Monday, April 29, 2024

Baggot has a New Book on Quantum History

Jim Baggott wrote an essay plugging his latest book:
‘Shut up and calculate’: how Einstein lost the battle to explain quantum reality

By suppressing questions they considered too ‘philosophical’, post-war physicists created an unquestioning orthodoxy that influences science to this day.

I agree that Einstein lost the battle, and that mainstream physicists came to the conclusion that pursuing philosophical questions is an unscientific waste of time.
Quantum mechanics is an extraordinarily successful scientific theory, on which much of our technology-obsessed lifestyles depend. It is also bewildering. Although the theory works, it leaves physicists chasing probabilities instead of certainties and breaks the link between cause and effect. It gives us particles that are waves and waves that are particles, cats that seem to be both alive and dead, and lots of spooky quantum weirdness around hard-to-explain phenomena, such as quantum entanglement.
Yes, QM is successful and works. But it is nonsense to say it is deficient because it "leaves physicists chasing probabilities instead of certainties and breaks the link between cause and effect." All scientific theories do that, to the extent QM does.
How, then, is the correlation established? Do the particles somehow remain in contact, sending messages to each other or exerting influences on each other over vast distances at speeds faster than light, in conflict with Einstein’s special theory of relativity?

The alternative possibility, equally discomforting to contemplate, is that the entangled particles do not actually exist independently of each other. They are ‘non-local’, implying that their properties are not fixed until a measurement is made on one of them.

Both these alternatives were unacceptable to Einstein, leading him to conclude that quantum mechanics cannot be complete.

Those alternatives are also unacceptable to Bohr and most followers of the Copenhagen interpretation. The particles do exist locally, and are not in contact with distant particles.

The paradox occurs when Einstein tries to complete QM by adding some unobservable ideas. If you stick to Bohr's positivism, all is fine.

It seemed that dissidents faced serious repercussions. When US physicist John Clauser — a pioneer of experimental tests of quantum mechanics in the early 1970s — struggled to find an academic position, he was clear in his own mind about the reasons. He thought he had fallen foul of the ‘religion’ fostered by Bohr and the Copenhagen church:
Clauser was trying to disprove QM. Had he succeeded, he would have been a big hero. As it was, his work was not interesting to those who thought that QM was well-tested, and his research would not find anything new.

Yes, Clauser did eventually get a Nobel Prize, but not for discovering any new physics. Only for confirming what everyone knew. In particular, the Nobel committee did not criticize the Copenhagen interpration, or endorse Einsteinian completeness or nonlocality.

The Americanization of post-war physics meant that no value was placed on ‘philosophical’ debates that did not yield practical results. The task of ‘getting to the numbers’ meant that there was no time or inclination for the kind of pointless discussion in which Bohr and Einstein had indulged.
Yes, that was the Golden Age of American science. Doing good science, instead of the meaningless philosophical ideas that have diverted physicists today, such as string theory, many-worlds, etc.
These developments conspired to produce a subtly different kind of orthodoxy. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), US philosopher Thomas Kuhn describes ‘normal’ science as the everyday puzzle-solving activities of scientists in the context of a prevailing ‘paradigm’. This can be interpreted as the foundational framework on which scientific understanding is based. Kuhn argued that researchers pursuing normal science tend to accept foundational theories without question and seek to solve problems within the bounds of these concepts. Only when intractable problems accumulate and the situation becomes intolerable might the paradigm ‘shift’, in a process that Kuhn likened to a political revolution.
Kuhn then wrote a book on a history of the discovery of QM, and he failed to find a paradigm shift or anything matching his wacky theory of scientific revolutions.
A persistent myth was created that suggests Bohr won the argument by browbeating the stubborn and increasingly isolated Einstein into submission. ...

My latest book Quantum Drama, co-written with science historian John Heilbron, explores the origins of this myth and its role in motivating the singular personalities that would go on to challenge it. Their persistence in the face of widespread indifference paid off, because they helped to lay the foundations for a quantum-computing industry expected to be worth tens of billions by 2040.

I will skip this book. He is peddling nonsense that got resolved decades ago. Questioning the Copenhagen interpretation has not led to any advances in quantum computing or anything else. I do not believe the quantum computing industry will be worth anything in 2040. It has no proven value so far.

All of the quantum computing researchers use the Copenhagen interpretation to design and carry out their experiments. There are a few who think that the results might be better understandable with many-theory, but many-worlds and non-local theories have had zero influence on the research. There is no chance that quantum computers will prove Einstein right, or Bohr wrong, or anything like that.


  1. I thought string theory and many worlds was American?

  2. The Golden Age of American Physics peaked about 50 years ago.

  3. Niels Bohr was practically a mystic, he was not the hard sciency person you are posing him as. Read some history, and look up his near incoherent musings and meanderings on 'dualism' sometime. He also pulled a Lord Kelvin pronunciation out of his ass that has crippled critical analysis of his work for decades (up until now anyway) by claiming no one could visualize what was going on and do better. Well, they can, they just have to jettison a flakey pure math model that tells them they can never do better.

    As for the idea of using philosophy in physics...why not? At least you have someone asking, 'Why is the emperor naked?', 'When you don't see the moon, is it still there?'. This is not a little philosophical 'trifle', It is the basis of reality that things don't appear and disappear just because you do or don't happen to be looking at them, or are incapable of keeping track of things. The cat can't and never could be 'alive AND dead', was supposed to be a lesson of what not to do, not what to repeat as gospel, this is what happens when math is utterly misused as a physical mechanism instead of a heuristic logical construct, as math has never been and never will be a physical causation.


    Bash crap philosophy if you like, but don't throw out your most useful critical thought tools because you discover someone misused some of them. Take back your intellectual heritage, stop trying to purify it by burning it to the god damn ground and expecting the present crowd of morons who can't even define what a woman is to replace them with something remotely useful.

  4. Bohr made 100x more sense than Kuhn. That is how I see it.

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