Monday, March 25, 2019

Even Feyerabend accepted Copenhagen

A recent paper quotes a well-known philosopher of science making a point about quantum mechanics in 1962:
If I am correct in this, then all those philosophers who try to solve the quantum riddle by trying to provide an alternative interpretation of the current theory which leaves all laws of this theory unchanged are wasting their time. Those who are not satisfied with the Copenhagen point of view must realize that only a new theory will be capable of satisfying their demands (Feyerabend 1962b, 260, fn 49).
The paper notes that John von Neumann said something similar in 1932.

Feyerabend had a lot of goofy views, but he was right about this.

I mention this because there are a lot of people today who admit that quantum mechanics is quantitatively correct in the sense that it makes very accurate predictions, but argue taht the Copenhagen interpretation is flawed, and we must find a better interpretation.

Dream on. It's okay if you prefer QBism or consistent histories or decoherence, as these are just minor variations on Copenhagen. Those who attack Copenhagen as untenable really have a problem with quantum mechanics, and no interpretation is going to make them happy.

This was all recognized by experts in 1932 and by informed outsiders in 1962. Today's Copenhagen deniers are going against what has been conventional wisdom for a long time.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Physicist says Atheism is Unscientific

SciAm reports an interview:
Marcelo Gleiser, a 60-year-old Brazil-born theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College and prolific science popularizer, has won this year’s Templeton Prize. ...

Why are you against atheism?

I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. “I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.” Period. It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations. We say, “Okay, you can have a hypothesis, you have to have some evidence against or for that.” And so an agnostic would say, look, I have no evidence for God or any kind of god (What god, first of all? The Maori gods, or the Jewish or Christian or Muslim God? Which god is that?) But on the other hand, an agnostic would acknowledge no right to make a final statement about something he or she doesn’t know about.
Really? We don't do declarations in science?

Atheism is just a denial of God. Most atheists would probably say that they see some evidence for God, some evidence against it, and on balance they do not believe in God. Maybe it is a rational decision, and maybe not.

An agnostic is just someone who thinks that God is unknowable.

Of course not everyone follows the definitions, and atheism becomes identified with the view of prominent atheists who profess their atheism. The funny thing is that those guys talk about their leftist political beliefs much than their evidence against God. So now atheism is widely understood as a leftist political movement.

Also in SciAm, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel and a microbiologist write:
The ongoing measles outbreaks across the United States and Europe prove definitively that our personal choices affect everybody around us. Although you have a right to your own body, your choice to willfully be sick ends where another’s right to be healthy begins. For that reason, people who “opt out” of vaccines should be opted out of American society. ...

No public or private school, workplace or other institution should allow a non-exempt, unvaccinated person through their doors. A basic concern for the health and safety of others is the price it costs to participate. ...

People falsely believe that diseases like measles have “gone away,” but they have not. They’re always there, waiting to strike as soon as our collective guard goes down.
Actually, measles has been eradicated from the USA. The only cases come in from foreigners.

If Americans are all vaccinated, then measles is not a threat.

So it makes more sense for foreigners to be opted out of American society. No public or private school, workplace or other institution should allow a foreigner through their doors.
Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine that can inoculate someone against a counterfactual, unscientific mindset.

There are, however, vaccines that can prevent dozens of harmful diseases. Those who refuse, and recklessly endanger others, should be put in quarantine.
The unscientific mindset blames children, when the measles vector is foreigners. Maybe we should also quarantine those who meet with foreigners. That is the result of Siegel's logic.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Horgan admits math proofs are not dying

SciAm writer John Horgan finally concedes
Okay, Maybe Proofs Aren't Dying After All

Two experts argue that proofs are doing fine, contrary to a controversial 1993 prediction of their impending demise
It appears that a famous mathematician led him astray:
But influential figures were behind the changes. One was William Thurston, who in 1982 won a Fields Medal — the mathematical equivalent of a Nobel Prize — for delineating links between topology and geometry.

Thurston, who served as a major source for my article, advocated a more free-form, “intuitive” style of mathematical research, communication and education, with less emphasis on conventional proofs. He sought to convey mathematical concepts with computer-generated models, including a video that he called “Not Knot.”

“That mathematics reduces in principle to formal proofs is a shaky idea” peculiar to the 20th century, Thurston told me. Ironically, he pointed out, Bertrand Russell and Kurt Godel demonstrated early in the century that mathematics is riddled with logical contradictions. “Set theory is based on polite lies, things we agree on even though we know they're not true,” Thurston said. “In some ways, the foundation of mathematics has an air of unreality.”
The Fields Medal is not really the mathematical equivalent of a Nobel Prize. The Abel Prize is much closer.

No one showed that mathematics is riddled with logical contradictions. Thurston was not knowledgeable about the foundations of math. He was a brilliant mathematician, and he was good at explaining his work to others, but he was lousy at writing up his proofs. Some of his best work was written up by others.

Thurston's ideas were not accepted until proofs were written and published. Probably his biggest idea was that all three-dimensional manifolds could be decomposed into one carrying one of about eight geometric structures. This was always called a conjecture, until Perelman published what appeared to be a proof, and others filled in the gaps so that everyone was convinced that it really was a proof.

Russell showed that certain set theory operations led to contradictions, and then showed how an axiomatic approach could resolve them. Goedel gave much better axiomatizations of set theory, can examples of undecidable statements. An undecidable is the opposite of a contradiction.

Horgan's concession is based on quoting two bloggers. It would have been better if he had asked someone who was trained in mathematical foundations, instead of computer science and particle physics.

BTW, Scott Aaronson comments:
More importantly, I’ve been completely open here about my unfortunate psychological tic of being obsessed with the people who hate me, and why they hate me, and what I could do to make them hate me less. And I’ve been working to overcome that obsession.
I seem to be one of his enemies, but I do not hate him. I don't disagree with his comments about proof, but he is not a mathematician and he does not speak for mathematicians.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Why Cosmologists hate Copenhagen

James B. Hartle explains:
Textbook (Copenhagen) formulations of quantum mechanics are inadequate for cosmology for at least four reasons: 1) They predict the outcomes of measurements made by observers. But in the very early universe no measurements were being made and no observers were around to make them. 2) Observers were outside of the system being measured. But we are interested in a theory of the whole universe where everything, including observers, are inside. 3) Copenhagen quantum mechanics could not retrodict the past. But retrodicting the past to understand how the universe began is the main task of cosmology. 4) Copenhagen quantum mechanics required a fixed classical spacetime geometry not least to give meaning to the time in the Schrödinger equation. But in the very early universe spacetime is fluctuating quantum mechanically (quantum gravity) and without definite value.
There is some merit to this reasoning, but jumping to Everett many-worlds is still bizarre, and does not help.

The decoherence and consistent histories interpretations of quantum mechanics are really just minor variations of Copenhagen.

While Copenhagen says that observers notice quantum states settling into eigenstates, these newer interpretations say it can happen before the observer notices.

Many-worlds just says that anything can happen, and it is completely useless for cosmology.

