Tuesday, March 10, 2015

#69 / Quantum Weirdness

Edward Frenkel is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley. I found his recent article, "The Reality of Quantum Weirdness," particularly engaging, as it called into question our basic understanding of Reality. That's always a topic that gets my juices flowing.

Frenkel appears to have an annual tradition of calling our normal notions of reality into question. "The Reality of Quantum Weirdness" appeared in the February 22, 2015 edition of The New York Times. On February 14, 2014, almost exactly a year before, and again in The Times, Frenkel posed the question, "Is The Universe a Simulation?" I recommend both articles. 

The enterprise of "science" can be conducted in the spirit of an investigation into wonder. Or, it can be part of an effort to increase our human domination over the World of Nature. 

I endorse the former approach. 

I urge a liberal adoption of the "precautionary principle" as to the latter. 

I have a specific "nickname" for the idea that we, as human beings, can put ourselves in a position to control and master the Natural World through "scientific" knowledge, as though we were essentially equal to its Creator. That belief, in my lexicon of nicknames, is called "The Icarus Mistake."

Frenkel's article on "Quantum Weirdness" suggests that the Reality we inhabit is inevitably a Mystery.

That's my sense, exactly!

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  1. The fact that the quantum level of reality is weird and surprising does not imply that life at the macro level must be the same.

    We evolved and grew to maturity fully immersed in the macro world. Our brains, as they developed, learned to interpret the gestalt results of quantum interactions in macro physical terms. After all, that's where large predators, angry neighbors and large hurtling steel and glass objects come at us and threaten our lives. Whether they are particles or waves at the quantum level has no bearing on our dealings with them at the macro level.

    The world we deal with daily is real and ruled by cause and effect, regardless of its quantum underpinnings. Throw a rock at someone's head and watch them duck. That's reality!

    The world we must preserve from human excess is the macro world. While physicists, New Age navel gazers and their gurus delight in meditating on a world filled with beautiful bosons, querulous quarks, entertainingly entangled photons, these febrile imaginings don't help us deal with the physical world.

    Our world may all be an illusion, but it's the only illusion we have!

  2. False dichotomy. Scientific research conducted in the spirit of an investigation into wonder often also increases our ability to influence our environment in the pursuit of human fulfillment (don't slur this as "domination over the World of Nature").

    You don't urge an adoption of the precautionary principle. You invoke the it as a way of plugging your ears and not listening to the real risk management or acknowledging when the burden of proof has been satisfied.

  3. Reality is not a mystery. It doesn't need a creator. A mystery is something difficult or impossible to understand or explain. The laws of nature may be difficult to discover, but they are simple enough for physics graduates to understand and explain. These explanations don't have to invoke a creator because it's unnecessary. The Standard Model works just fine without the Buddha, Thor, Santa Claus, or Yahweh.


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