘This is a mainstream, credible magazine saying that these latest discoveries at the fresh edge of quantum physics have a spiritual component’.

    Yes, absolutely they do…and I’ve been telling you guys this very thing for how long, now? I know, I know…for far too long, ha.

    All my best.

    • kessy_athena

      Although I’ve never found an explanation of the Higgs that really made sense to me, my impression is that the only thing particularly spiritual about is that someone with more poetic flare then sense dubbed it the “god particle.”

      I’ve never seen you talk about QM, John, but the discoveries that seem like they might be at all relevant to spirituality were made the better part of a century ago.

      • trj

        No need to put that much into his statement. John sees spiritual messages in everything, be it QM, puppies, or genocide.

        • Noelle

          John C is the older and wiser version of Rob Bell.

      • Alex

        Certainly untrue. Every discovery related to the Theory of Everything affects conventional “spirituality,” albeit negatively. The ToE closes off the last gaps of the universe where a supernatural force could act.

        Also decoherence discoveries as recent as the 1990′s improved understanding of wavefunction collapse. Theoretically sound, experimentally verified determinism influences how much “spirituality” one can have.

        • kessy_athena

          (Raises an eyebrow) I would advise against making the “quantum therefore god” mistake in reverse. Questions about the existence or non existence of a class of phenomena that could loosely be called spiritual can (most likely) no more be answered by QM then can questions about the ecology of the deep sea. Such questions can only be answered observationally and experimentally. The Kelvin fallacy that all the great discoveries have been made and all that’s left is cleaning up the details is just as much a fallacy today as it was a century ago.

          • Michael

            I don’t understand why you are distinguishing QM from experiments. All major discoveries in QM were made via experiment.

            And if the fundamental laws of the universe can’t shed light on the nature or existence of gods, what can?

            • kessy_athena

              Can you use the “fundamental laws of the universe” to tell me what the geology of Pluto is like? No, that’s why we launched New Horizons to go and see. Can you use those “fundamental laws” to tell me what sorts of organisms live in the deep ocean? No, that’s why we’re building deep sea submersibles and ROV’s to go and see. Why then would you expect to be able to use them to tell me about the the gods? Observation leads theory, always. Inductive reasoning trumps deductive reasoning, always. That’s one of the basics of the scientific method – you go out and see how the world actually is; you don’t sit in an armchair and decide how the world ought to be.

            • Michael

              Can you use the “fundamental laws of the universe” to tell me what the geology of Pluto is like?

              Of course you can. I mean, you can’t determine it exactly, but you can know that it is made of matter and that it is roughly spherical and that since it is small, it is also rocky and lacks an atmosphere, and that since it is far from the sun, it is cold and not very dense. You can’t know the precise abundance of minerals, but you can make educated guesses. And we can know, for instance, that there isn’t volcanic activity, because the core isn’t hot enough.

              See, applying our current (incomplete) laws to distant objects isn’t perfect, but it is still useful. We can reasonably conclude many things that are impossible to prove. For instance, there is no star in the universe in the shape of a thin spherical shell. Such an object isn’t remotely stable and couldn’t even undergo fusion. It would collapse instantly. I say this despite not having scanned every point in space in search for one.

              If the laws of physics do not allow us to make predictions about things we have not yet measured, they are useless.

            • kessy_athena

              Actually, Pluto does have a tenuous atmosphere that’s thought to freeze out when Pluto is in the part of its orbit that’s far from the Sun. The logic that I presume you’re using to argue that Pluto can’t be volcanically active (It’s too small of a body to have retained any significant heat of formation over the age of the solar system) is the exact same logic that made planetary scientists prior to the Voyager missions sure that Jupiter’s moons had to be cold and dead and couldn’t possibly be volcanically active. The tidal interactions that make Io the most volcanically active body in the solar system (as far as we know) were completely unanticipated. Neptune’s moon Triton – which is thought to be a pretty similar type of body to Pluto – also has geologic activity in the form of liquid nitrogen geysers that was also completely unanticipated. Every time we’ve gone someplace new, we’ve been blind sided by things that we had no idea were even possible. Never underestimate nature’s ability to surprise us.

