Thursday, May 31, 2012

Physics skepticism

The two great 20C physical theories are relativity and Quantum mechanics. There is also a well-known history of relativity skepticism for various reasons. Some of this continues today, as with this list of Counterexamples to Relativity.

I am coming to the view that skepticism about quantum mechanics is 100x greater. Every month papers get published in reputable physics journals that question aspects of the theory that I thought were settled in 1930. The issues involve interpretations, ontology, foundations, or some paradox. I guess there are occasional arguments about the relativistic twin paradox, but no reputable physicist would waste time on an issue that was settled a century ago. And yet reputable physicis do waste time on silly quantum paradoxes.

Einstein was famously a quantum skeptic, but the consensus at the time was that he was wrong. I am going to post more about why I think physicists are wrong today.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Einstein's clock paradox

Galina Weinstein has posted another Einstein draft paper, Einstein's Clocks and Langevin's Twins.
2. Clock Paradox
From this Einstein derived a "peculiar consequence":3
"If at the points A and B of K there are clocks at rest which, considered from the system at rest, are running synchronously, and if the clock at A is moved with the velocity v along the line connecting B, then upon arrival of this clock at B the two clocks no longer synchronize,...".

The above "peculiar consequence" came to be known as "the Clock Paradox".

John Stachel explained that, the most new important feature of time to emerge from the special theory of relativity is the clock paradox: a comparison of one clock in a moving system with many clocks in the rest system; there is no reciprocity, but one-many relationship. The clock paradox that was predicted by Einstein embodies the difference between Einstein and pre-relativistic electrodynamics of moving bodies.4

Einstein proposed an experimental test for the clock paradox: "From this we conclude that a balance-wheel clock that is located at the Earth's equator must run very slightly slower than an absolutely identical clock, subjected to otherwise identical conditions, that is located at one of the Earth's poles".5
Lorentz and Poincare had the dilation formulas previously, but did not explicitly mention the possibility that two clocks could fall out of synchronization just because they are moving differently. The closest was Poincare's 1904 St. Louis lecture, where he explains that a moving clock runs slow compared to the other, but did not say that it led to a paradox:
The watches adjusted in that way will not mark, therefore, the true time; they will mark what may be called the local time, so that one of them will be slow of the other. It matters little, since we have no means of perceiving it. All the phenomena which happen at A, for example, will be late, but all will be equally so, and the observer will not perceive it, since his watch is slow; so, as the principle of relativity requires, he will have no means of knowing whether he is at rest or in absolute motion.
But Einstein's experimental test is wrong. Two such clocks will not show a difference.

The closely related twin paradox causes trouble for relativity students even today, but Weinstein sees it as a Jewish issue:
The clock paradox was also an excuse for anti-Semites to blame the theory of relativity as an anti-German science and blame its author as well. In Berlin, Ernst Gehrcke, Philipp Lenard, and Paul Weyland advocated an anti-relativity propaganda campaign after 1916.17

In November 1918 Einstein answered the first two by a Galilean dialogue between a relativist and a critic of the theory of relativity, "Dialogue about Objections to the Theory of Relativity" ...
Those arguments for and against the clock paradox did not involve any Jewish issues, as far as I know. Even when GPS was built a few years ago, I am told that some people were skeptical that relativity would be needed. Even today, Weinstein seems not to realize that Einstein's 1905 experiment test is wrong.

I don't deny that there was some German anti-semitism, and maybe some anti-German bias outside Germany. I just don't see what it had to do with the clock paradox, or with relativity skepticism.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What assumption is wrong?

SciAm announces:
Which of the basic assumptions of modern physics are wrong? Announcing the fourth Foundational Questions Institute essay contest

There’s something unnerving about unifying physics. The two theories that need to be unified, quantum field theory and Einstein’s general theory of relativity, are both highly successful. Both make predictions good to as many decimal places as experimentalists can manage. Both are grounded in compelling principles. Both do have flaws — including an unfortunate tendency to produce the number ∞ — but those flaws remain safely behind the scenes, never undermining the theories’ empirical successes.

And yet, if the theories are incompatible, something has to give. That is what makes unification so hard. In conferences, I see physicists go down the list of assumptions that underpin their theories. Each, it seems, is rock solid. But they can’t all be right. Maybe one will, on closer inspection, prove to be not like the others. Or maybe physicists have left the culprit off their list because it is so deeply embedded in their way of thinking that they don’t even recognize as an assumption. As economist John Maynard Keynes wrote, “The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify… into every corner of our minds.”

