Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Quantum mechanics causes cancer

NPR Radio reports:
Vogelstein, who is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, explained how he and Tomasetti have refined that question. He notes that every time a perfectly normal cell divides, it makes several mistakes when it copies its DNA. These are naturally occurring mutations.

Most of the time, those mutations are in unimportant bits of DNA. That's good luck. "But occasionally they occur in a cancer driver gene. That's bad luck," Vogelstein says.

After two or three of these driver genes get mutated in the same cell, they can transform that healthy cell into a cancer cell.

In their new paper in Science, the researchers set out to quantify how often those random errors are an inevitable part of cell division, how often they're caused by nasty chemicals like tobacco smoke and how often they're inherited.

The answer: 66 percent of the total mutations are random, about 29 percent are due to the environment and the remaining five percent are due to heredity.

These numbers vary depending on the type of cancer, they found.

Lung cancer is largely the result of environmental causes, while the vast majority of childhood cancer is a result of these bad-luck mutations, they found.
The study is behind a paywall. The journal has this editorial comment:
It is a human trait to search for explanations for catastrophic events and rule out mere “chance” or “bad luck.” When it comes to human cancer, the issue of natural causes versus bad luck was raised by Tomasetti and Vogelstein about 2 years ago (1). Their study, which was widely misinterpreted as saying that most cancers are due neither to genetic inheritance nor environmental factors but simply bad luck, sparked controversy. To date, a few hundred papers have been written in response, including (2–6), with some [e.g., (2)] coming to opposite conclusions. What is this controversy about? Tomasetti and Vogelstein concluded that 65% of the differences in the risk of certain cancers is linked to stem cell divisions in the various cancerous tissues examined (1). On page 1330 of this issue, Tomasetti et al. (7) provide further evidence that this is not specific to the United States.
The research is interesting, but I question whether it makes any sense to say that something is "caused by luck".

What percentage of coin tosses are caused by classical mechanics, and what by luck?

What percentage of car accidents are caused by bad luck?

A lot of researchers have dropped the word "accident" just because of the dubious implication that no one is at fault, or that bad luck is the cause, or that nothing could have been done to prevent it.

Luck is usually a euphemism for unknown cause.

Here, luck is a euphemism for quantum mechanics. The researchers are trying to say that most cancers are caused by quantum mechanics. That sounds silly because quantum mechanics is the cause of all chemical reactions, so one could say that on the atomic level, quantum mechanics explains all cancers and biochemical processes and everything else.

There is a belief that quantum mechanics is grounded in some underlying quantum weirdness that will never be understood by humans. That quantum weirdness is causing the mutations, and hence the cancers. Other cancers can be understood at some higher level, such as cigarette smoking causing lung cancer.

In other words, we say the cell-division mutation cancers are caused by bad luck because they are caused by a quantum weirdness that will never be understood.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Dissecting Human Social Purpose

I submitted the following essay to the FQXi annual essay contest.

The concept of purpose used to be central to science, but has faded away because of the successes of materialist reductionism and of the failures to understand consciousness and freedom. The concept is still important, and new technology, data, and social developments present opportunities to make progress.

Science is remarkably successful on many fronts, but has failed miserably on matters of freedom, consciousness, and purpose. Maybe these matters are outside the scope of science, but they are essential to finding meaning in our lives, so we ought to look seriously at what science can do. Perhaps science can help explain how individual agents can contribute to collective purpose, and in particular how personal decisions can lead to human social purpose.

Science is remarkably successful on many fronts, but has failed miserably on matters of freedom, consciousness, and purpose. Maybe these matters are outside the scope of science, but they are essential to finding meaning in our lives, so we ought to look seriously at what science can do. Perhaps science can help explain how individual agents can contribute to collective purpose, and in particular how personal decisions can lead to human social purpose.

Reductionism cannot explain freedom
The importance of purpose
There is a place for nonlocal physics
Human social purpose
The truth is out there
Opportunity for digital decomposition

Consciousness and social purpose are emergent phenomena that resist analysis. We need to examine political and religious movements to make progress. Scientists are in denial about the Trump phenomenon. We can use big data to help restore our national purpose.

The essay was summarily rejected, and not allowed into the essay competition.

Here are some recent FQXi articles:
Bohemian Reality: Searching for a Quantum Connection to Consciousness
Is there are sweet spot where artificial intelligence systems could have the maximum amount of consciousness while retaining powerful quantum properties?