              Yes, applying our current understanding to unknown realms is useful, but you need to appreciate the limits. Incidentally, a thin spherical shell of fusing hydrogen is a pretty decent description of a nova. Of course, it does happen to be wrapped around a white dwarf… Yes, I realize that’s not what you meant, but my point is to be very very careful about making broad statements.

          • Michael

            Actually, Pluto does have a tenuous atmosphere that’s thought to freeze out when Pluto is in the part of its orbit that’s far from the Sun.

            An atmosphere of 030 Pa at its maximum. That’s 3.0 millionths of Earth’s atmosphere. Technically, every body in the solar system “has an atmosphere” to some extent, but that’s obviously not what I meant.

            The logic that I presume you’re using to argue that Pluto can’t be volcanically active (It’s too small of a body to have retained any significant heat of formation over the age of the solar system) is the exact same logic that made planetary scientists prior to the Voyager missions sure that Jupiter’s moons had to be cold and dead and couldn’t possibly be volcanically active.

            But as you say, it is getting tidal energy from Jupiter. It is not some magic, and it is not a comparable situation.

            At any rate, the point is moot. It doesn’t matter how many examples I come up with, your analogy was flawed. Physical theories DO make predictions about measurements we haven’t made, that’s WHAT THEY EXIST FOR. If those physical theories rule out certain spiritual concepts (as special relativity surely has by ruling out the A theory of time), those spiritual concepts are wrong. I am sorry that science is an inherently exclusionary process. Hypotheses are falsified on a routine basis, and while it is possible that certain laws of physics don’t work in some cases, the many far-reaching consequences of some religious and spiritual ideas flatly contradict discoveries in physics, and would have already had observable effects. It is no different from the fact that our understanding of the water cycle disproves the cause of rain as being a rain god. The ideas now are more complicated, but they are not completely outside of our scientific experience.

            • kessy_athena

              How exactly do you define “magic” in this context?

            • Michael

              A process that cannot be understood by science.

            • kessy_athena

              Understanding by science consists of creating a model of the processes involved in an observed phenomenon and attempting to progressively refine it through observation and experimentation. Models can be very detailed or very simple, exact or vague. Even just saying “there’s something odd going on here” is a very basic sort of model. Pretty much anything that can be observed can be modeled. So how could there be something occurring in the universe that we can know about even in principle that couldn’t be modeled and therefore understood by science?

          • Alex

            I’m sorry, but you misunderstood what I said. It may help if I show work:

            “Spirituality” is vaguely defined. Here, I don’t refer to Spinozan reverence of everything, nor to Einsteinian love of the beauty of Nature. Herein let “Spirituality” be the veneration of deities, divine interventions, superstitions, non-physical consciousness, or any other supernatural object, or any religious belief.

            By definition, a true Theory of Everything negatively affects conventional “spirituality,” in a god-of-the-gaps fashion. (This is just an epistemological consequence of being a Theory of Everything. For if the universe were entirely described, there would be no degrees of freedom left for supernatural or religious action. It has nothing to do with QM, ocean ecology, or anything else.)

            Some discoveries in fundamental physics support (or contravene) a Theory of Everything. Therefore, such discoveries influence “spirituality.”

            No Theory of Everything is confirmed. Therefore, future discoveries related to a ToE could strongly affect the status of a Theory of Everything. Therefore, future discoveries could affect spirituality.

            Moreover, “spiritual” beliefs are clearly influenced by perceptions of one’s Free Will. Determinism affects which type of Free Will we have. Therefore, determinism affects “spirituality”. Therefore, any discovery that supports (or contravenes) determinism affects “spirituality.”

            Whether the universe was deterministic was unsure from the 1920′s until the 1980′s. Recent discoveries support determinism. Therefore, recent discoveries influence spirituality.

            Notice I didn’t commit the Kelvin fallacy. I correctly stated that future discoveries affecting fundamental physics will affect spirituality. I also dispute your assertion that recent discoveries haven’t affect spirituality, by providing a counterexample.

            Also, sorry about the formatting garbage above! I’m reposting it below, sans the bold.

            • kessy_athena

              Umm, I believe I was originally referring to the Higgs Boson when I was talking about “recent discoveries.” But the conversation has clearly moved on by this point, so I consider that a side issue.