So, for its latest essay contest, the Foundational Questions Institute is asking entrants to ferret out these mental interlopers: “Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?”
I am tempted to submit an essay arguing that our basic wrong assumption is that there is some incompatibility between relativity and quantum mechanics, and that physics needs to unified by resolving it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Trashing SJ Gould

California CSULB Psychology professor Kevin MacDonald writes:
Stephen Jay Gould is definitely high on the list of ethnically motivated pseudoscientists ... I was struck by how many evolutionary biologists viewed Gould as a charlatan and were willing to say so in public. ...

Gould’s importance comes from his position at Harvard as well as his access to the media....

Gould is a Jewish intellectual hero, so it’s not surprising to see attempts to rehabilitate him. ...

Gould was a major voice of the Jewish intellectual left — especially influential in the decline of Darwinism in the social sciences. To that extent, his life work can be seen as an evolutionary battle on behalf of his own group against his perceived enemies — people of European descent whom he blamed for historical anti-Jewish attitudes and ultimately for the Holocaust.
I have criticized the late Gould, but I was not aware of the connections between his writings and Jewish identity. For examples of my criticisms, I did not agree with him denying human evolution, liking to quote Freud, saying that science is often a political prejudice, and giving bad descriptions of scientific facts.

For an example of his silliness, here is a video of Gould quoting Freud and Marx to argue that great ideas are in dehumanizing revolutions, that evolution does not make progress, and that science is not objective.

All of this understates the problem with him. Gould was not just a Harvard professor with access to the media, as MacDonald says. He was the most famous scientist in the world, and he was the leading public expositor of what science was all about. He was elected president of thee AAAS, the leading American science organization. His most famous work, The Mismeasure of Man, became of the most broadly acclaimed science books of the last 50 years.

And yet nearly everything Gould says in this book is wrong. He was repeatedly refuted by other scholars, and never defended himself against the criticisms, except to imply that his critics were racists. He was a fraud.

Gould used (or misused) his status to promote his leftist (Marxist) views. Scientists are entitled to their political and religious views, of course, but he would give fallacious pseudoscientific arguments for them. There are also many non-Jews who are arrogant, over-opinionated, mistaken, and over-ambitious.

Gould has been called "the second most influential historian of science (next to Thomas Kuhn)." A SciAm blog just reprinted a profile of Kuhn that shows his confusing disregard for scientific truth. Both were famously promoters of Paradigm shift theory, which I sharply criticize in my book as being historically inaccurate and faulty as a description of science.

I used to think that it was impossible for a high-status and highly-respected scientist to be so wrong on so many things. (There is also a hot dispute between Dawkins and EO Wilson over what evolution is all about, but I have not yet decided who is correct. I also got banned from Jerry Coyne's blog for saying, among other things, that Coyne harshly criticized Gould.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

New books reviewed

The NY Times has a review of Free Radicals: The secret anarchy of science, by Michael Brooks:
Scientists overlook inconvenient results, writes Mr. Brooks, a British science writer who holds a doctorate in quantum physics and writes a weekly column for The New Statesman. They ignore data that conflict with their ideas. Einstein, for example, bristled at criticism of his papers, withdrawing one submitted to The Physical Review after an anonymous peer reviewer pointed out an error. He published the paper elsewhere, Mr. Brooks writes, “complete with the mistake.”
Not exactly. Einstein revised the paper in accordance with some of the corrections to the anonymous referee. No credit to the referee, of course, and still wrong about gravity waves. See also this description (pdf).

There is also a podcast review saying that Einstein once did an experiment where got values of 1.02 and 1.45, when he was expecting 1.00. He published 1.02. A few years later, others discovered that the true value was 2.00.

The same paper has a review of How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog, Chad Orzel:
Discussing the Michelson-Morley experiment in the 1880s, which purported to disprove the previous findings of the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell about the speed of light, Professor Orzel calls it “arguably the greatest failed experiment in the history of physics.”
I do not think that they claimed to disprove Maxwell. What Michelson actually wrote in his 1881 paper was:
This conclusion directly contradicts the explanation of the phenomenon of aberration which has been hitherto generally accepted, and which presupposes that the earth moves through the ether, the latter remaining at rest.
The experiment showed that certain aether theories were wrong, but said nothing about whether the aether exists or not.
Maxwell (no relation to my dog) was right, as years of further experimentation would show. Not only that, but the failure of Michelson-Morley helped vanquish the old notion of a “luminiferous aether” through which light was supposed to move, and contributed to the mathematical tools Einstein needed to publish his first relativity papers in 1905. As Professor Orzel tells Emmy: “Einstein succeeded where others had failed by showing that a careful treatment of time and motion make these effects inevitable.”

Emmy: “Wait, Einstein didn’t come up with relativity on his own?”

Orzel: “Other people worked out all of the mathematical apparatus before him.”

Emmy: “So why is Einstein all famous, while I haven’t heard of these other guys?”

