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Apr 27 2014

Just when I thought I was out, @BlakeStacey pulls me back in

I’ve been Salon-free for a whole week, and then Blake Stacey has to link to the newest tactic in Salon’s courting of the woo demographic. I’m used to the idiot apologists; I can mock the gooey soft religion of the liberal theists; but what they’d done this time is flaunt an incompetent atheist. Yes, it’s an article by an atheist, but it’s so badly written and so waffly and so reliant on stereotypes that I want to just back away slowly and pretend he’s not there.

The author is W.R. Klemm, a neuroscientist who, every time I’ve heard of him previously, has been terribly incoherent. What does this mean?

“Many polls show that most scientists are atheists,” said Dr. W.R. Klemm, a senior professor of neuroscience at the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, in explaining why he created the course. “I think that is unfortunate to say the least.”

I think it just means he’s a full-of-himself contrarian.

His article in Salon is far worse — for one thing, it meanders along forever, saying next to nothing. His premise seems to be that biologists and physicists are “two cultures” (and he cites C.P. Snow!) that don’t get along and don’t understand each other, because physicists are too mathy.

It’s hard for biologists to argue with physicists. Often physicists listen with detached bemusement because biologists can’t explain life with mathematics. Physics could not exist without math. Sometimes I think physicists get too enamored with math. I get the impression that they think that describing and predicting phenomena with equations is the same as explaining why and how such phenomena occur. Take the most famous equation of all, E = mc2. Just what does that equal sign mean? It implies that the variables on each side are the same. But is mass really identical to energy? True, mass can be converted to energy, as atom bombs prove, and energy can even be turned into mass. Still, they are not the same things. Not only are the units of measurement different, but the equation is only descriptive and predictive. It does not explain how mass converts to energy or vice versa.

I am embarrassed. Physicists, I swear, not all biologists are this stupid. Really, we aren’t.

Then, after telling us that he hates it when physicists write about biology, and muddily explaining that the mind has a material, biological basis, and sorta rejecting the silliness of The Spiritual Brain, he proceeds to explain to us that ‘spirit’ might be lurking in physics.

To me, other possibilities for discovering material attributes of “spirit” seem more likely. Modern physics, especially quantum mechanics and the theories of relativity, dark matter, and dark energy, has already shown that not even physicists understand what “material” is. I will now summarize the more likely possibilities for hidden realities of mind.

And then the neuroscientist writes about physics: quantum mechanics, relativity, dark matter, dark energy, string theory, parallel universes, etc., each with a little potted summary to explain how maybe there is a source for spirits within them. For example, bugger thermodynamics:

Also, what about the energy generated as electrons whip through protein chains in mitochondria? Only some of the energy is trapped in phosphate bonds of adenosine triphosphate. We assume that all the other energy is lost as heat. How can we be sure relativity is irrelevant to energy capture? Energy is well established as crucial for consciousness.

Oh, jebus. I am so eagerly anticipating the first creationist to come along and tell me that God is fueled by energy losses in biochemical pathways…because relativity. Or that dark energy is diddling our thoughts.

So what about dark energy? To push galaxies apart, it must impart some of its energy to the cluster of stars and planets to give them a push. What must dark energy be doing to us? Obviously, its push is not greater than the gravity that keeps us fixed to earth. But if that energy is absorbed by the galaxy, surely some of it must be absorbed in us. But what could such absorption do? Would such dark energy interact with the regular energy that we know about—like the energy in our brain? Could it act on consciousness?

Hey, and maybe the gravitational perturbations caused by the motion of the planets affects our brains, too, and astrology is true! Could it act on consciousness? is such a cheap and meaningless question — replace “it” with anything (frying pans, neutrinos, water, fluttering butterflies in the Amazon rain forest, the color orange, cosmic clouds of sentient formaldehyde, whatever) and it’s just as empty and just as thought-provoking as that noise.

I feel like I have to apologize to all the physicists in the world right now. Please, please, please don’t think all neuroscientists are like that. Neuroscience is a field that actually does use a lot of math and biochemistry and physical chemistry and physics, and it doesn’t usually lead to crania full of drivel.

66 comments

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  1. 1
    markr1957

    Apparently the doctor is confused, because quantum mechanics is about subatomic particles, and even the smallest human brain is far too large to be described using QM.
    He appears to be displaying the ignorant arrogance of so many MD’s who imagine that they are the cleverest people alive, and thus fail to recognize the very real limits of their own knowledge of subjects other than medicine.

  2. 2
    george gonzalez

    Aha, there’s your out, the pile of papers were stolen by “a cloud of sentient formaldehyde”. You can have this loonball testify on your behalf. I’d drive to Morris just to see that.

  3. 3
    consciousness razor

    I’ve been Salon-free for a whole week, and then Blake Stacey has to link to the newest tactic in Salon’s courting of the woo demographic.

    For a change of pace, you could take a long, painful look at NPR’s bullshit-peddling. It’s apparently not worth it to have a group of “science” bloggers who won’t routinely indulge in all sorts of nonsense.

