Open thread on episode #785: Quantum quack attack

Sorry about the quiet week, gang. I think we all have a lot on our respective plates. Plus, everyone who attended the Texas Freethought Convention last weekend was pretty beat afterwards, I suspect. Anyway, today’s show was a feisty one! Predictably enough, I thought of something I could have asked our “the universe is a quantum projection” fellow long after we were off the air. He claims physicists have “proven” this, but I fail to see how the idea is even scientifically falsifiable. What conditions would I expect to see present in a universe that was nothing more than the thought-projection of a God-mind or cosmic computer simulation that I would not expect to see present in a universe that was actually an objective, material reality? And what predictions could I make?

Have I mentioned I find “Matrix Apologetics” really lame?

Go to it, horde.


  1. vgerdj says

    Most of us only got bits and pieces from the stream, so after it’s post for DL, I’m sure there will be a more lively discussion. Until then…

  2. Lord Narf says

    I always just listen to the .mp3 file, while out driving, so I’m always late to the party. Sounds like we had an amusing caller.

  3. Philip Harboe says

    I think these people see simply an unfalsifiable claim and think that’s the same as a proven claim. Besides, I have a hard time seeing it as anything but solipsism by another name.

  4. mandrellian says

    Like I say (paraphrased) to all solipsists: don’t tell me I’m in the Matrix unless (a) you can prove it, (b) you’re Morpheus and (c) you can get me out and download bitchin’ kung-fu straight into my brain.

    Seriously, even if you’re able to prove we’re in a sim, or that we are in fact a thought-projection (whatever the frak THAT is) of Super Space Jeebus, what then? How can you justify worshipping Super Space Jeebus? How do you know he’s the be-all and end-all? How do you know he’s not the first step in an infinite regress of thought projectors – or even a finite regress of thought projectors?

    Just tell me precisely HOW us being in a sodding simulation would/should/could compel worship of your ancient desert god? If we are just Sims then God is imagining Hell, Satan and the Kardashians as much as he’s imagining Heaven, Gandhi and Joss Whedon. And that, right there, tells me he’s fucking insane.

  5. says

    I didn’t get much of it either because u-stream is screwed up today, but i know what the guy was going on about. I’ve heard this argument before and my response usually involves a call to loony bin to come retrieve their patient off my front lawn .Basically he has no grasp of what physics is and believes monkeyshit is an allusion even it get flung in his face. These people believe the universe is a hologram because the edges get fuzzy when you zoom in on stuff. I would say that more due to our undeveloped eyes an the use of a 5 dollar walmart microscope. This is a good example of whats not scientific research and has is no more physics than the plaster gnomes in my garden are living creatures. since we the heathen race are always learning read this. Its the basics of what he believes

  6. scott1328 says

    FWIW, I gave up watching with U stream on my desktop months ago. I use my iPad, or iPhone and watch in the Safai browser. it is much more reliable (there were a couple of freezes today) and more importantly, no advertisements. I guess apple was right to ditch flash in iOS.

  7. says

    The paper the guy was yammering about says nothing about solopsism, or implications of a god, it does say “You would also have to give up certain intuitive features of realism.” Or, as the Physics World article put it: ” thus stressing the quantum-mechanical assertion that reality does not exist when we’re not observing it.” I can assert, with a high degree of certainty, that I really haven’t a clue what any of this means. But, when you got a guy discussing a Physics World article, and not the paper it was about, I have a high degree of confidence that he isn’t clued in any better than I am. To assert tentative conclusions about the implications of a one-off experiment as facts about the nature of the universe is daft, to be generous.

    Alain Aspect, who performed the first experiments demonstrating the Bell inequality blah blah etc etc, says “There are other types of non-local models that are not addressed by either Leggett’s inequalities or the experiment,”, showing, just as Matt said, that there isn’t some kind, any kind, of general consensus regarding the experiment. Not wanting to Bohr anyone with the details, we went through similar crap back in the ’20s, and somehow reality survived.

  8. says

    1-the ustream gets worst and worst…always freezing for the last weeks…advertisements every 15 minutes….Is there a way to put the live show somewhere else? Like youtube I heard that some doing live shows there. Can we watch the show live on youtube?

    2-About “the ressurection” in the gospels. The more ancient gospel was the one from mark and the oldest copy we have it finishes with the empty tomb…the copies that included the ressurection was an addition to the original…so the original gospel doesn’t mention “a story of the ressurection”.

