Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Why the World is Quantum

Scott Aaronson asks:
Q: Why should the universe have been quantum-mechanical?

If you want, you can divide Q into two subquestions:

Q1: Why didn’t God just make the universe classical and be done with it? What would’ve been wrong with that choice?

Q2: Assuming classical physics wasn’t good enough for whatever reason, why this specific alternative? Why the complex-valued amplitudes? Why the unitary transformations? Why the Born rule? Why the tensor product?

He acts as if quantum mechanics is strange and complicated, and reality would be simpler if it were governed by classical mechanics.

I doubt it. Quantum mechanics allows for matter being composed of atoms, and being stable. I don't know how you get that in a classical theory. It also allows for human consciousness and free will. Again, I don't see how else you get that.

Scott explains:

Most importantly, people keep wanting to justify QM by reminding me about specific difficulties with the classical physics of the 19th century: for example, the ultraviolet catastrophe. To clarify, I never had any quarrel with the claim that, starting with 19th-century physics (especially electromagnetism), QM provided the only sensible completion.

But, to say it one more time, what would’ve been wrong with a totally different starting point—let’s say, a classical cellular automaton? Sure, it wouldn’t lead to our physics, but it would lead to some physics that was computationally universal and presumably able to support complex life (at least, until I see a good argument otherwise).

Which brings me to Stephen Wolfram, who several commenters already brought up. As I’ve been saying since 2002 (!!), Wolfram’s entire program for physics is doomed, precisely because it starts out by ignoring quantum mechanics, to the point where it can’t even reproduce violations of the Bell inequality. Then, after he notices the problem, Wolfram grafts little bits and pieces of QM onto his classical CA-like picture in a wholly inadequate and unconvincing way, never actually going so far as to define a Hilbert space or the operators on it.

Even so, you could call me a “Wolframian” in the following limited sense, and in that sense only: I view it as a central task for physics to explain why Wolfram turns out to be wrong!

Here is an explanation of Wolfram's project:
Wolfram’s framework is discrete, finite, and digital (based on a generalization of the cellular automata described in “A New Kind of Science”). Matter, energy, space, time, and quantum behavior emerge from underlying digital graphs. ...

Wolfram’s digital physics is fully deterministic, which seems to exclude free will.

But there is computational irreducibility: The strong unpredictability found in finite digital computations with simple evolution rules.

If you want to know what happens in the future of an irreducible digital computation, you must run the computation through all intermediate steps. There is no shortcut that permits predicting, with total certainty, what will happen in the future, without actually running the computation.

At this moment the question that I’m interested in is: Is computational irreducibility an “acceptable” replacement for free will?

So in Wolfram's world, you have no free will, but you might be able to make decisions that others cannot predict because of computational complexity?

Computer complexity is Scott's favorite subject, so I guess this has some appeal to him.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Blaming Von Neumann for Quantum Mechanics

John von Neumann was one of the founders of quantum mechanics, with his immensely influential 1932 textbook. Among physicists tho, he seems to get more blame than credit.

He gets blamed for ruling out hidden variable theories. He was actually correct, as explained by Dieks and Motl.

Now a new paper on Von Neumann's book, the Compton-Simon experiment and the collapse hypothesis blames him for collapse of the wave function.

Few things in physics have caused so much hand-wringing as von Neumann's collapse hypothesis. Unable to derive it mathematically, von Neumann attributed it to interaction with the observer's brain! Few physicists agreed, but tweaks of von Neumann's measurement theory did not lead to collapse, and Shimony and Brown proved theorems establishing `the insolubility of the quantum measurement problem'. Many different `interpretations' of quantum mechanics were put forward, none gained a consensus, and some scholars suggested that the foundations of quantum mechanics were flawed to begin with. Yet, in the last ninety years, no-one looked into now von Neumann had arrived at his collapse hypothesis!

Von Neumann based his argument on the experiment of Compton and Simon. But, by comparing readings from von Neumann's book and the Compton-Simon paper, we find that the experiment provides no evidence for the collapse hypothesis; von Neumann had misread it completely!

I don't know about this experiment, but collapse of the wave function is observed. Not directly, as the wave function is not directly observed, but measurements do put systems into eigenstates that determine future measurements.

This is textbook quantum mechanics.

Believers of many-worlds theory do not want to accept it, as they believe that the wave function splits into a collapsed version that we see, and other pieces in parallel universes that cannot be seen. So they are always complaining about the collapse, as they think it is unfairly discriminating against other universes.

Regardless, we see the collapse in our universe, and we are all indebted to von Neumann for figuring this out.

The paper has some amusing anecdotes about his memory, and this:

When von Neumann’s seminal book appeared in English, Wigner told Abner Shimony: “I have learned much about quantum the- ory from Johnny, but the material in his Chapter Six Johnny learnt all from me”.
So maybe the credit/blame for collapse should go to Eugene Wigner? He supposedly once said that a dog's consciousness could collapse a wave function.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Feyerabend was Driven Mad by Quantum Mechanics

Paul Feyerabend was an inflential XX-century philosopher of science. He is mainly known for anti-science opinions, such as denying that there is a scientific method, and denying truth, such as this:
And it is of course not true that we have to follow the truth. Human life is guided by many ideas. Truth is one of them. Freedom and mental independence are others. If Truth, as conceived by some ideologists, conflicts with freedom, then we have a choice. We may abandon freedom. But we may also abandon Truth.

Now a new paper explains that he did some serious quantum mechanics research, before going off the deep end. He joins a long list of scholars who went mad, after studying quantum mechanics.