    We assume that all the other energy is lost as heat. How can we be sure relativity is irrelevant to energy capture?

    Uhh….. what?

    So what about dark energy? To push galaxies apart, it must impart some of its energy to the cluster of stars and planets to give them a push.

    Or it’s the acceleration of the expansion of space, not something pushing something else, like the evidence for dark energy actually indicates.

    I feel like I have to apologize to all the physicists in the world right now. Please, please, please don’t think all neuroscientists are like that. Neuroscience is a field that actually does use a lot of math and biochemistry and physical chemistry and physics, and it doesn’t usually lead to crania full of drivel.

    Maybe you should be more specific about which physicists you’re talking to. For example, Max Tegmark may not be your best choice. And probably using a lot of math isn’t the only thing you need to appeal to. Maybe start with “coherent,” and if that doesn’t seem like a big problem, work up from that.

  4. 4
    Dick the Damned

    consciousness razor, i thought Max Tegmark was making an enormous category mistake when i first read about this in New Scientist. The paper you refer to is somewhat more technical, (& looks like it would be right over my head), so i’ll have to leave it to others to pass judgement on it.

  5. 5
    Gregory in Seattle

    I am glad that I will never have him operating on me: I half expect he would try to use “quantum crystals” to re-energize the dark matter in my brain.

  6. 6
    Menyambal

    What must dark energy be doing to us? Obviously, its push is not greater than the gravity that keeps us fixed to earth. But if that energy is absorbed by the galaxy, surely some of it must be absorbed in us. But what could such absorption do? Would such dark energy interact with the regular energy that we know about—like the energy in our brain? Could it act on consciousness?

    Could it be giving us cancer? Grey hair? Mutations? Rot? Decay? Zombies? Republicans?

  7. 7
    consciousness razor

    The paper you refer to is somewhat more technical, (& looks like it would be right over my head), so i’ll have to leave it to others to pass judgement on it.

    I take it he might be thinking that “state of matter” stuff is just meant to be used as a sort of metaphorical placeholder for people can live here, so he can get something measurable to work with in his multiverse theories. But he’s certainly full of wild ideas, and I can’t tell what he thinks it’s supposed to mean.

  8. 8
    Zeno

    Not only are the units of measurement different

    Ye gods, what an idiot. I am verklemmpt. The units are not different, you bozo. The E on the left side can be measured in joules, which are Newton-meters, which can be written as (kilogram)(meters^2)/(second^2). On the right you have mc^2. If we use consistent units, then m is kilograms and c is meters/second. Multiply the former by the square of the latter and we get—son of a gun!—(kilogram)(meters^2)/(second^2). Magic!

    How did a biologist get to be so stupid?

  9. 9
    mnb0

    @1: Apparently Markr is confused, because Quantum Mechanics totally applies to daily life scale things like human brains as well. As the correspondence principle shows it’s just possible to simplify QM, so that it becomes Classical (Newtonian) Mechanics. I have done that calculation regarding hydrogen atoms myself. That saves us a lot of work, nothing more.
    PZ: I disagree, from the quotes, that Klemm is incoherent. I can follow him. Apparently you can as well, because you correctly point out where he goes wrong.

  10. 10
    David Chapman
    Take the most famous equation of all, E = mc2. Just what does that equal sign mean? It implies that the variables on each side are the same. But is mass really identical to energy? True, mass can be converted to energy, as atom bombs prove, and energy can even be turned into mass. Still, they are not the same things. Not only are the units of measurement different, but the equation is only descriptive and predictive. It does not explain how mass converts to energy or vice versa.

    I am embarrassed. Physicists, I swear, not all biologists are this stupid. Really, we aren’t.

    PZ, it doesn’t seem to me to be a good approach, talking about an unequivocally technical matter, to quote something and then simply say that it’s stupid. Why is it stupid?? You present some reasons for why the rest of what the guy is saying is looneytunes, but not this. You’re embarassed; I’m non-plussed.

    I’m sure you have no such intention, but in effect you’re just presenting an argument from authority ( & ridicule ); which doesn’t sit well with the usual intellectual appetites of Pharyngula.
    I, a layperson, really have no idea what you’re getting at here, nor why Dr. Klemm in this particular instance, the equivalence equation, is supposed to be obviously saying something bizarrely foolish. Would you or anyone else care to explain it to me?

  11. 11
    fulcrumx

    Maybe the dark energy pulling outward on time and space is actually spiritually. Because, it is a force outside of the real universe and it really sucks.

  12. 12
    kraut

    “How did a biologist get to be so stupid?”

    I protest. I did study agrology (“sciency” farming) which includes a hefty portion of biology, chemistry, physics and I also had to learn calculus, vectors and tensors and statistical analysis. Nor that I remember much after fourty years.

  13. 13
    neilweightman

    It would be interesting know how he thinks that in a mathematical equation two things can be equal if they aren’t measured in the same units.

  14. 14
    PZ Myers

    David Chapman, see Zeno at #8.