Sean M. Carroll has announced that he is writing a new book on many-worlds theory. He will presumably take the position that it is a logical necessity for cosmology. Or that it is simpler for cosmology. However, I very much doubt that any benefit for cosmology can be found.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Physicist fired for expressing valid opinion

Lubos Motl writes:
After five months of "investigations" that weren't investigating anything, the vicious, dishonest, and ideologically contaminated individuals who took over CERN have said "good-bye" to Alessandro Strumia, a top particle phenomenologist with 38k citations according to Google Scholar and 32k according to Inspire.
This firing was political, obviously. You can compare male and female employment, but your conclusion must favor females, or else you will be censored, fired, and ostracized.

I don't think that the Physics community has thought this thru. Everyone now knows that women are promoted over more competent men, and the system is maintained by firing anyone who points out the facts.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Nature mag denies existence of gendered brains

You would think that our leading scientific journal would not be consumed by leftist ideology.

Nature mag reports:
The history of sex-difference research is rife with innumeracy, misinterpretation, publication bias, weak statistical power, inadequate controls and worse. ...

Yet, as The Gendered Brain reveals, conclusive findings about sex-linked brain differences have failed to materialize. Beyond the “missing five ounces” of female brain — gloated about since the nineteenth century — modern neuroscientists have identified no decisive, category-defining differences between the brains of men and women. ...

Whatever the subtitle, the book accomplishes its goal of debunking the concept of a gendered brain. The brain is no more gendered than the liver or kidneys or heart. Towards the end, Rippon flirts with the implications of this finding for the growing number of people transitioning or living between current binary gender categories.
If the concept is bunk, then why is anyone transitioning?

The world is crackpots saying silly things, but I get worried when I see those things in our most elite intellectual journals. I would be similarly dismayed if Nature started publishing an Astrology column.

When some otherwise intelligent man denies human consciousness, or denies free will, I wonder how they get thru the day and manage their lives. Likewise, when they believe in infinite doppelgangers, or that we live in a simulation, or when they have certain religious or anti-religious opinions.

Men and women obviously think differently. Otherwise, why would feminism be a thing?

The differences are obvious to anyone who has gone out on a date. This article is silly.

Friday, March 1, 2019

But what’s contracting in relativity?

The "Ask a Physicist" blog explains:
Q: In relativity, length contracts at high speeds. But what’s contracting? Is it distance or space or is there even a difference? ...

This situation is sometimes explained as a consequence of length contraction. But what is it that’s contracting? Some authors put it down to space itself contracting, or just distance contracting (which it seems to me amounts to the same thing) and others say that’s nonsense because you could posit two spaceships heading in the same direction momentarily side by side and traveling at different speeds, so how can there be two different distances?

So what is the correct way to understand the situation from the astronaut’s perspective?

Physicist: Space and time don’t react to how you move around. They don’t contract or slow down just because you move fast relative to someone somewhere. What changes is how you perceive space and time. ...

Einstein’s big contribution (or one of them at least) was “combining” time and space under the umbrella of “spacetime”, so named because Germans love sticking words together
I agree with his explanation, except that the view he described was not Einstein's view.

Minkowski was the German who combined space and time into spacetime, and he based it on Poincare, not Einstein.

Einstein's contribution was not putting time and space together, and he very much disagreed with the view that what changes is our perception of space and time. I explain the point here and in my book, and in other posts. Einstein insisted that his view of the contraction was essentially the same as Lorentz's, and contrary to the non-Euclidean geometry view that is nicely explained in the above blog.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Leftist scientists endorse Green New Deal

From SciAm blogs:
Scientists Must Speak Up for the Green New Deal

The resolution’s focus on climate and social justice highlights the central challenges — and opportunities — of our time ...

Support and promote movements led by marginalized groups. We have an obligation to use our positions of privilege and resources to create space for underrepresented and marginalized groups in the pursuit of climate change solutions. Scientists and the scientific community must engage, through partnership and participation, to provide evidence and analysis in order to inform community-based decisions. We need to embrace a departure from the status quo of patriarchal leadership, and to embrace the new leadership’s vision for climate policy and solutions that includes all people of the United States.

This new style of leadership emphasizes collaboration and community-based solutions, reflected in the language of the resolution: “a Green New Deal must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.”
It is amazing that scientists are falling for this garbage.

The Congressional resolution starts with a supposedly scientific declaration that "human activity is the dominant cause of observed climate change over the past century".

Not really. The IPCC report said that it is extremely likely that most of the observed warming since 1950 can be attributed to human influence, mainly CO2 emissions.

But the climate has been changing for millions of years, and I am not sure it makes sense to talk about how much of it is caused by human activity.

Many of the changes are beneficial, but the resolution and the scientists do not mention those. This is a little like complaining about down days on Wall Street, without mentioning the up days, and wanting to stop the changes.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Early relativity physicists rejected non-Euclidean geometry

Scott Walter wrote a 1999 paper on The non-Euclidean style of Minkowskian relativity, which has a lot of historical info on the use of non-Euclidean geometry for relativity during 1905-1913. After about 1913, the field went fully non-Euclidean to accommodate gravity via general relativity. But before that, there was a split between mathematicians and physics on whether relativity was a non-Euclidean geometry:
Where Minkowski underlined the conceptual continuity of non-Euclidean geometry and the notion of time in relativity, Planck refused the analogy, and emphasized the revolutionary nature of Einstein's new insight.32 For Planck, however, there was at least an historical similarity between non-Euclidean geometry and relativity. The relativity revolution was similar to that engendered by the introduction of non-Euclidean geometry: after a violent struggle, Planck recalled, the Modernisten finally won general acceptance of their doctrine (1910, 42-43).

In his address to the German Association in September, 1910, Planck acknowledged that progress in solving the abstract problems connected with the principle of relativity was largely the work of mathematicians. The advantage of mathematicians, Planck noted (1910, 42), rested in the fact that the "standard mathematical methods" of relativity were "entirely the same as those developed in four-dimensional geometry." Thus for Planck, the space-time formalism had already become the standard for theoretical investigations of the principle of relativity.

Planck's coeditor at the Annalen der Physik , Willy Wien (1864-1928), reiterated the contrast between non-Euclidean geometry and physics in his review of Einstein's and Minkowski's views of space and time. Wien portrayed Einstein's theory of relativity as an induction from results in experimental physics; here, according to Wien (1909, 30), there was "no direct point of contact with non-Euclidean geometry." Minkowski's theory, on the other hand, was associated in Wien's lecture with a different line of development: the abstract, speculative theories of geometry invented by mathematicians from Carl Friedrich Gauss to David Hilbert.

Wien admitted there was something "extraordinarily compelling" about Minkowski's view. The whole Minkowskian system, he said, "evokes the conviction that the facts would have to join it as a fully internal consequence." As an example of this, he mentioned Minkowski's four equations of motion, the fourth of which is also the law of energy conservation (see Minkowski, 1909, p. 85). Wien nonetheless distanced himself from the formal principles embodied in Minkowski's contribution to relativity when he recalled that the physicist's credo was not aesthetics but experiment. "For the physicist," Wien concluded, "Nature alone must make the final decision."33 ...

