Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hippies tried to save physics

John Gribbin writes this review in the WSJ:
Among the many people in San Francisco taking drugs in the early 1970s were members of a maverick group of Berkeley physicists who called themselves the Fundamental Fysiks Group. The young scientists dabbled in mind-altering drugs as they searched for a quantum-physics-based explanation for such phenomena as telepathy and extrasensory perception. The scientific basis for this quest was the experimental confirmation that once two quantum entities (such as electrons) have interacted with one another, they remain connected by what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance." The connection is technically known as entanglement; if one of the entities is prodded, the other one jumps.

As David Kaiser deftly spells out in "How the Hippies Saved Physics," these physicists based their work on good science, however drug-fogged were their aims. Entanglement is at the heart of today's uncrackable quantum encryption; it makes the "teleporting" of particles over distances of several miles feasible; and entanglement may soon be employed in the production of quantum computers that will make the best contemporary computer look like an abacus.
No, Einstein was wrong, and there is no such "experimental confirmation". I hope to explain that in detail later. It is partial explained in How Einstein Ruined Physics. I also mention this book below.

Gribbin once wrote a wacky book on The Jupiter Effect, as criticized here. Since that book, he has been a more mainstream science journalist, and some of his books explain physics pretty well. He goes on:
Mr. Kaiser makes a neat analogy with the way, in the 19th century, people would try to invent perpetual-motion machines. In trying to explain why perpetual-motion machines could not work, physicists were led to a deeper understanding of physics, one that became a foundation of thermodynamics. The moral is that it is always useful to have a few mavericks prodding away at the fringes of science to keep folks on their toes.

As for quantum cryptography, it has been making steady advances since the day in 2004 when it was employed for a secure communications channel in a financial transaction between a major bank and the Viennese City Hall. Similar signals have been tested using wireless transmissions over a distance of about 100 miles, sufficient for them to be bounced off Earth-orbiting communications satellites in the future. Before long, the Internet is likely to be using quantum cryptography, making it impossible for hackers to intercept your credit-card details when you make a purchase. Articles about quantum physics now appear on newspaper business pages as well is in Scientific American.
I accept that analogy. I believe that quantum cryptography and quantum computers are just like those 19th century perpetual-motion machines, and will never work because they are contrary to established laws of physics. At best, their failure will convince people that Bohr and others were right about quantum mechanics all along.

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