    The equation does say that the product of the variables on both sides of the equation are the same: that mass is a form of energy and vice versa. It does not imply that the chair I’m sitting on and the lightning bolt flashing off in the distance are exactly the same thing, only that we can calculate the energy stored in both. Similarly, I can get in my car and drive down the highway at 55mph, and find another car that is driving at exactly the same speed, and confidently state that the velocities of the two vehicles are equal…but that does not imply in any way that I suddenly become the other driver. That Klemm can misapply a measurement to stir up confusion only testifies to his confused state of mind.

  15. 15
    consciousness razor

    The heart of the QM enigma lies in the apparent fact that subatomic particles can be in two places at the same time. But that is not quite correct. What has been demonstrated experimentally is that photons or electrons can have characteristics of both waves and particles at the same time. Where the wave and/or particle is located depends on whether or not its location is pinned down by observation. That observation includes instruments, not just the human eye.

    [...]

    The object has, for example, a 75 percent chance of being in one place and a 25 percent change of being in another. Where it actually is depends on whether or not we detect its location. This is confusing I know, but I will let physicists do the apologizing.

    Or the particle actually has a location, which always depends on the wavefunction, like in Bohmian mechanics. I blame the confused-as-hell Copenhagen interpretation for this, not this guy’s fairly accurate reading of it. The ones perpetuating this nonsense, even tacitly by not giving any thought to interpretation, shouldn’t worry about apologizing so much as trying to clear up some of the confusion that we’ve been handed for several fucking decades. People writing about it in popular books and TV shows should stop caring so fucking much about making it seem mysterious and magical and entertaining (so people will watch… For Science™!), and actually stick to the fucking facts which aren’t quite as bizarre.

    The enigma is that quantum events are random, but large objects behave deterministically (that is, are effects with causes).

    But only according to certain interpretations of QM, like Copenhagen which doesn’t make any sense, and others you never hear a word about in the media.

    The corollary is that this science seems to suggest that we humans create reality by observation.

    Except that you already mentioned above that instruments (which are not humans) do the “observing” too, and that even those don’t “create reality” for fuck’s fucking sake. In other words, this shit, whatever it is, happens all the fucking time, even when “nobody” is looking. This is why actual science, if anybody’s still paying attention to that, hasn’t ended up in Deepak Chopra territory. Not yet, anyway.

  16. 16
    atheistblog

    Deepak Chopra clones are already strolling the earth. Anyway Apology accepted on behalf of fellow rational people, uhh haa haa

  17. 17
    Lars

    And what about the tides, huh? Betcha never thought of that. Take that, psysicsmists!

  18. 18
    twas brillig (stevem)

    Take the most famous equation of all, E = mc2. Just what does that equal sign mean?

    What about Newton’s “most famous equation”? F=ma. Force equals mass times acceleration. ??? Force is in units of Joules, mass is in grams and acceleration is meters per second squared. All different units how can they be EQUAL? Physics is incomprehensible! pffft, washes brain of trying to be nonsensical…
    Is he one of those cases of “so much wrong, too much to correct in too little time”? [is that the sound of a "gallop" somewhere?] His statements are so full of wrong, that one has to keep asking in order to attack any of it. [gallop, gallop] Like the e=mc2 and thermal loss of ATP turning into particles? First answer is, It takes a LOT of energy to make even one little particle (like an electron), no matter how much heat energy a body makes, it is not enough to turn into mass. Was he trying to imply that these mystery particles build the thinking stuff that our brain uses through energy manipulation? uhhhmmmm I know, He’s just making up these nonsense riddles to make us think about about what we think about stuff. He’s just an ajent provocateur to make us express ourselves more clearly for all the laypeople to understand better.

  19. 19
    ahcuah

    I think it was Sean Carroll (the cosmologist, not the biologist) who pointed out that any coupling by exotic things to the brain would already have been noticed (long ago) in particle accelerators. Because if it couples with the brain it is coupling with the matter in it. We should have seen some sort of interaction if it were happening. We haven’t; it’s not.

  20. 20
    consciousness razor

    We should have seen some sort of interaction if it were happening. We haven’t; it’s not.

    But perhaps it’s just ordinary electromagnetism from cosmic rays or whatever. Sure, that’s way too much energy, but that’s exactly why it would explain all of the people’s heads exploding whenever they receive the Transmissions From Beyond which give their brains thoughts. People die all of the time, and it only stands to reason that such head explosions might be the cause. I bet you scientismists never even thought of that.

  21. 21
    David Marjanović

    Max Tegmark

    This looks like Tegmark assumes a spherical brain and tells us what can be said about it – which is interesting in that nobody has done that before.

    Bizarrely, Tegmark refers to both himself and {himself + the reader} as “we”, despite also referring to himself as “I”.

    The object has, for example, a 75 percent chance of being in one place and a 25 percent change of being in another.

    As far as I understand, 75 % of the object are in one place while simultaneously 25 % of the object are in another. Attempts to interact with the object ( = a measurement) can temporarily narrow it down to one of these locations before it smears out again.