In summary, certain mathematicians and physicists cast Minkowski's work in a tradition of research on non-Euclidean geometry. For the mathematicians Mansion and Mathews, relativity theory was ripe for study and development by geometers. The physicists Planck and Wien, on the other hand, denied any link between non-Euclidean geometry and Einstein's theory of relativity. ...

Wien, for one, had silently retracted his opinion (see § 4 above), by excising the offending passage of his 1909 lecture for reedition ...
It is commonly remarked that special relativity was quickly accepted, even tho it was a radical shift from Newtonian mechanics. But this shows that only the mathematicians accepted the non-Euclidean geometrical core of the theory, while the physicists Einstein, Planck, and Wien did not.

Here is a striking example:
In a footnote to this work, Sommerfeld remarked that the geometrical relations he presented in terms of three real and one imaginary coordinate could be reinterpreted in terms of non-Euclidean geometry. The latter approach, Sommerfeld cautioned (1910a, 752), could "hardly be recommended."

Equally omitted from Varicak's report was his explanation of the Lorentz-FitzGerald contraction (according to which all moving bodies shrink in their direction of motion with respect to the ether) as a psychological phenomenon. Earlier in the year, Einstein had contested his argument by maintaining the reality of the contraction. 46

Thus ignoring both Sommerfeld's dim view of his non-Euclidean program, and Einstein's correction of his interpretation of relativity theory, Varicak went on to demonstrate the formal simplicity afforded by hyperbolic functions in the theory of relativity.
Calling the contraction a "psychological phenomenon" sounds bogus, but Varicak's point was that the contraction is just a non-Euclidean geometrical artifact, and objects just seem contracted because of the way we use Euclidean coordinates.

Varicak was completely correct about this. So were Mathematicians Poincare and Minkowski at the time, and that is how modern textbooks describe the contraction.

Walter refers to "Einstein's correction of his interpretation". Varicak thought that he was agreeing with Einstein, but Einstein actually published a paper in 1911 specifically disavowing Varicak's geometrical interpretation, and insisting on Lorentz's view of objects actually contracting by motion thru the aether or whatever. For details, see The Einstein-Varicak Correspondence on Relativistic Rigid Rotation.

Varicak's paper started:
The occurrence of Ehrenfest's paradox is understandable, when one clings to the standpoint taken by Lorentz in the formulation of his contraction hypothesis, i.e., when one sees the contraction of moving rigid bodies in the direction of motion as a change which takes place in an objective way. Every element of the periphery will be changed independently of the observer according to Lorentz, while the elements of the radius remain non-contracted.

However, if one employs Einstein's standpoint, according to whom the mentioned contraction is only an apparent, subjective phenomenon, caused by the manner of our clock-regulation and length-measurement, then this contradiction doesn't appear to be justified.
Varicak is completely correct, except that he is attributing the Poincare-Minkowski geometric view of relativity to Einstein. Einstein published a rebuttal to this, where he sided with Lorentz's interpretation of the contraction.

For his source, Varicak cited a 1909 paper. Two Americans wrote The Principle of Relativity, and Non-Newtonian Mechanics:
Let us emphasize once more, that these changes in the units of time and length, as well as the changes in the units of mass, force, and energy which we are about to discuss, possess in a certain sense a purely factitious significance; although, as we shall show, this is equally true of other universally accepted physical conceptions. We are only justified in speaking of a body in motion when we have in mind some definite though arbitrarily chosen point as a point of rest. The distortion of a moving body is not a physical change in the body itself, but is a scientific fiction.

When Lorentz first advanced the idea that an electron, or in fact any moving body, is shortened in the line of its motion, he pictured a real distortion of the body in consequence of a real motion through a stationary ether, and his theory has aroused considerable discussion as to the nature of the forces which would be necessary to produce such a deformation. The point of view first advanced by Einstein, which we have here adopted, is radically different. Absolute motion has no significance. Imagine an electron and a number of observers moving in different directions with respect to it. To each observer, naïvely considering himself to be at rest, the electron will appear shortened in a different direction and by a different amount; but the physical condition of the electron obviously does not depend upon the state of mind of the observers.

Although these changes in the units of space and time appear in a certain sense psychological, we adopt them rather than abandon completely the fundamental conceptions of space, time, and velocity, upon which the science of physics now rests. At present there appears no other alternative.
The paper endorses views that "appear in a certain sense psychological". By that, he means that our measures of distance and time require referring to an observer. That is the geometric relativistic view that nearly everyone accepts today.

You would think that Einstein would jump at the chance to claim credit for having a superior understanding than what Lorentz had, and to accept credit for the more modern geometrical interpretation. By 1911, the geometrical interpretation was widely understood and accepted. He must have strongly disagreed with the geometrical interpretation.

I don't see how anyone can credit Einstein for special relativity in view of the fact that he disavowed the geometrical interpretation.

The non-Euclidean geometry of relativity was discovered by Poincare in 1905, popularized by Minkowski in 1907, and widely accepted in 1908. In 1911, Einstein still did not understand or accept it.

This is a reason I do not credit Einstein for relativity. It is not that he and Poincare published the same thing in 1905. It is that Poincare was 6 years ahead of Einstein.

Walter's historical analysis ends in about 1913, so he gives the impression that the use of non-Euclidean geometry in relativity was just some topic to amuse mathematicians, and was a big dead-end for physicists. In fact, the non-Euclidean geometry view of relativity has dominated from 1913 to the present day.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Myth of bad science behind vaccination

NPR Radio reports:
Now we're going to look at the staying power of bad science and a group of volunteers trying to fight it. Take the infamous 1998 study by a British scientist that suggested a link between childhood vaccines and autism. It was retracted more than a decade later. And its author Andrew Wakefield had his medical license revoked. But the myth that vaccines cause autism persists today with serious public health consequences. It's this kind of bad science that ...
The 1998 paper was not a study, but just a note based on a few observations. Retracting it did not say anything about whether vaccines cause autism.

If you want to show that vaccines do not cause autism, you have to do a scientific study on the subject. Punishing the guy who suggested a link does not help.

There is a famous quote from a popular TV show:
“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.”

― George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
Taking away Wakefield's license did not prove that he was a liar. It proved that the authorities feared what he was saying.

I am amazed that science advocates today like to cite this Wakefield story as an example to show that some papers should be suppressed, and some non-conforming individuals must be ostracized. It would have been much better to rebut Wakefield with scientific evidence.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Claims that Einstein got relativity from Hume

London Telegraph:
Albert Einstein was inspired to propose his Theory of Relativity after reading the works of a 18th century Scottish philosopher, it has emerged.

A new letter, discovered at the University of Edinburgh shows that the German-born theoretical physicist had studied David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature just before proposing special relativity in 1905.

The groundbreaking theory suggested that the speed of light remained the same even if the observer was speeding up or slowing down, suggesting that time and space therefore could not be constant.
London Daily Mail:
A newly discovered letter from the University of Edinburgh shows that Einstein's Theory of Relativity was inspired by 18th century Scottish philosopher, David Hume.

