Monday, February 17, 2020

Randomness cannot be empirically shown

A new paper argues:
We consider the nature of quantum randomness and how one might have empirical evidence for it. We will see why, depending on one's computational resources, it may be impossible to determine whether a particular notion of randomness properly characterizes one's empirical data. Indeed, we will see why even an ideal observer under ideal epistemic conditions may never have any empirical evidence whatsoever for believing that the results of one's quantum-mechanical experiments are randomly determined. This illustrates a radical sort of empirical underdetermination faced by fundamentally stochastic theories like quantum mechanics.
Isn't this obvious?

A lot of people say that quantum mechanics shows that the world is intrinsically random, or objectively random, or some such nonsense. There is no empirical support for such statements. For one thing, there could be a superdeterminism that makes nothing random.

We say that coin tosses are random, because nobody goes to the trouble of tracking all the variables needed to predict the outcome.

We say radioactive decay is random, because there is no known way of predicting the precise decay time. But it seems possible that we could, if we knew more about about the state of nucleus in question.

The paper discusses tests for coin toss sequences to appear random, but we have no way of recognizing intrinsic randomness even if we saw it.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

More millions for quantum BS

The NY Times reports:
SAN FRANCISCO — White House officials on Monday unveiled plans to increase federal funding for the development of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, two cutting-edge technologies that defense officials say will play a key role in national security.

The funding, part of the Trump administration’s $4.8 trillion budget proposal, would direct more money for A.I. research to the Defense Department and the National Science Foundation. The administration also wants to spend $25 million on what it calls a national “quantum internet,” a network of machines designed to make it much harder to intercept digital communication.

For several years, technologists have urged the Trump administration to back research on artificial intelligence — which could affect things as diverse as weapons and transportation — and quantum computing, a new way to build super-powerful computers. China’s government, in particular, has made building these machines a priority, and some national security experts worry that the United States is at risk of falling behind.

The proposed spending follows earlier administration moves. In 2018, President Trump signed a law that earmarked $1.2 billion for quantum research. The Energy Department recently began distributing its portion of that money — about $625 million — to research labs in industry, academia and government.

“The dollars we have put into quantum information science have increased by about fivefold over the last three years,” said Paul Dabbar, under secretary for science at the Energy Department, in an interview.
I actually wish that this were legitimate. It would be an exciting area of cryptologic research, and open up a whole new arena for security analysis.

But it is all bogus. There is no practical value to a quantum internet.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Rovelli rejects Eternalism

Physicist Carlo Rovelli just wrote an essay on the philosophy of time, favoring Neither Presentism nor Eternalism. He relies heavily on "Einstein’s conventional definition of simultaneity", without mentioning that the notion is entirely due to Poincare, years before Einstein.

Shortly after the formulation of special relativity, Einstein's former math professor Minkowski found an elegant reformulation of special relativity in terms of the four dimensional geometry that we call today Minkowski space. Einstein at first rejected the idea. (`A pointless mathematical complication'.) But he soon changed his mind and embraced it full heart, making it the starting point of general relativity, where Minkowski space is understood as the local approximation to a four-dimensional, pseudo-Riemannian manifold, representing physical spacetime.

The mathematics of Minkowski and general relativity suggested an alternative to Presentism: the entire four-dimensional spacetime is `equally real now', and becoming is illusory. This I call here Eternalism.
This is cleverly written to convince you that Minkowski derived a 4D geometry version of relativity from Einstein's work. This is not true.

Poincare was the first to formulate a 4D geometry version of relativity, and that paper was written before Einstein published anything on the subject. Minkowski's 4D space was developed directly from Poincare's work, not Einstein. Minkowski does cite Einstein's paper, but does not use anything from it, and it is not clear that Einstein had any influence on Minkowski at all. From Poincare's paper, Minkowski gets the 4D formalism, the pseudo-Riemannian metric, the 4D Lorentz transformations, and the 4D covariance of Maxwell's equations.
This subtle mistake of McTaggart is the same mistake as that which lies at the root of Eternalism. The ensemble of the events of the world is four-dimensional, and we can embrace it within a single image. But this is not a denial of becoming, no more than a single chart of the British royal dynasties is a denial of the fact that events happened in England along the centuries.
Rovelli is right that believing in relativity and using Minkowski does not a belief that all times exist at once. Some people seem to believe that relativity requires determination and a denial of the present. One can still have different philosophical views of time.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The truth matters

SciAm posts this opnion:
Scientists Must Stand Up for Internationalism ...