    Large objects consist of lots of particles that interact with each other. Each of these interactions counts for the purposes of the above paragraph; Schrödinger’s cat is not at all likely to be alive and dead.

    Except that you already mentioned above that instruments (which are not humans) do the “observing” too, and that even those don’t “create reality” for fuck’s fucking sake. In other words, this shit, whatever it is, happens all the fucking time, even when “nobody” is looking. This is why actual science, if anybody’s still paying attention to that, hasn’t ended up in Deepak Chopra territory.

    QFT.

  22. 22
    David Marjanović

    mass is in grams

    No. Despite its name, the kilogram is the official basic unit of mass; therefore it is what occurs in the definitions of other units, like the newton = kg*m/s².

    ajent

    Agent.

  23. 23
    Kevin Kehres

    I definitely think this qualifies as being so bad it’s not even wrong.

  24. 24
    consciousness razor

    Large objects consist of lots of particles that interact with each other. Each of these interactions counts for the purposes of the above paragraph; Schrödinger’s cat is not at all likely to be alive and dead.

    No, please no. It makes no sense to say it is alive and dead. This has 0% probability because it is blatantly contradictory. If you want approach it from the many-worlds interpretation or something (whatever you think that probability is supposed to be), then at least try to be clear that in the end, you’re talking about two different cats, one of which is alive and the other of which is dead. You don’t even need to do that if you’re not impressed with many-worlds, but there’s still no sensible reason according to QM that we have to talk about being both alive and dead. The “textbook” Copenhagen interpretation is just pure idiocy, and it’s a big chunk of the reason there are so many quantum cranks out there spewing that contradictory garbage back at us.

  25. 25
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re David:

    ummm, yes. I was taught there are two SI systems CGS and KMS; Centimeter/Gram/Seconds, and Kilogram/Meter/Seconds, and other complications like 4*pi showing up in one and not the other, … which lead to my “rant” about units being different for everything … ;-D

  26. 26
    mykroft

    At some level Biology becomes quantum mechanics, simply because biological molecules are made of atoms, which are made of subatomic particles, which are made of quarks… The fuzzy area is what processes in Biology work because of processes that can be better explained using quantum principles. Energy transfer in photosynthesis? Yeah, some aspects can be described that way. Is it essential for understanding the process? It depends on what you’re looking for.

    I can understand how the woo-meisters can get wrapped around the axle with quantum mechanics. Atom sized black holes, tunneling, string theory with 11 dimensions…. Whenever a topic is hard to describe to lay-people, many will fill in the gaps in their knowledge with concepts that appeal to them. God, souls, invisible unicorns, whatever. If something fits into the worldview that we have bought into, we smear that concept like spackle into those gaps.

    This is where a forum like Pharyngula shines. Here, we have enough people with deep knowledge in these esoteric fields that we can point out the incoherence, the logical missteps and the self delusions that people are heir to. Not because it is fun (but it can be), but because for those willing to listen it can force the introspection necessary to improve. To think more coherently. To make better arguments. To not take the easy path and spout what appeals to us intuitively.

  27. 27
    lpetrich

    I’ve never been very interested in interpretations of quantum mechanics. It makes my head ache, and it seems so pointless. I’m inclined to think that wavefunction collapse is due to the complexity of macroscopic systems.

  28. 28
    twas brillig (stevem)

    Shroedinger’s cat just tells us that mathematics is not a “perfect” predictor. Not that the cat itself is BOTH alive and dead simultaneously (until we look), just that the math can only calculate the probability of the situation. Waves don’t “collapse”, just our equations have to be updated to include the newest information. Like hold a die in your fist. all physics can say is that there is a certain probability for each face being topmost after you roll it. Does that mean the die is a fuzzy ball of plasma until you roll it and it suddenly collapses into a cube? Quantum doesn’t tell us that reality is just probabalistic random events, it just a perfect description of how imperfect our models of reality are. Quantum is like a meta-model; models our models of reality and tells us our models are imperfect, by a pretty accurate amount of uncertainty. It is hard to wrap one’s mind around calculating exactly how much error your calculations have. etc. etc. I’m no expert, so I go any further and make any sense….

  29. 29
    cag

    I don’t understand

    “Many polls show that most scientists are atheists,” ….. “I think that is unfortunate to say the least.”

    That sounds like something a theist would say.

  30. 30
    Bronze Dog

    One of the things that makes me headdesk about various ramblings about the double slit experiment and such is that it often seems like they’re assuming that observation is a passive process so that they can be ‘surprised’ that observing particles affects their behavior.

    Observation is what we call it when we interact with something for the purpose of obtaining information about it. There’s nothing inherently different about the act itself that separates it from other forms of interaction. The notion that observation is passive is an illusion of our middle world, where the concept of ‘negligible’ exists. In the subatomic world, there’s no such thing.