The letter from the German physicist describes his avid reading of David Hume's 'A Treatise of Human Nature', just before proposing his own theory of special relativity in 1905.

The physicists even admits in the letter that it is 'very possible' that he may not have achieved his theory of relativity were it not for Hume's questions.

Hume was a famous philosopher, historian and economist was known for his ideas of naturalism and scepticism.

His book 'A Treatise of Human Nature', was first published in 1738, sixty-one-years before the birth of Einstein, and in it he questions the idea of time and space being related in the context of science.

Hume writes: 'The chief objection against all abstract reasoning is derived from the ideas of Space and Time. Ideas in everyday life may appear clear and intelligible, but when they pass through the scrutiny of the profound Sciences... they seem full of absurdity and contradiction.'
This view is not really new. The letter was discussed in 2105, and the
Hume influence in a 2004 paper.

This is all so absurd. Einstein did not discover special relativity in 1905. He later told interviewers that he had been working on that 1905 paper for about 8 years. The theory that we know today as special relativity was almost entirely the work of Lorentz, Poincare, and Minkowski. Einstein had almost nothing to do with it.

The credit to Hume and Mach is based on Moritz Schlick writing a 1915 essay discussing relativity and Mach's and Hume's philosophies. Einstein wrote a complimentary letter to him at the time, and later wrote:
The type of critical reasoning required for the discovery of this central point [the denial of absolute time, or simultaneity] was decisively furthered, in my case, especially by the reading of David Hume’s and Ernst Mach’s philosophical writings. (Einstein 1949a, 53)
But this was just Einstein's way of stealing credit for himself. Saying that he got inspiration from dead philosophers is about like saying that he got inspiration from the Bible or Shakespeare. It is just a sneaky way of denying that his ideas from contemporary relativity publications. It is known that he read Poincare's works on the relativity of time, and what Einstein wrote was the same.

These sorts of myths are promoted by the Einstein idolizers and the anti-positivists.

The anti-positivist angle is not so obvious. Positivists believe that scientific knowledge is based on experiments and reason. The anti-positivists deny this, and say that great geniuses like Einstein can just invent a theory without relying on empirical knowledge, and his ideas will catch on like a big fad.

So they say Einstein invented relativity based on philosophical ideas from decades, or even centuries, earlier.

This is crazy. Everything Einstein said about special relativity was published better and earlier by Lorentz and Poincare, and they explicitly relied on experiments like the Michelson-Morley.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Prominent skeptic announces what he believes

I don't know how a psychologist got to be such a prominent spokesman for what science is all about, but that's what Michael Shermer is, and he now writes:
I have been defending atheism and religious skepticism since we founded Skeptic in 1992, both through the magazine and in my books, and have continued the tradition throughout my nearly 18 years as a Scientific American columnist, for example on the rise of atheism. . . . and the death of God. 

One problematic aspect of the “atheist” label is that believers and “faitheists” (as you so effectively call atheists who believe in belief — for others, of course), is that we allow others to define us by what we don’t believe. That will never suffice. We must define ourselves by what we do believe: science, philosophy, reason, logic, empiricism and all the tools of the scientific method, along with civil rights, civil liberties, women’s rights, gay rights, animal rights, and moral progress as a result of these components of our worldview, which might better be described as humanism or one of its variants: secular humanism, Enlightenment humanism, or as I’m now suggesting, Scientific Humanism, the subject of my final Scientific American column.

Defining ourselves by what we do believe prevents believers and faitheists from calling us “atheists” and then attacking whatever that word means to them, instead of what it means to us (namely, a lack of belief in a deity, full stop).
I usually expect to agree with him, and then discover that I don't.

If atheism just means "a lack of belief in a deity, full stop", then what are all those other issues he brings up in the preceding paragraph?

No, that is not what atheism has come to mean. Atheists attend conferences led by gurus who have written best-selling books, and they have redefined the term. In particular, they have adopted a left-wing agenda that has little to with belief in a deity.

For example, Shermer lists his positive atheist beliefs as including "animal rights"!

More importantly, the atheist gurus seem to all believe in a leftist notion of moral progress. You won't see Trump supporters at an atheist convention.

Shermer calls himself a "skeptic", but what is he skeptical about? He appears to take the most boring and conventional positions that you would expect from our current batch of leftist groupthink academics.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

An orbit is a perpetual fall, said in 1614

Christopher M. Graney writes:
In 1614 Johann Georg Locher, a student of the Jesuit astronomer Christoph Scheiner, proposed a physical mechanism to explain how the Earth could orbit the sun. An orbit, Locher said, is a perpetual fall. He proposed this despite the fact that he rejected the Copernican system, citing problems with falling bodies and the sizes of stars under that system. In 1651 and again in 1680, Jesuit writers Giovanni Battista Riccioli and Athanasius Kircher, respectively, considered and rejected outright Locher's idea of an orbit as a perpetual fall.
This is interesting because it is widely assumed that medieval geocentrists suffered from too much religion or a lack of imagination or a refusal to consider scientific arguments.

In fact, someone had a model of Earth's orbit that was conceptually similar to Newton's. Earth is in free fall towards the Sun.

Like Tycho Brahe, Locher accepted that the other planets revolved around the Sun. He didn't think that Earth moved because of the failure to observe the Coriolis force, among other reasons.

The Coriolis force was demonstrated a couple of centuries later.

Occasionally someone says Copernicus or Galileo created modern science, as the previous geocentrism was completely unscientific. This is nonsense. In 1600, there were legitimate scientific arguments for and against geocentrism.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The big tech firms can be wrong

You might think that if well-respected technology companies, like IBM, Google, and Microsoft, are solidly pursuing quantum computing, then it must have some commercial viability.

I thought so too, until the Intel Itanium chip. Just look at this chart. Everyone in the industry was convinced that the chip would take over the whole CPU market. It is still hard to understand how everyone could be so wrong.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Building Quantum Computers Is Hard

ExtremeTech reports:
You may have read that quantum computers one day could break most current cryptography systems. They will be able to do that because there are some very clever algorithms designed to run on quantum computers that can solve a hard math problem, which in turn can be used to factor very large numbers. One of the most famous is Shor’s Factoring Algorithm. The difficulty of factoring large numbers is essential to the security of all public-private key systems — which are the most commonly used today. Current quantum computers don’t have nearly enough qubits to attempt the task, but various experts predict they will within the next 3-8 years. That leads to some potentially dangerous situations, such as if only governments and the super-rich had access to the ultra-secure encryption provided by quantum computers.

Why Building Quantum Computers Is Hard

There are plenty of reasons quantum computers are taking a long time to develop. For starters, you need to find a way to isolate and control a physical object that implements a qubit. That also requires cooling it down to essentially zero (as in .015 degrees Kelvin, in the case of IBM‘s Quantum One). Even at such a low temperature, qubits are only stable (retaining coherence) for a very short time. That greatly limits the flexibility of programmers in how many operations they can perform before needing to read out a result.