Scientists should therefore be extremely concerned that the burgeoning national populist attacks on globalism will ultimately impair scientific progress—if they have not already. Funding for international scientific projects could wither, and foreign scientists may become unwelcome in nations other than their own, restraining information exchanges. We might even witness a reversion to the scientific fragmentation of the 1930s, when some eminent German physicists championed “Deutsche Physik” as superior to that of other nations.

To his great credit, Albert Einstein flatly rejected such nationalistic rhetoric. During World War I, he refused to add his name to the Manifesto of the 93 German Intellectuals, which touted German cultural superiority; instead, he embraced internationalism. When the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, he was in the United States, and soon decided not to return to Germany.
This is a simpler explanation -- Einstein did not consider himself a German.

Einstein lived in Italy for a while as a teenager. He was educated in the French part of Switzerland. He was working in Switzerland when he published his famous papers. His first wife was Serbian. He was a Zionist all his life.
As California Representative Adam Schiff said before the U.S. Senate on January 24, "The truth matters." ...

In doing so, scientists can help lead the world back to the rational, rules-based order that has characterized diplomatic relations for decades.
Whoa! Is he trying to say we should impeach and convict President Trump, and let Deep State hawks revive the Cold War?

SciAm has always had a left-wing political slant, but this is bizarre. Citing Einstein on nationalism and Schiff on truth? Just what is that "rational, rules-based order"?

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The future is not the past

I just heard this on NPR Radio:
SEAN CARROLL: To a physicist, time is a label on the universe.

RAZ: Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist.

CARROLL: At CalTech.

RAZ: And physicists like Sean think about time very differently from you and me.

CARROLL: To a physicist, the universe is this thing, it's full of stuff, and it keeps happening over and over again. And this goes back to, you know, ancient astronomers. The Earth revolves around the sun, and it rotates around its axis 365 times. So the universe is filled with repetitive, cyclic moments, and time is just the label on those different moments.

RAZ: Those labels - one day, one month, one year - make up what Sean and other physicists call the arrow of time, meaning that time travels in one direction. That's why you were younger in the past, while you'll be older in the future, why you remember one and not the other. But here's the problem. That difference between past and future is nowhere to be found in the laws of physics because in physics, there is no arrow of time.

CARROLL: When modern physics came to be from people like Galileo and Newton up through Einstein, we realized something very gradually, which is that the deep down laws of physics don't distinguish between the past and the future. They treat them completely symmetrically as if they were just replaceable with each other. So as a physicist, there's almost more work to be done in understanding why time works the way it does than as a person on the street because you have to reconcile the fact that there is a difference between past and future with the fact that that difference doesn't appear anywhere in your fundamental equations.

RAZ: In the laws of physics, there is no intrinsic difference between the past and the future.

CARROLL: That is exactly right.

RAZ: Which theoretically means what?

CARROLL: So if you think about time going from the far, far, far past - let's say the Big Bang was not the beginning. Let's say there was sort of an infinite amount of time before the Big Bang, and there's an infinite amount of time after the present moment. It's possible there are regions of the universe where their notion of past and future are backwards compared to ours, where they call the past what we call the future and vice versa. That's completely allowed because the underlying laws of physics don't distinguish.
It appeared to be a rerun from 2015.

I don't know how a Caltech physicist can say such nonsense. He later acknowledges that entropy is increasing with time, but he argues that is just because the Big Bang was low entropy.

Of course the laws of physics distinguish past from future.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Carroll rejects panpsychism

Jerry Coyne agrees with Sean M. Carroll about panpsychism failing to explain consciousness:
Goff himself, in the podcast below, repeatedly states that he’s “heartened” by the increasing (but still minority) view among philosophers that panpsychism is the way to go in explaining consciousness. And others, like physicist Lee Smolin, authors Annaka Harris and Philip Pullman, and philosopher Stephen Law, have endorsed Goff’s new trade book, though this doesn’t mean they all endorse panpsychism. ...

