Friday, February 24, 2012

Universe not so interconnected

Sean Carroll writes on his Cosmic Variane blog:
More recently, though, another excerpt from this lecture has been passed around, this one about ramifications of the Pauli Exclusion Principle. (Headline at io9: “Brian Cox explains the interconnectedness of the universe, explodes your brain.”)

The problem is that, in this video, the proffered mind-bending consequences of quantum mechanics aren’t actually correct.
Lubos Motl agrees:
It's very refreshing to agree with Sean Carroll (and a guy named Tom Swanson) on something.

Brian Cox wanted to use quantum mechanics to defend the Gaia religious proposition that "everything is connected with everything else" (the last sentence of the video above). I am convinced that this main "punch line" he wanted to prove was predetermined by ideological prejudices and goals.

The vague misconception that "everything is connected with everything else" is a pillar of the broader environmentalist movement into which Cox indisputably belongs.
I explained Cox's errors here back in Dec. 2011:
He is talking about a theoretical effect that is not measurable unless the electrons are very close. I think that it is a bizarre and unscientific point. It is like saying that my finger has a graviational effect on Venus. If so, it is negligible and unobservable. ... The idea that everything is connected to everything else seems contrary to causality. If that is what Cox means to say, then he ought to say whether it is contrary to causality.
I was complaining because the Bad Astronomer Phil Plait endorsed this video, in spite of its faults.

A theme of my blog is to attack real scientists who present unscientific conclusions. That is, I attack pseudoscience, but I am really not interested in astrology and other such matters. I prefer to point out pseudoscience in academically respectable channels. There is a lot of it in quantum mechanics.

I just noticed that Carroll and Motl were responding to Cox's defense of his video in the WSJ:
I recently gave a lecture, screened on the BBC, about quantum theory, in which I pointed out that “everything is connected to everything else”. This is literally true if quantum theory as currently understood is not augmented by new physics. This means that the subatomic constituents of your body are constantly shifting, albeit absolutely imperceptibly, in response to events happening an arbitrarily large distance away; for the sake of argument, let’s say on the other side of the Universe.

This statement received some criticism in scientific circles. Not because it’s wrong, because it isn’t; without this behavior, we wouldn’t be able to explain the bonds that hold molecules together. The problem is that it sounds like woo woo, and quantum theory attracts woo-woo merde-merchants like the pronouncements of New Age mystics attract flies – metaphorically speaking.
I guess that I am one of those that Cox is responding to. It is "woo woo" when he claims a scientific truth and then qualifies it with "albeit absolutely imperceptibly".


  1. I don’t really understand Cox. He seems to want it both ways – academic respectability and gee-whizz exaggeration within the same role.

    I can't help feeling it's seriously irresponsible.

  2. Glad to see a comment. There were some problems. I made some blog changes in the hopes that they would fix the comment posting bug. But I think that there is still a problem.