Not only do programs need to be constrained, but they need to be run many times, as current qubit implementations have a high error rate. Additionally, entanglement isn’t easy to implement in hardware either. In many designs, only some of the qubits are entangled, so the compiler needs to be smart enough to swap bits around as needed to help simulate a system where all the bits can potentially be entangled.
So quantum computing is extraordinarily difficult, but they will break most of our computer security systems, and experts predict it within the next 3-8 years.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Gell-Mann agrees with me about Bell

I have occasionally argued that Bell's Theorem has been wildly misinterpreted, and that it doesn't prove nonlocality or anything interesting like that.

Readers have supplied references saying that I am wrong.

Now I find a short Murray Gell-Mann interview video agreeing with me.

The Bell test experiments do show that quantum mechanics differs from certain classical theories, but not by spookiness, entanglement, or nonlocality. You could say that the particles are entangled, but classical theories show similar effects.

He says:
It is a matter of giving a dog a bad name and hanging him. (laughs) When the quantum mechanical predictions for this experiment were fully verified, I would have thought everybody would say "great!" and go home. ...

When two variables at the same time don't commute, any measurement of both of them would have to be carried out with one measurement on one branch of history, and the other measurement on the other branch of history. That's all there is to it. ... People are still mesmerized by this confusing language of nonlocality.
That's right. The Bell paradoxes are based on comparing one branch of history to another, as if there were counterfactual definiteness. Quantum mechanics forbids this, if you are comparing noncommuting observables.

The Bell theorem and experiments did not really tell us anything that had not already been conventional wisdom for decades.

The bizarre thing about Bell's Theorem is that some physicists say that it is the most profound discovery in centuries, and other just shrug it off as a triviality. I do not know of any difference of opinion this wide in the whole history of science. After years of reading papers about it, I have moved to the latter camp. The theorem encapsulates why some people have conceptual troubles with quantum mechanics, but if the accept the conventional wisdom of 1930, then it has nothing interesting.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Quantum repeaters are worthless

"University of Toronto Engineering professor Hoi-Kwong Lo and his collaborators have developed a prototype for a key element for all-photonic quantum repeaters, a critical step in long-distance quantum communication," reports Phys.Org. This proof-of-principle device could serve as the backbone of a future quantum internet. From the report:

In light of [the security issues with today's internet], researchers have proposed other ways of transmitting data that would leverage key features of quantum physics to provide virtually unbreakable encryption. One of the most promising technologies involves a technique known as quantum key distribution (QKD). QKD exploits the fact that the simple act of sensing or measuring the state of a quantum system disturbs that system. Because of this, any third-party eavesdropping would leave behind a clearly detectable trace, and the communication can be aborted before any sensitive information is lost. Until now, this type of quantum security has been demonstrated in small-scale systems.
So if this technology becomes commercially available, you can set up a network that would have to be shut down if anyone tries to spy on it.

Or you can use conventional cryptography that has been in common use for 30 years, and continue to communicate securely regardless of how many people might be trying to spy on you.

Monday, February 4, 2019

There is no epochal revolution coming

Scott Aaronson acknowledges that the CERN LHC failed to the find the SUSY particles it was supposed to find, and then makes a comment that appears targeted at me:
The situation reminds me a little of the quantum computing skeptics who say: scalable QC can never work, in practice and probably even in principle; the mainstream physics community only thinks it can work because of groupthink and hype; therefore, we shouldn’t waste more funds trying to make it work. With the sole, very interesting exception of Gil Kalai, none of the skeptics ever seem to draw what strikes me as an equally logical conclusion: whoa, let’s go full speed ahead with trying to build a scalable QC, because there’s an epochal revolution in physics to be had here — once the experimenters finally see that I was right and the mainstream was wrong, and they start to unravel the reasons why!
I don't draw that conclusion because I don't believe in that "epochal revolution" either.

When the LHC failed to find supersymmetry particles, did we have an epochal revolution telling us why naturalness and SUSY and unified field theories failed?

No. For the most part, physicists went on believing in string theories and all their other nutty ideas, and just claimed that maybe bigger and better accelerators would vindicate them somehow. That will go on until the money for big projects runs out.

The cost of accelerators is exponentially increasing, and the money will run out. They need an accelerator the size of the solar system to get what they really want.

Quantum computers have already had 20 years of hype, billions of research dollars, and some of the world's smartest people working on them. So far, no quantum supremacy. IBM and Google have been promising that for over a year, but they are not even explaining how their plans went wrong. This could go on indefinitely, without any additional proof of the folly of their thinking.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Inference mag blamed in leftist attack

I defended Sheldon Glashow's negative review in Inference of a popular quantum mechanics book by Adam Becker.

Most, if not all, popular accounts of quantum mechanics are filled with mystical nonsense about Schroedinger cats, entanglement, non-locality, etc. Instead of just explaining the theory, they do everything to convince you that the theory is incomprehensible. Becker's book was in that category, and Glashow's sensible review throws cold water on the nonsense.

Now Becker as struck back, and posted an article in Undark attempting to trash the online journal Inference as unscientific and aligned with evil Trump supporters. Inference responds, and so does Peter Woit.

I guess I'll read some more of those Inference articles to see if the journal really has a right-wing bias. If so, that would be refreshing, as Scientific American and all the other science journals have a left-wing bias. But I doubt it. In Becker's dispute, Glashow simply defends orthodox quantum mechanics while Becker's book is grossly misleading.

Becker says that Inference offered him a "fine fee" to write a response to the negative book review, and he declined. Most authors are eager to defend themselves against a negative review.

Among other things, Becker attacks Inference for this essay arguing that Copernican astronomy in the 16th century was somewhat more accurate than Ptolemaic astronomy. It appears to be a very good analysis. The gripe is that Tipler also has some unusual theological views that do not appear to be relevant to his essay.

Philosophers of science are always talking about the grounds for accepting or rejecting Copernicanism. And yet they hardly ever address the quantitative accuracy.

It has become typical for left-wingers to (1) cling to weirdo unscientific beliefs; (2) get very upset when an organization publishes views contrary to their ideology; and (3) launch guilt-by-association and character assassinations against those who permit contrary views.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Is some research too politically dangerous?

Gerhard Meisenberg argues:
Some authors have proposed that research on cognitive differences is too dangerous to be allowed to proceed unchecked. ...