    3-I wonder why Matt insulted the quantum theory guy…anyway… i find it interesting when people brings new stuff to reflect on…and when Matt teaches the Bible. haha

  9. says

    The quantum physics stuff is inaccessible to most people. Of course I’m not going to accept something I don’t understand. If they can’t get some papers through legitimate peer review, I don’t particularly care until then, at least outside of some amount of speculation.

    This argument has the same rhythm of some Chris Langdon-like application of causality to the Big Bang.

  10. says

    Can we do special request here for a future show? I would really like a special with Jeff Dee on free will vs. predetermination!

    What is the default position on that matter do you guys think?

  11. says

    ya, I meant Determinism, I guess. Thanks for mentioning that. Now I have to make more research about determinism, undeterminism and pre-determinism, etc. Good for the brain.

    Thanks for the link, Jasper, I will listen to it like right now! 😀

  12. Skeptical Jackal says

    The main issue some people seems to have with quantum mechanics (specially the Copenhagen interpretation, as far as I understand it) is to misunderstand the “observer” concept. Asserting that reality doesn’t exist until is observed doesn’t mean that an intelligent mind is required to do the observing. The “observation” refers to measuring a elemental particles’ status, not a person observing said status.

    Conflating those two is what usually makes possible the “Matrix apologetics” speculations.

  13. eupraxis says

    Is this referencing Leonard Susskind? I hope not, because if you are calling him a quack, you are way off base.

  14. 42oolon says

    I wouldn’t mind an update on the hosts views on free will, but it might be better as a non-prophets. Check out great videos by Dan Dennet on this subject.

  15. frankathon says

    I’m definitely one of those people who don’t understand Quantum Physics, hell I didn’t even take Physics in high school but I understand where Matt and the commenters on here are coming from. But I don’t understand why Matt had to be so rude to the guy. I thought the guy was trying to have a conversation. He wasn’t being rude; he wasn’t cutting off anyone… It just seemed like he was being all out dismissed. Matt could have taken the time like he did with the next caller, to try and see where the caller was coming from and how it didn’t make sense. Yes he did touch on that but I just think it would have been more in debt.

  16. 42oolon says

    Just a quick note on the. “quantum guy”. At the end he seemed to say all this opens up the possibility of an afterlife. Well, I don’t think any of us needed the science quotations to agree an afterlife is possible. When quantum science says an afterlife is probable, or demonstrated, call back. Neither the hosts nor the audience can discuss the science on this level, we can onlyndiscuss peer-reviewed conclusions. Not to mention the question of the nature of the afterlife? I am pretty sure Ithe matter in my body will persist, I am pretty sure my consciousness will not.

    Even if science could prove the existence of an afterlife or heaven, religion would retreat and say religion is about something else, something they need faith for.

  17. lonomoholo says

    That idiot from Oslo needs to grow up, or maybe stay on his meds. I don’t often stoop to name-calling but he seems to be a really douchenozzle. Really annoying, but I guess if you don’t have anything reasonable to say, screaming like a nut is the default, at least for this imbecile.

    Otherwise, a good show. It was nice to have two hours last Sunday (and the one before that).

  18. sharkjack says

    People have this rudementary way of thinking about looking at stuff, but what does it really mean. When we look at something, we need to bombard it with something that it can reflect or in some way alter with a specific pattern. In daily life we tend to bombard stuff with light, which reflects into our eyes. The things tend to handle this quite well, so we don’t really think about us looking at stuff as an action. If we look at small stuff, the energy that photons carry at their wavelengths are large enough that they start to significantly affect the object of interest to the point we notice this change. When this happens, looking at something changes it. I know too little about quantum mechanics to say anything about how that works, but the idea that looking at something sets it’s properties doesn’t imply a mind changed it’s properties, it just means that ‘looking’ at it is an action that has physical effects.

  19. Tomasz R. says

    I think our language is not a proper way to deal with questions like “does reality exist”. To build language you have to start from some basic concepts upon which you then build another concepts. “Exist” and “reality” seem to be such. You can get them intuitively, preasume such concept without defining them in a form of language or unterstand them visually. What is a sloppy and circular is analysing this base terms themselves using language.

    So the advice is – when talking about quantum physics go straight to the equations!

  20. Lone Primate says

    What I couldn’t believe was the guy in the first 15 minutes who seemed to be arguing about how his theory “opens up the possibility of an afterlife” for all the people he just argued aren’t “real”. That’s about the wildest tinfoil hat I’ve ever seen.

  21. Tomasz R. says

    Quantum mechanics.

    It doesn’t matter. At our sizes quantum physics reduces to conventional physics.