The Spacetime Revolutionary
Carlo Rovelli describes how black holes may transition to "white holes," according to loop quantum gravity, a radical rewrite of fundamental physics.

The Quantum Reality Paradox
How the search for God’s limits led to the discovery of quantum contextuality—a weird phenomenon that could provide the 'magic' needed for super-fast computing.

Rescuing Reality
A "retrocausal" rewrite of physics, in which influences from the future can affect the past, could solve some quantum quandaries—saving Einstein's view of reality along the way.

Does Quantum Weirdness Arise When Parallel Classical Worlds Repel?
Quantum mechanics could derive from subtle interactions among unseen neighboring universes
That is what FQXi has published. If you look at essay contest contributions, most of them are much wackier than these.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Opportunity for digital decomposition

Perhaps modern tools can be brought to bear on problems that Aristotle could not solve. We have Facebook, Google, and Amazon spying on billions of people and recording their desires. We have massive cloud computers for processing big data. We have deep learning and artificial intelligence to mimic and predict buying habits and political and religious opinions. We have companies making billions of dollars in profits from these systems, so they are fully invested in perfecting them. We have big data brokers who make sure that your innermost thoughts are available to whoever can exploit them.

Soon freedom can be defined as defying the expectations of the big data processors. The data marketers will know who has it and who does not.

Political campaigns will tailor their messages to the free men, and to those who can be controlled by triggering a programmed response. Perhaps this has already happened. Clinton’s 2016 campaign was almost entirely directed at demographic groups who could be relied on to have knee-jerk responses to slurs against Trump.

Trump’s campaign was in a higher dimension. He appealed to fully conscious voters who had the freedom to realize that we needed a realignment of our political parties in order to renew American social purpose and to drain the swamp in Washington. Furthermore, he understood that the news media were infiltrated by lizard people who could be trolled with Twitter. They were not conscious enough to realize that they were being trolled, so they could be kept distracted while he gets his real message out to those who accept his purpose.

We are also sequencing everyone’s DNA, and soon this will be integrated with the other databases. When Trump makes America great again, we have the potential to learn which genes contribute to greatness, and which do not. Perhaps we will finally have an understanding of how molecules lead to consciousness, and how millions of conscious beings lead to a national purpose.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The truth is out there

The botanist tries to understand trees by studying cells. That works well, but the tree has a purpose over and above the purposes of the individual cells.

In human societies, genes make the man, and men make the nation, but the mechanism is not understood. If you randomly replace genes, the man will malfunction, and if you randomly replace men, the nation will malfunction.

California is a state that once had a healthy middle class, but it is being re-populated with foreigners, and is devolving into rich and poor classes. The rich are profiting from the modern equivalent of the slave trade, and the state has lost its sense of purpose as the modern robber barons have sold out.

Economics has long used the metaphor of the “invisible hand” to describe markets. When scrutinizing individual trades, free markets in economic goods and services look like just businessmen making a few bucks for their own personal purposes. In the large, markets appear to have a purpose, guided by an invisible hand toward efficiency.

Likewise, gases look like just random motion at the molecular level. No purpose is evident, except that the molecules just want to be free like the businessman just wants to make a buck. On a larger scale, gases seem to have purposes of filling the available volume and reaching thermal equilibrium.

We have pretty good theories for how markets and gases reach equilibriums, so we ought to be able to explain how individual human consciousness can contribute to a collective social purpose.

Human social purpose appears to operate on multiple scales. At the molecular level, there are DNA SNPs that correlate with personality. At a larger scale, there is neuron function in the brain. Then there is the individual, the family, the community, and the nation.

A popular TV show in the 1990s was The X-Files. It featured FBI agents pursuing unusual cases. A recurring theme was that Earth was dominated by secretive elites that had sold out to extraterrestrial colonists. It was as if we were ruled by lizard people with a doomsday plan.

The show was a subtle way of addressing the disconnect between the purposes of our leaders and our citizens. Our money and our constitution are under the control of unelected elites, and Europeans have also ceded power to unelected bureaucrats. Our major news media falls into line with their agenda, and so does Hollywood entertainment.

We have unelected judges who are dictating who can get married, and who can enter the USA. Their reasoning shows no respect for common social purposes that have been accepted for centuries. They pretend that the issue is the individual rights of those most directly affected by the orders, while they ignore the much broader and more important questions about what is beneficial or detrimental to the interests of the nation. They are sabotaging what could be crucial to the human spirit.

