Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The Inexhaustible Nonsense of David Bohm

A new paper tries to figure out whether a physicist was a determinist:
If David Bohm is known for one thing, it is for developing a fully deterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics. ...

On December 4, 1950, at the height of the cold war and the McCarthy era, Bohm was indicted for contempt of Congress, because of his affiliations with communism and his refusal to testify for the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) (Freire 2019, 56-62). This led to him being suspended from his job at Princeton University. He had been a member of the communist party for a brief period in 1942, and although he had quickly become disappointed with the party, he had remained a Marxist. During the months he was suspended, Bohm had a lot of free time, which he used to develop an alternative interpretation of quantum physics (Bohm to Schatzman, 1952, in Besson 2018, 335).

By July 1951, Bohm had sent his article, “A suggested interpretation of the quantum theory in terms of ‘hidden’ variables”, to Physical Review, where it was published in early 1952. In Bohm’s interpretation, which is similar to an earlier proposal by De Broglie, particles have a well-defined position and momentum at all times and thus a well-defined path, and their movement is guided by a quantum potential which is derived from the Schrödinger equation. This interpretation yields exactly the same predictions as the standard interpretation. It is indeed deterministic;

They call it deterministic, but when it says a particle is in a particular place, it could really be miles away. QM predicts probablilities. If Bohm were really making the same predictions, then it would predict probabilities.

Bohm sometimes called his interpretation "causal" byt it allows particles to be guided by action-at-a-distance from far-away ghosts. This is the opposite of what most people mean by causal.

There is a Marxist element in Bohm’s conception of infinite levels of nature: Bohm himself directly connects it with dialectical materialism (Talbot 2017, 255). 4 In a later interview, Bohm said:
I remember also, before leaving the United States, I picked up something in the Princeton library, some Soviet publication which mentioned Lenin saying that the electron was inexhaustible. (…). That sort of struck a chord because I said, ‘Well, not only the electron, but everything, all matter is inexhaustible’.5
This refers to a passage from Lenin’s book Materialism and Empirio-criticism, in which Lenin argues against positivism. Lenin writes: “The electron is as inexhaustible as the atom, nature is infinite, but it infinitely exists” (Lenin 1947, 243). Also for Lenin, this meant that our knowledge of nature can never be complete. Bohm’s view of an infinite number of levels of nature was probably also influenced by Friedrich Engels, who also proposes a view according to which there are different levels of nature, with qualitatively new properties emerging at higher levels (Sheehan 1985, 34). Engels argues for materialism, but this is not a crude materialism but rather organicist and emergentist: there is always an emergence of qualitatively new properties. ...

The book Causality and Chance in Modern Physics does not mention the names Engels, Marx, Lenin, Hegel, or the word ‘dialectical’, but it is very clearly based on dialectical materialism. In fact, in his correspondence from his time in Brazil, he mentions working on a book on dialectical materialism, which is probably this book (Talbot 2017, 291). ...

Marxism is often associated with determinism, and especially with the idea that there are laws determining the development of society. But there are different schools in Marxist philosophy. Freire himself has pointed out that there was a variety of Marxist views on quantum physics,

Bohm still has a cult following today. I am not sure why. He had a lot of bad ideas.

Some people say quantum mechanics is nonlocal, because certain correlations cannot be explained by a classical theory. Bohm's theory really is nonlocal. Particles are influenced by distant ghosts. It contradicts almost everything we know about cause and effect.

Einstein was also a determinist, a Zionist, and belonged to a bunch of Communist front organization. I do not know whether his leftist politics influenced his Physics.

I prefer to judge Bohm and Einstein by their Physics. If you look to them for philosophical ideas, remember that these were terrible people with terrible politics.

Update: There just appeared a similar paper, by different authors, also arguing that Bohm was anti-determinist, even though he is mostly famous for introducing a determinist alternative to quantum mechanics. It glosses over his Communism:
After completing his PhD with Robert Oppenheimer at Berkeley in the 1940s and a post at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton, in 1951, Bohm fell victim of the witch-hunt of McCarthyism because of his adherence to Marxism; this led him to a life of exile: firstly to Brazil, then to Israel, and finally to the UK, where he spent the rest of his life (see [25, 17] for biographies of Bohm).
No, I don't think that he had anything to do with Sen. McCarthy, and I don't think McCarthy ever went after anyone for adhering to Marxism.

I don't know why it matters whether Bohm was a determinist. Einstein was an avowed determinist. His opinions on the subject are not given much weight by either his fans or his detractors.

Bohm has his followers at infinitepotential.com, and there is an upcoming conference on his ideas.

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