Orzel: “Because they all balked at the weirdness of the predictions, so none of them got it right.”
This is explained in my book, How Einstein Ruined Physics. It is not true that "they all balked at the weirdness". One of the weirdest predictions was that Michelson-Morley experiment, but Einstein's predecessors squarely addressed that and Einstein did not. Einstein historians mostly say that Einstein may not have even known about the experiment, altho Einstein's own explanations are contradictory on that point. The next weirdest prediction was local time, which contributed to the Nobel Prize in 1902 well before Einstein, as explained below.

There are 500 books on Einstein besides mine, but none give a straight answer to the dog's question, “So why is Einstein all famous, while I haven’t heard of these other guys?”

Following up Obama being the first gay President, physics popularist Brian Greene has a Newsweek cover story on his multiverse book:
“What really interests me is whether God had any choice in creating the world.”

That’s how Albert Einstein, in his characteristically poetic way, asked whether our universe is the only possible universe. ...

The multiverse, as this vast cosmos is called, is one of the most polarizing concepts to have emerged from physics in decades, inspiring heated arguments between those who propose that it is the next phase in our understanding of reality, and those who claim that it is utter nonsense, a travesty born of theoreticians letting their imaginations run wild.
I am going with utter nonsense. None of this is scientific.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Einstein's performance review

A reader sends the '05 Annual Performance Review: Albert Einstein that he might have gotten from the Swiss patent office. Funny. He unifies space and time, but that is not part of his job description, and he need to learn to share credit with others appropriately.

While Einstein's 1905 papers made a splash, it was not that big a splash. He continued to work at the patent office, and did not get an academic job until several years later after (1) Poincare published a geometric spacetime version of relativity, (2) Minkowski published a widely disseminated version of Poincare's relativity, (3) Poincare moved on to other subjects, and (4) Minkowski died. All of a sudden, relativity was a hot topic and Einstein was the young expert. The offers flowed in.

The closest I have to an actual performance review is this:

On July 6, 1909, Einstein handed his resignation notice from the Patent Office to Haller, effective October 15 1909.114 Haller placed on record that the Expert II Class had performed highly valued services. His departure is a loss to the office. However, Herr Einstein feels that teaching and scientific research are his real profession, and for that reason the Director of the Office made no attempt to bind him to the Office by better financial arrangements.115
The same article has this account of Einstein getting his first academic job at Zurich:
At the beginning of 1909, while Einstein was a Privatdozent at the University of Bern, Alfred Kleiner attended one of Einstein's lectures. His impression was that Einstein lectured poorly. ...

Einstein gave a lecture to the "Physical Society", and there he was able to correct the impression. On April 28th, 1909 Einstein reported to his close friend Conrad Habicht: "I am fairly sure now of getting my post at Zürich University".111

The faculty was not eager to accept Einstein. They wrote, "Herr Dr Einstein is an Israelite and since precisely to the Israelites among scholars are ascribed (in numerous cases not entirely without cause) all kinds of unpleasant peculiarities of character, such as intrusiveness, impudence, and a shopkeeper's mentality in the perception of their academic position. It should be said, however, that also among the Israelites there exist men who do not exhibit a trace of these disagreeable qualities and that it is not proper, therefore to disqualify a man only because he happens to be a Jew". And the committee and faculty did not consider it compatible with their dignity in democratic Zürich to adopt anti-Semitism as a matter of policy; so that the information which Kleiner provided about Einstein "reassured" them.112

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Quantum guru shuts down comments

MIT quantum computing guru Scott Aaronson now says:
I’ve further decided to impose a moratorium, on this blog, on all discussions about the validity of quantum mechanics in the microscopic realm, the reality of quantum entanglement, or the correctness of theorems such as Bell’s Theorem.
Furthermore, he has blocked my comment from a week before his moratorium:
Wow, this is getting nasty, as you try to start a boycott of FQXi. Why stop there? Let me remind you that MIT has a professor named Noam Chomsky who has endorsed X who politically supports Y. You can fill in the blanks. Therefore I am refusing any offer of an MIT professorship and urging all others to do the same, until MIT stops lending its legitimacy to Chomsky. I haven’t been getting any money from MIT anyway, but maybe communication about this issue with the MIT leadership will give hope that we’ll be able to resolve it to all sane parties’ satisfaction.

Just this week, Nature Physics published a paper that was submitted under the nonsensical title, “The quantum state cannot be interpreted statistically?” That title led me to believe that the authors had some mathematical misunderstanding of some trivial concept. Fortunately the editors required the authors to change the title to something less silly, as the paper does have some merit. But papers related to Bell’s theorem go downhill from there. For some reason, the whole subject causes otherwise educated people to say crazy things. Many physics professors advise their students to stay away from the subject, in the same way that they advise not to try LSD. So Joy Christian did not take the advice. He might still be right about quantum computers being impossible.

