Monday, September 28, 2015

Logicism did not fail

Philosophers of science are always denying scientific accomplishments, and here is one also denying math. Massimo Pigliucci wrote in 2012:
Let’s set aside the goal of unifying all knowledge. How are we doing in the millennia-long quest for absolute and objective truth? Not so well, it seems, and that is largely because of the devastating contributions of a few philosophers and logicians, particularly David Hume, Bertrand Russell and Kurt Gödel. ...

What about maths and logic? At the beginning of the 20th century, a number of logicians, mathematicians and philosophers of mathematics were trying to establish firm logical foundations for mathematics and similar formal systems. The most famous such attempt was made by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, and it resulted in their Principia Mathematica (1910-13), one of the most impenetrable reads of all time. It failed.

A few years later the logician Kurt Gödel explained why. His two ‘incompleteness theorems’ proved — logically — that any sufficiently complex mathematical or logical system will contain truths that cannot be proven from within that system. Russell conceded this fatal blow to his enterprise, as well as the larger moral that we have to be content with unprovable truths even in mathematics. If we add to Gödel’s results the well-known fact that logical proofs and mathematical theorems have to start from assumptions (or axioms) that are themselves unprovable (or, in the case of some deductive reasoning like syllogisms, are derived from empirical observations and generalisation — ie, from induction), it seems that the quest for true and objective knowledge is revealed as a mirage.
No, it did not fail. The Russell-Whitehead system was replaced by better ones, which became more famous, with the most popular being ZFC. It is a firm logical foundation for mathematics.

There is no such thing as an unprovable truth in mathematics. It is true that a statement symbolizing the consistency of ZFC cannot be proved within ZFC, and that surprised many people at the time. In retrospect, the reverse would have been stranger. But it does not alter the ancient fact that all mathematical truths are proved from axioms. The lack of an internal consistency proof is just a surprising fact to newcomers to the field, like the irrationality of the square root of two, or the uncountability of the real numbers.

It is true that theorems are proved from axioms, and that is how math has worked for millennia. Yes, math gives us absolute and objective truth.

Goedel's most famous theorems say that statements are provable if and only if they are true in all the models, and that there is no computable algorithm for determining whether a statement is provable. His work is an affirmation of the axiomatic method, not a refutation of it. If there were such an efficient algorithm, then mindless application of it would replace the axiomatic method.

Supposedly Hilbert thought that an axiomatization of math should first prove the consistency of its axioms. If so, that was a stupid belief, because inconsistent axioms allow proof of anything. So using an axiom system to prove its own consistency is worthless because the proof would not mean that the axioms are consistent (because inconsistent axioms prove the same thing). Either Hilbert made a trivial mistake or he has been misinterpreted. I suspect the latter, as I cannot find where he clearly said that the axiomatization had to prove its own consistency.

Here is a BBC Radio 4 podcast on the Incompleteness theorem, with discussion of Hilbert's program. The scholars imply that Hilbert admitted defeat by not publicly commenting on Goedel's theorem. However Hilbert posed an assortment of other problems, and sometimes he speculated about a possible solution, but no one cares too much if his speculation differed from the later solution. I do not see any good reason to say that Hilbert was defeated.

Hilbert did say that the proof should be finitary, and worked to find such proof, but there was some disagreement at the time as to what would pass for such a proof. The nature of logic is that inconsistency has finitary proofs, but usually not consistency.

Consistency is never the main goal anyway. As was later shown, consistency allows belief in either the continuum hypothesis or its negation. Mathematicians want what is true, and consistency does not decide the issue.

Even mathematicians are too eager to concede that Hilbert was refuted. Wikipedia says:
Kurt Gödel showed ... This wipes out most of Hilbert's program as follows:

It is not possible to formalize all of mathematics, ...
... there is no complete consistent extension of even Peano arithmetic with a recursively enumerable set of axioms, ...
A theory such as Peano arithmetic cannot even prove its own consistency, ...
There is no algorithm to decide the truth (or provability) of statements in any consistent extension of Peano arithmetic. ...
But I do not think that Hilbert opposed any of these things.

It is possible to formalize math in the sense of making all the theorems provable in a system like ZFC. Systems cannot prove their own consistency, but you would not want that anyway. And there is no magic truth algorithm to replace the axiomatic method.

All that shows that Hilbert's program was essentially correct, and not wrong.

Whether or not mathematical foundations developed according to Russell's or Hilbert's expectations is an amusing historical question, but not really relevant to whether math achieves objective truth.

The essence of Hilbert's Program is to reduce infinitistic mathematics to finitistic mathematics. That is an unqualified success. All modern mathematics uses finitary proofs.

Wikipedia says:
Ludwig Wittgenstein condemned set theory. He wrote that "set theory is wrong", since it builds on the "nonsense" of fictitious symbolism, has "pernicious idioms", and that it is nonsensical to talk about "all numbers".
This is just ignorant foolishness from philosophers. Set theory is the foundation of mathematics. Logic ought to be a foundation for philosophers, but it is rare to find one with basic competence in the subject. For some reason, leftist philosophers and other academics like to deny the possibility of truth, and they hate logic. Wittgenstein is mainly famous for saying, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." Maybe he should have kept quiet about set theory. So should Pigliucci and the other anti-truth philosophers.