Our society had a sense of noble purpose when it was known as Christendom, or Western Civilization. Now these terms seem quaint, as our leftist elites hate what our society once stood for. I don’t think that they are lizard people conspiring with space aliens, as that would be the rich explanation. It is more likely that they have just lost their souls.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Human social purpose

How can goals be amenable to reductionist scientific analysis? Maybe we can find it in animals, and do controlled studies on them. Maybe neuroscience and brain scans will find a mechanism in the brain.

Another approach might be to look at human societies with goals, and analyze them in terms of individuals and their personal goals. Religions, political empires, corporations, and social groups have group character/consciousness/goal that seems greater than the sum of the individual purposes.

The two most striking and poorly understand human characteristics are consciousness and collective social purpose.
Ants and bees seem to have social purpose because colonies cooperate to build nests and retrieve food. But these are programmed instincts to propagate their genes. Humans will cooperate with unrelated strangers, and work towards other goals.

Aristotle said that man is by nature a social animal. An individual who can escape the common purposes of our society must be either a beast (if fully programmed) or a god (if free and conscious).

Studying human social purpose presents an opportunity to analyze what purpose is, because it can be divided into the intentions and actions of individuals.

Religions give good examples of social purpose. The Catholic Church has a purpose. So do the Mormons, and the Israeli Jews. Their purposes are written in books, and are also evidenced by the collective behavior of the members.

Academic critics of these religions often point to peculiarities in their sacred books, and wonder whether the followers really believe the official doctrines. They miss the point. The followers have gained a purpose to their lives.

One of the biggest selling books of recent decades was The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. It has an inspirational Christian message. It is also incomprehensible to the atheist professors who believe that science has shown that life has no purpose.

The Islamic world has a purpose also. Unfortunately it does not believe in free will, and it is incompatible with western civilization.

Political movements provide more examples of social purpose. Donald Trump just won the American Presidency by redefining the purpose of the office to represent Americans first. He had a coherent and principled vision, and he restored a sense of purpose to conservative Republicans.

Trump’s candidacy was a big mystery to the leftists who dominate universities and news media. They still cannot accept it, and blame the election on fake news and Russian hacking. The problem is that they have all been brainwashed by Marxist thinking about the inevitability of historical trends. They do not believe in Christian ideals, and they do not believe in an American national character and purpose. They are like the people who see the metronome demonstration and still do not believe it.

Libertarians are similarly blinded. They believe in freedom, not Marxism, but they deny that any social purpose is worth defending.

Some leftists are like the Borg on the TV show Star Trek (The Next Generation). They don’t really have any character or purpose, except to parasitically assimilate and equalize everyone else. They only tolerate what they subjugate, and freedom is meaningless to them.

To the Left, their political progress follows a Marxist inevitability, just as increasing entropy follows a thermodynamic law. They see no sense in fighting it.

For those with a sense of purpose on the political Right, leftist progressivism is the symptom of a dying and decaying society. Yes, everyone accepts the laws of thermodynamics, but one of the purposes of life is to exploit low past entropy, not to hasten thermal equilibrium. The leftist is like someone who says death is inevitable, so we should just let it happen.

Currently we have an irreconcilable political divide between what some call the Alt-Right and the Ctrl-Left. They are opposite like the keys on your keyboard. The Alt-Right has a nationalist purpose, and is like those who tried to save the Roman Empire from barbarian invaders. The Ctrl-Left is fatalist, and seeks group-think conformity with their decadent views. The Alt-Right seeks freedom and righteousness, while the Alt-Left seeks assimilation and sublimation. Trolling is the tool of the Alt-Right, while shaming is the tool of the Alt-Left.

Under the Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, our world occasionally splits into worlds that are mutually invisible and incomprehensible to each other. Maybe the USA is currently going through such a splitting between the Alt-Right and the Alt-Left. The Alt-Right is the living Schrödinger cat, and the Alt-Left is the dead cat.
Whether you live in the Right world or the Left world, it should be possible to analyze cultures and movements that really do have a social purpose, and figure out how that purpose arises.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

There is a place for nonlocal physics

Any discussion of consciousness or purpose makes physicists worry that mysticism has crept into science. Physics is all about local analysis.

There is no proof that there is any action-at-a-distance, but there are many phenomena that are more easily understood with nonlocal explanations. For examples in quantum mechanics, the double slit experiment and spin entanglement experiments have nonlocal explanations.

There are many other useful nonlocal explanations, even in elementary classical mechanics. For example, a simple pendulum problem is often best explained using center-of-mass, gravitational potential, and energy conservation, and these explanations are often nonlocal.