Sean, of course, is a physicist, cosmologist, and author, who knows a lot about philosophy. Debating him is Philip Goff, a philosopher at Durham University and perhaps the most vociferous advocate of panpsychism (he has a new book about it). Sean states from the outset that he doesn’t accept panpsychism, and that materialism (his view of the world) is perfectly capable of explaining consciousness, though it’s a hard problem and will take a long time to understand. ...

A brief view of the controversy. Goff avers that materialism won’t help us understand consciousness because all it produces are correlations between brain activity and conscious experience. That, he says, is useless because it doesn’t enable us to get at the heart of consciousness: subjective experience or “qualia”. As he says, “How can you capture in an equation the spiciness of paprika?” ...

In response to Goff’s statement that we need to know what consciousness really is,  Carroll answers he doesn’t really care about the “intrinsic nature of subjective experience”. If you have consciousness and know how it’s produced from neurons and the brain, that’s all there is to know.

As I said, the heart of the disagreement starts about 71 minutes in, when Goff argues that yes, everything is conscious: even the mass, spin, and charge of physical particles like electrons are forms of consciousness: a “limited form of conscious experience.” But that’s about as far as he goes in defining consciousness of inanimate objects. When Carroll asks him if he means that everything is conscious, because everything has physical properties, and whether the the Universe’s wave function is also conscious (Sean talks about that wave function his latest book Something Deeply Hidden), Goff gives a reluctant “yes”. Goff also declares that panpsychism is completely congruent with what physics tell us about the Universe. 
Before the discovery of DNA, people wondered whether life could be reduced to chemistry. We do not know whether consciousness can be similarly reduced.

SciAm also has an article on panpsychism.

It is funny to see these guys argue about who is being more materialist.

Coyne and Carroll do not even believe in free will, so they must have a very limited view of consciousness. What is consciousness, if not the ability to come to your own conclusions about yourself and the world? If they don't believe in that, they I say they don't believe in consciousness.

I am not sure it makes sense to say that electrons have a tiny bit of consciousness, but I am not sure it is any crazier than someone thinking a century ago that a single DNA molecule could contain the mystery of life, in coded form.

I hate to see mainstream science popularizers promoting their personal speculations as if they were scientific facts.

Jerry Coyne argues:
Like Massimo, I’m perplexed, because when you ask Goff to tell us in what sense electrons are “conscious”, he just redefines their properties — spin, mass, charge, and so on — as consciousness. But if you pull that trick, then explaining human consciousness just becomes a purely physical problem, given Goff’s addendum that when you bundle enough conscious atoms and molecules and neurons together, you get a human brain. In other words, why isn’t consciousness then an epiphenomenon of the collection of molecules that make up the brain?

Further, Goff seems to think there is some “intrinsic nature” of matter that isn’t given by its behavior and observable properties. But to a physicist, the described properties of an electron completely characterize an electron for any purpose that we want. And if you call those properties “consciousness” and say that when there are enough conscious particles in a lump you get “higher” humanlike consciousness, then you’re saying nothing beyond describing neuroscientists are already trying to do. There are no essences beyond what we can observe. Or, if there are, Goff can’t tell us what they are, though he strains mightily to do so.
No, the electron is not completely characterized by mass, charge, and spin.

To see why, just read this new SciAm article on double-slit and triple-slit experiments. As it explains, photons and electrons give interference patterns that cannot be understood from just the quantum numbers of the particles. Indeed, the patterns disappear if you put detectors in the slits.

Quantum mechanics uses wave functions to predict these interference patterns, and the wave function have info that goes far beyond the quantum numbers. Because the theory is so successful, many are tempted to say that the wave function completely characterizes the electron. But we don't know that. The wave function is not observable, and we are almost never sure that we even have the right wave function.

Textbooks sometimes say that the electron is completely characterized by mass, charge, and spin, because there is a quantum theory of identical particles. All electrons are identical in the sense that if you have a lot of them in a system, there is a symmetry that applies to them. The symmetry has experimental consequences, so we are very confident about it. I am not disputing that.

But the wave function encodes other info, such as position, momentum, and entanglement with other particles. The wave function successfully predicts experiments, but physicists commonly complain that it is not telling us the whole story.

So based on current physics, it is possible that an electron has some infinitesimal consciousness.