  31. 31
    blf

    Oh good grief, Not only are the units of measurement different…. I wonder what this bozo would say if he ever learned that a common convention is to define c as a unitless 1, thus making the equation simply E = m, with, self-evidently, the same units.

  32. 32
    Alex

    So what about dark energy? To push galaxies apart, it must impart some of its energy to the cluster of stars and planets to give them a push.

    That’s not how dark energy works in general relativity. Space itself rescales, there is no force pushing stuff apart which would require energy. However, relativity can be very subtle and interpretation can strongly depend on how one parameterizes things. Energy conservation on cosmological scales is not as clear an issue as it is in flat and static minkowskian space – one can try to assign energy to spacetime curvature itself to recover conservation of energy, and in a spatially flat universe, the total energy can even be zero.

    @stevem

    Shroedinger’s cat just tells us that mathematics is not a “perfect” predictor.

    You don’t know that. As long as we do not stick to any particular interpretation of quantum mechanics, we are unable to say anything with certainty, including whether the uncertainty is a fundamental aspect of reality, or merely an artifact of an incomplete theory. Someone mentioned bohmian mechanics – if you know all the values of the hidden variables exactly and have infinite computing power, a perfect predictor is possible. If the many-worlds interpretation is “true”, there cannot be one in principle. We don’t know which it is.

    @lpetrich

    I’ve never been very interested in interpretations of quantum mechanics. It makes my head ache, and it seems so pointless. I’m inclined to think that wavefunction collapse is due to the complexity of macroscopic systems.

    Look up decoherence theory which is along the lines of what you propose. There are however two separate issues – one is the vanishing of superpositions due to the interaction of the quantum system with a macroscopic system including the measuring apparatus, which is studied by decoherence theory – and the other is the elimination of alternative outcomes, which remains either unexplained (Copenhagen), decided by hidden variables (e.g. Bohm-de Broglie), or is nonexistent because all outcomes are realized (many-worlds).

  33. 33
    Alex

    @blf:

    Exactly! And even if we have E=m, which is actually incomplete, as it should be
    E = sqrt(m^2 + p^2)
    that doesn’t mean that there aren’t different forms of energy. It just gives you the total energy in the particle at hand with rest mass m and moving with momentum p. I have no clue what Klemm’s problem is.

  34. 34
    consciousness razor

    There are however two separate issues – one is the vanishing of superpositions due to the interaction of the quantum system with a macroscopic system including the measuring apparatus, which is studied by decoherence theory – and the other is the elimination of alternative outcomes, which remains either unexplained (Copenhagen), decided by hidden variables (e.g. Bohm-de Broglie), or is nonexistent because all outcomes are realized (many-worlds).

    There’s also basically what I’d call “random collapse” theories like GRW. It doesn’t happen because of measurements or whatever; it’s just a random thing that happens now and then for no reason, but not so much that it’s noticeable on the macro-scale.

  35. 35
    Rob Grigjanis

    CR @15:

    I blame the confused-as-hell Copenhagen interpretation for this

    You seriously think adopting a Bohmian view would have helped? Think what Chopra would do with pilot waves. It certainly wouldn’t help with the dark energy nonsense. Some people take terms they don’t understand, or only half-understand, and make nonsense out of them. There’s no cure for that.

    blf @31:

    a common convention is to define c as a unitless 1

    And the Planck constant, and the Boltzmann constant! makes life much easier.

  36. 36
    maddogdelta

    I feel like I have to apologize to all the physicists in the world right now. Please, please, please don’t think all neuroscientists are like that. Neuroscience is a field that actually does use a lot of math and biochemistry and physical chemistry and physics, and it doesn’t usually lead to crania full of drivel.

    No need to apologize. When Feynman spent a summer doing biology, his only complaint was that he thought the undergrads spent too much time on the vocabulary, and not enough time on the science (he also admitted the vocabulary was essential in communicating). That was his only real “criticism” of biology.

    Second, we have our own woo artists. Ever hear of Frank Tipler. He’s claiming that quantum mechanics proves god, and got his lazy, non scientific butt handed to him by Lawrence Krauss… Krauss – Tpler debate

  37. 37
    consciousness razor

    You seriously think adopting a Bohmian view would have helped?

    Sure. Particles have positions. They exist when we’re not looking at them. Everything behaves deterministically, so probabilities are (unsurprisingly) epistemic like they are in every other situation. The theory’s actually about stuff, not just a bunch of numbers. And just because there’s some artifacts in the equations which we never actually see obtain, that doesn’t mean those “branches” actually constitute numerous entirely different versions of reality, since that doesn’t seem to add anything useful to our understanding of the world. Already, yes, that is quite a lot better than some of the alternatives.

    Think what Chopra would do with pilot waves.

    I don’t really give a fuck what Chopra would do. That’s why I don’t own a WWDCD bracelet. The interpretation that makes sense to me, which bears some resemblance to reality as rational people understand it in their everyday lives, looks quite a lot like that.

    Also, that’s not some extra thing, it’s just the wavefunction, which is there in any flavor of QM — so we must already be thinking of what he would do with that, whenever we’re thinking of that at all.