It correctly explains that quantum mechanics was invented as a logical positivist theory:

The Goettingen-Copenhagen school of physicists developed quantum mechanics in remarkable concordance with the philosophy of positivism. ...

As a first approximation, positivism here denotes the project aiming to give an account of scientific knowledge as best exemplified by Logical Empiricism committing to an empiricist account of science rejecting transcendental-idealist accounts involving the synthetic a priori, while at the same developing a non-empiricist account of mathematics against earlier empiricists, lime Hume or Mill.

As the development of modern physics was propelled by inextricably combining physics and mathematics, the challenge to positivism was to draw a (reliable) distinction between the empirical and non-empirical components of physical theories, such that the only the former had any physical meaning.

This was very upsetting to philosophers. I could summarize XX-century philosophy of science by saying it mostly consisted of scholars concocting contrived excuses for rejecting logical positivism.

Now this evil has infected physics also, with many leading physics communicators rejecting textbook Copenhagen quantum mechanics.

Hardly anyone, outside of mathematicians, accepts the above crucial distinction between math and science. Max Tegmark even denies that there is any distinction at all, between math and science. So does this physicist blogger.

Rejection of logical positivism underlies much of what has gone wrong in physics and philosophy of science of the last 60 years. And for what? It was not proved wrong. The Copenhagen interpretation is much better than modern alternatives, like many-worlds. I think that it is all some soft of leftist ideology.

A modern philosopher says:

your insistence on a categorical separation between physics and metaphysics that is a hangover from logical positivism. Positivists believed they could make a neat distinction between what is “scientific” (meaningful) and what is “metaphysical” (meaningless, unscientific), based on their verification criterion of meaning. But that distinction has been abandoned at least since Quine, along with the criterion of verifiability. Most philosophers are scientific realists, even though “realism” would have been rejected as “meaningless metaphysics” by the positivists. By using inference to the best explanation, you can really support realism, or naturalism, or any other “metaphysical” view with scientific evidence. For non-positivists, “metaphysics” is just a word for science at a highest level of abstraction.
What he is saying here is that Quine wrote a silly straw-man attack on positivism in 1951, and every since philosophers have refused to distinguish what is meaningful from what is meaningless. So they call themselves "realists", even though that means believing in things that cannot be supported by evidence. That is science at the highest level, according to them.

Curiously the above opinion was written to attack theism, but it sounds like a religious belief to me. He was responding as an atheist to a theist who was also relying on philosophers having denied logical positivism. The theist wanted to deny positivism so that he could believe in God without empirical evidence. The atheist philosopher wants to deny positivism so that he can believe in scientific realism, where realism is defined to include beliefs that are not backed by empirical evidence.  They differ in what they choose for their non-empirical beliefs.

This blog defends logical positivism. I feel as if I am keeping lost knowledge alive.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Aaronson Tackles Tardigrades and Superdeterminism

FQXi brags that one of the hot new advances of 2021 was entangling a qubit with a tardigrade.

Scott Aaronson says it is nonsense. He also trashes Sabine Hossenfelder’s recent argument for superdeterminism.

It strikes me that no one who saw quantum mechanics as a profound clue about the nature of reality could ever, in a trillion years, think that superdeterminism looked like a promising route forward given our current knowledge. The only way you could think that, it seems to me, is if you saw quantum mechanics as an anti-clue: a red herring, actively misleading us about how the world really is. ...

One of the wonderful things about science is that, if a theory is not only giving you no gains in explanatory power but is actually giving you a loss, you always have the option to reject the theory with extreme prejudice, as I’d recommend in the case of superdeterminism. ...

One of the wonderful things about science is that, if a theory is not only giving you no gains in explanatory power but is actually giving you a loss, you always have the option to reject the theory with extreme prejudice, as I’d recommend in the case of superdeterminism.

He is right. With superdeterminism, there is no underlying theory that makes any sense. There is no way to test it, even if there were. If you choose to accept it, you get no gain in explanatory or predictive power. And you are forced to reject nearly all of today's science. It really is as bad as it sounds.

But Scott fails to grasp that the same could be said of Many-Worlds theory. It is just as bad. It is impossible for anyone with a clue to defend it.

I see superdeterminism as having roughly the same scientific merit as creationism. Indeed, superdeterminism and creationism both say that the whole observed world is, in a certain sense, a lie and an illusion (while denying that they say this). They both consider this an acceptable price to pay in order to preserve some specific belief that most of us would say was undermined by the progress of science. For the creationist, God planted the fossils into the ground to confound the paleontologists. For the superdeterminist, the initial conditions, or the failure of Statistical Independence, or the global trajectory-selecting principle, or whatever the hell else you want to call it, planted the random numbers into our brains and our computers to confound the quantum physicists. Only one of these hypotheses is rooted in ancient scripture, but they both do exactly the same sort of violence to a rational understanding of the world.
He seems to mean Young-Earth creationism, which is a modern Protestant evangelical invention. I actually think superdeterminism and Many-Worlds are worse. Creationism does not deny your free will and your ability to rationally anaylize the data.

Update: Aaronson endorsed Many-Worlds in 2018. He made all the same errors as the superdeterminists.

He says that Many-Worlds is just an interpretation, and makes all the same predictions as quantum mechanics. This is the same fallacious argument that the superdeterminists say. Here is 't Hooft's paper, arguing that superdeterminism is just an interpretation.

Aaronson is wrong about this. Many-worlds theory cannot make a prediction. All possibilities happen, in parallel worlds. No worlds are any more probable than any others. You can never prove anyone wrong about anything, because the many=worlds advocate will just say that his prediction was true in a parallel world that we cannot observe.