Bell’s Theorem is of course correct as a mathematical theorem, but its physical significance is hotly disputed. Some people claim that it is one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science, and others say that it is a trivial observation of no importance. No Nobel Prize has been given for work related to it. Gerard 't Hooft is arguably the most widely respected theoretical phyisicist alive today, and he disputes the accepted interpretations of Bell's theorem in 2007 and 2009 papers. No one disputes the validity of quantum mechanics until people like Aaronson claim that it entails quantum computers, and that has never been shown. I think that Aaronson was stung by some of the criticism of his boycott of a research institution that supports a quantum computing skeptic.

Aaronson has built is whole career on the quantum computing hypothesis, even tho he acknowledges that no quantum computer has been built, may not be built for a century, and may not even be possible. That is okay with me. I just object to him saying that it is necessary from the validity of quantum mechanics, and that skeptics should be ignored because they cannot prove the impossibility of quantum computers.

Update: Joy Christian has been fired.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Poincare recommended Lorentz for Nobel

Galina Weinstein posted Poincaré's Dynamics of the Electron - A Theory of Relativity? She says:
Hence, in May 1905, Poincaré and Einstein both had drafts of papers pertaining to the principle of relativity. Poincaré's draft led to a space-time mathematical theory of groups at the basis of which stood the postulate of relativity, and Einstein's draft led to a kinematical theory of relativity.
She then goes on to give an assortment of reasons for crediting Einstein and not Poincare.
Like Einstein Poincaré adopted a definition of distant simultaneity. However, unlike Einstein, Poincaré did not discover the relativity of simultaneity. In 1902, Poincaré wrote a letter to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm recommending the candidacy of Lorentz for a Nobel Prize in Physics. In trying to persuade the Nobel committee about Lorentz's achievements, Poincaré wrote the following, 31

"Why for example all the experiments devoted to demonstrating the Earth’s motion gave negative results? Evidently, there was one general reason behind this; this reason was discovered by Mr. Lorentz and he put it in a striking form with his ingenious invention of 'reduced time'. Two phenomena taking place in two different places can appear simultaneous even though they are not: everything happens as if the clock in one of these places retards with respect to that of the other, and as if no conceivable experiment could show evidence of this discordance. Now, according to Mr. Lorentz, the effect of the Earth’s motion would be only to give rise to a similar discordance that no experiment could reveal".

I should have put this quote in my book. Lorentz got that 1902 Nobel Prize, and Poincare evidently understood the relativity of time, long before Einstein wrote his first paper in 1905. People sometimes argue that Lorentz and Poincare had the relativity formulas but did not take them seriously or appreciate the significance. This quote shows the opposite -- that the work was worthy of a prize for the best advance in physics.

Weinstein has a lot of material showing Poincare's priority over Einstein, but makes comments like this:

In his 1905 Dynamics of the Electron Poincaré did not formulate the constancy of the speed of light as a postulate. He very likely objected to such a postulate, and he only accepted the relativity principle as a postulate.
She says this as if Poincare somehow did not understand that the speed of light was constant. But his long 1905 relativity starts section 1 with:
Lorentz had adopted a particular system of units, so as to eliminate the factors 4pi in the formulas. I'll do the same, plus I choose the units of length and time so that the speed of light is equal to 1.
Somehow she concludes, with the assistance and direction of Einstein editor John Stachel:
Poincaré's draft led to a space-time mathematical theory of groups at the basis of which stood the postulate of relativity, and Einstein's draft led to a kinematical theory of relativity. Poincaré did not renounce the ether. He wrote a new law of addition of velocities, but he did not abandon the tacit assumptions made about the nature of time, simultaneity, and space measurements implicit in Newtonian kinematics. Although he questioned absolute time and absolute simultaneity, he did not make new kinematical tacit assumptions about space and time. He also did not require reciprocity of the appearances, and therefore did not discover relativity of simultaneity: these are the main hallmarks of Einstein's special theory of relativity. Nevertheless, as shown by other writers, Poincaré's theory had influenced later scientists especially Hermann Minkowski.
I don't know how she can say that Poincare did not have the new understanding of time when he cited that to get Lorentz a Nobel Prize in 1902.

Poincare certainly did require reciprocity of the appearances. He proved that there was a symmetry group making those appearances the same. Einstein did not do that.

She seems to understand that it was Poincare, not Einstein, that influenced Minkowski, and it was Minkowski's 1908 relativity formulation that was quickly adopted.