    You can of course say all sorts of bizarre stuff about the “classical” world that we experience too, but that’s as good as it’s ever going to get, just like you say here:

    It certainly wouldn’t help with the dark energy nonsense. Some people take terms they don’t understand, or only half-understand, and make nonsense out of them. There’s no cure for that.

    For other people, who aren’t bent on distorting science for their own gain, I do think they would be helped by an interpretation that actually does make some connection with their understanding of the macroscopic world, in the way that classical mechanics does. And I think you need a pretty damn good justification for making a theory more bizarre than it actually needs to be. But look, maybe it does need to be many-worlds or something, to recover all of the stuff that’s actually there and is actually bizarre. I’m open to that, but I don’t know of any good reasons for that.

  38. 38
    ibyea

    Well, at least the Salon commenters are tearing the author’s article apart.

  39. 39
    David Chapman

    14
    PZ Myers

    Thanks, Prof.

  40. 40
    Rob Grigjanis

    CR @37:

    Already, yes, that is quite a lot better than some of the alternatives.

    Better in what sense? Ease of calculation? So far, it’s just metaphysics. If it helps you sleep at night, that’s great. But for standard model cross sections (or anything relativistic), or the general advance of our understanding, what use is it?

    The interpretation that makes sense to me, which bears some resemblance to reality as rational people understand it in their everyday lives, looks quite a lot like that.

    A need to see the subatomic world as ‘resembling’ the macroscopic seems a dodgy criterion for choosing an interpretation.

    I do think they would be helped by an interpretation that actually does make some connection with their understanding of the macroscopic world, in the way that classical mechanics does.

    Again, ease of acceptance by the general public doesn’t strike me as a compelling reason for a particular interpretation.

    And I think you need a pretty damn good justification for making a theory more bizarre than it actually needs to be.

    We obviously have very different views on what constitutes ‘bizarre’.

  41. 41
    Inaji

    David Chapman @ 39, there a list of the archives on the sidebar, lots of good stuff there. There’s also quite a bit on physics discussions: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula?s=Physics

  42. 42
    Alex

    @consciousness razor

    The version of bohmian mechanics which you so like for its classical flair is wrong, because it does not incorporate relativistic quantum field theory. Does the relativistic field theory version still satisfy your sense of aesthetics? Because it loses a lot of its appeal…

  43. 43
    chrislawson

    consciousness razor:

    1. I have no objection to accepting Bohmian quantum mechanics. All interpretations of quantum physics have deep problems. So long as the interpretation can successfully predict experimental outcomes then even if it’s fundamentally wrong, it’s at least usable.

    2. I do have a problem with someone calling any of the other widely used interpretations “pure idiocy”. We have no current method of telling which of Copenhagen, Many Worlds, Bohmian, or Cramer’s Transactional Analysis is more correct…and maybe they’re all equally wrong. You ought to remember that even Einstein, who was a hard-boiled classicist and therefore believed unequivocally in a hidden-variables universe and was a friend of Bohm (he tried to get him a job during the McCarthy hearings), rejected Bohm’s mechanics.

    3. You don’t get to criticise the Copenhagen Interpretation for being too easy for woo-peddlers to misrepresent AND get to say that you don’t care what woo-peddlers would make of Bohmian mechanics.

  44. 44
    ronmurp

    “it’s an article by an atheist”

    I don’t think so. It’s difficult to draw Klemm out on it, but follow him from here: http://brainblogger.com/2010/10/25/free-will-is-not-an-illusion/#comment-604823

  45. 45
    consciousness razor

    Better in what sense? Ease of calculation? So far, it’s just metaphysics. If it helps you sleep at night, that’s great.

    Yeah, it is, because I’d like to know what’s actually in the world and understand what it’s like. It is great that we can do that. Since I’m not doing any of the experiments, that’s the sort of thing I take out of a scientific theory: what does it say about the world we live in? If sneering at “metaphysics” — as if science somehow isn’t about reality — if that helps you sleep at night, then I guess you can ignore it as much as you want.

    2. I do have a problem with someone calling any of the other widely used interpretations “pure idiocy”.

    I don’t have such a problem, when it’s about shit that’s incoherent and barely even trying to be an interpretation.

    3. You don’t get to criticise the Copenhagen Interpretation for being too easy for woo-peddlers to misrepresent AND get to say that you don’t care what woo-peddlers would make of Bohmian mechanics.

    The thing is, they aren’t misrepresenting it. That’s the kind of confusing shit it actually says.

    And I still don’t care what they would say, because I’m trying to make sense out of the whole issue for myself. What makes sense to me? Which is saying the most reasonable, coherent things about the world? That’s the one I’m going to be most satisfied with, no matter what anyone else does in the way of misrepresentation. They could give me some actual reasons to believe something else, and that would matter to me.

  46. 46
    Rob Grigjanis

    that’s the sort of thing I take out of a scientific theory: what does it say about the world we live in?