As he says about superdeterminism, many-worlds is as bad as it sounds, many-worlds is a total dead end, and no one with a clue would ever pursue anything so silly.

Many-worlds says that the whole observed world is a lie and an illusion, because it is all just a parameter space of every possibility. Nothing you do is real, as you just slip into splitting worlds. There is no rational understanding of the world.

Update: Aaronsoon says:

an interpretation (Many Worlds) that was specifically designed to yield no new experimental predictions
More precisely, it was designed to avoid all experimental predictions. If you say that all possibilities happen in the parallel worlds, then no matter what happens, you can say it is consistent with the prediction because we happen to be in the world that has what is seen.

That is, if a theory predicts a dead cat, then you can test by waiting to see if the cat dies. But many-worlds predicts a world with a live cat, and a world with a dead cat. Whether the cat lives or dies, it will match one of the predicted worlds.

Many-worlds is never able to predict any better than that.

Update: Aaronson adds:

:

    How is super-determinism different from ordinary, Newtonian determinism? And in particular: what objections against superdeterminism (especially those revolving around our ability or in ability to do scientific experiments) do not work equally well against ordinary determinism?

With ordinary Newtonian determinism, there’s no global constraint affecting our brains or our random number generators: you just fix the initial conditions and then iterate forward. You still have effective probability because of your ignorance of microstates, so you can still build effective random number generators and use them to choose the control group in your vaccine trial. The fact that you “couldn’t have chosen otherwise” can be left to the philosophers, just like it is in our world.

The trouble with superdeterminism is not the determinism but the “super”: that is, the global constraints that prevent you from making effectively random choices and therefore from doing most scientific experiments. Once you’ve introduced that, you can use it to explain (or explain away) basically any experimental result, according to your convenience.

Yes, that is correct. But many-worlds likewise lets you explain away basically any experiments.

Many-worlds forbids randomness. There are world splittings instead. Those splittings do not come with probabilities. Your choices are not constrained, as in superdeterminism, but illusions. Either way, they are not what they appear to be.

Monday, January 10, 2022

How Einstein got the Nobel Prize

A new paper tells a story that you can also find in Einstein biographies:
The incredibly strange story of Einstein's Nobel prize
Palash B. Pal

It is well-known that Einstein got the 1921 Nobel prize not for his theory of relativity, but for his theory of photoelectricity. It is not that well-known that he did not get the prize in 1921. Why not, and when did he get it?

The strange part is that he did not get the prize for relativity, even though that is what made him famous, and that is what got him the most nominations.
The citation said that Einstein was receiving his prize “for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.” There was no mention of relativity. There are good reasons to believe that the subject was deliberately omitted, since in his nomination history the reports on relativity were not favorable. ...

However, it has to be said that relativity was not completely omitted in the entire event. The presentation speech for the 1921 Nobel Physics prize was made by Svante Arrhenius. He started his speech like this:

There is probably no physicist living today whose name has become so widely known as that of Albert Einstein. Most discussion centres on his theory of relativity. This pertains essentially to epistemology and has therefore been the subject of lively debate in philosophical circles. It will be no secret that the famous philosopher Bergson in Paris has challenged this theory, while other philosophers have acclaimed it wholeheartedly. The theory in question also has astrophysical implications which are being rigorously examined at the present time.
So, Arrhenius admired relativity and recognized its importance. But he thought that it was essentially “epistemology”. The word, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, means “the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity”.
Conventional wisdom is that Arrhenius and the Swedes did not appreciate the importance of special relativity. How could anyone say that it was just epsistemology?

I think that the Swedes knew exactly what they were doing. They already gave a Nobel prize to Lorents in 1902 for electromagnetism, and figured out the relativity of electromagnetism about as well as Einstein did. Lorentz had all the necessary equations for the Lorentz transformations.

So what was Einstein's original contribution? It was not to electromagnetism. It was not the formulas, as they had already been published. In short, it was neither the math or the physics.

It was not for popularizing special relativity. As the article explains, Einstein's now-famous 1905 special relativity was not particular influential at the time. The theory became accepted mostly from the works of Lorentz, Poincare, and Minkowski.

Nor was Einstein's approach of any long term significance. The theory that became fundamental physics was the non-Euclidean geometry of spacetime, and Einstein had nothing to do with the development of that.

Nevertheless, people do credit Einstein with a certain view towards special relativity, and it is essentially epistemology. It is not the sort of thing that Nobel prizes are given for.

I have read many essays crediting Einstein for relativity. Most concentrate on special relativity, and his 1905 paper. Many are simply ignorant of other work.

But many are aware of other work, and are careful not to credit Einstein with any new mathematics or physics. Instead they credit Einstein with some subtle philosophical view. And it is a view that is not necessarily shared by anyone else, and maybe not by Einstein himself.

For example, some credit Einstein for his non-positivism. Others explicitly relied on Michelson-Morley and other experiments, and conceded that the theory could be disproved by future experiments. Einstein took what others had proved and called it postulates.

Another new paper by Galina Weinstein on Einstein and Mercury's orbit has a whole section speculating on why he did not give any credit to Besso, his collaborator on the project. Only at the end does she allude to the fact that Einstein spent his entire life cheating others out of credit, so there was nothing unusual about cheating his friend Besso.

The paper has some discussion about whether a miscalculation about Mercury's orbit should have falsified general relativity. I did not get this, as the Mercury orbit anomaly did not falsify Newtonian gravity. I believe I read somewhere that Poincare first proposed that relativity could partially explain the anomaly, but I no longer have the reference.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Overused Term: No Evidence

Astral Codex Ten (aka Scott Alexander, as outed by the NY Times, aka Slate Star Codex) writes:
Science communicators are using the same term - “no evidence” - to mean:
  1. This thing is super plausible, and honestly very likely true, but we haven’t checked yet, so we can’t be sure.