Update: A comment links to some scholarly work. You can download a free copy of the first paper, The Scope of Gödel’s First Incompleteness Theorem, here or here.

See also Number theory and elementary arithmetic by Jeremy Avigad, Hilbert's Program Then and Now and Stanford Encyclopedia: Hilbert's Program by Richard Zach, and Hilbert's Program Revisited by Panu Raatikainen.

These articles make a good case that the essence of Hilbert's program was accomplished. They even argue that all the important theorems of modern mathematics can be proved in systems that have elementary consistency proofs.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Aaronson seeks Aumann agreement on quantum computing

A recent philosophy podcast was: Scott Aaronson on "The theorem that proves rationalists can't disagree".

He mostly talked about Aumann's agreement theorem:
Aumann's agreement theorem says that two people acting rationally (in a certain precise sense) and with common knowledge of each other's beliefs cannot agree to disagree. More specifically, if two people are genuine Bayesian rationalists with common priors, and if they each have common knowledge of their individual posteriors, then their posteriors must be equal.[1]

A question arises whether such an agreement can be reached in a reasonable time and, from a mathematical perspective, whether this can be done efficiently. Scott Aaronson has shown that this is indeed the case.[2]
Then Aaronson tried to apply it to his professional disagreements:
The disagreements with which I have maybe the most real-life experience are about quantum computing. This is a proposed technology that would use quantum mechanics to solve certain problems a lot faster than we know how to today. The laws of quantum mechanics, as we understand them now, seem very unambiguously to allow this.

There are experimental groups all over the world that are actually trying to build this. Some of them are very optimistic that they may have useful devices within a decade or two decades or something, but this field has also engendered a lot of skepticism, including, some of it by physicists, some by computer scientists. Some of them will say this is all just completely a sham, this is something that can never work.

I've been very, very interested, maybe more than most of my colleagues have been, in interacting with these people and just trying to understand, where does the skepticism come from? Because my default position would be, I hope that the skeptics are right. Because if they're right, then that means that there is something wrong with our current understanding of quantum mechanics.

If there is really a deep reason why a quantum computer can't be built -- I don't mean that just it's too hard, that the money will run out or something like that, but it's really fundamentally impossible -- then there's really something that we don't understand about quantum physics itself.
Here is my Concise argument against quantum computing. I fully accept quantum mechanics. When the theory says that an electron is not truly a particle and has a particular probability of being observed as a particle in a region and time, then I support that. Experiments have confirmed such experiments over and over.

But when you say that there is a mysterious quantum nonlocality that allows an unobserved electron to be in multiple places at once in order to facilitate super-Turing computation, then that is way beyond anything that has been demonstrated, and I don't believe it.

Aaronson concedes that quantum computing is an open question. Maybe it is possible, and maybe it is not. To me, that alone justifies a skeptical view. Carl Sagan said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Some mathematicians are skeptical about the Riemann Hypothesis. Positivists only accept what is known to be true.

But Aaronson is like the theologian who admits that he cannot prove God exists, but insists that no one should identify as an atheist unless he can prove that there is no God.

Aaronson says that if quantum computing is impossible, then there must be something we don't understand about quantum mechanics. The latter is conventional wisdom among physicists and others. Whenever people talk about interpretations of quantum mechanics, such as many-worlds (MWI), or giving a Nobel Prize for Bell test experiments, or quantum gravity, or black hole firewalls, or cosmic holograms, they are always making an argument that there is something we don't understand about quantum mechanics. So most of his colleagues are already convinced!

His book lists 11 objections to quantum computing. I do not think he does them justice, but he is now writing a new book on the subject.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Attempt to prosecute climate change deniers

Greg Laden calls himself a "biological anthropologist and science communicator" and writes:
The following is the text of a letter written by a number of scientists asking for a federal investigation of climate science denial under the RICO statute.

Letter to President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren

September 1, 2015

Dear President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren,

As you know, an overwhelming majority of climate scientists are convinced about the potentially serious adverse effects of human-induced climate change ...
Okay, I guess most scientists would agree that if humans were to induce climate change, then there would be a potential of serious adverse effects.
We appreciate that you are making aggressive and imaginative use of the limited tools available to you in the face of a recalcitrant Congress. One additional tool – recently proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse – is a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change.
I did not know that it could be a crime to oppose the leftist climate agenda.

Pres. Obama himself has been using apocalyptic language on global warming.

This reminds me of the quote:
When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say.
Separately Laden promotes atheist causes, and complains that Ben Carson is violating the First Amendment by being a Christian and opposing a Muslim being elected US President, and is therefore disqualifying himself to be President.

I would think that an atheist would be happy to say that certain religious beliefs are not suited for the Presidency. But apparently his leftist egalitarianism overrides his atheism, and all religions must be hated equally.