    Sean Carrol – “From Particles to People”

    It does matter. at the level we build miniaturized computer chips even now quantum effects are clearly visible.

    It is going to matter more, as computers itself start utilize quantum mechanics as the basis for their work.

    Seth Lloyd on Programming the Universe

  22. tonysnark says

    Caller #1 (“Johannen”?) made a classic mistake made by believers in quantum woo. It’s pseudoscience that he probably lifted straight out of “What The Bleep Do We Know?”.

    If you read the article he mentioned (link below) you will see that the idea of a “conscious mind” is not mentioned once. There is a reason for that. Anyone who cares to look into the subject further will find that the idea that conscious entities are necessary to cause reality to come into being is very far from being the scientific consensus held by physicists.

    When physicists talk about “observing” a particle, they are most often talking about the particle interacting with a particle detector of some kind. This does NOT imply that a conscious entity has to be involved to “collapse the wave-function” of the particle to cause it to “come into being”. That will happen when the particle interacts with any macro-scale object (like a particle detector).

    The experiment which Johannen referenced is a classic thought experiment devised by physicist John Bell forty years ago: “Quantum physics says goodbye to reality”, Physics Today, April 29th, 2007.

    For further reading on the subject, I highly recommend “Quantum Gods” by Victor Stenger (author of God: The Failed Hypothesis) which is about how peddlers of pseudoscience distort and abuse quantum physics to justify all manner of nonsense:


    Matt was right, though: Even if we grant what Johannen was claiming is true for the sake of argument, then there is the problem of infinite regress.

    Nobody anywhere ever has observed a mind that does not run on some kind of physical brain. If it is the case, as it seems to be, that a brain is required for any kind of mind, this uber-mind or god that Johannen proposes would also have to have a brain existing in some kind of universe with physical laws. According to Johannen, there would have to be an uber-uber-mind in order for the uber-mind to come into being. Somewhere along the line there would have to be a “base reality” or we get an infinite regress.

    However, that is all academic because Johannen was talking pseudo-scientific balderdash anyway.

  23. tonysnark says

    BTW, does anybody know the name of Johannen’s YouTube channel, which he mentioned? Seeing as he talks with such an assumed air of authority, I’d quite like to go there and introduce him to the concept of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  24. Tomasz R. says

    If universe is a quantum computer, which computes our simulation, then this in a sense disproves monotheist god:

    1) God’s architecture is a CENTRALIZED single object. Universe-as-comptuer has extremaly DISTRIBUTED architecture, with elements doing computations independantly.

    2) God is EXTERNAL to the universe. Universe-as-a-computer hypothesis assume there’s no external force, the Universe is a SELF-CONTAINED computer, that computes itself (eg. it’s own future), without any external help.

    3) Universe-as-a-computer makes all “complexity” arguments for gods invalid, as a powerful quantum computer called The Universe has all necessary processing capacity to be an “intelligent designer”/Creator of complex systems.

  25. curtcameron says

    I had quantum physics in college, and since then I’ve read a few popular books on modern physics, so I was curious to see what the first caller was going on about, that materialism has been disproved. I’ve settled onto the opinion that the world seems to be material stuff only, so I’m interested in seeing anything that would disprove this. Unfortunately in all my searching, nothing I’ve found even comes close to beginning to give a hint of scratching the surface of materialism.

    I read the Wikipedia article on the Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser, and I see your standard quantum weirdness there – it’s just a variation of the double-slit experiment.

    I still haven’t seen anything that makes me thing that the apparent materialism of the universe isn’t actual materialism.

  26. says

    Ok, good suggestion. have to know more about Dennet’s position on that topic.

    I just listened the Non-Prophets on that subject and I was a bit surprised (and kind of disappointed) to see that Matt, Jeff and Russel are on the Free will position. Maybe on an Atheist Experience they could win some christians in surprising them to see that they are “pro Free will”.

    The only on the show who was a Determinist was surrounded by the 3 others and I thought at one point Jeff and Dennis would fight (lol). That Dennis was good but was overwhelmed by too much attacks on the 3 sides.

  27. says

    Ok, thanks!! Will check that. I am predetermine to like that stuff.

    Would be fun to see an atheist determinist side by side with a calvinist debatting an atheist and a baptist free willists. If you have such a link, don’t hesitate. 😀

  28. says

    I was a bit surprised (and kind of disappointed) to see that Matt, Jeff and Russel are on the Free will position. Maybe on an Atheist Experience they could win some christians in surprising them to see that they are “pro Free will”.