  2. We have hard-and-fast evidence that this is false, stop repeating this easily debunked lie.

This is utterly corrosive to anybody trusting science journalism.

He has a point. I first noticed this in evolutionism debates, where scientists attack creationism and other ideas because religion has "no evidence" to support. Then I saw it a lot in covid stories, as authorities would claim that hydroxychloriquine and ivermectin had "no evidence" of benefits.

I agree that this is poor reasoning and reporting.

I am personally partial to logical positivism, where it is considered reasonable to reject an idea because it has no evidence. But these folks are not positivism. They are just spinning stories to their biases.

In most cases, there is evidence. There is eyewitness testimony. There are published papers showing a positive effect to the drugs.

Okay, maybe the witnesses are unreliable. Maybe their reports can be explained in other ways. Maybe those published studies are not high-power double-blind controlled experiments.

For example, there is plenty of evidence for UFOs. There are eyewitnesses, and pictures and video recordings. I have seen them. They are almost certainly not visitors from another planet, as other explanations seem much more likely to me, but the pictures are certainly evidence of something funny going on.

A related overused term is "credible". As in:

She made a credible accusation of inappropriate sexual conduct in 1985, so the politician resigned.
Often these are recovered memories of wildly implausible events, with no specific dates or places. The term "no evidence" might be more appropriate, except that men sometimes go to prison for it. And women too, in the case of Ghislaine Maxwell.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Too Many Scientists are White Men

Scientific American magazine published an essay falsely calling the recently deceased E.O. Wilson a racist, and adding:
Other scholars have pointed out that feminist standpoint theory is helpful in understanding white empiricism and who is eligible to be a worthy observer of the human condition and our world.
The link explains:
In this article I take on the question of how the exclusion of Black American women from physics impacts physics epistemologies, and I highlight the dynamic relationship between this exclusion and the struggle for women to reconcile “Black woman” with “physicist.” I describe the phenomenon where white epistemic claims about science—which are not rooted in empirical evidence—receive more credence and attention than Black women’s epistemic claims about their own lives. ...

To provide an example of the role that white empiricism plays in physics, I discuss the current debate in string theory about postempiricism, motivated in part by a question: why are string theorists calling for an end to empiricism rather than an end to racial hegemony? I believe the answer is that knowledge production in physics is contingent on the ascribed identities of the physicists.

I think the idea here is that the Copenhagen interpretation teaches that an observation of a quantum experiment by a white man collapses the wave function, but one by a Black woman does not. Yes, she capitalizes Black but not white.

Nature, the sister magazine, has also gone woke racist:

Too many scientists still say Caucasian

Of the ten clinical genetics labs in the United States that share the most data with the research community, seven include ‘Caucasian’ as a multiple-choice category for patients’ racial or ethnic identity, despite the term having no scientific basis. Nearly 5,000 biomedical papers since 2010 have used ‘Caucasian’ to describe European populations. This suggests that too many scientists apply the term, either unbothered by or unaware of its roots in racist taxonomies used to justify slavery — or worse, adding to pseudoscientific claims of white biological superiority.

Soon they will be saying that the term "human" has no scientific basis, and we are all just apes.

Wilson spent most of his career studying ants. He found that genes influence ant behavior, and suggested the same for other animals and humans. That is the basis for calling him a racist.

Apparently all the woke powers are pushing The Blank Slate, and get upset at any suggestion of the obvious truth that behavior is a subtle combination of nature and nuture. One of Wilson's big sins seems to be that he once made some positive comments about a book titled On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethnicity and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration. It seems like a straightforward and non-political science book to me. Steve Pinker masterfully debunks the blank slate, as we would still be apes if the blank slate were true.

Scott Aaronson agrees that it is wrong to attack Wilson as a racist, but he has to do mental cartwheels to explain why he is agreeing with right-wingers. He now subscribes to a Wuhan lab virus leak theory, and says that Donald Trump was 100% correct, but does not want to give him any credit, so he blames Trump for being right because all decent people reject what Trump says, and thus the truth is discredited.

I am beginning to think that nearly all academics suffer from diseased thinking.

Update: Aaronson now says that according to some definitions, Trump was lying by telling the truth, if he did not realize that he was telling the truth.

Update: SciAm refused to publish this excellent rebuttal, by Jerry Coyne and others.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Quantum Mechanics needs Complex Numbers.

LiveScience reports:
Now, two studies, published Dec. 15 in the journals Nature and Physical Review Letters, have proved Schrödinger wrong. By a relatively simple experiment, they show that if quantum mechanics is correct, imaginary numbers are a necessary part of the mathematics of our universe.
Sounds big, right?

One source sends an entangled pair of photons into nodes A and B, while another sends a pair into B and C. Experiment showed that the photons in A and C were uncorrelated.

No surprise here. I am sure that no one expected correlations from light from different and unrelated sources.

Somehow this shows that some hypothetical real-number variant of quantum mechanics is wrong.

I did not follow the details, but apparently their real-number variant is a nonlocal theory. No one has discovered any experiment with this sort of nonlocal properties. Why did they bother doing any experiment? A nonlocality result like this would be one of the most important in the history of science.

Maybe they should have tested a real-number quantum with locality similar to quantum mechanics.