Weinstein also posted a paper on Did Poincaré explore the inertial mass-energy equivalence? She says:

Einstein was the first to explore the inertial mass-energy equivalence. ... In 1908 Einstein wrote the German physicist Johannes Stark, "I was a little surprised to see that you did not acknowledge my priority regarding the relationship between inertial mass and energy".
Lorentz predicted relativistic masses in his 1899 paper:
this must take place in such a way that the same ion will have different masses for vibrations parallel and perpendicular to the velocity of translation. Such a hypothesis seems very startling at first sight.
She acknowledges that Poincare wrote a 1900 paper on E=mc2 and says:
Einstein mentioned Poincaré's 1900 paper in this regard. He wrote that the simple formal considerations he had used were already contained in Poincaré's work, but he had preferred not to base himself on that work for the sake of clarity. 41
If Einstein were honest, that letter to Stark would have credited Lorentz and Poincare.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Symmetry and cave art

Today's NY Times reports:
Brittle stars are sea creatures with five limbs and no brain. Found on the seafloor across the world, they have no obvious front, unlike humans and most other animals. Now, a new study reports that the brainless creatures are nonetheless able to move in a coordinated way, by mdesignating one limb as the “front-facing” limb, and using two others to propel forward. ...

Most animals, including humans, are bilaterally symmetrical. In other words, drawing a line down the center results in symmetrical halves. ...

“You can get the benefits of bilateral symmetry without being bilaterally symmetrical,” he said. “You can become behaviorally bilaterally symmetrical.”
No. The brittle stars are bilaterally symmetrical. On five different planes.
But this picture of cave art should get a lot more attention:
Researchers have discovered illustrations of female anatomy in a rock shelter in France that date back 37,000 years.

It is “the oldest evidence of any kind of graphic imagery,” said Randall White, an anthropologist at New York University and one of the researchers working on the project.
I think that the newspaper artist had some fun with that one.

Friday, May 11, 2012

No rigid bodies in relativity

Galina Weinstein writes:
In 1905, Einstein wrote in his relativity paper, "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies": "The theory to be developed here is based, like all electrodynamics, on the kinematics of the rigid body, since the assertions of any such theory concerns with the relations among rigid bodies (coordinate systems), clocks, and electromagnetic processes".1
Einstein defined position by "means of rigid measuring rods and using the methods of Euclidean geometry".2
John Stachel explains that according to special relativity information cannot travel faster than the speed of light. Thus there can be no rigid body, which is possible in classical mechanics where forces are transferred at infinite speeds. A rigid body moves in a rigid manner, no matter what forces are imposed on the body. In fact, rigid motions can be defined without any contradiction in special relativity, even though a rigid body does not exist in the special theory of relativity.
Einstein spoke about rigid body because in 1905 he did not realize that this concept of the rigid body is incompatible with the special theory of relativity, and must be replaced by the concept of rigid motions.

If you had a truly rigid body, then you could communicate faster than light. Light takes a nanosecond to travel a foot. But if you push a rigid stick, and the other end moves immediately, then that is faster than a nanosecond. Relativity says that faster than light communication is impossible.
(Update: Laue appears to have been the first to point out in 1911 that rigid bodies are not really rigid.)
She does not mention Poincare's approach, which had no such defects. He defined Poincaré–Einstein synchronization of clocks in papers during 1898-1904. Einstein's 1905 paper uses the same method, without crediting Poincare. Poincare's 1905 long paper avoids rigid bodies and defines lengths this way:
How do we perform our measurements? By transportation, one on the other, of objects regarded as invariable solids, one will answer immediately; but this is not true any more in the current theory, if the Lorentz contraction is admitted. In this theory, two equal lengths are, by definition, two lengths for which light takes the same time to traverse.
These foundational aspects of relativity seem fairly trivial, but they are a large part of why Einstein is credited, because Lorentz did not say them. Lorentz later admitted that he had relativistic time as a mathematical trick, but did not have the synchronization method to relate it to actual clocks. This is the only part of relativity where Einstein's 1905 understanding can be said to be superior to Lorentz's. Since a rigid body like a meter stick is held together by electromagnetic forces, there are two explanations for the FitzGerald-Lorentz contraction. The first is that the motion distorts the fields so as to pull the molecules closer together, and the second is that the motion distorts space itself. FitzGerald and Lorentz offered the first explanation. Einstein did not offer any explanation in 1905, but did not express any disagreement with Lorentz. Poincare was the first to offer the second explanation, writing in 1905 that relativity is “common to all the physical phenomena, would be only apparent, something which would be due to our methods of measurement.”
But I don't know how Stachel or Weinstein or anyone else can recite this story without mentioning that Einstein's version is just a poor imitation of Poincare's.

Update: A comment points to Rigid body motion in special relativity for a modern explanation.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Showing that the wavefunction is real

The current Nature magazine reports:
The philosophical status of the wavefunction — the entity that determines the probability of different outcomes of measurements on quantum-mechanical particles — would seem to be an unlikely subject for emotional debate. Yet online discussion of a paper claiming to show mathematically that the wavefunction is real has ranged from ardently star-struck to downright vitriolic since the article was first released as a preprint in November 2011.