A philosopher law professor suggests that panpsychism is the most preposterous of currently fashionable philosophical views. He links to a poll comparing it to other supposedly-preposterous views, like free will. I am sure that philosophers have much more preposterous views than these!

Update: Here are the poll results:
Poll description

Rank order the philosophical views, below, from the MOST to the LEAST preposterous.
1. External world skepticism
2. Realism about possible worlds
3. Panpsychism
4. Libertarianism about free will
5. Grounding is a real and unitary relation
6. Non-naturalist moral realism

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Theoretical Physics has lost its way

Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder writes:
In the foundations of physics, we have not seen progress since the mid 1970s when the standard model of particle physics was completed. Ever since then, the theories we use to describe observations have remained unchanged. Sure, some aspects of these theories have only been experimentally confirmed later. The last to-be-confirmed particle was the Higgs-boson, predicted in the 1960s, measured in 2012. But all shortcomings of these theories – the lacking quantization of gravity, dark matter, the quantum measurement problem, and more – have been known for more than 80 years. And they are as unsolved today as they were then. ...

Instead of examining the way that they propose hypotheses and revising their methods, theoretical physicists have developed a habit of putting forward entirely baseless speculations. Over and over again I have heard them justifying their mindless production of mathematical fiction as “healthy speculation” – entirely ignoring that this type of speculation has demonstrably not worked for decades and continues to not work. There is nothing healthy about this. It’s sick science. And, embarrassingly enough, that’s plain to see for everyone who does not work in the field. ...

Why don’t physicists have a hard look at their history and learn from their failure? Because the existing scientific system does not encourage learning. Physicists today can happily make career by writing papers about things no one has ever observed, and never will observe. This continues to go on because there is nothing and no one that can stop it.
She is right. Complaints about the quantum measurement problem or quantum gravity are commonplace, but we are right where we were many decades ago.

Dr. Bee is never going to get tenure anywhere, as physicists do not like to hear this.

The Economist mag has an article about how physicists want to build a new particle collider, but the outlook is bleak for new physics:
As Jon Butterworth, a member of the team that discovered the Higgs boson in 2012, puts it, “My whole career there’s been a very clear road map of what we need to do next and now there isn’t one. We’ve outgrown our road map. Experiment is ahead of the theory. It’s an interesting and difficult time.”
It would be nice is a new accelerator brought us some new physics, but it is a fantasy.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

More funding for quantum computing

NextGov reports:
The Energy Department pledged up to $625 million to help stand up two to five multidisciplinary quantum information science research centers between now and 2025.

According to a funding opportunity announcement launched Friday, the agency will abide by a mandate set forth in a 2018 law to support the creation of several QIS centers to expedite revolutionary advances in science and quantum-based technology — and ultimately continue to secure the United States’ position at the forefront of the global quantum computing landscape.

"Critical to America's leadership in this field, the new quantum research centers provide training and collaboration opportunities for the next generation of QIS scientists and engineers,” Ivanka Trump, the president’s adviser and daughter, said in a statement. She went on to thank Energy for working to strengthen America’s “competitiveness in this industry of the future."

President Trump signed the National Quantum Initiative Act over a year ago, which helped catalyze a range of federal investments and industry advancements in QIS. On top of requiring coordinated, multi-agency efforts to boost QIS research and training, the law also called for the establishment of four to ten competitively awarded QIS research centers. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said in a statement Friday that the agency wants to help “ensure that America remains a world leader in this rapidly advancing field.”
Nobody wants to say that this is a boondoggle.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Black hole information is just philosophy

Physicist Coel is a big believer in science being able to answer all questions, he writes in a review of a philosophy ook:
But, equally, theoretical physicists don’t work with laboratory equipment, taking measurements, they work with ideas and concepts. The internal coherence of concepts about the world is just as much a concern for scientists as for philosophers.

A current example is the black-hole information paradox, where the paradox is that current models of black holes suggest that “information” (which itself is a highly abstract concept, not a direct observable) is destroyed when material falls into a black hole. And yet, a basic principle of quantum mechanics (the best theory of matter, thought to apply everywhere) says that information can never be destroyed. Trying to resolve the inconsistency is currently exercising many of the world’s top theoretical physicists, partly because the solution might point the way to a model of “quantum gravity”, the long-sought unification of quantum mechanics with general relativity. Yet this activity is entirely conceptual, since observations and experiments pertaining directly to the issue are way beyond current capabilities. Physicists still regard the enquiry as “scientific”, even if some philosophers might want to declare it to be “metaphysics”.
This is such a terrible example. Because information is such an abstract concept, we don't know if it is destroyed in a black hole or anywhere else.