Quantum mechanics does use complex numbers. You could do all the calculations with real numbers if you wanted to, but there would be no point.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Spain is Sponsoring Racist Research

Why is Spain sponsoring racism, under the guise of science.

Torices, José Ramón (2021) Understanding dogwhistles politics.

This paper aims to deepen our understanding of so-called covert dogwhistles. I discuss whether a covert dogwhistle is a specific sort of mechanism of manipulation or whether, on the contrary, it draws on other already familiar linguistic mechanisms such as implicatures or presuppositions.

This paper has been funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities

A dog whistle is a high-pitched whistle that dogs can hear, but not human.

Here are the examples in the paper:

For so many in our country, the homeless, and the fatherless, the addicted—the need is great. Yet there is power—wonder-working power—in the goodness, and idealism, and faith of the American people.1

Over here you have a policy which, with Reagan and me as speaker, created millions of jobs— it’s called paychecks. Over [t]here you have the most successful food stamp president in American history, Barack Obama.

Willie Horton’s ad

If you can hear the whistle, then you are the dog.

It says these are dogwhistles because everybody knows that “African Americans are lazy”. He says they are lazy 14 times in a 19 page paper. He also says they are criminals, and particularly identifies them with “kidnapping,” “stabbing,” and “rape”.

None of this is backed up by any research on whether African Americans really are lazy and criminal.

Nor is there any pretense of political objectivity. All of the criticism is of one political party, while excusing the comments of the other party.

In case you think that the author is only recognizing those beliefs without endorsing them, then whole point of the article is to deny that anyone does that. People say dogwhistles in order to advertise racist beliefs without explicitly advocating them. Or so it says.-

I just posting this to show what garbage passes for academic work. I thought that only Americans produced this junk, but apparently it has spread to Spain, which doesn't even have any African Americans.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Why Jesuits Disbelieved Copernicism

Much has been written about how not everyone in the 16th and 17th centuries did not immediately accept heliocentrism. Usually it is implied that only narrow-minded Bible readers or Pope followers would refuse the obvious truth.

A new article on Galileo between Jesuits: The Fault is in the Stars

In the middle of the seventeenth century, André Tacquet, S.J. briefly discussed a scientific argument regarding the structure of a Copernican universe, and commented on Galileo Galilei's discussion of that same argument -- Galileo's discussion in turn being a commentary on a version of the argument by Christoph Scheiner, S.J. The argument was based on observations of the sizes of stars. This exchange involving Galileo and two Jesuits illustrates how through much of the seventeenth century, science -- meaning observations measurements, and calculations -- supported a view of the Copernican universe in which stars were not other suns, but were dim bodies, far larger than the sun. Johannes Kepler emphasized this, especially in arguing against Giordano Bruno. Jesuit astronomers like Tacquet and Scheiner understood this. Those who might have listened to Jesuit astronomers would likewise have understood this -- Robert Bellarmine, for example, whose role in the debate over Copernicanism is well known. To many, such a universe was, in the words of Galileo's Dialogue character Sagredo, "beyond belief," and no modern view of a universe of many distant suns would be scientifically supportable until after Tacquet's death in 1660. The Copernican universe of the seventeenth century looked radically different from the universe as modern astronomers understand it, and recognizing this fact allows for interesting questions to be asked regarding the actions of those, such as Bellarmine, who were responding to the work of Copernicus.
The main point here is that astronomers of the day thought that they could measure the apparent size of stars, and found them to be 1/15 the apparent size of the Moon. With better telescopes they got better estimates, but they still got apparent sizes that were much too large. There was an optical effect that made stars seem larger than they were, and the effect was not understood until centuries later.

The Jesuits were skeptical of Copernicism because it required stars to be ridiculously far and large. These were legitimate scientific objections. We now know that the stars really are far away, but they are not nearly so large as the theory of the day required.

Other objections included the lax of observed stellar parallax and Coriolis force. These were only seen centuries later.

Galileo had other arguments for heliocentrism, such as the moons of Jupiter and the phases of Venus. But as this paper notes, Tycho's geocentric model explained those just fine. And Galileops biggest argument was based on the tides, and that was completely bogus.

Merry Christmas.

Update: Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne disagrees with this essay that argues that the Church was siding with the scientific consensus.

The Pope was a better scientist than Galileo, for he realized that there were arguments against Galileo’s hypothesis, and he just wanted Galileo to do good science and not assert he had “proof” of heliocentrism. ...

In taking this position, the pope was standing in a long tradition in natural philosophy that maintained that the job of astronomers was not to determine what the world was physically like but only to provide useful models for predicting the motions of planets. Stated charitably, the pope was instructing Galileo not to go beyond his evidence.

I would not say that the Pope was a better scientist, but the Church was looking for proof of heliocentrism, and Galileo did not have arguments good enough to convince most of the leading astronomers of the day.

Coyne wrote a book on Faith Versus Fact, so he overdramatizes conflict between religion and science. He says that unscientific creationism is driven almost entirely by religion. That may be true, but as a comment points out, there are lots of other unscientific ideas presented as science, such as the simulation hypothesis, and they are not driven by religion.

Coyne's targets for creationism are Evangelical Prostentants and Moslems, not Catholic. His main gripe with Catholics is the trial of Galileo 400 years ago.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Dr. Bee says Superdeterminism Disproves Free Will

Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder explains a lot of science issues very well, but she is among those who have been driven insane by quantum mechanics. Here latest weekly video is an argument for superdeterminism.

She argues that quantum theory and experiment show that a particle's past history is determined by the measurements that an experimenter chooses to do in the future.