              It seems to me that the definition you gave of spirituality hasn’t really done much to make it any less vague.

              What do you consider to be a deity? The christian definition most often encountered in the West is both specific and unusual in the context of world religion. The triple omni concept is both specific to christianity and logically incoherent. Would you consider a being with god like qualities to be a diety? Say, something along the line of Star Trek’s Q?

              “Superstition” is, and has always been, an extremely vague term that honestly is mostly used more as a pejorative then as a descriptor.

              The idea of a non physical consciousness strikes me as somewhat problematic. Would a software AI that could, for example, be transmitted wirelessly, be non physical? How about a consciousness made of some exotic particles, say something formed by the interaction of a set of bosons without normal baryonic matter being involved? (I’m making that up off the top of my head to illustrate the point, please forgive me if it’s not exactly rigorous. ;-)

              What would a supernatural object be? To me, a natural object is simply anything that exists, how could something be beyond existing? This does not make sense to me.

          • Alex

            It seems to me that the definition you gave of spirituality hasn’t really done much to make it any less vague

            Haha yeah that’s kind of spirituality’s fault.

            My definition is very broad. I sought to cut out “general feelings of reverence” towards the universe, math, or Nature, and only to include reverence of supernatural phenomena. Comically, the remainder is still quite large.

            What do you consider to be a deity?…

            My working definition is a “being”, with existance “undescribed by the laws of physics,” who can similarly interfere with the universe “outside the laws of physics”.

            That’s a broad predicate, and it will likely include logically inconsistant conceptions of dieties. But Unrestricted Comphrehension is allowable, since we’re essentially comprehending over the predicate descriptions themselves. Matches include a god who “answers prayers”, a god who could “change” anything in the universe, a god who “guided evolution”, and a god who “set the initial conditions of the universe”. Clearly these are violations of physical law. Yet their notions exist, and I’m (thankfully) only treating the human notion of them.

            I don’t care for the trivial case: a god who “exists,” but is causally disconnected from the universe. Such a being is ontologically null, and can be ignored.

            In the Star Trek cannon, Q is a normal being, asserted to be consistent with Star Trek laws of physics. Ergo not a deity. If a purported diety were like Q, then it wouldn’t be a diety, but rather an extremely technologically advanced being.

            “Superstition” is … a … vague term

            Certainly not. The two dictionary definitions:

            * excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural beings

            * a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief

            That’s furlongs more concrete than spirituality.

            non physical consciousness strikes me as somewhat problematic…

            Well yeah, it strikes all sane people as problematic. ;) Hence special veneration of one’s perception of it (regardless of actual existance) is spirituality, and superstition. Rigorously:

            By definition, there exists no evidence of “non-physical” phenomena, like dieties / non-physical consciousness. Ergo there is no justification for believing in them. Ergo they’re all superstition, by the superstition definition above.

            something formed by the interaction of a set of bosons

            Yeah, I’d agree that consciousness is just a computational process, independent of the underlying mechanism. That’s why there’s a special science, Cognitive Science, that’s investigating it. (Rather than just neuroscience or biology) Neuroscience and Cog Sci also indirectly controvert “non-physical”, “spiritual” consciousness, by providing a rigorous explanation which doesn’t require supernatural assumptions. Ergo discoveries in these fields also (negatively) impact “spirituality,” as I’ve defined it.

            What would a supernatural object be?…

            Informally I’d say pretty much anything that exists outside the bounds of physical law. It’s synonymous with “non-physical entities”, and includes the “dieties” and “superstitions” described above. I include it as a catch-all for any other bizarre non-physical-processes or superstitions someone could worship or believe in.

            The definition, “Herein let “Spirituality” be the veneration of deities, divine interventions, superstitions, non-physical consciousness, or any other supernatural object, or any religious belief.”, definitely has redundancy. But that’s alright, since it’s just a predicate.

            Importantly, it’s not overbroad, and it only gathers “non-physical” entities, which naturally suffer when physics expands.

            • kessy_athena

              So would I be correct in taking that to mean that you’re essentially using “non-physical” and “supernatural” as synonyms, and that they both hinge on the notion of operating “outside” the laws of physics?