This is somewhat off-topic for this blog, and I am not going to bother rebutting this nonsense. I just want to point out that this is a quite popular leftist-atheist-evolutionist blogger, and it shows the thinking of a lot of academic scientists, particular in the soft sciences, and social justice warriors. They are intolerant creeps who want to censor other points of view.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The world could go nuclear

SciAm reports on a new book:
In just two decades Sweden went from burning oil for generating electricity to fissioning uranium. And if the world as a whole were to follow that example, all fossil fuel–fired power plants could be replaced with nuclear facilities in a little over 30 years. That's the conclusion of a new nuclear grand plan published May 13 in PLoS One. Such a switch would drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nearly achieving much-ballyhooed global goals to combat climate change. Even swelling electricity demands, concentrated in developing nations, could be met. All that's missing is the wealth, will and wherewithal to build hundreds of fission-based reactors, largely due to concerns about safety and cost.

"If we are serious about tackling emissions and climate change, no climate-neutral source should be ignored," argues Staffan Qvist, a physicist at Uppsala University, who led the effort to develop this nuclear plan. "The mantra 'nuclear can't be done quickly enough to tackle climate change' is one of the most pervasive in the debate today and mostly just taken as true, while the data prove the exact opposite."
The safety concerns are mostly fictitious. The cost concerns are mostly in dealing with political and regulatory problems. If there were the will to build the plants, they could be built cheaply.

When you hear someone who says that there is an urgent need to do something about global warming, but who is also against nuclear power, then he is just a leftist ideologue who is abusing the science for political purposes.

Some global warming alarmists, such as the most famous one, James Hansen, are in favor of building more nuclear power plants.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Aaronson attacks local realism

I discussed the latest quantum spookiness experiment, and now MIT complexity theorist Scott Aaronson explains it as Bell inequality violation finally done right. He says this could get a Nobel Prize.

My position is that it just confirmed what everyone thought since 1930, except for Einstein, Bohm, Bell, and a few others, so it is not that big a deal.

I do object to some of Aaronson's terminology. He has bet his whole career on quantum mechanics giving us complexity classes that are faster than Turing machines but slower than full parallelism. So he describes this experiment as confirming that:
Well, I’ve also read some of Einstein’s correspondence from around the same time. He was clearer than Bohr, but as far as I can tell, neither he, nor Bohr, nor anyone else at that time clearly recognized that you could have something intermediate between “local realist” and “spooky” — something that, on the one hand, didn’t involve any superluminal signalling, but on the other hand, would require superluminal signalling to simulate in a classical universe. That had to wait for Bell.
By spooky, he means action-at-a-distance, which most physicists rightly reject.

By “local” he means no superluminal signaling, but more generally it means that causality is confined to the light cone, as in special relativity.

The tricky term is local realism:
As I use the term, “local realism” is not a “physics definition,” it’s a math definition. And Bell’s theorem is not a “physics theorem” (whatever that means), it’s a math theorem that’s been proved and will stay proved until the end of time. If you want to argue about the theorem’s relevance to physics, you can do that, but you don’t get to negotiate the definition of “local realism,” because it’s now part of math.
This is a little sleight of hand to let him study mathematical complexity, regardless of physical relevance.

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle says that you cannot precisely measure an electron's position and momentum at the same time. Local realism is the idea that the electron really is a particle with definite positions and momenta at all times, and the uncertainty principle is just a limit on our observation abilities. The conventional quantum mechanical view (in eg the Copenhagen Interpretation) is that the electron is not really a particle, but some sort of wave-like object that does not necessarily have definite physical values unless observed.

Most physicists believe in locality (such as nothing going faster than light), and in realism, in the sense that electrons are real objects and observations are reflecting some reality. We do not live in an article simulation, or in the imagination of some super-being, or just some sort of simplified appearance for supernatural events. Physicists believe that they are studying the real world.

So it is a little jarring to hear Aaronson say that local reality has been disproved. It is even more annoying to learn that he defines realism to be some stupid non-quantum mathematical model that has been shown not to work. So when he says local realism has been disproved, he just means that some stupid mathematical model does not work.

A better conclusion is that the mathematical was unrealistic. The physical world is realistic, by definition.

For Aaronson, all of this is supposed to convince you that quantum computers will create a new super-Turing complexity that is intermediate between “local realist” and “spooky”. But there is no proof that there is any such thing.

A better view is that the world is realistic and not spooky. Bell had a clever idea for disproving quantum mechanics, but he turned out to be wrong, as everyone expected. None of this gives any reason to believe that electrons can be half-spooky or that (super-Turing) quantum computers are possible. End of story.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dawkins to purge those with unjustified beliefs

In this audio interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, the leftist-atheist-evolutionist Richard Dawkins favors firing a professional who has idiosyncratic beliefs that are irrelevant to his profession:
I don't think that he should be employed in a hospital, because what you are saying about that man -- He has the kind of mind that is so adrift with reality, that even if he is a competent eye surgeon, I don't think that he could/should be trusted. [at 20:00]
I wonder how anyone would hold a job under such a standard, and how you would ever get eye surgery done. Dawkins makes it clear that he is talking about beliefs that have no bearing on the practice of eye surgery.