The paper, thought by some to be one of the most important in quantum foundations in decades, was finally published last week in Nature Physics (M. F. Pusey, J. Barrett & T. Rudolph Nature Phys.; 2012), enabling the authors, who had been concerned about violating the journal’s embargo, to speak about it publicly for the first time. They say that the mathematics leaves no doubt that the wavefunction is not just a statistical tool, but rather, a real, objective state of a quantum system. “People have become emotionally attached to positions that they defend with vague arguments,” says Jonathan Barrett, one of the authors and a physicist at Royal Holloway, University of London. “It’s better to have a theorem.”
I commented on this in January and November. No one told me about the embargo. It claims to disprove the "view, one held by Albert Einstein: that the wavefunction reflects the partial knowledge an experimenter has about a system."
Barrett and his colleagues are following the approach of physicist John Bell, who in 1964 proved that quantum mechanics has another counterintuitive implication: that measurements on one particle can influence the state of another, distant particle, faster than the speed of light should allow. Bell’s was a ‘no-go’ theorem: its strategy was to show that theories that do not allow faster-than-light influences cannot reproduce the predictions of quantum mechanics. Similarly, the theorem proposed by Barrett and his colleagues shows that theories that treat the wavefunction in terms of lack of knowledge of a system’s physical state will also fail to reproduce those predictions. Given how well-confirmed quantum mechanics is, the theorem suggests that such epistemic theories are wrong. “I hope this will take its place alongside Bell’s theorem,” says Barrett. ...

Their theorem does, however, depend on a controversial assumption: that quantum systems have an objective underlying physical state. Christopher Fuchs, a physicist at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada, who has been working to develop an epistemic interpretation of quantum mechanics, says that he has avoided the interpretations that the authors exclude. The wavefunction may represent the experimenter’s ignorance about measurement outcomes, rather than the underlying physical reality, he says. The new theorem doesn’t rule that out.

Still, Matt Leifer, a physicist at University College London who works on quantum information, says that the theorem tackles a big question in a simple and clean way. He also says that it could end up being as useful as Bell’s theorem, which turned out to have applications in quantum information theory and cryptography. “Nobody has thought if it has a practical use, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did,” he says.
Bell's theorem certainly does not show that measurements can influence states faster than the speed of light, and it has certainly not had any applications to cryptography.

That "controversial assumption" is one that Bohr and Heisenberg rejected in the 1920s, and in the
Bohr–Einstein debates of the 1930s. Schrödinger's view was somewhat different, but also consistent with this PBR paper.

This PBR paper is attacking a straw man that was rejected decades ago. Einstein lost those debates, and the consensus among physicists was that he was stubbornly refusing to accept the truth of quantum mechanics. There has been no discovery of the last 80 years to change those conclusions. Every quantum mechanics advance, theoretical and experimental, has been contrary to Einstein's view.

In case you think that I am some sort of crank who does not accept mainstream physics, consider this. No Nobel prize has ever been given for any work related to Einstein's view of quantum mechanics, or to Bell's theorem, or to that controversial assumption, or for action-at-a-distance, or for quantum cryptography, or for any post-1930 interpretation of quantum mechanics. The work would have won prizes if there were any substance to it.

Update: Lumo defends the Copenhagen interpretation today:
When I read papers such as one by Buniy and Hsu, I constantly see the wrong assumption written everything in between the lines – and sometimes inside the lines – that the wave function is an objective wave and one may objectively discuss its properties. Moreover, they really deny that the state vector should be updated when an observable is changed. But that's exactly what you should do. The state vector is a collection of complex numbers that describe the probabilistic knowledge about a physical system available to an observer and when the observer measures an observable, the state instantly changes because the state is his knowledge and the knowledge changes!
Other interpretations are possible, but if a physics paper is going to assume that the mainstream interpretation is wrong, then it should explicitly make that assumption and admit the possibility that its assumption is wrong (and the mainstream interpretation may be correct). That is the problem with PBR and many other articles in this field.

Update: Now Aaronson is seeking to cut off the funding of someone who expressed skepticism about quantum computing. I added this comment, which as so far not received moderator approval:
Wow, this is getting nasty, as you try to start a boycott of FQXi. Why stop there? Let me remind you that MIT has a professor named Noam Chomsky who has endorsed X who politically supports Y. You can fill in the blanks. Therefore I am refusing any offer of an MIT professorship and urging all others to do the same, until MIT stops lending its legitimacy to Chomsky. I haven't been getting any money from MIT anyway, but maybe communication about this issue with the MIT leadership will give hope that we’ll be able to resolve it to all sane parties’ satisfaction.