1. The alternative to knowledge about human intelligence differences is not ignorance, but false beliefs that people create to explain real-world phenomena.
2. In most cases, true knowledge is more likely than false beliefs to lead to beneficial outcomes.
3. The proper question to ask is not whether intelligence research is dangerous, but whether people in modern societies possess the moral values and intellectual abilities required to make good use of the knowledge.
4. If moral values are found to be lagging behind factual knowledge in modern societies, the appropriate response is not the restriction of “dangerous” knowledge, but the development of moral values capable of putting the knowledge to good use.
You might think that this is obvious, but it is not. The big European Physics center, CERN, has a policy of sponsoring lectures on how women are disadvantaged, and firing anyone who presents data and evidence to the contrary.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Belief in infinite doppelgangers

I mentioned that Brian Greene is sympathetic to many-worlds theory without endorsing it, but he definitely believes in a multiverse that is almost as goofy:
Physicists Brian Greene and Max Tegmark both make variants of the claim that if the universe is infinite and matter is roughly uniformly distributed that there are infinitely many “people with the same appearance, name and memories as you, who play out every possible permutation of your life choices.”
Greene's 2011 book said:
“[I]f the universe is infinite there’s a breathtaking conclusion that has received relatively scant attention. In the far reaches of an infinite cosmos, there’s a galaxy that looks just like the Milky Way, with a solar system that’s the spitting image of ours, with a planet that’s a dead ringer for earth, with a house that’s indistinguishable from yours, inhabited by someone who looks just like you, who is right now reading this very book and imagining you, in a distant galaxy, just reaching the end of this sentence. And there’s not just one such copy. In an infinite universe, there are infinitely many. In some, your doppelgänger is now reading this sentence, along with you. In others, he or she has skipped ahead, or feels in need of a snack and has put the book down. In others still, he or she has, well, a less than felicitous disposition and is someone you’d rather not meet in a dark alley.”
I am not sure which is crazier, this, nonlocality, denial of free will, or many-worlds theory.

When some non-physicists like Deepak Chopra says stuff like this, they get mocked by physicists.

Greene would say that there is someone like in a distant universe, but he regularly blogs in favor of quantum computing instead of against it.

Why do physics professors like Greene and Tegmark get a free pass?

The above paper addresses several problems with the Greene-Tegmark view.

I think the problem is more basic. Once you start talking about infinities like that, you have left the realm of science. You as might as well be talking about angels dancing on the head of a pin.

You might be surprised that a mathematician like myself would be so hostile to infinities. After all, mathematicians use infinities all the time, and know how to deal with all the paradoxes. But the infinities are short-hands for logical arguments that make perfect sense.

What do you do with beliefs that you have no free will, and you have infinitely many copies of yourself in distant universes leading parallel lives? Or that what you think is a personal decision is really splitting yourself from an identical right here in this universe, but invisible? In some of these universes, bizarre things happen, like a tiger giving birth to a goat. But why don't we ever see such nonsense? You can say that those events are unlikely, but there are universes where they happen all the time. How do you know that we are not in one?

I am just scratching the surface of what a nonsensical world view this is.

Historians of science wonder how Galileo and Newton had such coldly rational views towards analyzing the mechanics of simple experiments or celestial observations, and yet they completely accepted all sorts of biblical religious that most scientists today say is just stupid mysticism. How is that possible?

Someday, Greene, Tegmark, and many other leading physicists will be seen similarly. They wrote some good scientific papers, but they also believed in total nonsense that a child could see was ridiculous.

Here are some mathematicians talking about infinities, from a recent podcast:
Dr. Garibaldi decided to talk about a theorem he calls the unknowability of irrational numbers. Many math enthusiasts are familiar with the idea of countable versus uncountable infinities. ...

The set of all real numbers—all points on the number line—is uncountable, as Georg Cantor proved using a beautiful argument called diagonalization. The basic idea is that any list of real numbers will be incomplete: if someone tells you they’ve listed the real numbers, you can cook up a number their list omits. ...

The end result is, in Dr. Garibaldi’s words, sort of hideous. Any classes of numbers you can describe explicitly end up being merely countably infinite. Even with heaping helpings of logarithms, trigonometry, and gumption, the number line is more unknown than known.
So all the real numbers we know anything about are countable. All our knowledge is countable. The reals are uncountable, so almost all real numbers are unknowable in some sense.

Mathematicians all understand this, and it is important in some mathematical arguments, but it doesn't really have any grand philosophical implications. Knowledge is countable because of they way knowledge is defined and accepted. Actual things are finite.

You could say that there is some real number that perfectly encodes your doppelganger, or records all your memories, or predicts all your future behavior, or any other weirdo fantasy you have. We cannot construct that real number, or say anything interesting about it.

You can fantasize all you want about alternate realities, but the physics and the math don't really add anything.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

No need for new collider

Bee Hossenfelder writes:
Since the late 1960s, when physicists hit on the “particle zoo” at nuclear energies, they always had a good reason to build a larger collider. That’s because their theories of elementary matter were incomplete. But now, with the Higgs-boson found in 2012, their theory – the “standard model of particle physics” – is complete. It’s done. There’s nothing missing. All Pokemon caught.

The Higgs was the last good prediction that particle physicists had. This prediction dates back to the 1960s and it was based on sound mathematics. In contrast to this, the current predictions for new particles at a larger collider – eg supersymmetric partner particles or dark matter particles – are not based on sound mathematics. These predictions are based on what is called an “argument from naturalness” and those arguments are little more than wishful thinking dressed in equations. ...

This situation is unprecedented in particle physics. The only reliable prediction we currently have for physics beyond the standard model is that we should eventually see effects of quantum gravity. But for that we would have to reach energies 13 orders of magnitude higher than what even the next collider would deliver. It’s way out of reach.
I agree with this. Bee is going to be an outcast, because high-energy physicists are not going to like someone throwing cold water on their $10B funding proposals.

If money were budgeted for a new collider and then canceled, would the money be spent on anything better? Maybe not.

I like Physics, and I like money being spent on it. But physicists need to tell the truth about what they are doing. A bigger new collider is unlikely to tell us much.

Update: Bee also has an op-ed in the NY Times:
I used to be a particle physicist. ...

The stories about new particles, dark matter and additional dimensions were repeated in countless media outlets from before the launch of the L.H.C. until a few years ago. What happened to those predictions? The simple answer is this: Those predictions were wrong — that much is now clear. ...

To date, particle physicists have no reliable prediction that there should be anything new to find until about 15 orders of magnitude above the currently accessible energies. And the only reliable prediction they had for the L.H.C. was that of the Higgs boson. Unfortunately, particle physicists have not been very forthcoming with this information.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Black Hole Singularity

Einstein famously did not believe in black holes, because a black hole has a singularity, and singularities do not occur in nature.

But which black hole singularity?

A black hole actually has two singularities, one at the center and one at the event horizon. Both singularities show up in common parameterizations of the Schwarzschild solution. Each could have been troublesome for Einstein.

The singularity at the center is based on the idea that all the mass collapses to a single point, so that the point geometrically blows up to something of infinite diameter. Physically, the idea is that if the mass is sufficiently concentrated, the gravity force will overwhelm all other forces, including the Pauli exclusion force. Then nothing can stop all the mass disappearing into the hole in spacetime.

Wikipedia says:
The first modern solution of general relativity that would characterize a black hole was found by Karl Schwarzschild in 1916, although its interpretation as a region of space from which nothing can escape was first published by David Finkelstein in 1958. Black holes were long considered a mathematical curiosity; it was during the 1960s that theoretical work showed they were a generic prediction of general relativity. The discovery of neutron stars in the late 1960s sparked interest in gravitationally collapsed compact objects as a possible astrophysical reality.
I don't get this. What did they think that a black hole was, before 1958?

This singularity is indeed a troublesome concept, but it is not clear that it has any physical significance. We don't know that gravity will really overwhelm all other forces. That belief is based on an extrapolation that can never be tested. Nothing inside the black hole can have any causal effect on anything outside the black hole.