His main target is organized religion and other views that he considers anti-science. But, as I often post on this blog, our most brilliant professors at our most prestigious universities hold all sorts of anti-science views. And I just focus on the hard sciences like Physics. The situation is much worse in the humanities and social sciences.

To me, believing in the multiverse, or string theory, or black hole information is just as wacky as Dawkins' examples. I am tempted to add supersymmetry and quantum computing to the list.

It is the political Left that always wants to root out people for their beliefs, and purge them somehow. I am not trying to get these professors fired. I just want to determine if what they say is right or wrong.

The great majority of the public holds religious views that are not backed up by scientific findings. Jerry Coyne argues, like Dawkins, that it is all in conflict with science. See this debate with a philosopher who says that most religious
According to a new paper by Neil Van Leeuwen, religious “credence” is nothing like mundane factual belief. It has, he claims, more in common with fictional imaginings. Religious folk do not really “believe” – in the ordinary sense of the word – what they profess to believe. Like fictional imaginings, but unlike factual beliefs, religious credences are activated only within specific settings.
That is, religious belief can be like a small child with an imaginary friend. The child sometimes acts as if the friend is real, but if pressed against some concrete factual consequence, the child obviously understands that the child is not real.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Berenstain Bears Conspiracy

A lot of big shot physicists believe in various multiverse, many-worlds, or parallel universe theories. There is not a shred of evidence for them. But now there are claims that we might have made some sort of jump to a parallel universe:
A new conspiracy theory has taken the Internet and childhood nostalgia by storm. A popular kids book series known to most of the population as “The Berenstein Bears,” is actually called “The Berenstain Bears.”

For those who grew up reading the books and have the word “Berenstein” ingrained in their minds, the fact that the title really is “Berenstain” is quite a shock to the system. A quick Internet search of the book covers and the official PBS website reveals that “The Berenstain Bears” have been there all along.

The shock of this revelation has led some to believe in alternate or parallel universes in which “The Berenstein Bears” were created and “The Berenstain Bears” is some massive, crazy, Internet hoax.
There is more info here, where the conspiracy was noticed in 2011.

Some people say that this is an example of the Mandela Effect, where a lot of people remember Nelson Mandela having died in prison.

Here is a debunking:
According to author and paranormal researcher Fiona Broome, it all relates to the phenomenon of parallel realities. Her theory, which is outlined on her website, is that we exist in a world of parallel universes that each have their own histories and timelines. Occasionally, individuals from these universes “slide” into an alternate timestream creating a changed reality. One of those changed realities, as explained by Broome, is the death of Nelson Mandela.

Although most of us recall Mandela's passing in 2013, Broome and her followers suggest otherwise. In fact, she and the many posters on her website claim that they have distinct memories of Mandela dying in prison in the 1980's. They even go as far as describing detailed accounts of media coverage, news reports, on-air broadcasts of his funeral, and more.
Each timeline is consistent with its history, so it will not do any good to look at old books or Wikipedia. The site asks some physicists:
So that leads to the question, is any of this scientifically, or at least theoretically possible? Could Nelson Mandela actually have died in the 1980's? Could the Berenstain Bears, as also suggested by Broom's website, actually have been the Berenstein Bears?

After reading the many responses on, I became intrigued by not only the concept of the theory, but the passion behind it. So I decided to do further research.

While theories exist which support the idea of parallel universes, particularly the Many-Worlds Interpretation, I remained unsure. As a journalist with little knowledge of quantum physics, I soon discovered that it would be wise to reach out to the professionals.

Andrew S. Friedman, a National Science Foundation Science Postdoctoral Fellow at Massachusetts institute of Technology (MIT) and Visiting Research Scientist at the MIT Center for Theoretical Physics, breaks down the Many-Worlds theory.

“In certain interpretations of quantum mechanics, such as the Many Worlds Interpretation of Hugh Everett and Bryce DeWitt, the equations of the theory are taken to mean that whenever a quantum event occurs, the universe (or the observer) splits and branches into two parallel timelines.

“In most views, these timelines no longer interact, which is why they could be considered parallel.

“Needless to say, your theory would have to describe alternative timelines which are not parallel, and somehow interact with one another in order to make any sense of the fantastical claims of the Mandela story.”

He believes there's a more logical explanation.
So maybe Mandela was in a Schrodinger cat state, where he was alive in one universe, and dead in a parallel universe. The proponents of the many-worlds interpretation absolutely believe that is possible.
“Personally, I think the examples you mentioned tell us more about human psychology, the fallibility of human memory, and the intense desire to believe in fantastical ideas.

“In my view, these things have nothing to do with parallel timelines as discussed in physics, and instead present evidence for the amazing range of ways humans can be fooled by themselves or others.”

Fred Alan Wolf, an American theoretical physicist and National Book Award Winning author of Taking the Quantum Leap agrees.

I doubt that this had anything to do with parallel universes. It would be stretch to attempt to put these recalls in terms of quantum physics.”
These guys do not seem very sure about it. And they are low-ranking physicists. Couldn't they get any big-shots to weigh in on this issue?