Also, conserving information is not described as a basic principle of quantum mechanics in any textbook I have.

And there is no possibility that resolving this supposed paradox will ever have anything to do with quantum gravity.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Everettian QM makes no predictions

Sean M. Carroll is a big proponent of many-worlds theory, having just written a book about it. The physics part of it is demolished by a new paper:
Epistemic separability and Everettian branches --- a critique of Sebens and Carroll

by Dawid, Richard and Friederich, Simon

We discuss the proposal by Sebens and Carroll to derive the Born rule in Everettian quantum mechanics from a principle they call ‘ESP-QM.’ We argue that the proposal fails: ESP-QM is not, as Sebens and Carroll argue, a ‘less general version’ of an independently plausible principle ‘ESP’ and can only be motivated by the empirical success of quantum mechanics, including use of the Born rule. Therefore, ESP-QM cannot have the status of a meta-theoretical principle of reasoning and provides no viable basis for deriving the Born rule. ...

Adherents of a `rationality principle' approach to Everettian QM, such as Deutsch and Wallace or Sebens and Carroll, acknowledge that Everettian QM does not allow for the deduction of objective probabilities of measurement outcomes. Moreover, they feel discontent with simply introducing the Born rule as a primitive instrumentalist principle. The proposed way out is to open up the additional playing field of requirements of rational reasoning in the given context.
Got that? Many-worlds does not make any quantitative predictions. None.

It is not an alternative to Copenhagen, or to any scientific theory. There is nothing scientific about it. It is "not even wrong", to use the phrase Peter Woit popularized. It is just some meaningless fantasy.

The whole thing is so ridiculous that it is hard to take seriously anyone who believes in it. Yes, it causes me to doubt everything else Carroll says. Carroll is essentially saying: "QM appears to be a wonderful theory with many accurate predictions, but I don't like it so I want to replace it with a theory that does not make any predictions."

Dawid is a proponent of string theory, which does not make any predictions either, but the string theorists at least promise that they might get to some testable prediction in 50 years or more. The many-worlds people pretty much rule out the possibility of ever making any predictions.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Smolin preaches nonlocality nonsense

I posted against those obsessed with quantum understanding, arguing that they are just resisting the accepted physics of 1930.

This is not a straw man, and here is another guy stuck in 19th century physics.

Physicist Lee Smolin explains his view of physics:
Then there's a small number, and I'm one of them, that take the problems in quantum mechanics as evidence that the theory is wrong, or at least incomplete. ...

There is a key idea that underlies my work in that area, and that's the problem of what's called nonlocality. This is a very important hint. Nonlocality is the phenomenon — also sometimes called entanglement — that if you have two quantum systems and they interact and then separate, they share properties, in that the choice of what property we measure on one of those particles, even if they're very far away from each other, affects what's measurable in the other particle. That's a statement of what's sometimes called Bell's theorem, and it's been put in a form where it can be tested experimentally. The experiments clearly show that the assumption that the two particles are independent because they're far away from each other is wrong. If you want a complete description of the results of experiments on these kinds of systems, and not a statistical description in terms of probabilities, which is all that quantum theory gives in these situations, you have to posit explicit interactions and communication between the two particles.

I believe that's right. That's what would be called a nonlocal theory. Traditionally, we call it a nonlocal hidden variable theory. There are a number of these — Louis de Broglie invented the first, called pilot-wave theory. It was laughed out of town by people in the late 1920s. There were theorems that showed it was impossible in the early thirties, and it was basically dropped by de Broglie and everybody else and then rediscovered by David Bohm. That's the first nonlocal hidden variable theory we have, and there are others.
No, this is just a misunderstanding of basic physics. Once separated, the two particles are independent. Nothing you do to one can possibly have any effect on the other.