    Wake me when there is a relativistic Bohmian field theory. You seem to like the hidden variables because they comfort your classical sensibility. But where, in BM, is the ‘real world’ description of quantum relativistic phenomena? That’s the world we live in. Until you have that, you have nothing but a pipe dream.

  47. 47
    The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge

    Klemm’s argument isn’t really fundamentally nuttier than Roger Penrose’s argument about conciousness: “You can’t design a Turing machine to prove any arbitrary mathematical theorem you throw at it—therefore: Quantum Gravity!”

    Thing is,when I read any of Penrose’s stuff, I always feel like I’ve learned something; reading this, I feel I know less than I did before.

  48. 48
    ragdish

    Granted we have kooky Klemm. But what about the more serious researchers of consciousness? Most noteworthy is Christof Koch and I was surprised that he advocates a form of panpsychism. Here’s a quote from an interview:

    David Chalmers has also suggested that consciousness may be a fundamental property in itself, not reducible to the laws of physics. What do you think of this idea?

    Koch: This is an old idea, which I’m quite sympathetic to. Just like physicists in the 16th century realized that magnets have this weird property of attracting other magnets or pieces of metal. This is an invisible force. We realized our description of the universe wasn’t complete and we had to include magnetic fields. To understand the universe, we say there’s space, time, matter, and energy. It may well be that to fully understand consciousness, there is something equally fundamental: experience. I think a particular type of complex system, which of course needs to be defined, will have conscious experience. That’s just the way the universe is, just like there’s matter. In this hypothesis, we live in a universe that has this fundamental property of consciousness.

    For the whole interview here is the URL:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/08/the-nature-of-consciousness-how-the-internet-could-learn-to-feel/261397/2/

    Yes, Klemm belongs in the Deepak Chopra camp but even prominent neuroscientists like Koch to a lesser extent sips the woo juice.

  49. 49
    consciousness razor

    Wake me when there is a relativistic Bohmian field theory.

    It’ll come around the time that anybody has any kind of relativistic quantum field theory.

    You seem to like the hidden variables because they comfort your classical sensibility.

    No, I “like” it because it’s one of the options which isn’t blatantly contradictory. You might say that’s “comforting” in a way, but that’d be really fucking misleading and pointless. Again, the same could be said of many-worlds too, for example. We could actually talk about that, if you weren’t just acting defensively.

    But where, in BM, is the ‘real world’ description of quantum relativistic phenomena? That’s the world we live in.

    The world you won’t even stop to think about.

  50. 50
    Rob Grigjanis

    It’ll come around the time that anybody has any kind of relativistic quantum field theory.

    What do you think the Standard Model is? Or one of its components, QED?

    …if you weren’t just acting defensively.

    What do you think I’m defending? I’m asking how BM describes the real world. You can’t seem to answer. Show me a calculation. You know, what a theory is supposed to do.

  51. 51
    consciousness razor

    What do you think the Standard Model is? Or one of its components, QED?

    It’s a model. And it’s not something that’s unified relativity and quantum mechanics, because nobody’s done that yet. I thought that is what you were asking about.

    What do you think I’m defending? I’m asking how BM describes the real world. You can’t seem to answer. Show me a calculation. You know, what a theory is supposed to do.

    BM doesn’t have any problem reproducing the results (that we have now) of “ordinary” QM. You seem to think otherwise, but that isn’t the case. And I already did give a quick and dirty account of how it describes the world. If you actually want to learn about it, look it up for yourself.

    On top of that, showing you a calculation would not amount to telling you how it describes the world. The point is that you actually have to say what the fuck kinds of things there are in the world according to the theory and interpret the results coherently in those terms. That doesn’t just come for free because you can do calculations.

  52. 52
    David Marjanović

    I was taught there are two SI systems CGS and KMS

    KMS is SI; CGS is for laboratory(-scale) use only. :-)

    Quantum doesn’t tell us that reality is just probabalistic random events, it just a perfect description of how imperfect our models of reality are.

    This sounds like you’re trying to introduce hidden variables.

    The notion that observation is passive is an illusion of our middle world, where the concept of ‘negligible’ exists. In the subatomic world, there’s no such thing.

    Exactly. What does it mean to see something? It means to shoot photons at it, so they ricochet off and hit your eyes. I’m deliberately using violent metaphors.

    There’s also basically what I’d call “random collapse” theories like GRW. It doesn’t happen because of measurements or whatever; it’s just a random thing that happens now and then for no reason, but not so much that it’s noticeable on the macro-scale.

    Huh. Interesting.

  53. 53
    Rob Grigjanis

    It’s a model.

    Er, yes. Is there an implicit ‘just’ there? It’s a theory.

    And it’s not something that’s unified relativity and quantum mechanics, because nobody’s done that yet.

    You should do more reading. The term ‘relativistic quantum field theory’ refers to the unification of quantum mechanics and special relativity. It has been so for as long as I can remember, going back at least to my copy of Bjorken & Drell’s Relativistic Quantum Fields, McGraw-Hill 1965. Wikipedia agrees, for what that’s worth.