It is a sad day that some crackpot delusional paranormal researcher makes as much sense as our leading theoretical physicists. I will say it: There are no parallel universes, and this has nothing to do with the concept. These are people with bad memories or bad spelling.

I suspect that mainstream physicists are reluctant to criticize the Berenstain Bears conspiracy because they are afraid of undermining the case for quantum computing, black hole holograms, and other modern ideas that are fashionable and get a lot of funding.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Rothman on Einstein's famous equation

Tony Rothman writes a SciAm article on Was Einstein the First to Invent E = mc2?:
According to scientific folklore, Albert Einstein formulated this equation in 1905 and, in a single blow, explained how energy can be released in stars and nuclear explosions. This is a vast oversimplification. Einstein was neither the first person to consider the equivalence of mass and energy, nor did he actually prove it.
I pointed out Rothman saying similar things in 2011 and 2013. He once claimed that Einstein did everything credited to him, and changed his mind in the light of all the evidence that Einstein got his famous big ideas from others.

Robert A. Herrmann wrote a 2000 paper explaining why the equation is not Einstein's discovery.

SciAm has a whole issue on the 100th anniversary of general relativity. Not much is new. I may comment on more of it. In the meantime, you can read previous blog postings on the subject, or my book, How Einstein Ruined Physics.

Rothman also has a new paper on Cardano v Tartaglia: The Great Feud Goes Supernatural. There was a hot 16th century rivalry between two mathematicians trying to solve cubic equations. The myth is that one had the other arrested on charges of heresy for having cast a horoscope of Jesus Christ. Rothman tries to get to the bottom of it, and finds this and related stories to be improbable.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Preparing for that mythical quantum computer

SciAm and Nature magazine have today's crypto scare story:
Cryptographers Brace for Quantum Revolution
Encryption fix begins in preparation for arrival of futuristic computers

It is an inevitability that cryptographers dread: the arrival of powerful quantum computers that can break the security of the Internet. Although these devices are thought to be a decade or more away, researchers are adamant that preparations must begin now.
No, it is not inevitable. Those devices are centuries away, if ever. So what researchers are adamant?
But on the day that the first large quantum computer comes online, some widespread and crucial encryption methods will be rendered obsolete. Quantum computers exploit laws that govern subatomic particles, so they could easily defeat existing encryption methods.

“I’m genuinely worried we’re not going to be ready in time,” says Michele Mosca, co-founder of the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo in Canada and chief executive of evolutionQ, a cyber-security consulting company.
Oh, someone at the Institute for Quantum Computing is worried. He is so worried that he is doing fundraising to get everyone else worried.
At the time, it was not clear whether such a machine would ever be built, says Mosca, because researchers assumed that it would need to operate flawlessly. But a theoretical discovery in 1996 showed that up to a limit, a quantum computer with some flaws could be just as effective as a perfect one.
He is talking about error-correcting qubits, when no one can make scalable qubits anyway.
Published experiments with small quantum devices are starting to approach this faultiness threshold, notes Mosca. And because secretive organizations such as the NSA are keenly interested in the technology, it is widely assumed that these published results do not represent the cutting edge of research. “We have to assume there’s going to be people that are a few years ahead of what’s available in the public literature,” says Mosca. “You can’t wait for the headlines in The New York Times to have your plan in place.”
This is one situation where the NY Times stories are way ahead of the research. By centuries.
Researchers believe that it takes existing computers a long time to factorize big numbers, partly because no one has yet discovered how to do it quickly. But quantum computers could factorize a large number exponentially faster than any conventional computer, and this nullifies RSA’s reliance on factoring being difficult.
Aaronson likes to point out that it is not really exponential faster.

This is like saying that we need to build more nuclear bomb ICBMs because Russia might be building a missile defense. Or that we must pass laws about time travel, just in can someone builds a time-travel machine. Someday books will be written about how all these smart people and money chased an impossibility.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Paper on pragmatic quantum mechanics

A, S. Sanz looks for a pragmatic understanding of quantum mechanics:
To date, quantum mechanics has proven to be our most successful theoretical model. However, it is still surrounded by a "mysterious halo" that can be summarized in a simple but challenging question: Why quantum phenomena are not understood under the same logic as classical ones? ...

The famous Bohr-Einstein debates 4 ended in the 1930s with the orthodox or Copenhagian view of quantum systems, which has healthfully survived to date: the quantum world is essentially probabilistic and hence it does not make any sense asking questions intended for going beyond probabilities. Actually, these probabilities are such that if we try to determine accurate (probabilistic) information about one of the variables (A) from a pair of (classical) canonically conjugate variables, we will be unable to obtain any relevant information about the other (B), and vice versa. This is the essence of Bohr’s complementarity principle, which formally translates into the well-known Heisenberg uncertainty relation, ...

Bell’s contribution not only started the revolution of quantum technologies, leading to the development of the quantum information theory, quantum computing, quantum cryptography, quantum teleportation, etc., but indirectly he also motivated a reconsideration of Bohm’s approach.
This is mostly conventional wisdom, but I disagree with a couple of details.