But it means that the particle’s path depends on what measurement will take place. Because the particles must have known already when they got on the way whether to pick one of the two slits, or go through both. This is just what observations tell us.

And that’s what superdeterminism is. It takes our observations seriously. What the quantum particle does depends on what measurement will take place.

This requires her to reject free will. Either the future determines the past, or the past history of the particle determines the choice that the experimenter makes. Either way, we cannot learn the particle's history by choosing to make a measurement.

She quotes others as saying this destroys the scientific method, but this is okay because most philosophers reject free will.

I believe that free will is one of the most obvious and self-evident aspects of life, and it can only be doubted if you suffer from a severe mental disorder like schizophrenia.

Most of those philosophers subscribe to something called free will compatibilism, where we have an illusion of free will. I agree with her quote from physicist Nicolas Gisin:

“This hypothesis of superdeterminism hardly deserves mention and appears here only to illustrate the extent to which many physicists, even among specialists in quantum physics, are driven almost to despair by the true randomness and nonlocality of quantum physics. But for me, the situation is very clear: not only does free will exist, but it is a prerequisite for science, philosophy, and our very ability to think rationally in a meaningful way. Without free will, there could be no rational thought. As a consequence, it is quite simply impossible for science and philosophy to deny free will.”
Well, I actually agree with it except for the clause "the true randomness and nonlocality of quantum physics". There is no nonlocality in quantum mechanics.

Free will may be the closest thing to true randomness that we have. Free will allows us to take actions that cannot be predicted by others, and that is what randomness means.

Quantum mechanics does not correlations that some physicists have tried to explain with nonlocal hidden variables, but those explanations have never worked and they certainly are not part of quantum mechanics.

You could also say that the collapse is nonlocal, as Sabine explains:

The collapse of the wave-function doesn’t make sense as a physical process because it happens instantaneously, and that violates the speed of light limit. Somehow the part of the wave-function at the one slit needs to know that a measurement happened at the other slit. That’s Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance.”

Physicists commonly deal with this spooky action by denying that wave-function collapse is a physical process. Instead, they argue it’s just an update of information. But information about… what? In quantum mechanics there isn’t any further information beyond the wave-function. Interpreting the collapse as an information update really only makes sense in a hidden variables theory. In that case, a measurement tells you more about the possible values of the hidden variables.

Quantum mechanics is a positivist theory that only predicts observables. The wave function is not observable, and has no direct physical meaning.

The flaw in her argument is to say that information about the particle must be information about values of hidden variables. Quantum mechanics most emphatically says no such thing. The wave function allows predictions about the particle, so yes, it has info about the particle, but there are no hidden variables in the theory.

After citing Gisin, John Bell, Anton Zeilinger, Shimony, Horne, Clauser, and Tim Maudlin, she says:

As you can see, we have no shortage of men who have strong opinions about things they know very little about, but not like this is news. ...

Call me crazy if you want but to me it’s obvious that superdeterminism is the correct explanation for our observations. I just hope I’ll live long enough to see that all those men who said otherwise will be really embarrassed.

I have my own disagreements with those men, but they are all extremely knowledgeable and have well thought-out opinions.

Her main technical argument is the double-slit experiment.

Once you understand what’s going on with the double slit, all the other quantum effects that are allegedly mysterious or strange also make sense.
R.P. Feynman once said something similar. But the double-slit is not strange at all, once you once you accept that particles have wave properties. The diffraction pattern is just what we expect from a wave. You could probably make it from water waves. It is bizarre to show an example of waves causing an interference pattern, and deduce that there is no free will and all choices have been determined since the first minute of the Big Bang.

Here’s the weird bit. If you measure which slit the particles go through, the interference pattern vanishes. Why? Well, remember that the wave-function – even that of a single particle – describes probabilities for measurement outcomes. In this case the wave-function would first tell you the particle goes through the left and right slit with 50% probability each. But once you measure the particle you know 100% where it is.

So when you measure at which slit the particle is you have to “update” the wave-function. And after that, there is nothing coming from the other slit to interfere with. You’ve destroyed the interference pattern by finding out what the wave did.

You update the wave function because you have more info, but that is not what destroys the interference pattern. The measurement destroys the pattern because it breaks the coherence between the waves going thru the slits.

I am not saying anything novel here. I am just reciting textbook quantum mechanics, as it has been understood for 90 years.

Update: Anti-free-will atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne comments on the video.

As far as I knew, “Bell’s theorem” and subsequent tests of it completely rejected any determinism of quantum mechanics and verified it as inherently indeterministic. But, as Hossenfelder argues in this video, this is not so. She argues that a sort of “superdeterminism” holds in quantum mechanics, so that, in the end, everything in the universe is deterministic according to the known laws of physics.
More precisely, Bell's Theorem rejects a determinism of local hidden variables. Unless there is a superdeterminism that prevents experimenters from choosing what to measure.
But the part that especially interested me beyond superdeterminism is that many physicists rejected such deterministic interpretations of QM simply from their own emotional commitment to dualistic free will.
More generally, philosophers for millennia have rejected determinism out of the obvious truth of free will.
What I find fascinating is that physicists were conditioning their ideas and research directions on a philosophical belief that humans must have libertarian free will. Perhaps that impeded the ideas of “superdeterminism”.
No, I don't think physicists conditioned their research on free will. What impedes superdeterminism is that it makes it impossible to do an objective experiment on the natural world, and thereby rejects the scientific method.

If a medical study said that those getting a vaccine were healthier than those getting the placebo, the superdeterminists would say that an invisible hand rigged the randomization of the controls so that the experiment would come out that, and the experiment tells us nothing about the vaccine. We could never make any scientific progress on anything.