The other singularity is at the event horizon. This was not well understood until decades after Schwarzschild. Now it is common for textbook to say that it is a removable singularity, or maybe not a real singularity, because someone falling into the black hole may not notice anything strange at the event horizon. I say "may not", because some argue that someone would see a firewall.

The event horizon does appear to be a singularity in some coordinate systems, and therefore to some observers. Someone watching the black hole might think it very strange that a falling object seems to take an infinite amount of time to cross the event horizon. That infinity is a singularity.

You don't really need to believe in singularities to study black hole physics. The singularities are not observable.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Psychiatrist blogger tries Kuhnian paradigms

Slate Star Codex is a very popular anonymous psychiatrist blog, and he takes a deep dive:
When I hear scientists talk about Thomas Kuhn, he sounds very reasonable. Scientists have theories that guide their work. Sometimes they run into things their theories can’t explain. Then some genius develops a new theory, and scientists are guided by that one. So the cycle repeats, knowledge gained with every step.

When I hear philosophers talk about Thomas Kuhn, he sounds like a madman. There is no such thing as ground-level truth! Only theory! No objective sense-data! Only theory! No basis for accepting or rejecting any theory over any other! Only theory! No scientists! Only theories, wearing lab coats and fake beards, hoping nobody will notice the charade!

I decided to read Kuhn’s The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions in order to understand this better. Having finished, I have come to a conclusion: yup, I can see why this book causes so much confusion. ...

But one of my big complaints about this book is that, for a purported description of How Science Everywhere Is Always Practiced, it really just gives five examples. Ptolemy/Copernicus on astronomy. Alchemy/Dalton on chemistry. Phlogiston/Lavoisier on combustion. Aristotle/Galileo/Newton/Einstein on motion. And ???/Franklin/Coulomb on electricity.

It doesn’t explain any of the examples. If you don’t already know what Coulomb’s contribution to electricity is and what previous ideas he overturned, you’re out of luck. And don’t try looking it up in a book either. Kuhn says that all the books have been written by people so engrossed in the current paradigm that they unconsciously jam past scientists into it, removing all evidence of paradigm shift. This made parts of the book a little beyond my level, since my knowledge of Coulomb begins and ends with “one amp times one second”.

Even saying Kuhn has five examples is giving him too much credit. He usually brings in one of his five per point he’s trying to make, meaning that you never get a really full view of how any of the five examples exactly fit into his system.

And all five examples are from physics. Kuhn says at the beginning that he wished he had time to talk about how his system fits biology, but he doesn’t. He’s unsure whether any of the social sciences are sciences at all, and nothing else even gets mentioned.
Kuhn is popular becaues he allows philosophers, social scientists, and crackpot to deny truth, and to complain that their ideas are just being ignored because they do not fit the paradigm.

SSC is right that Kuhn's points are only about poorly reasoned interpretations of centuries-old physics. Kuhn does not attempt to apply his silly paradigm theory to XX century science at all.

Even tho Kuhn wrote a whole book on quantum mechanics, he could never figure out whether it was a paradigm shift, because the supposed revolution did not match his theory about scientific revolutions.

Kuhn's best example is Ptolemy/Copernicus, but that was 500 years ago, and even that is very misleading.

SSC is right that the scientists who say Kuhn is reasonable will explain by saying something like "knowledge gained with every step." But Kuhn did not really see science that way. Switching from Ptolemy to Copernicus was not an increase in knowledge, he would say, but just a different point of view.

Scientists like to think that they are part of a vast program to establish facts and develop theories that converge on truth. Kuhn firmly rejected that view.

Kuhn has fallen somewhat out of favor among philosophers today, but only because they have moved on to even nuttier ideas of science.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Atomic laws are not deterministic

Evolutionist Jerry Coyne is on a free will rant again:
[Scott] Aaronson thinks there’s a real and important question in the free-will debates, but argues that that question is not whether physical determinism of our thoughts and actions be true, but whether they are predictable. ...

What I meant was “physical determinism” in the sense of “our behavior obeys the laws of physics”, not that it is always PREDICTABLY determined in advance. ...

As he says at 4:15, “My view is that I don’t care about determinism if it can’t be cashed out into actual predictability.”

This seems to me misguided, conflating predictability with the question of determinism. ...

What I care about is whether determinism be true. And I think it is, though of course I can’t prove it. All I can say is that the laws of physics don’t ever seem to be violated, and, as Sean Carroll emphasizes, the physics of everyday life is completely known. ...

What I meant was “physical determinism” in the sense of “our behavior obeys the laws of physics”, not that it is always PREDICTABLY determined in advance. ...

I’m doing my best to explain what seems obvious to me: we are material creatures made of atoms; our behaviors and actions stem from the arrangement of those atoms in our brains, and those atoms must obey the laws of physics. Therefore, our behaviors and actions must obey the laws of physics, and are “deterministic” in that sense. We are, in effect, robots made of meat, with a really sophisticated onboard guidance system. I know many people don’t like that notion, but I think that, given the laws of physics, it’s ineluctable.
I have to side with Aaronson here, and wonder what Coyne even means by "the laws of physics".

Of course the laws of physics are not violated. If they were, then they would not be laws of physics. Saying that does not tell us anything about free will.

Saying that we are made of atoms that obey the laws of physics is an odd argument for determinism. Our best theories about atoms are not deterministic.

Carroll has his own problems, as he believes in many-worlds.

Monday, January 14, 2019

IBM announces quantum computer

ExtremeTech reports:
At CES 2019, IBM Research has made what it hopes is a big step in that direction with what it calls the “first fully-integrated commercial quantum computer,” the Q System One. ...

IBM will be adding the Q System One to its arsenal of cloud-accessible quantum computers, first at its existing quantum data center, and at a new one planned for Poughkeepsie, New York. So for those who aren’t Fortune 500 companies with a budget to purchase their own (IBM hasn’t announced a price for the unit, but if you have to ask…), they’ll be able to make use of one. The current version reportedly “only” supports 20 Qubits, so the breakthrough isn’t in processing power compared with other research models, but instead in reliability and industrial design suitable for use in commercial environments.
This computer will be outperformed by your cell phone.

If the computer could actually do anything useful or have any performance advantage, you can be sure that IBM would be bragging about it. If they could achieve quantum supremacy, there would be academic papers and lobbying for a Nobel Prize.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Brian Greene still plugging string theory

Sam Harris interviews Brian Greene in this two-hour video.

Greene is indignant when Harris says that string theory has failed to deliver the goods. Greene says that the theory has made great progress, and has merged gravity and quantum mechanics. The only trouble is that we do not know what that merged theory is, and it has made any testable predictions. That is not much of a criticism, he says, because no quantum gravity theory will ever make any testable predictions.

Someone asked about Bohr saying that physics is about observables. Greene prefers a wider view, and says that physics should look behind the curtain and tell us what is really going on.

So Greene can justify a string theory with no testable predictions.

Greene also defended many-worlds theory and Bohmian mechanics, altho he has not fully adopted them because the measurement problem is unsolved.