Presumably all these experiments have purely local explanations also, even if they involve exchanging virtual gravitons at the speed of light.

For another striking example, you can put dozens of metronomes on a slightly wobbly table, and in a few minutes they will all self-synchronize. Watching this will give you the impression that the purpose of a metronome is to synchronize, and that they are nonlocally conspiring to behave in an orderly manner.

The metronome behavior can also be explained in terms of each one causing tiny vibrations in the table that alter the timing of nearby metronomes. Nobody truly thinks that there is any action-at-a-distance here. But the local theory is so much more difficult and tedious that I doubt that anyone has detailed it.

Scientists, who see the metronome demonstration for the first time, usually think that it is some sort of magic trick. It looks as if inanimate objects are communicating with each other to coordinate their activities. This violates their sense of what is scientifically possible, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. They do not want to believe that objects can have a purpose.

The concept of (Lagrangian or Hamiltonian) action also gives nonlocal explanations. The evolution of a system is a stationary point of the action integral. Minimizing the action relies on a nonlocal analysis.

Thermodynamics also makes use of nonlocal explanations. It is based on local theories of heat energy, but then predicts that the entropy of the system increases. Sometimes a system will seem to have a mind of its own as components conspire to reach thermal equilibrium.

You might say that the purpose of inanimate objects is to conserve energy. At the simplest level, motion can often be explained as objects doing what they can to conserve energy. Likewise, you can say that the purpose of life is to exploit past low entropy. The entropy of a system is always increasing, and living beings, if present, are always searching out low entropy and making use of it. Life can be seen as an attempt to postpone thermal equilibrium by finding sources of low entropy and extracting useful energy. When an organism dies, its purpose also dies, and it decays towards equilibrium conditions.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The importance of purpose

The notion of purpose is crucial to our civilization. It is central to how we understand people and things.
I buy a clock because a clock has a purpose of telling time. I buy a phone because a phone has a purpose of communication. I work for the purpose of making money. My employer hires me to fill a purpose stated in the job description. You read this essay for the purpose of improving your mind.

Money exists for the purpose of enabling commerce. Government has the purpose of allowing millions of people to live together. Police have the purpose of keeping us safe.

Our system of criminal justice assesses purpose all the time. To be convicted of some serious crime, like murder, a jury has to decide that you had the required mens rea, or criminal purpose.

Informal judgments of another’s character often hinge on purpose. If someone has a good purpose, then he usually gets a free pass on whatever harm he causes.

Science used to explain things in terms of purpose. Aristotle described the natural world in terms of causes and purpose. He might say that the purpose of a rock is to go in a straight line or fall to the Earth, or the purpose of a celestial object is to travel in circles. A tree’s purpose is to get more light and water.

Aristotle’s view took a beating in the Newtonian era, but Darwin revived the use of purpose for natural explanation. He would say that a bird has wings for the purpose of flying, and has eyes for seeing. A woman’s purpose was to bear children, and to obey her man. Natural slaves also served a purpose. He did not know the specifics of how wings or eyes grow or evolve, but clearly saw the bigger picture where the vast majority of observable traits of plants and animals have a recognizable purpose.

Today evolutionary biology professors like Jerry Coyne commonly “teach that natural selection, and evolution in general, are material processes, blind, mindless, and purposeless.” The late Stephen Jay Gould said similar things.

Purpose has been whittled away by reductionism. It is no longer fashionable to say that the purpose of wings is to fly, because that leaves atheistic scientists with the queasy suggestion that God has a purpose for birds.

To many, this is progress. Science is all about eliminating supernatural causes, and replacing them with down-to-earth mechanisms that can be analyzed step by step.

The notion of purpose is still useful informally. Neuroscientists ask, “what is the purpose of sleep?” This question is clearly understood, even if purposes are denied.

Analyzing purpose scientifically is notoriously difficult. For example, dog behavior is very well understood, but researchers hotly debate whether dogs have a theory of mind. A dog will do tricks to get food, and apparently to please its master, but does it really form a mental image of what its master is thinking, and behavior accordingly? Some researchers say dogs, chimps, monkeys, and ravens do, but others doubt it.

There are lots of clever animal experiments, but there are usually rich and lean explanations for the animal behavior. Sometimes researchers will give some rich explanation as the animal having its own theory of mind and sense of moral justice, and others will give a lean explanation in terms of the animal just doing what seems likely to get a treat. Humans seem to have evolved to have a preference for rich explanations. Leftists are especially prone to concocting fanciful theories for the motives of others.