The quantum world is not essentially probabilistic. What does not make sense is asking about observations that have not been performed. You can think about speculation about unmeasured variables as "going beyond probabilities", but I would not put it that way.

The word "revolution" seems to be used here in the Kuhnian sense of not being a scientific advance, but enable some sort of paradigm shift. There is an industry pursuing quantum info, computing, crypto, and teleportation, but nothing has come of it.

Bohm's work is also wildly overrated, possibly because he was a Commie fellow traveler.
Chapter 2 of Feynman’s renowned Lectures on Physics starts as 13 “In this chapter we shall tackle immediately the basic element of the mysterious behavior in its most strange form. We choose to examine a phenomenon which is impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality, it contains the only mystery. We cannot make the mystery go away by “explaining” how it works. We will just tell you how it works. In telling you how it works we will have told you about the basic peculiarities of all quantum mechanics.” Effectively, the two-slit experiment summarizes the essence (“mystery”) of quantum mechanics. However, like Dirac, Feynman also thought that each individual particle self-interfered, apparently being unaware of Pozzi’s and Tonomura’s experiments on the two-slit experiment. His scientific authority reinforced the Copenhagian viewpoint, but should things have been different if Feynman would have watched Tonomura’s movie 11 of his two-slit experiment with electrons?
Everyone likes to quote R.P. Feynman saying:
I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.
But this was not an attack on quantum mechanics. What he meant was that he did not have an intuitive understanding of how an electron can interfere with itself inn the two-slit experiment.

Arguments about interpretations continue. Carlo Rovelli gives An argument against the realistic interpretation of the wave function, and just a few days later, H. Dieter Zeh posts a rebuttal. They each have their own peculiar interpretations that they push.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Krauss attacks religion again

Lawrence Krauss has a video on the xenophobia inherent in religion. This is mostly off-topic for this blog, but he is a prominent physicists, and he is reciting nonsense. He says:
It is created by Iron Age peasants who didn't even know the Earth orbited the Sun. ...

The xenophobia ... People who don't conform are to be ostracized or killed. ...

Islam is 500 years younger than say Christianity. And 500 years ago Christianity was producing far more violence than Islam is today, from the Crusades to the Inquisition.
If Christianity were so xenophobic, then the USA and Europe would never admit the millions of Moslem immigrants and refugees. Christians do not kill people for non-conformity.

There is some opposition to the foreigners, but it appears to be mainly based on secular concerns like cost, crime, disruption, non-assimilation, etc, and not based on organized religion.

No, Christianity was never as violent as Islam. Islam spread by conquering foreign lands. The Crusades and Inquisition were defenses against Moslem invaders.

The history of Europe is one of regular warfare for millennia, but that cannot be blamed on Christianity.

The Earth-Sun motion is relative. Most professors today do not seem to understand that. He as might as well say "peasants who didn't even know about dark matter clumping in galaxies." It has little to do with the religious messages.

Krauss wrote a book about how we don't need God because the laws of physics can create a universe out of nothing. There is some logic to the core of his argument. But when he goes on these rambling anti-religion diatribes, he is way out of his expertise. The vast majority of Christians accept nearly all scientific knowledge.

Krauss also has an article in the current SciAm on What Einstein Got Wrong. Black holes, gravity waves, quantum mechanics, big bang, etc.

Update: Krauss just wrote a New Yorker article titled All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists:
The Kim Davis controversy exists because, as a culture, we have elevated respect for religious sensibilities to an inappropriate level that makes society less free, not more. ...

In science, of course, the very word “sacred” is profane. ...

I see a direct link, in short, between the ethics that guide science and those that guide civic life. Cosmology, my specialty, may appear to be far removed from Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, but in fact the same values apply in both realms. ... Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance.
No, there is no scientific argument for same-sex marriage, and the objections to it are not necessarily religion. Krauss's cosmology does not inform us on the issue.

Even some supporters of same sex marriage say that jailing Davis was illegal and unnecessary.

A lot of people feel strongly about same-sex marriage, and even jailing Davis as a public show of subservience to LGBT ideals. But for Krauss to say that this is the reason for all scientists to become militant atheists, he is am embarrassment to science. Stick to cosmology.

Update: Atheist-nonleftist-physicist Lubos Motl piles on:
Is atheist jerk Krauss worse than religious fanatics? ...

Why is someone like Lawrence Krauss willing to write something so utterly insane, such as the claim that there exists a link between the insights of cosmology and the right attitude to Kim Davis' actions? Is it because he can't see that there exists no scientific derivation of the "right attitude to Kim Davis"? I doubt so. The actual reason is that Lawrence Krauss' attitude to cosmology is based on lots of arbitrary unjustified prejudices, too. He lacks the integrity not only as a human being but as a scientist, too.