Just this week, Nature Physics published a paper that was submitted under the nonsensical title, "The quantum state cannot be interpreted statistically?" That title led me to believe that the authors had some mathematical misunderstanding of some trivial concept. Fortunately the editors required the authors to change the title to something less silly, as the paper does have some merit. But papers related to Bell's theorem go downhill from there. For some reason, the whole subject causes otherwise educated people to say crazy things. Many physics professors advise their students to stay away from the subject, in the same way that they advise not to try LSD. So Joy Christian did not take the advice. He might still be right about quantum computers being impossible.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Quantum-inspired pseudoscience is dangerous

I pointed out last year that some physicists reject wave–particle duality, and insist that the particles are what is real, not the fields. A new paper addresses this directly, and says the opposite, There are no particles, there are only fields.
Quantum foundations are still unsettled, with harmful effects on science and society. By now it should be possible to obtain consensus on at least one issue: Are the fundamental constituents fields or particles? Experiment and theory imply a universe made of unbounded fields rather than bounded particles. This is especially clear for relativistic quantum systems, and it follows that non-relativistic quantum systems must also be made of fields. Particles are epiphenomena arising from real fields. ...

It's not only an academic matter. This confusion has huge real-life implications. In a world that cries out for general scientific literacy, quantum-inspired pseudoscience has become dangerous to science and society.

He has an uphill battle. Richard Feynman has become the great 20th century expert on the subject, and he preferred the particle view. The paper claims that Einstein had the fields-only view, but he got his Nobel Prize for saying that light was composed of particles (photons), not fields.

I do think that articles like the June Discover cover story are confusing:

If an Electron Can Be in Two Places at Once, Why Can't You? ...

About 80 years ago, scientists discovered that it is possible to be in two locations at the same time — at least for an atom or a subatomic particle, such as an electron. For such tiny objects, the world is governed by a madhouse set of physical laws known as quantum mechanics.

No, they discovered that electrons have wave properties, not that they can be two places at once. The consequence was that electrons are particles that have point locations. They cannot even be in one location!

Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi posts this reply:

The majority of physicists do certainly agree that quantum “particles” are not really particles, as they fail to possess all the required corpuscular attributes. How- ever, can we affirm that so-called quantum “fields” are fields, as Hobson suggests? In fact, as we shall briefly explain in the present comment, quantum “fields” are no more fields than quantum “particles” are particles, so that the replacement of a particle ontology (or particle and field ontology) by an all-field ontology, will not solve the typical quantum interpretational problems. ...

What quantum mechanics teaches us is that, quoting Aerts [7]: “Reality is not contained within space. Space is a momentaneous crystallization of a theatre for reality where the motions and interactions of the macroscopic material and energetic entities take place. But other entities – like quantum entities for example – ‘take place’ outside space, or – and this would be another way of saying the same thing – within a space that is not the three dimensional Euclidean space.”

In other terms, we need to drop the classical preconception that a physical entity would necessarily be a spatial entity. In general entities only need to be part of our reality, but not necessarily part of our 3-dimensional space [4–8].

Does that help? I doubt it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Laue and the relativity crucial step

A reader credits Einstein by making the comment below:
For instance, you cite van Laue in support of your position, yet von Laue later argued for Einstein's crucial originality in his 1905 paper. See "Dismissing renewed attempts to deny Einstein the discovery of special relativity", Roger Cerf, University Louis Pasteur
The 2006 Cerf paper (pdf) says:
Einstein’s crucial step was that he abandoned the mecha- nistic ether in favor of a new kinematics. He saw that the Lorentz group, required by electromagnetic theory, can be derived in all generality by kinematic arguments from the relativity principle, provided an experimental definition is given of the correspondence between times at different loca- tions, based on the constancy of the velocity of light. Max von Laue described this crucial step at the celebration of Einstein’s 70th birthday on March 14, 1949 (the italics are von Laue’s):
“In Lorentz’s published work, his transformation yielded, next to absolute true time and absolute true space, other times and other space co- ordinates that, as far as Maxwell’s equations were concerned, were equivalent to these “true” quanti- ties. But they appeared as properties of the field of mathematics. Only Einstein took the step of justi- fying the equivalence of all these times and all these co-ordinates for all natural phenomena. No one before him had had this insight into the nature of space and time measures.”
Max von Laue was a German physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 1914 and wrote some important early papers on relativity, so his opinion should be taken seriously. He was also a longtime personal friend of Einstein. The “von” Is some sort of nobility title.