And if “superdeterminism” of QM is now widely accepted, let me know.
No, it is a fringe view that is only held by a handful of people.

Update: One comment says it is a "gods-of-the-gaps argument of a perceived loophole in Bell tests", and another says:

I thought of a good analogy for superdeterminism (though posting it now is likely too late for anyone to read it!).

Suppose we lived in a universe where, when we throw a dice, it always gives either 1, 3 or 5, and never 2, 4 or 6. And suppose that everything we knew about dice and physics and how the world works suggests that all 6 numbers should be equally likely. So the lack of 2, 4 and 6 would then be a big puzzle.

The superdeterminist would then say: easy, it’s simply that the universe is absolutely deterministic, and it just happens to be the case that the initial conditions of the Big Bang were such that, as the determined outcome plays out, 2, 4 and 6 never occur. Essentially, all the starting points that would have led to 2, 4 and 6 simply didn’t exist, only those leading to 1, 3 and 5 exist.

Would anyone find this convincing?

No, of course it is not convincing. But you could say the same of simulation hypothesis, many-worlds, nonlocality, multiverse, and a lot of ideas presented by modern physics popularizers. They are all gods-of-the-gaps arguments. They appeal to spooky arguments that do not really explain anything.

The term "god of the gaps" is borrowed from evolution-creationism debates. The evolutionist will point to a chain of natural development of life on Earth. The creationist will point to some gaps, and say God is responsible. I once heard of an example where an evolutionist found a fossil missing link squarely in the middle of a gap, and the creationist said that there were now two gaps!

Monday, December 13, 2021

Cargo Cult Science, Updated for Diversity

Leif Rasmussen reports:
Richard Feynman introduced a concept he called “cargo cult science” during a commencement speech at Caltech in 1974.1 ...

The NSF, an independent federal agency, has a stated mission “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense.”4 It has an annual budget of around $8.5 billion and funds approximately a quarter of all federally funded basic research at colleges and universities in the US. ...

The following figures demonstrate a considerable rise in the frequency of award abstracts that contain selected politicized terms over the past 30 years. ...

As of 2020, across all fields 30.4% of successful grant abstracts contained at least one of the terms “equity,” “diversity,” “inclusion,” “gender,” “marginalize,” “underrepresented,” or “disparity.” This is up from 2.9% in 1990 (Figure 2). This increase is seen in every field. As of 2020, the two most politicized fields seem to be Education & Human Resources (53.8%, up from 4.3% in 1990) and Biological Sciences (43.8%, up from 6.6%), although “diversity” may sometimes have non-political connotations in the latter. Even the fields that should be most disconnected from politics have seen a massive jump in these terms: Mathematical & Physical Sciences went from 0.9% to 22.6%, and Engineering from 1.6% to 25.4%.

It is not so bad in the hard sciences. Not yet, anyway.

New Zealand is now teaching crackpot science, just because it is popular among its darker-skinned natives

the government and universities in New Zealand are standing firm in their resolve to teach mātauranga Māori, or “Maori ways of knowing” alongside and coequal to modern (i.e., real) science in both high schools and universities. ...

The argument — facile beyond comprehension — is that science has been used by white, western, developed nations to underpin colonialism and is therefore tainted by its association with white supremacy. As Dawkins pointed out, science is not “white”. (The assumption that it is is surely racist.) Nor is it imperialist. It is simply a rather beautiful tool for discerning the truth.

It is not just New Zealand. Science is under attack in America and indeed here. Rochelle Gutierrez, an Illinois professor, has argued that algebra and trigonometry perpetuate white power and that maths is, effectively, racist.

Oxford University has announced that it intends to “decolonise” maths: “This includes steps such as integrating race and gender questions into topics.”

A lunacy has gripped our academics. They would be happy to throw out centuries of learning and brilliance for the sake of being temporarily right-on, and thus signalling their admirable piety to a young, approving audience.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Sokal Disavows Copycat Hoaxsters

Physicist Alan Sokal is famous for publishing a hoax article, and now he is annoyed at other hoaxsters crediting him:
From the mere fact of publication of my parody I think that not much can be deduced. It doesn’t prove that the whole field of cultural studies, or cultural studies of science — much less sociology of science — is nonsense. Nor does it prove that the intellectual standards in these fields are generally lax. (This might be the case, but it would have to be established on other grounds.) It proves only that the editors of _one_ rather marginal journal were derelict in their intellectual duty, by publishing an article on quantum physics that they admit they could not understand, without bothering to get an opinion from anyone knowledgeable in quantum physics, solely because it came from a “conveniently credentialed ally” (as Social Text co-editor Bruce Robbins later candidly admitted[12]), flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions, and attacked their “enemies”.[13]
This is a baffling comment. His article was not on quantum physics. The title was:
Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity
Quantum gravity is a failure, and has nothing to do with any real world observations or experiments. His paper is certainly not a science paper. It is a hermeneutics paper, whatever that is. He uses some physics metaphors, and makes fun of some quotes from others. That's about all.

If the edicors had sent the paper to an expert in quantum gravity, he would probably say it was an amusing little essay that should be judged for its non-physics content.

It appears that the hoax of teh Sokal hoax is that it was not really a hoax. It was a sincere expression of his opinions about physics metaphors, written in a style intended to fit the target journal.