              If so, I would like to point out that the idea of something operating outside physical law is highly problematic. The laws of physics (and more generally natural laws) are not like the sort of top down laws we have in human society. There is not some authority that decides what those laws are to be and then enforces them on the universe. On the contrary, natural laws are bottom up descriptions of what actually happens in the universe. How then can anything that happens be outside of those laws? Wouldn’t they be included in those laws by the definition of natural laws? Now a very unusual event might force humans to change their understanding of what the laws of physics are, but how could it be outside of those laws?

              In the end, wouldn’t that line of reasoning mean that you’re just defining the supernatural, the non-physical, and the spiritual as simply being that which does not exist? And wouldn’t that render the entire discussion moot?

              And wouldn’t that also mean that anything that happens would, by definition, not be supernatural? So, for example, if Yahweh showed up in DC one day and gave CNN an interview, sitting down to chat with Wolf Blitzer, confirming that everything in the Christians’ book is true and providing convincing evidence to support that claim (no, I can’t imagine what such evidence could be, but hypothetically speaking), that would mean that Yahweh is not supernatural and therefore not a god?

          • Alex

            “you’re essentially using “non-physical” and “supernatural” as synonyms”

            Yes.

            “…something operating outside physical law is highly problematic…”

            I understand. But of course, that’s not a big deal in ontological philosophy (i.e. this case).

            The laws of physics … are … the universe

            Obviously. That’s called physicalism in philosophy. If you’re willing to assume it, then we’re done (people who believe in god/supernatural crap aren’t). It implies that zero discoveries affect spirituality, since objects of spiritual veneration are assumed non-existant. Ergo no further disproof is needed. They are ontologically null.

            It’s contrasted with theories like interactionism, where there are exceptions to physics. Obviously, “Wouldn’t they be included in those laws by the definition of natural laws?” Nope. Philosophy isn’t mathematically rigorous. A non-physical, interacting diety somehow “exists outside all physics, and can rewrite the laws of reality on a whim.” Critically, spiritualism assumes this is internally consistant and observable via senses.

            if Yahweh showed up in DC one day…

            The “Atheist sees God” paradox. Resolved in the standard fashion:

            Christians define Yahweh to be non-physical. If we operate under physicalism, then Yahweh doesn’t exist. Ergo anything that shows up cannot possibly be Yahweh. Under non-physicalism, physical law isn’t complete, and we know nothing.

            A discovery influencing “spirituality” implies the possibility of “spirituality”. “Spirituality” is incompatible with strict physicalism. Therefore, the worshipper of “spirituality” isn’t assuming strict physicalism (obviously).

            To me, Statements (like yours) about discoveries that affect “spirituality” require at least “God of the Gaps”-style spirituality: a minimal interactionism that attempts compatibility. In it, physicalism is assumed only where it has been experimentally demonstrated. Non-physical activity is hidden in the gaps of current fundamental physics (e.g. the origin of the universe, coupling constants, quantum gravity, etc) As gaps are uncovered, non-physical activity loses places to hide. A Theory of Everything has no gaps, ergo no non-physicality.

            In this sense, a “proof” of physicalism only follows from establishing a Theory of Everything. My original point is merely that progressive work towards a ToE progressively shuts out this particular, parasitic brand of non-physicalism.

            And every physical discovery lends credence to the conjecture that a true Theory of Everything exists. For example, the Higgs Boson is huge evidence for the existance of spontaneous symmetry breaking, which is necessary for most candidate ToE’s.

            • kessy_athena

              I don’t think you’re getting the point I’m trying to make. By using that set of definitions, you’re essentially defining yourself out of the debate. You can’t argue against the supernatural because all you can say is that the supernatural doesn’t exist by definition, which isn’t an argument. In the “Yahweh sits down for an interview for CNN” scenario, you’re sitting there just saying that god doesn’t exist by definition. This doesn’t strike you as problematic for your position? It doesn’t strike you as more then faintly ridiculous? By trying to define your way to victory, what you’re actually doing is making your own argument moot, not the arguments of those you disagree with.

            • Michael

              You can’t argue against the supernatural because all you can say is that the supernatural doesn’t exist by definition, which isn’t an argument.