Hidden variable theories were laughed out of town because they were throwbacks to outmoded theories that had been discarded as wrong. Bell's theorem and subsequent experiments showed that they were impossible, unless you adopt some mystical views. Sensible physicists concluded that the conventional wisdom of the 1920s was correct. Instead, Smolin takes the theorem as encouragement to become a mystic.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Reasons to be a quantum computing skeptic

Craig Costello gave this TED Talk on how quantum computers will the modern cryptography that is used in smart phones are everything else.

He says public key cryptography depends on the difficulty of factoring integers, and quantum computers will crack that in 10 to 30 years. This poses a risk today because we have military secrets that are supposed to be kept for longer than that, and our enemies may already be stockpiling intercepted data in the hopes that a quantum computer will decode them some day.

He ended saying, "No matter what technilogical future we live in, our secrets will always be part of our humanity, and that is worth protecting."

Really 30-year military secrets are part of our humanity?

Okay, he is just trying to sell his crypto work. He is a cryptographer working on ideas in search of a practical application. That is not why I am posting this.

To convince the TED audience that existing crypto methods are insecure, he explained that the vulnerability was from some startling XX century physics discoveries, that cryptographers did not account for:

(1) a proton can be in two places at once.
(2) two objects, on opposite sides of the universe, can influence each other instantaneously.
(3) a computer can make use of a calculation in a parallel universe.

When were these discovered? Who got the Nobel prizes for these discoveries?

This is why I am a quantum computing skeptic.

Academic cryptography became irrelevant to the real world in the 1990s when all the major problems got solved. The quantum computing hype neatly aligns with research justifications and government grants.

But my real skepticism is based on the facts that the arguments for quantum computing depend on goofy interpretations of physics are not backed up by experiment.

Yes, one can believe in some standard interpretation of QM, such as textbook/Copenhagen/QBism, and still believe in quantum computing, but then quantum computing just seems like a wild conjecture.

Many physicists firmly believe that quantum computing is just an engineering problem. When they try to convince you, they nearly always rely on one or more of the above three "discoveries".

Saturday, December 28, 2019

New essay contest on unpredictability

FQXi announces:
At FQXi we're excited to launch our latest essay contest, with generous support from the Fetzer Franklin Fund and the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation. The topic for this contest is: Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability.

For a brief time in history, it was possible to imagine that a sufficiently advanced intellect could, given sufficient time and resources, in principle understand how to mathematically prove everything that was true. They could discern what math corresponds to physical laws, and use those laws to predict anything that happens before it happens. That time has passed. Gödel’s undecidability results (the incompleteness theorems), Turing’s proof of non-computable values, the formulation of quantum theory, chaos, and other developments over the past century have shown that there are rigorous arguments limiting what we can prove, compute, and predict. While some connections between these results have come to light, many remain obscure, and the implications are unclear. Are there, for example, real consequences for physics — including quantum mechanics — of undecidability and non-computability? Are there implications for our understanding of the relations between agency, intelligence, mind, and the physical world?

In this essay contest, we open the floor for investigations of such connections, implications, and speculations. We invite rigorous but bold and open-minded investigation of the meaning of these impossibilities for reality, and for us, its residents. The contest is open now, and we will be accepting entries until March 16th.
The contest is open to anyone, but the judging rules are slanted towards their own members, and and the panel of judges is secret.

Last time I submitted an essay, it was summarily rejected without explanation.

When was that "brief time in history"? The 19th century, I guess. By the 1930s, we knew about chaos, undecidability, etc.

Did scientists in the 19C really believe that someday a computer could be programmed to determine all mathematical truths and predict all physical phenomena? I doubt it. That would require a belief in a extreme form of determinism, and a depressing view of humanity. We would all be pre-programmed robots. Some man's brilliant mathematical idea would be no better than memorized digits of pi. A computer could do it better.

My hunch is that 19C scientists believed that humans were better than just robots, and that there were limits to knowledge.

If I told them that in 2019 we would have useful 5-day weather forecasts, would they have argued it should be possible to forecast weather months or years in advance? I doubt it.

When quantum mechanics was discovered in the 1920s, it described physics on an atomic level, as previously not possible. Scientists learned that they could make amazingly precise predictions, and that there were fundamental uncertainties blocking other types of predictions. Which discovery was more surprising? My guess is that the ability to make precise predictions was much more surprising.