    If you actually want to learn about it, look it up for yourself.

    I have. Special relativity seems to be a major problem.

  54. 54
    The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge

    DM @ 52:

    KMS is SI; CGS is for laboratory(-scale) use only. :-)

    Actually, astrophysicists never bothered switching from CGS units. What does it matter whether a supernova releases 10^46 Joules of energy or 10^52 ergs? They’re both really big numbers!

  55. 55
    consciousness razor

    The term ‘relativistic quantum field theory’ refers to the unification of quantum mechanics and special relativity.

    Yeah, that’s fine. I thought you were asking about GR instead.

    I have. Special relativity seems to be a major problem.

    What seems to be the problem? The calculations are harder to do? Maybe so. Then don’t use those particular equations for those particular problems. That doesn’t tell us anything useful about reality.

  56. 56
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    One of the things that makes me headdesk about various ramblings about the double slit experiment and such is that it often seems like they’re assuming that observation is a passive process so that they can be ‘surprised’ that observing particles affects their behavior.

    Observation is what we call it when we interact with something for the purpose of obtaining information about it. There’s nothing inherently different about the act itself that separates it from other forms of interaction. The notion that observation is passive is an illusion of our middle world, where the concept of ‘negligible’ exists. In the subatomic world, there’s no such thing.

    Hm. This seems very important to me.

  57. 57
    The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge

    Since it appears I can’t count to seven, just reduce the exponent by one for the “Joules” or increase it by one for the “ergs”. Thanks.

  58. 58
    squidmaster

    I am a neuroscientist. This guy is wacky. I don’t know any of my colleagues who hold ideas like this. Most of us think that, for example, consciousness is a rather complex perception by the brain of what it just did and what it just decided to do. Do we understand the detailed neural mechanism? Not yet, but no one expects woo to be involved in the details. It’s difficult to describe complex phenomena like consciousness or cosmogenesis or the Higgs field or nearly neutral evolutionary change. I can be done, though, and without nonsense.

  59. 59
    consciousness razor

    SC:

    Hm. This seems very important to me.

    Yes. David Albert makes the point really well here (and here and here), responding to some of the quantum-quackery in the film “What the Bleep do We Know!?”

  60. 60
    The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge

    Bronze Dog @ #30:

    Observation is what we call it when we interact with something for the purpose of obtaining information about it. There’s nothing inherently different about the act itself that separates it from other forms of interaction. The notion that observation is passive is an illusion of our middle world, where the concept of ‘negligible’ exists. In the subatomic world, there’s no such thing.

    Exactly! The real difference between Classical and Quantum physics is that Classical Physics treats size as relative, whereas in Quantum Physics, some things are absolutely small, in the sense that there is no possible interaction with them whose effect is “negligible”.

    In fact, Absolutely Small is the title of Michael D. Fayer’s book, which I can’t recommend too highly for anyone who’s open to reason on the subject. (I doubt Deepity Chopped-Raw would profit from it.) It starts out simply, probably insultingly so for most here, but then really explains why a lot of things are the way they are using QM. Very well-written. (Except he spells “discrete” “discreet” a lot—one of my pet peeves.)

  61. 61
    Alex

    There is however no absolute length scale of smallness in qm (the planck *scale* is a feature of gravity, not qm). There is merely a concept of smallness of the so-called action, which is roughly the energy of a process multiplied by the timescale at which we study it. This quantity can be compared to planck’s constant, which has units energy*time. A large system can exhibit quantum behavior if it has sufficiently small momenta (BECs for example), and an atom sized object can in principle behave as classical as a soccer ball. It’s just that the masses of particles such as the electron, prescribe a certain energy scale which typically makes the nanometer scale the scale where quantum weirdness sets in, but that needn’t be so for arbitrary systems and processes.

  62. 62
    Doug Little

    But if that energy is absorbed by the galaxy, surely some of it must be absorbed in us.

    I think he is a little confused and needs to brush up on his particle physics.

  63. 63
    Doug Little

    squidmaster @58,

    Do we understand the detailed neural mechanism? Not yet, but no one expects woo to be involved in the details.

    If you did expect woo then you would essentially be admitting that you don’t know what the hell is going on.

  64. 64
    jimthefrog

    2 queries about dB-B mechanics:
    a) since it seems to be an explicitly realist interpretation, how does it handle Bell’s theorem?

    b) if the velocity of particles is given by the derivative of the phase, do stationary wavefunctions (eg. particle in a box) imply the particles themselves are actually stationary?

  65. 65
    Rob Grigjanis

    jimthefrog @64: (a) One of the key features of BM is that non-locality is built in. Bell was one of its strongest proponents. See here and here.

    (b) I’m sure consciousness razor can answer that one.

  66. 66
    Alex

    @jimthefrog
    b)
    I think so, yes. It would sit in one fixed place chosen randomly according to |psi|^2, and when you measure X to some precision, you would find it sitting there, but then the wavefunction has changed and it woulf move again.

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