              You’re actually the one who said the supernatural doesn’t exist by definition. I’m really confused as to your stance here.

              You seem to be agreeing while trying hard to disagree. For instance, I agree that it makes no sense that something real could be impossible to explain. However, this is still the traditional definition of magic. To me, this is a good argument for why magic can’t exist, because proper experimentation should be able to explain it eventually, making it not really “magic” but just a confusing physical interaction.

              Similarly, if someone claiming to be God got an interview on CNN, well of course I would assume he was lying. At the very least, I would assume many things said about God were wrong (which means it still isn’t the “God” people were expecting; we need to change the definition).

              Anyway, the reason physics can impact our understanding of God is that the “God hypothesis” is usually proffered as an explanation for a variety of phenomena or historical events not yet explained adequately by physics (e.g. cosmogenesis). By explaining these things scientifically, we remove the need for such a god-of-the-gaps.

              Of course, people can always create increasingly subtler and less falsifiable definitions of “God,” but these are also increasingly meaningless.

            • kessy_athena

              Sorry, I was sort of trying to demonstrate to you guys the logical steps I went through in arriving at my personal position, but I’ll explain my current thinking on the subject for you. This is all my personal opinion, and I am open to changing it.

              I accept the bottom up description of natural and physical law I gave earlier, and I reject the concept of something being supernatural as being logically incoherent. However, I feel that this says absolutely nothing about the observed phenomena that are typically described as being supernatural, and I have no problem accepting things that either actually do or at least appear to defy our current understanding of how the universe works. For example, I do believe in the gods, although my definition and conception of what a deity is differs quite a bit both from the conventional Christian view and the definition that Alex set out earlier.

              I also accept some logical implications of the bottom up model of natural law that I suspect you’re going to strongly dislike. For one thing, I really don’t like using the term “physical law” in the first place. To my mind, the word “law” implies some sort of top down authority enforcing that law, which I think is completely the wrong picture. The physical laws we’re familiar with are simply a way to organize and codify how we’ve seen the universe behave, and are inherently only approximations of how the universe actually behaves. That means that physical law is not and cannot ever be exclusionary. You can’t say that X is impossible and can’t happen, you can only say that X is contrary to how we’ve always observed the universe to behave and would therefore seem to be unlikely to happen. This also means that the concepts of obeying or defying physical law are logically incoherent – if something happens, even something really strange and bizarre, it simply becomes part of the set of observations that define physical law.

              I define the spiritual realm as being a loosely defined set of observed phenomena that are traditionally and conventionally described as such and that are currently poorly understood. In this context, think of “realm” as being in the same sense as in “electromagnetic realm” or “quantum realm” etc. Spiritual phenomena may or may not share similar underlying mechanisms, and those mechanisms may or may not operate along principles that are currently understood and recognized as part of conventional science. So, for example, it’s entirely possible that many of these phenomena are psychological in nature. I tend to doubt that they are entirely psychological, but I also think it’s quite likely that they are partly psychological. However, since there’s no real hard data on most of this stuff, that’s just my speculation.

              I have a certain disdain for “god of the gaps” types of arguments. Honestly, my suspicion is that they’re primarily motivated by the desire on the part of some Christians to make their god “special.” I see no reason to think that powerful spirit beings that would meet any reasonable definition of a god couldn’t be accommodated in our current understanding of physics. To me, the gods are simply people. People quite different then humans, but still just people. They may currently be poorly understood, but I see no reason they wouldn’t be subject to the same sort of investigation and study as any other sort of phenomenon.

              I take it as axiomatic that the Kelvin fallacy is indeed a fallacy, and there are major discoveries in physics yet to be made, and there may well be physical phenomena happening literally right under our noses that we currently have no idea even exist. That was certainly true in the past, and I see no reason to think it isn’t true now.

            • Custador

              “The physical laws we’re familiar with are simply a way to organize and codify how we’ve seen the universe behave, and are inherently only approximations of how the universe actually behaves.”

              Kessy, with the best will in the wolrd, you really don’t seem to understand how physics works. Fundamental universal constants exist, and the clue is in the name. As for scientific laws – Again, the clue is in the name. If it can be broken, it ain’t a physical law.