There used to be a popular branch of psychology called behaviorism, which minimized considerations of consciousness and purpose. Humans were just like a rat in a maze, only a little smarter. While this view has fallen out of favor, it was taken seriously by Harvard professors and other intellectuals. If it was so difficult to convince professors that humans are free and conscious beings, then it is more difficult to convince them about dogs and monkeys.

Even in humans, such judgments are tricky. There is a world-famous moral philosophy professor who has done ground-breaking global justice work on inventing new arguments for blaming white people for various perceived ills. He is a white European himself, so what is his purpose in this work? Is he a self-hating white? Is he a profound and honest moral thinker? Is he just doing what he is paid to do? Is this his way of satisfying his craving for professional status and respect? He is also well-known for seducing his non-white female philosophy grad students, so is it all just a ploy to fuel his extramarital affairs? It is impossible to say.

Bill Gates has put most of his vast fortune into a foundation whose motto is “Guided by the belief that every life has equal value.” Does he really believe that, or is that just a way of buying respect from leftists? He recently got the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but the award did not even mention his accomplishments at Microsoft.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Believing in SUSY, with no evidence

Lawrence M. Krauss is out plugging a new book, and he nicely summarizes how physicists of the past 40 years got sucked into a grand unified theory ideology, and on supersymmetry as a tool toward that end. The theoretical progress made them all very happy, but the big problem was that supersymmetry has failed every experimental test. But the advocates were unfazed, as he explains:
The absence of clear experimental direction or confirmation of super-symmetry has thus far not bothered one group of theoretical physicists. ...

However, the theory requires a host of new spacetime dimensions to exist, none of which has been, as yet, observed. Also, the theory makes no other predictions that are yet testable with currently conceived experiments. And the theory has recently gotten a lot more complicated so that it now seems that strings themselves are probably not even the central dynamical variables in the theory.

None of this dampened the enthusiasm of a hard core of dedicated and highly talented physicists who have continued to work on superstring theory, now called M-theory, over the 30 years since its heyday in the mid-1980s. Great successes are periodically claimed, but so far M-theory lacks the key element that makes the Standard Model such a triumph of the scientific enterprise: the ability to make contact with the world we can measure, resolve otherwise inexplicable puzzles, and provide fundamental explanations of how our world has arisen as it has.
This is the sorry state of physics today. They just march ahead and ignore negative experiments, like astrologers.

This could continue for another 20 years. So could the search for quantum supremacy, as repeated failures are unlikely to deter the advocates.

Some physicists at least admit that experiments should be done to test strange ideas like supersymmetry (SUSY) and proton decay. There are other theories, such as multiverse and black hole theories, that have no hope of ever being tested.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Reductionism cannot explain freedom

Scientific reductionism has made dramatic progress in nearly all areas of study, but it has failed to explain human personal freedom. Most people believe that they are rational beings with the agency to make personal choices in their daily lives.

Science has sometimes shown that personal choices are constrained by non-obvious factors, or are misinformed, or are correlated in unexpected ways. Physics predicts the future by setting up time-dependent differential equations. But ultimately people make decisions that do not feel like just the time evolution of the solution to a differential equation.

A barrier to understanding human decisions is consciousness. People collect data through their senses, and we can analyze that. The data enters the brain, and there is some progress in understanding that. But at some point the data enters into a human conscious awareness of possible choices, and the conscious brain makes a decision on its own. How that happens is a total mystery to science.

There is not even a good definition of consciousness, nor any agreement over whether animals and computers are ever conscious. They certainly do not appear to be conscious in the way that humans are, but without a sharp definition, we cannot say.

Maybe some day there will be artificially intelligent computers that are obviously conscious, and maybe there will be a good understanding of what makes a computer conscious, but maybe not. We are not even sure that other people are fully conscious.

Is Hillary Clinton conscious? She was widely regarded by intellectuals as being the most qualified person for the most important job in the world. Surely a top requirement would be for a fully conscious person who can make good decisions. And yet she also appeared fully programmed and predictable, and there was no way to be sure that she ever made any conscious decisions.

It is not even clear that it makes any sense to have a scientific explanation of freedom. Science is all about reducing observations to deterministic sequences of events. Scientific ideas are demonstrated by doing repeatable experiments.
Freedom is all about not being determined by previous events. Freedom is demonstrated by doing something that no one can predict.