In the context of recent controversies, this is most clearly seen on Krauss' support of the concept of the multiverse. We don't know whether this concept is relevant for a proper scientific understanding of anything, and if it is, we don't know in what form it is relevant. But folks like Krauss indeed promote this idea for the same reasons why they are against Kim Davis – because they love to promote left-wing political views. There is no valid evidence behind either of their approaches.
This is something left-wing about the multiverse. Leftists take great pleasure in arguing that humans are not special, that Western culture is not special, that Earth is not special, etc. Now they like to say that even our universe is not special, and that maybe homosexuals do all the breeding in some parallel universe.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Intel joins search for quantum computing

ExtremeTech reports:
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich released an open letter today, pledging to dedicate $50 million to long-term research of quantum computing. The CPU giant is partnering with TU Delft, the largest and oldest Dutch public technical university, and will work with QuTech, TU Delft’s quantum research institute. Intel is also pledging to dedicate its own resources and engineers to solving the problems of quantum computing.

It might seem odd to see Intel pumping so much money into quantum computing research, given that D-Wave’s systems have been tested and largely verified to be quantum computers.
Maybe you should sell Intel stock.

In case you think Intel is always right to such technical matters, remember the Intel Itanium. For about 5 years, HP and Intel convinced the world that they had a superior computer processor architecture. Rivals were dropping out of the business because everyone was so sure that Intel's chip would dominate the market. The chip was a spectacular failure.

Someday this quantum computing research will be seen as seriously misguided. Intel will never sell a quantum computer processor.

Update: I never saw a good explanation as to why the Intel Itanium was such a failure. They certainly spent enuf billions of dollars on development, and made chips that worked as designed. But the main advantage was supposedly that long complex instruction sets were superior to reduced (and simplified) instruction sets that were popular. Intel's simulations showed huge performance advantages, but apparently they never took into account all the extra time to load those long instructions from memory. It is hard to see how so many smart people could have bet so much money on something so foolish.

John Dvorak wrote in 2009:
This continues to be one of the great fiascos of the last 50 years, and not because Intel blew too much money on its development or that the chip performed poorly and will never be widely adopted. It was the reaction and subsequent consolidation in the industry that took place once this grandiose chip was preannounced.

I witnessed this in real time, in person, and I've never seen anything like it before or since.

In 1997 Intel was the king of the hill; in that year it first announced the Itanium or IA-64 processor. That same year, research company IDC predicted that the Itanium would take over the world, racking up $38 billion in sales in 2001. Wow! Everybody paid attention. ...

The problem was that Intel wasn't the only company drinking the Kool-Aid. The entire industry took this project so seriously that the press was inundated by both a massive roll-out campaign and a press kit that had releases from all the strategic partners—which was practically everyone in the Valley…and beyond.

What we heard was that HP, IBM, Dell, and even Sun Microsystems would use these chips and discontinue anything else they were developing. This included Sun making noise about dropping the SPARC chip for this thing—sight unseen. I say "sight unseen" because it would be years before the chip was even prototyped. The entire industry just took Intel at its word that Itanium would work as advertised in a PowerPoint presentation.

Because this chip was supposed to radically change the way computers work and become the driving force behind all systems in the future, one promising project after another was dropped. The MIPS chip, the DEC Alpha (perhaps the fastest chip of its era), and anything else in the pipeline were all cancelled or deemphasized. Why? Because Itanium was the future for all computing. Why bother wasting money on good ideas that didn't include it?

The failure of this chip to do anything more than exist as a niche processor sealed the fate of Intel — and perhaps the entire industry, since from 1997 to 2001 everyone waited for the messiah of chips to take us all to the next level.

It did that all right. It took us to the next level. But we didn't know that the next level was below us, not above. The next level was the basement, in fact. Hopefully Intel won't come up with any more bright ideas like the Itanium. We can't afford to excavate another level down.
It is going to be the same thing with quantum computers. Everyone is going to wonder how so many smart people with convinced by a slide show, when no one had any real results to show.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Belief in farfetched physics ideas

I mentioned Lubos Motl and the quantum gravity religion, and now he elaborates on his beliefs:
We haven't visited a black hole – no one will ever return alive from the black hole interior. We haven't directly and/or clearly observed the Hawking radiation, the Unruh radiation, a singularity in general relativity, gravitational waves let alone gravitons, excited strings, additional compactified spatial dimensions, superpartners, quanta of the inflaton field, regions with a different value of the inflaton field, regions with differently compactified extra dimensions than our way, and many other things.

Nevertheless, theoretical physicists generally assume that all those things – or at least most of them – exist. They do so most of the time. They say that they "believe" that those things are needed. Is the word "believe" another proof that their activity has evolved into a religion?

Not at all. The words "I believe X" simply means "my opinion is that X is probably right". Both religious and irreligious people have the right to "believe". The churches have no monopoly over the word. And religious and irreligious people may become convinced about something equally staunchly and feel the same psychological certainty about something. Where the churches differ from the scientists is in the methods to arrive to a "belief".
This is a fair comment. There are atheist-evolutionists who get very upset at the notion that scientists have beliefs, but they clearly do. The beliefs preferably have some evidentiary support, but that is almost nonexistent in his examples.