              “I define the spiritual realm as…

              Whoa thar, Hoss. First demonstrate that it actually exists, and then worry about how it works.

              “I see no reason to think that powerful spirit beings that would meet any reasonable definition of a god couldn’t be accommodated in our current understanding of physics.”

              Then you really, really don’t understand physics.

            • kessy_athena

              @Custy:

              I was simply explaining how I use the term “spiritual.” Micheal asked me what my position is, so I was explaining my personal opinion. As you can see, the way I use the word is substantially different from how Alex used it above. I wasn’t making a case for its existence at all, just trying to make sure we all understand each other.

              “Kessy, with the best will in the wolrd, you really don’t seem to understand how physics works. Fundamental universal constants exist, and the clue is in the name. As for scientific laws – Again, the clue is in the name. If it can be broken, it ain’t a physical law.”

              Now see, this is exactly why I strongly dislike the term “physical law.” Consider Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton%27s_law_of_universal_gravitation (for reference) It states that every object with mass in the universe exerts an attractive force on every other object with mass in the universe according to the formula F = G * m1 * m2 / r^2. This has been a bedrock law of classical mechanics for over three centuries, and is still taught in every first year physics course in the world. The orbit of Mercury also violates this law (due to relativistic frame dragging). And that’s just one example of many. For another example Coulomb’s Law describes the forces that electrically charged particles exert on each other. Moving charged particles violate this law. And so on and so on. Physical laws as we humans know them are simply approximations of how we’ve observed the universe to behave, arrived at by inductive reasoning. There is not some sort of cosmic traffic cop watching every particle in the universe, enforcing the law. While it’s possible that there may be “true” laws that exactly describe how the universe behaves and cannot ever be broken, there’s really no way for humanity to determine what they are.

            • Michael

              Actually, the aforementioned laws are all correct in the appropriate limit of measurement. The fact that they don’t work for extreme cases does not invalidate their correctness in familiar cases. This seems to me like a pretty obvious requirement for any law in the first place, since scientific laws all described observed facts.

              Of course there are some conceptions of “gods” that may be physically possible, but typically these are either unfalsifiable or so removed from the traditional meaning of the word, that “god” is simply an inaccurate term. But moreover, I think the “god-of-the-gaps” is among the less dishonest ideas (though still dishonest). There is no reason to believe in gods for which you have no evidence, so if your gods don’t even explain anything, why do you think they’re real?

            • kessy_athena

              “Actually, the aforementioned laws are all correct in the appropriate limit of measurement. The fact that they don’t work for extreme cases does not invalidate their correctness in familiar cases. This seems to me like a pretty obvious requirement for any law in the first place, since scientific laws all described observed facts.”

              (nodnod) Yes, I agree – that’s basically what I was trying to say; that scientific laws are not absolute and have limits to their applicability. Well, at least the ones we humans have.

              As for my opinion about the gods, that’s based primarily on some personal experiences I’ve had. Let me emphasize, this is what I’ve experienced, and I’m not asking you to believe it and I don’t expect it to carry any weight with you or anyone else. And I also realize that there are other possible explanations, such as psychological ones. But sometimes, when interpreting an ambiguous personal experience, I think it really comes to an intuitive sense of what explanation fits best.

      • Alex

        “Decoherence does not address the measurement problem, right?”

        Reread my post: that’s the sole purpose of decoherence. The decoherence phenomenon answered the “measurement problem”. You’re quite correct, the name “problem” is a misnomer nowadays, and it could properly be called the “measurement phenomenon,” since it’s purely the result of a large density matrix with unknown environmental microstate elements. But we’re stuck with the terminology, just like “the Big Bang” (not a bang), “heavy metal poisoning” (not necessarily heavy), and “Rattus norvegicus”: “the Norwegian rat” (not from Norway).

        “pseudo-random … ought to be demonstrable by constructing a simpler system”

        That was done 20 years ago when decoherence was proven. Read the Zurek papers I summarized & cited.