Some people respond to this dilemma by denying that freedom exists. They might say, “I have a rational scientific outlook, and freedom cannot have a scientific explanation, so therefore there is no such thing.”

Or they might argue as follows. There is no god or human soul, so the brain is just a wet computer following the laws of physics. We don’t know how the brain works, but just knowing that it obeys the laws of physics tells us that it is a programmed automaton with no free will of its own because the laws of physics are deterministic.

The laws of physics are not even really deterministic, because of uncertainties from chaos, quantum mechanics, and unknown effects, but that does not faze the people making the anti-freedom argument. Their conception of science and freedom are mutually exclusive, and they would say that freedom is unscientific no matter what the laws of physics are.
Thus explaining freedom is completely intractable. Those who believe in freedom get stuck on the problem of consciousness, and the others get stuck on the problem of scientific repeatability.

Freedom is experienced by everyone who gives a rating to this essay. You can readily find detailed explanations on video display, internet communications, muscle contraction, digital computer processing, electrical power transmission, optics, and everything else related. But when it comes to actually deciding on a rating, science has almost nothing to say.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Why We Believe Obvious Untruths

A NY Times op-ed says:
How can so many people believe things that are demonstrably false? The question has taken on new urgency as the Trump administration propagates falsehoods ...

Knowledge isn’t in my head or in your head. It’s shared. ...

Consider some simple examples. You know that the earth revolves around the sun. But can you rehearse the astronomical observations and calculations that led to that conclusion? You know that smoking causes cancer. But can you articulate what smoke does to our cells, how cancers form and why some kinds of smoke are more dangerous than others? We’re guessing no. Most of what you “know” — most of what anyone knows — about any topic is a placeholder for information stored elsewhere, in a long-forgotten textbook or in some expert’s head.
No, I cannot rehearse the astronomical observations and calculations that led to that conclusion, because they do not exist.

We say that the Earth revolves around the Sun because it looks that way if you use a center-of-mass inertial frame of reference. Other frames are possible. The Earth's revolution is not really a fact, but a subjective view based on popular conventions. Yes, it is in your head, and not necessarily shared by experts.

We say that smoking causes lung cancer because of statistical correlations, not from what smoke does to our cells.
We suspect that most of those people expressing outrage lacked the detailed knowledge necessary to assess the policy. We also suspect that many in Congress who voted for the rollback were equally in the dark. But people seemed pretty confident.

Such collective delusions illustrate both the power and the deep flaw of human thinking. It is remarkable that large groups of people can coalesce around a common belief when few of them individually possess the requisite knowledge to support it. This is how we discovered the Higgs boson and increased the human life span by 30 years in the last century.
The Higgs boson was discovered by ppl who knew what they were doing, and not just accepting collective delusions. The human life span was not really increased so much. Life expectancy increased by cutting infant mortality.

It is funny how everyone is supposed to be an expert on the conclusions from long-range climate models, but no one has anything to say about the details of those models.

The authors are described:
Philip Fernbach is a cognitive scientist and professor of marketing at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business. Steven Sloman is a professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University. They are the authors of the forthcoming “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone.”
So this is what cognitive science professors do? Hmmm. I think I will skip their book.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Five years to commercial quantum computer

The Economist mag reports:
A BATHING cap that can watch individual neurons, allowing others to monitor the wearer’s mind. A sensor that can spot hidden nuclear submarines. A computer that can discover new drugs, revolutionise securities trading and design new materials. A global network of communication links whose security is underwritten by unbreakable physical laws. Such — and more — is the promise of quantum technology.
No, none of this is happening.
Quantum mechanics replaced wholesale the centuries-old notion of a clockwork, deterministic universe with a reality that deals in probabilities rather than certainties — one where the very act of measurement affects what is measured. Along with that upheaval came a few truly mind-bending implications, such as the fact that particles are fundamentally neither here nor there but, until pinned down, both here and there at the same time: they are in a “superposition” of here-there-ness. The theory also suggested that particles can be spookily linked: do something to one and the change is felt instantaneously by the other, even across vast reaches of space. This “entanglement” confounded even the theory’s originators.

It is exactly these effects that show such promise now: the techniques that were refined in a bid to learn more about the quantum world are now being harnessed to put it to good use. Gizmos that exploit superposition and entanglement can vastly outperform existing ones—and accomplish things once thought to be impossible.
No, particles are not "here and there at the same time", and it never happens that "change is felt instantaneously".
Other aspects of quantum theory permit messaging without worries about eavesdroppers. ...