He skips some other common physicist beliefs: many-worlds, other forms of the multiverse, proton decay, holographic universe, quantum nonlocality, super-Turing quantum computing, and Barack Obama Hope and Change. Okay, I am just joking about the last one.
A person who is viscerally hostile towards physics may call the opinion that gravitational waves exist "religion". A physicist knows that the person from the previous sentence is an ignoramus. After all, a Nobel prize in physics has already been given primarily for the indirect detection of gravitational waves. ...

OK, I obviously consider those who disagree with the existence of gravitational waves to be close to the "deniers of high school science" who also reject the existence of ice ages or heliocentrism. If you're one of them, please try to adjust your comments to the fact that I basically consider you a wild animal, a skunk of a sort. This is not meant to be insulting. It's meant to be as accurate an appraisal of the intellectual depth of two mammals as I am capable of producing.
Just about everything shows wave behavior at some scale, so I can believe in gravity waves.

I have beliefs against many of the above things. I am skeptical about superpartners (SUSY particles), proton decay, and quantum computing partially because these are farfetched and dubious theories, but mostly because experimental attempts have been such failures.

My skepticism in extra compactified dimensions and extra universes is a little different. These are ideas that are not testable and do not really explain anything either. I am not even what there is to believe in, because their ideas do not have much to do with observational science, as it has always been understood. I certainly do not believe in that nonsense, but I am not sure it makes any sense to disbelieve it either.

If you tell me that you have a spiritual connection with your grandmother, and then ask me my opinion, I would not have any opinion. I do not know how I would ever be able to come to a conclusion that your belief is true or false. It does not have any objective meaning that can be analyzed by the tools that I have.

Likewise, you are free to believe in other universes with different inflaton fields, if you wish. Motl is right that irreligious people have the right to have their own beliefs, even if there is no way to test or demonstrate them. I only raise objections when you claim to have some sort of scientific backing for them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The quantum gravity religion

I have agreed with physicist Lubos Motl a couple of times recently, but he is back off the rails with his latest rant. He complains that this is a dumb question:
Why do physicists believe that a mathematically consistent model that unites quantum mechanics and general relativity exists?

If mathematics breaks down when applied to black holes, why do scientists believe that mathematics can describe black holes? Perhaps the search for the mathematics that unites quantum mechanics and general relativity is pointless. Mathematics is a useful tool for modelling the universe in many ways, but maybe black holes are exceptional entities that can't be modeled by mathematics. Is it possible that the interior of black holes are so alien to our known universe and so different that current mathematical models/abstractions simply do not apply.
It is a good question, and obviously hit a nerve. I have written a FQXi essay on this topic, and many blog postings. Today's theoretical physicists are preoccupied with the belief that there is some inconsistency between quantum mechanics and relativity that must be resolved, especially for black holes.

In fact there is no inconsistency as a physical problem. Quantum mechanics has been made fully consistent with relativity and gravity for all observable scales. To get a problem, you have to assume that all the mass of an electron is concentrated in a point, reject QFT renormalization, and look for the electron's event horizon. Of course, the electron is not really a point particle.

What annoys Motl is that well-known Berkeley professor Richard Muller does not subscribe to the string theory religion on this question:
It is almost a physics religion to believe that relativity can ultimately be combined with quantum physics. There is no evidence for this other than the fact that all the other forces of physics have been "unified". It is possible that relativity is different; that it is geometric and not quantum mechanical. But most physicists think that will not be the case, in large part because quantum physics has been so successful in the past. That's why they are looking to unify them. But it is worthwhile to recognize that this is based on hope, not on any firm physics or mathematics reason. ...

Much of the enthusiasm for string theory is that it addresses this [renormalization] problem, while introducing many more (extra dimensions, huge numbers of parameters, etc). Personally, given the problems of string theory, I am not optimistic that it will be with us 20 years from now.
He is right. Motl answers:
Well, the person who wrote this question is a layman who obviously doesn't understand what the words "mathematics" and "science" mean. Mathematics can't "fail" as a description of Nature because mathematics is, pretty much by definition, the language of the most accurate and reliable description of anything. ...

Dr Muller clearly stands next to the most insane pro-religion nuts who say that theoretical physics is just another religion – one that only tries to compete with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Math is all about deducing consequences from axioms. Physics is all about explaining the natural world. The study of quantum gravity is neither.

When our leading theoretical physicists focus on questions with no possible observable consequences, then it is like discussion of theological issues.

Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder attempts to answer these questions:
1. Why do some physicists think our universe may be a hologram?

2. Why is it interesting that our universe might be a hologram?

3. Where are we in the holographic universe?

4. How well does this duality work?

5. Does this have something to do with Stephen Hawking's recent proposal for how to solve the black hole information loss problem?
To summarize, our physics elites believe we are in a hologram, but there is no rigorous math for this, and no observable consquences.

Sometimes physics is determined by a boundary value problem, and the boundary to the universe can be considered the set of black hole event horizons. So maybe we are all determined by black hole boundaries. Sound profound? No, it is just a stupid idea to use some mathematical trickery to confuse you.

Update: Motl attacks another Muller answer on black holes.