Harris points out that Bohmian mechanics is nonlocal, so doing something in one place can have an instantaneous distant effect. Greene agreed, but said that quantum mechanics is nonlocal anyway.

Greene is very misleading here. It is true that in textbook QM, if you make a measurement and collapse the wavefunction, then your knowledge of some distant particle can be immediately affected. You can say that is nonlocal, but classical mechanics is nonlocal in the same way. Bohmian mechanics is different in that it says that an electron is in one place, but its physical effects are in another place. That is a fatal flaw, since no such nonlocality has ever been observed in nature.

And any defense of many-worlds is nutty.

He gives this argument, common among many-worlds advocates, that it is a simpler theory, and thus preferable under Occam's Razor. He gives an example. Suppose a simple quantum experiments results in an electron being in one of two places, symbolized by his left hand and right hand. Suppose you then find the electron in his left hand. Under Copenhagen, you would deduce that the electron is not in his right hand. But that deduction is an extra step, and the many-worlds theory is more parsimonious because it skips that step and posits that the electron is in his right hand in a parallel universe.

It is amazing to see an educated man make such a silly argument with a straight face. The argument really doesn't even have much to do with quantum mechanics, as you could use it with any theory that makes predictions, and concoct a many-worlds variant of the theory that does not make any predictions.

Besides many-worlds, Greene defends physical theories in which anything can happen. If you assume infinite space, infinite time, infinite universes, etc., then pretty much anything you can imagine would be happening somewhere, and happening infinitely many times. In particular, Jesus rose from the dead.

Greene agrees with Harris that humans have no free will. Greene rejects Harris's determinism, but says that the laws of physics have no room for free will.

At least Greene did not go along with Harris's wacky consequentialist vegetarian philosophy.

It is too bad that Physics does not have better spokesmen.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Paper argues QM is about determinables

I posted on the characteristic trait of quantum mechanics. Now David Albert wrote a paper with his own novel view:
I distinguish between two conceptually different kinds of physical space: a space of ordinary material bodies, which is the space of points at which I could imaginably place (say) the tip of my finger, or the center of a billiard-ball, and a space of elementary physical determinables, which is the smallest space of points such that stipulating what is happening at each one of those points, at every time, amounts to an exhaustive physical history of the universe. In all classical physical theories, these two spaces happen to coincide – and what we mean by calling a theory “classical”, and all we mean by calling a theory “classical”, is (I will argue) precisely that these two spaces coincide. But once the distinction between these two spaces in on the table, it becomes clear that there is no logical or conceptual reason why they must coincide – and it turns out (and this is the main topic of the present paper) that a very simple way of pulling them apart from one another gives us quantum mechanics.
He presents this as how to teach quantum mechanics, as he says it is the essence of the quantum mysteries.

To explain his artificial examples, he has to use non-local Hamiltonians, and refer to kooky interpretations like many-worlds and Bohmian pilot waves. His whole idea of determinables is based on thinking of particles as existing as points in space.

I don't think his approach helps to understand quantum mechanics at all. I am just posting this as another opinion of how quantum mechanics differs from classical mechanics.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The characteristic trait of quantum mechanics

Erwin Schroedinger introduced the term "entanglement" with this 1935 paper:
1. When two systems, of which we know the states by their respective representatives, enter into temporary physical interaction due to known forces between them, and when after a time of mutual influence the systems separate again, then they can no longer be described in the same way as before, viz. by endowing each of them with a representative of its own. I would not call that one but rather the characteristic trait of quantum mechanics, the one that enforces its entire departure from classical lines of thought. By the interaction the two representatives (or ψ-functions) have become entangled. To disentangle them we must gather further information by experiment, although we knew as much as anybody could possibly know about all that happened.
This is an important insight, but I don't agree that this is really "the characteristic trait of quantum mechanics.

How is it that quantum mechanics allows creating systems where we could know "as much as anybody could possibly know", and still leave some questions unanswered?

In order for entanglement to seem so mysterious, it has to be combined with some other quantum mystery.

I have argued here that the the characteristic trait of quantum mechanics is the non-commuting observables.

Sure enough, Schroedinger’s argument in the next few pages depends on non-commuting observables. That is where the quantum weirdness is. It is not so weird that our knowledge of a system could depend on a system with which it previously interacted.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Mind Body Problems

SciAm writer John Horgan is plugging his latest book, Mind-Body Problems: Science, Subjectivity and Who We Really Are. You can read it online for free.

It does not actually solve the mind-body problem, but rather tells you about an assortment of characters who are trying.

Check out his website, or an EconTalk interview of him.

Machines appear deterministic (until chaos, at least), while human minds do not. If you believe in the reductionist scientific program, then it should be possible to look at smaller and smaller scales until determinism disappears.

That is exactly what we see, of course. Mechanistic determinism disappears at the atomic level.

When you point this out to anti-free-will advocates, they say you are looking at randomness, not free will. You are supposed to recognize it as random because you cannot predict it.

Isn't that how you are supposed to recognize free will? The hallmark of free will is that someone else cannot predict the action.

One of Horgan's arguments is that the existence of free will is implied by the observation that some people have more of it than others. Okay, I accept that. But then he cites babies as having not very much free will.

No, I think toddlers have more free will than adults. Maybe not newborn babies, but by age 1.5, they make dozens of decisions a day, completely autonomously.

Horgan's main argument is that free will is essential for his entire outlook on life. He has figured out how to dispense with God and religion, but not free will.

Sabine Hossenfelder rips into one of the ideas that Horgan is pursuing:
I recently discovered panpsychism. That’s the idea that all matter – animate or inanimate – is conscious, we just happen to be somewhat more conscious than carrots. Panpsychism is the modern elan vital.

The particles in the standard model are classified by their properties, which are collectively called “quantum numbers.” The electron, for example, has an electric charge of -1 and it can have a spin of +1/2 or -1/2. ...

Now, if you want a particle to be conscious, your minimum expectation should be that the particle can change. It’s hard to have an inner life with only one thought. But if electrons could have thoughts, we’d long have seen this in particle collisions because it would change the number of particles produced in collisions.

In other words, electrons aren’t conscious, and neither are any other particles. It’s incompatible with data.
A comment relates this to an ancient argument:
I think it's interesting to relate it to Galen's argument against atomism. He claimed that (i) atoms cannot be conscious, since they are unchanging, (ii) no combination of unconscious parts can be conscious, (iii) we are conscious. Therefore, we cannot be combinations of atoms.
This issue drew a surprisingly large number of comments, with some defending panpsychism.

Some view consciousness and free will as mere illusions. I think that view degenerates into life being meaningless, but some intelligent folks say it anyway.

If you believe in consciousness and free will, it seems plausible to me that the quantum mechanics of electrons and other particles could play an essential role. Otherwise, consciousness and free will would have to arise in classical deterministic machines, and that is even harder to imagine. I think that Bee has fallen for a version of Galen's fallacy.

Update: Lubos Motl sides with panpsychism. His argument is that if there is human consciousness, and if we are all made of atoms, then those atoms must have tiny bits of whatever consciousness is.