The advantageous interplay between odd quantum effects reaches its zenith in quantum computers. Rather than the 0s and 1s of standard computing, a quantum computer’s bits are in superpositions of both, and each “qubit” is entangled with every other. ...

Google said last week that such machines are only five years from commercial exploitability. This week IBM, which already runs a publicly accessible, rudimentary quantum computer, announced expansion plans. ...

Fortunately for quantum technologists, the remaining challenges are mostly engineering ones, rather than scientific. And today’s quantum-enhanced gizmos are just the beginning. What is most exciting about quantum technology is its as yet untapped potential. ... For much of the 20th century “quantum” has, in the popular consciousness, simply signified “weird”. In the 21st, it will come to mean “better”.
I would be in favor of giving a Nobel Prize to anyone who can demonstrate quantum supremacy. I guess the quantum computer advocates are not even going for the prize, because they imply that the big problems have already been solved, and only an engineering problem remains.

Quantum mechanics does not even help with protection from eavesdroppers, in spite of the claims. This is all a scam. In the 21st, quantum will mean scam.

If you don't believe me, wait five years and look for those commercial exploits. Research is always at least a couple of years ahead of commercialization, so Google is essential saying that quantum supremacy will be proved in the next 2-3 years.

The fallacy in all this is the belief that changes can be transmitted instantaneously, or that a particle can be in two places at once. If you believe those, it is not much more to believe that communications can bypass eavesdroppers and that particles can do simultaneous computations in parallel universes.

If quantum mechanics was invented in 1925, and quantum computing is just an engineering problem, why didn't anyone realize that until about 25 years ago?

The answer, I'm afraid, is that the founders of quantum mechanics understood the theory better than today's physicists.

Here is quantum computing, in a nutshell. Suppose I want to test a million numbers for some property. I toss a coin, splitting the world into two universes, one where I see heads and one where I see tails. I do it again, splitting those 2 universes into 4. I continue for 20 tosses, keeping a record of the sequence of heads and tails. Now I have a 20-bit number and I test the property for that number. Since 220 is about a million, there are a million copies of me in parallel universes, each testing a different number. Now I destroy the coin, and all those million coalesce into one, and if we all agree on the outcome, then it must be the same for all million. That is how quantum computers do parallel computation.

Scott Aaronson would complain that this explanation is oversimplified to the point of being wrong, because it leads you to expect exponential speedups, and that is not always possible. He likes the subject because it generates new classes of complexities for abstract theorists like him.

Okay, he is right that the computation in parallel worlds cannot be so cleanly separated and combined. I accept that. But the example is essentially right because the alleged speedups come from computations on entangled states, and you have avoid the measurement that collapses the entanglement.

It is as if they take the Schroedinger Cat metaphor too literally. They know that as soon as they open the box, they will see a dead cat, but somehow they think that a half-alive half-dead cat is going to do some meaningful work for them.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

IBM to sell quantum computers

Here is the latest IBM hype:
Months after laying the groundwork for offerings in eemerging tech categories such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, IBM sees quantum computers as a big, if nascent, business opportunity. From a report on ArsTechnica:

IBM will build and sell commercial 50-qubit universal quantum computers, dubbed IBM Q, "in the next few years." No word on pricing just yet, but I wouldn't expect much change from $15 million -- the cost of a non-universal D-Wave quantum computer. In other news, IBM has also opened up an API (sample code available on Github) that gives developers easier access to the five-qubit quantum computer currently connected to the IBM cloud. Later in the year, IBM will release a full SDK, further simplifying the process of building quantum software. You can't actually do much useful computation with five qubits, mind you, but fortunately IBM also has news there: the company's quantum simulator can now simulate up to 20 qubits. The idea is that developers should start thinking about potential 20-qubit quantum scenarios now, so they're ready to be deployed when IBM builds the actual hardware.
At least one comment points to Why Quantum Computers Cannot Work.

IBM will never make a dime on this project. You read it here first.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Philosopher argues with a skeptic

Philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci writes a rant:
Yet another frustrating conversation: why talking science to “skeptics” is a hopeless endeavor ...

First, let me remind you that Curiosa is a smart, well read, and genuinely curious person. She ain’t no country bumpkin, so to speak.

Second, precisely because she reads widely, she can’t help herself putting what I write — or what truly eminent evolutionary biologists, like Stephen Jay Gould, write — on the same level with the sort of fluff ...