Does any of this relate to agency and intelligence? I will have to think about it.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Obsessed with quantum understanding

Physicist Stephen Boughn writes Why Are We Obsessed with "Understanding" Quantum Mechanics?:
Richard Feynman famously declared, "I think that I can safely say that nobody really understands quantum mechanics." Sean Carroll lamented the persistence of this sentiment in a recent opinion piece entitled, "Even Physicists Don't Understand Quantum Mechanics. Worse, they don't seem to want to understand it." Quantum mechanics is arguably the greatest achievement of modern science and by and large we absolutely understand quantum theory. Rather, the "understanding" to which these two statements evidently refer concerns the ontological status of theoretical constructs.
I agree with this. Quantum mechanics has been well-understood since 1930. It has become fashionable to rant about quantum mysteries, but some very smart physicists pondered those mysteries in the 1930s, and came to conclusions that are much more sensible than anything Carroll and other modern quantum expositors say. That is also Boughn's view:
I confess that during my student days, and even thereafter, I was mightily bothered by these quantum mysteries and enjoyed spending time and effort worrying about them. Of course, as Carroll also laments, I avoided letting this avocation interfere with my regular physics research, otherwise, my academic career undoubtedly would have suffered.4 As I approached the twilight of my career (I'm now retired), I happily resumed my ambition to "understand quantum mechanics" and have ended up writing several papers on the subject.5 Furthermore, as others before me, I now proudly profess that I finally understand quantum mechanics J. Even so, I'm somewhat chagrinned that my understanding is essentially the same as that expressed by Niels Bohr in the 1930s, minus some of Bohr's more philosophical trappings.6 Some have criticized my epiphany with remarks to the effect that I am too dismissive of the wonderful mysteries of quantum mechanics by relegating its role to that of an algorithm for making predictions while at the same time too reverent of insights provided by classical mechanics. I've come to believe that, quite to the contrary, those who still pursue an understanding of Carroll's quantum riddles are burdened with a classical view of reality and fail to truly embrace the fundamental quantum aspects of nature.
Again, my experience is similar. I used to accept this story that there are great quantum mysteries that we need to solve with research into quantum foundations. But the problem is that people like Sean M. Carroll just don't want to accept quantum mechanics, and want to fit it into a classical physics paradigm.

Carroll subscribes to many-worlds, and claims that it solves the measurement problem. That is just crackpot stuff. The textbooks of the 1930s were vastly more sensible. There is no sense in which many-worlds solves the measurement problem, or any other problem.

Some people claim that Einstein discovered entanglement in his 1935 EPR paper, but this paper says that Einstein and Bohr were already arguing about entanglement in 1927.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

There was a year zero

NPR Radio news:
NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Sandi Duncan, managing editor of the Farmers' Almanac, about the debate over when a decade ends, and when a new one technically begins. ...

MARTIN: I mean, it feels like a big deal, 2019 to 2020. Why is there such a debate about whether or not this is the end of the decade?

SANDI DUNCAN: You know, it's really interesting. But I hate to tell you it's not.

MARTIN: It's not?

DUNCAN: Actually, no. We ran a story several years ago. In fact, you know, remember the big celebration in 1999. People thought that the new millennial was going to start the next year. But really, a decade begins actually with the year ending in the numeral one. There was never a year zero. So when we started counting time way back when, it goes one through 10. So a decade is 10 years. So in actuality, the next decade won't start until January 1, 2021.
Wow, there is some crazy reasoning.

She says that the twenties will not start until 2021 because there was never a year zero!

There certainly was a year 0. It was 2019 years ago. Nobody called it year 0 at the time, just as nobody called the next year year 1 at the time, as the Christian calendar was only adopted a couple of centuries later.

The year 0 is also called 1 BC, which is confusing, and reflects a poor definition, but is not a reason to say that we need to wait another year to start the twenties.

Merry Christmas.

Apparently somebody thought that a good way to standardize the calendar was to say that Jesus was born on Dec. 25, 1 AD. Mathematicians might have said that it makes more sense to use Jan 1, 0 AD, or maybe the 0th day of the 0th month of the 0th year. Then our calendar years would measure the age of Jesus. But that appears to have been not the intent, as they have him being born near the end of year 1.

Of course estimates of Jesus's birthday could be off by 5 or 10 years. The estimate was just a way of fixing the calendar.