Monday, May 7, 2012

Quantum-inspired pseudoscience is dangerous

I pointed out last year that some physicists reject wave–particle duality, and insist that the particles are what is real, not the fields. A new paper addresses this directly, and says the opposite, There are no particles, there are only fields.
Quantum foundations are still unsettled, with harmful effects on science and society. By now it should be possible to obtain consensus on at least one issue: Are the fundamental constituents fields or particles? Experiment and theory imply a universe made of unbounded fields rather than bounded particles. This is especially clear for relativistic quantum systems, and it follows that non-relativistic quantum systems must also be made of fields. Particles are epiphenomena arising from real fields. ...

It's not only an academic matter. This confusion has huge real-life implications. In a world that cries out for general scientific literacy, quantum-inspired pseudoscience has become dangerous to science and society.

He has an uphill battle. Richard Feynman has become the great 20th century expert on the subject, and he preferred the particle view. The paper claims that Einstein had the fields-only view, but he got his Nobel Prize for saying that light was composed of particles (photons), not fields.

I do think that articles like the June Discover cover story are confusing:

If an Electron Can Be in Two Places at Once, Why Can't You? ...

About 80 years ago, scientists discovered that it is possible to be in two locations at the same time — at least for an atom or a subatomic particle, such as an electron. For such tiny objects, the world is governed by a madhouse set of physical laws known as quantum mechanics.

No, they discovered that electrons have wave properties, not that they can be two places at once. The consequence was that electrons are particles that have point locations. They cannot even be in one location!

Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi posts this reply:

The majority of physicists do certainly agree that quantum “particles” are not really particles, as they fail to possess all the required corpuscular attributes. How- ever, can we affirm that so-called quantum “fields” are fields, as Hobson suggests? In fact, as we shall briefly explain in the present comment, quantum “fields” are no more fields than quantum “particles” are particles, so that the replacement of a particle ontology (or particle and field ontology) by an all-field ontology, will not solve the typical quantum interpretational problems. ...

What quantum mechanics teaches us is that, quoting Aerts [7]: “Reality is not contained within space. Space is a momentaneous crystallization of a theatre for reality where the motions and interactions of the macroscopic material and energetic entities take place. But other entities – like quantum entities for example – ‘take place’ outside space, or – and this would be another way of saying the same thing – within a space that is not the three dimensional Euclidean space.”

In other terms, we need to drop the classical preconception that a physical entity would necessarily be a spatial entity. In general entities only need to be part of our reality, but not necessarily part of our 3-dimensional space [4–8].

Does that help? I doubt it.

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