        “Saying that the currently favored interpretation of QM is deterministic is not the same as saying that QM itself is deterministic”

        No one doubts that. But QM is deterministic, in and of itself: this is because the only fundamental time-evolution postulate of QM is the Schrodinger Equation: a differential equation with a *unique* solution. Ergo, if you knew the wavefunction of the universe at one time, you could solve the Schrodinger equation on it to find the universal wavefunction for all future times. This is determinism in QM.

        With laborious effort, you could inspect this universal wave function and observe very large, entangled wavepackets behaving approximately as classical systems (e.g. the wavefunctions of a baseball or electron microscope). You’d see these titanic masses interact with and entangle individual particles, einselecting eigenstates. If you ignored the multitudinous wavefunctions and just analyzed the individual particle, its choice of einselected eigenstate would appear completely random. This is collapse.

        Moreover in decoherence tests, for extremely carefully set up classical systems we can predict which eigenstate will be einselected. Ergo when we actually control “the very large number of uncontrolled variables”, collapse is no longer random: it’s completely determined.

        “the difference between the wavefunction and what actually is observable is the root of the measurement problem.”

        No. The measurement problem is the question of the nature of wavefunction collapse, nothing more. It asks: “By what physical mechanism does a classical system induce wave function collapse in a quantum system?” As mentioned above, it’s answered by decoherence.

        “I believe most of what you’ve talked about has already been covered in this thread…”

        Unfortunately while everyone here meant well, it seemed no one in the thread had actually *taken* Quantum Mechanics. While thought provoking, the consequences of QM (collapse, entanglement, etc) are, for the most part, meaningless curiosities without formal training. Necessary fundamental concepts like eigenstates & operators are lost. I tried to produce a (factually correct) summary of the formalism for you. Ask if you have any questions.

        I’m afraid you all appear to have bizarre preconceptions about quantum mechanics. I strongly advise you abandon, or at least defer, your “objections” and read a textbook on QM. Michael has mentioned Griffiths several times: it’s an excellent resource. You’ll find your “objections” may come from simple misunderstandings.

        • kessy_athena

          No, I haven’t taken QM, and I haven’t had access to university resources for 15 years. I was in the undergrad Engineering Science program at Penn State in the mid to late 90′s. I had to drop out for health reasons. I’d finished classical mechanics, single variable calculus, special relativity and some introductory QM (the uncertainty principle, wave particle duality, etc) and was working on classical EM, multivariable calculus, diffy q’s and linear algebra when I had to stop. I’ve recently started picking up where I left off, using my old textbooks and online resources (particularly MIT OCW) and have finished classical EM, almost done multivariable calc, and am starting to pick at diffy q’s. Although my health issues still limit how well I can concentrate on them, so it’s rather slow going.

          And I always reserve judgement pending further information.

          • Alex

            “And I always reserve judgement pending further information.”

            Lol the best practice.

            “…health issues…”

            I’m sure you’ll catch up in no time. Those are all great subjects, and there’s no shortage of STEM careers. If you got the gist of my explanation, you’re doing fine.

            “… some introductory QM (the uncertainty principle, wave particle duality, etc)”

            I’d taken things like that, in addition to reading “popular science” books, before learning true QM. Take it from someone whose worldview changed in that class: the layman analogies are meaningless.

            For example, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is the mathematical consequence that applying non-commutative operators will project the wavefunction onto orthogonal eigenstates, based on the coefficient of expansion. (technically, it’s about the product of the standard deviation of the measured eigenvalues of either application, but whatever. the standard deviation is non-zero unless the operators commute, i.e. share a common eigenbasis, and it’s >= the degree of non-commutativity) Understanding it any other way is incorrect, and invariably leads to false conclusions.

            “I’ve recently started picking up where I left off…”

            Learning formal QM requires classical physics, ordinary and partial differential equations, linear algebra, vector calc, and prob-stats. A general knowledge of higher math helps. Griffiths teaches well, and you’ll be able to properly grasp decoherence afterwards. Just don’t expect actual decoherence math. That’s wayyyy too advanced, even for graduate courses.

            I hope I wasn’t curt in my longer posts. Correct explanations of QM are invariably dense, necessitating quick talking.

            But I think I’ve covered everything (except the math). Is anything unclear / vague?

  • Lester Ballard

    I’d rather deal with strict fundies than woo mongers like this.


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