However, Laue is demonstrably incorrect about Einstein's "crucial step" being Lorentz transformations applied to all natural phenomena. Lorentz and Poincare took that crucial step, but Einstein did not. Poincare's short 1905 paper said:

But that's not all: Lorentz, in the work quoted, found it necessary to complete his hypothesis by assuming that all forces, whatever their origin, are affected by translation in the same way as electromagnetic forces and, consequently, the effect produced on their components by the Lorentz transformation is still defined by equations (4).
This was published and delivered to Einstein's library a couple of weeks before Einstein submitted his first relativity paper. It was in French and Einstein was fluent in French. Poincare is referring to Lorentz's 1904 paper, which said:
In the second place I shall suppose that the forces between uncharged particles, as well as those between such particles and electrons, are influenced by a translation in quite the same way as the electric forces in an electrostatic system.
While Lorentz was interested in molecular forces, Poincare was interested in the bigger picture, and applied relativity to the speed of gravity, as explained by Carlip.

By comparison, Einstein is missing this crucial idea, and only applies relativity to electromagnetism. Here is Einstein's famous 1905 paper:

They suggest rather that, as has already been shown to the first order of small quantities, the same laws of electrodynamics and optics will be valid for all frames of reference for which the equations of mechanics hold good.
The 1905 sequel starts:
I based that investigation on the Maxwell-Hertz equations for empty space, together with the Maxwellian expression for the electromagnetic energy of space, and in addition the principle that:—

The laws by which the states of physical systems alter are independent of the alternative, to which of two systems of coordinates, in uniform motion of parallel translation relatively to each other, these alterations of state are referred (principle of relativity).

With these principles* as my basis ...

Footnotes * The principle of the constancy of the velocity of light is of course contained in Maxwell's equations.

So this "crucial step" was published by Lorentz and Poincare before Einstein, and Einstein had access to those papers before submitting his first relativity paper, and yet Einstein did not have the crucial step.

I don't know whether Laue was ignorant of these papers, or dishonest, or just praising his friend, or what, but it is remarkable that he has 40 years to find some argument for crediting Einstein and gives such a poor argument. Physicists were incredibly biased towards crediting Einstein, but their arguments do not hold water.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Einstein disavowed operationalism

Czech physicist Lumo posts an anti-philosophy rant including:
not even Einstein considered himself a revolutionary who wanted to negate the work of Isaac Newton and others. Instead, Einstein considered relativity to be an improvement or clarification of Newton's and Maxwell's theories and he has explicitly stated this point of view several times.

On the other hand, it is true that Einstein has obviously brought new important ideas to physics, including new philosophical principles how the truth should be searched for. In particular, he realized that certain seemingly objective quantities or properties – such as the simultaneity of two events – don't have to be objective or don't have to "exist". He was the first one to fully realize that physics is only obliged to discuss properties of Nature that can actually be operationally measured, at least in principle. The simultaneity of two events and other things that became "relative" in the theory of relativity can't be established by objective operational tests so they may be subjective. Einstein was the first major practitioner of positivism in physics. ...

Einstein never accepted quantum mechanics ...

No, Einstein got relativistic simultaneity entirely from Poincare, and only credited Newton and Maxwell as a way of avoiding crediting Lorentz and Poincare. More importantly, Einstein did not have the opinion that physics is limited to what can be operationally measured. The main reason he did not accept quantum mechanics was its emphasis on what can be operationally measured, and he argued that the theory was incomplete if it only did that. He spent the last 30 years of his life pursuing unified field theories that had no relevance to operational measurements.

When Bohr and others debated Einstein, they sometimes argued that they were influenced to operational measurement by relativity, but Einstein denied that view, claiming that relativity was driven by big principles, and not operationalism. Positivism was popular in the 1930s, but Einstein was not a positivist. Even today, positivism is considered dead.

Lumo acknowledges that Einstein "couldn't fully break up from the straitjacket of classical physics" and quotes this conversation:

Heisenberg: "One cannot observe the electron orbits inside the atom. [...] but since it is reasonable to consider only those quantities in a theory that can be measured, it seemed natural to me to introduce them only as entities, as representatives of electron orbits, so to speak."

Einstein: "But you don't seriously believe that only observable quantities should be considered in a physical theory?"

"I thought this was the very idea that your Relativity Theory is based on?" Heisenberg asked in surprise.

"Perhaps I used this kind of reasoning," replied Einstein, "but it is nonsense nevertheless. [...] In reality the opposite is true: only the theory decides what can be observed."

(translated from "Der Teil und das Ganze" by W. Heisenberg)

This clearly shows that Heisenberg was the positivist, not Einstein. Perhaps Heisenberg did not realize that the positivist aspects of relativity were due to Lorentz and Poincare, not Einstein.

Einstein is praised today largely because of the perception that he ignored experiment and instead applied grand ideas to say how the world works. If Einstein were really an operationalist, then he would not be such a hero to the string theorists and others with untestable theories. This is all detailed in my book.