Sokal got a lot of praise for embarrassing some humanities professors for not knowing anything about quantum gravity. But there is no reason anyone should learn anything about quantum gravity, as there are no worthwhile theories in the whole field. It is like making fun of someone for now knowing medieval scholarship on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Job for Contemporarily Minoritized Individuals Underrepresented

Modern job announcement:
Fermilab launches the new Gates Fellowship

November 29, 2021 | edited by Lisa Roberts

The Theory Division at the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory is pleased to announce its new Sylvester James Gates, Jr. Fellowship. Inspired by the achievements of Jim Gates, currently Ford Foundation professor and director of the Brown University Theoretical Physics Center, the Gates Fellowship at Fermilab prioritizes the inclusion of first-generation college graduates, and the representation of historically and contemporarily minoritized individuals underrepresented in theoretical physics.

The new Gates Fellowship takes its name from Sylvester James “Jim” Gates, Jr., who attended a segregated African-American high school in Orlando, Florida. While earning his Ph.D. at M.I.T., he began his pioneering research on supersymmetry and supergravity, which became the basis for the string theory revolution of theoretical physics in the 1980s.

I can only guess what races and ethnic groups are eligible.

That "string theory revolution" was a failure. I don't know much about Gates, but here is a 2011 panel discussion with him and others trying to find positive things to say about various "theory of everything" failures.

The latest Lubos Motl rant:

Contemporary West's far left "religions" are as dumb and devastating as radical Islam As recently as 5-10 years ago, I took it for granted that the fuzzy region referred to as the West had an advantage in comparison with the Muslim World that was way more important than the immediate wealth: the ability to think impartially, fairly, rationally, and calmly – a broader pattern of behavior that produces things like science, mathematics, and rigorous trials in the courtrooms as special branches. The Westerners looked so different from the Palestinians or black Africans or Indonesians... when it came to such things. And the rational, balanced judgement is ultimately the primary cause that gives rise to the potential to create wealth and happiness; it is more fundamental than the wealth and happiness themselves.

In recent years and especially months, I realized that it was necessary to revise this judgement. The West's mental superiority could have looked like a fact for decades or centuries but in the truly long-term perspective, it was probably just a mirage. The brainwashed leftists that are all around us seem to act and (fail to) think in a nearly isomorphic way to the most hardcore fundamentalist Islamists. Their relationships to the "authorities" like the far left TV stations are on par with the mindless Islamists' relationship to the mullahs. And the percentage of the lies and stupidities is about the same, too.

The amount of absolute insanity that is taking place – and that is clearly devouring tons of people around us – is so high that I increasingly insert whole days when I mostly isolate myself not only from the news on the Internet and in the "media" but also from all people who seem likely to be hopelessly brainwashed morons. I just really physically suffer when I am exposed to the human stupidity and its concentration in our environment is just unbelievable these days.

A few years ago I would have said that Lumo was losing his mind. But now I agree that The West and the major media have been taken over by brainwashed morons.

Update: Good essay:

Lawrence Krauss: Why the easily offended are a threat to scientific progress

The mantras of diversity, inclusion and anti-racism are placing feelings above academic freedom

There is a growing public perception that being offended confers special rights while also imposing obligations on the offending parties. It doesn’t. Or at least it shouldn’t. Nevertheless, perhaps as a consequence of the current educational focus on issues of diversity, inclusion and anti-racism, this warped viewpoint is insinuating itself into higher education and research at a level that is increasingly threatening free speech, academic freedom and with it, scientific progress.

Monday, November 29, 2021

There is No Objective Probability

There are a lot of people who believe that the probabilities of classical mechanics are subjective, because the underlying processes are all deterministic, and the quantum probabilities are objective. The latter is sometimes called the propensity theory of probability.

On the other hand, Bayesians insist that probability is just an estimate of our beliefs.

A new paper tries to address the difference:

Forty some years ago David Lewis (1980) proposed a principle, dubbed the Principal Principle (PP), connecting rational credence and chance. A crude example that requires much refining is nevertheless helpful in conveying the intuitive idea. Imagine that you are observing a coin áipping experiment. Suppose that you learn -- for the nonce never mind how -- that the objective chance of Heads on the next flip is 1/2. The PP asserts that rationality demands that when you update your credence function on said information your degree of belief in Heads-on-the-next-áip should equal 1/2, and this is so regardless of other information you may have about the coin, such as that, of the 100 flips you have observed so far, 72 of the outcomes were Tails.

The large and ever expanding philosophical literature that has grown up around the PP exhibits a number of curious, disturbing, and sometimes jaw-dropping features.1 To begin, there is a failure to engage with the threshold issue of whether there is a legitimate subject matter to be investigated. Bruno de Finettiís (1990, p. x) bombastic pronouncement that "THERE IS NO PROBABILITY" was his way of asserting that there is no objective chance, only subjective or personal degrees of belief, and hence there is no need to try to build a bridge connecting credence to a mythical entity. Leaving doctrinaire subjectivism aside for the moment and assuming there is objective chance brings us to the next curious feature of the literature: the failure to engage with substantive theories of chance, despite the fact that various fundamental theories of modern physicsó in particular, quantum theoryó ostensibly speak of objective chance. Of course, as soon as one utters this complaint the de Finetti issue resurfaces since interpretive principles are needed to tease a theory of chance from a textbook on a theory of physics, and de Finettiís heirsó the self-styled quantum Bayesians (QBians)ó maintain that the probability statements that the quantum theory provide are to be given a personalistic interpretation.2

I am not sure that any of this makes any sense.

The only way I know to make rigorous sense out of probability is the Kolmogorov probability axioms.

I don't believe there is any such thing as objective probability. It has never been an essential part of quantum mechanics.

Quantum mechanics is about observables. Probabilities are not observable. Believing in physical/objective/propensity probability goes against the spirit of the theory.