Fourth, Curiosa has fallen for the well known technique of spreading doubt on mainstream science, enough that people cannot genuinely make up their minds about what is going on. This was the deliberate strategy of the tobacco industry in its absurd (and lethal, for many people) denial of a link between smoking and cancer, ...
Yes, I have had frustrating conversations with skeptics also, but philosophers like Massimo are the worst offenders.

Stephen Jay Gould was a truly eminent evolutionary biologists, but he was also also a leftist-Jewish-Marxist kook who wrote a lot of silly fluff and wrong science. His most famous book is based on faked science to support a leftist ideological view.

No one denied a link between smoking and cancer. The question was whether there was a causal link. But Massimo himself belongs to a school of philosophical thought that denies causality.

Massimo does not seem to realize that real scientists look at him the way he looks at Curiosa. Yes, he is smart and well-read, but he has been taken in by goofy philosophy ideas and has a crippled view of what science is about.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Randall trashes popular quantum gravity book

Lisa Randall has a surprising harsh review of a best-selling
popular quantum gravity book.

Author response.

She doesn't reach the heart of the problem -- that quantum gravity
is not really a scientific subject and there is no science to explain.

Lisa Randall has a surprisingly harsh review of Carlo Rovelli's popular quantum gravity book. There are comments by Woit and Motl.

She writes:
The science as presented isn’t always correct, and interpretations are misleadingly presented as facts. Explaining quantum mechanics, Rovelli says: “Electrons don’t always exist. They exist when they interact. They materialize in a place when they collide with something else. The ‘quantum leaps’ from one orbit to another constitute their way of being real: An electron is a combination of leaps from one interaction to another.”
Rovelli is correct that in some interpretations, electrons only exist as particles, and exhibit particle properties, when an interaction is observed. Otherwise they are some sort of wave-like field-like non-classical entities.

The real problem here is that quantum gravity is not a scientific subject, and there is no way to give a scientific explanation of it.

The core justification for the pursuit of quantum gravity is the claim that there is some incompatibility between quantum mechanics and general relativity. But the problem only exists at the center of black holes and during the first nanosecond of the big bang, and both of these are unobservable in principle. So there is no empirical data upon which to base a theory, and there is no way the theory could ever be tested.

Randall is right that Rovelli oversells his silly quantum gravity ideas, but so does everyone else who writes on the subject. Most of the ppl in the field are string theorists, and they oversell even more.

She is also right that he gets the most important number in the book wrong, even if the reader will not care. It is funny that all the theory can do is count orders of magnitude, and it has trouble even doing that correctly.

Randall herself wrote a popular book on how dark matter killed the dinosaurs, a theory that will never be proved. I guess she thinks that she did a better job of explaining the speculative nature of the hypothesis, and how empirical data might make the idea more or less plausible.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Paper repeats mistakes of Einstein and Bell

Belgium physicist Jean Bricmont writes:
History of Quantum Mechanics or the Comedy of Errors ...

Bohm’s theory was introducing “hidden variables”, meaning some unobservable quantities (hence, “metaphysical”) that are not part of the standard quantum mechanical description.2 Einstein had also favored the introduction of such variables in order to “save determinism”. The first objection to this idea is obvious: why bother with unobservable entities in order to satisfy a philosophical prejudice?

However, the definite blow against hidden variables was given in 1964 by John Bell who showed that, merely imagining that such variables exist leads to predictions that are in contradiction with those of quantum mechanics. Moreover, those specific predictions were later tested in laboratories and, of course, the observations came definitely on the side of quantum mechanics and against hidden variables. Case closed!

The goal of this paper is to show that all of the above is essentially false.
No, all those leading physicists are right and Bricmont is wrong.

The purpose of the hidden variable theories is to give a local classical explanation for quantum uncertainty. Bell's theorem and the subsequent experiments showed that was not possible. Mainstream physicists have understood this for decades, and textbooks explain this.

The Bell results do leave the possibility of nonlocal hidden variable theories like Bohm's, but they are much stranger than ordinary quantum mechanics, and harder to use, so there is no value in pursuing such ideas.

These are the facts. Bricmont quotes Hawking and various other respected physicists agreeing with them, but then tries to refute them with silly and misguided quotes from Einstein, Bell, and others who refused to accept quantum mechanics. More specifically, they refuse to accept non-commuting observables.

I am surprised that nonsense like this can get published. It is the equivalent of saying that relativity is wrong because of the twin paradox. Quantum mechanics is now 90 years old. Get with the program.