    To be fair, they didn’t mean “free will” the way Christians mean, although it’s not clear to me exactly what they meant.

    Christians seem to buy into a “libertarian free will” that’s basically a soul that, from a parallel dimension, uses your body as a sock-puppet as sort of a “first cause” for decision-making.

    Matt, Jeff and Russell are more about something that’s not that.

  29. says

    Ya, I am not sure either what they 3 meant by Free will. They seems to have kind of 3 different views on that topic. They were many counter arguments that can be raise but Denis was kind of tired I guess and didn’t bring those arguments against Free Will.
    Would be great if they bring to the show a Determinist Atheist to explain his world view.

    Ok, now I will listen to the other links you have send me. 🙂

  30. says

    I think I like Matt’s Simon Cowell-esque dealings with the American Idol rejects. I know it must frustrate you Matt, but it does make for pretty good entertainment.

  31. sc_b2f2b6efa00813aedd284aa37c078565 says

    I majored in physics in college. It was quite a while ago now, but here’s the thing I think the caller is missing: ANY interaction with the environment counts as an observation. It does not require a conscious mind to “make an observation” A particle hit with a photon is “observed” in the sense that the waveform will collapse. It doesn’t matter if the photon was sent deliberately as part of an experiment, or just a stray photon. Minds CAN make observations, but they are not necessary. As such, his premise is badly flawed, and does NOT accord with mainstream interpretation of quantum physics. That said, Matt is right not to care. It just bugs me when QM is abused, even for intellectual masturbation.

  32. Adam says

    The first caller is making a basic mistake: Confusing the word ‘observer’ in QM with ‘consciousness’. The ‘observer’ in QM is the experimental apparatus… that is it.

  33. says

    Ok,great. I am downloading the other part.

    That Jeremy is really a good discovery for me. I agree 100% on his position, that is refreshing to hear him talking. He stay calm, moderate, etc. And in the end really politely he said something like ok guys I have lost too much time with you now. clic. awesome!

  34. tonysnark says

    Yeah, except quantum effects disappear as you move from the very small to the macroscopic, and what could be more macroscopic than the whole universe? Which means the universe isn’t a quantum anything. Whatever it is, it’s classical and relativistic, not quantum.

    If you ever throw a ball at a wall and instead of bouncing off of it it passes through it, please let me know and I’ll start taking what you said more seriously.

  35. jacobfromlost says

    We should make a list for people like the “god’s consciousness” dude.

    a) Consciousness is not magic.
    b) Intelligence is not magic.
    c) Minds are not magic.
    d) Observations are not magic.
    e) Quantum mechanics is not magic.
    f) Things you don’t happen to understand are not magic.
    g) Feelings are not magic.
    h) Abstract things are not magic.

    And probably quite a few more.

    Oh yeah. “Magic” isn’t an explanation–for any of those things–no matter how cool you think your lack of understanding of whichever of them may be.

  36. mike says

    Point taken, though theists might not take this seriously due to the ridiculous nature of it. The example I like to use when a theist is claiming some wacko belief is 50/50, is the lottery. I just bought a lotto ticket, its either a winner or a loser so my chances of winning are 50/50!

  37. tonysnark says

    Now that you remind me, I kept expecting Johannen to start talking about the brain as if it were a quantum mechanical system, but he never did, at least not directly. (To his credit? Or because he never managed to get around to it?) This is, I think, the next most pernicious error of the quantum-woo believer to the belief that a conscious mind is needed to collapse the wave function. The neural network in a brain is an order of magnitude too large to exhibit quantum effects. So much more the entire universe!

  38. stella mica says

    Matt seems very upset lately, hope he is ok. Enjoyed the show despite the inanity of some callers.

  39. rodney says

    I thought the physics guy deserved a good chewing out, Matt made it clear last week that he wasn’t interested in this “we’re all living in the matrix” crap. I’d rather hear the Oslo idiot scream and babble every call than listen to another second of Beaker yammering about whatever the hell he was talking about.

    I do think Matt was a little hard on the old guy in the next call, he didn’t seem to call to confront anyone, he just wanted to understand more about atheism. I thought he was pretty open minded for a believer actually.

  40. Bugmaster says

    I think it might be worthwhile to dedicate an entire episode to quasi-theistic claims, including things like:

    * The Singularity: It’s not only inevitable, but also coming soon !

    * The Simulation Argument: One day, we will develop the technology to simulate universes; their virtual inhabitants will do the same; therefore we are very probably living in a simulation. And it matters, somehow.

    * Molecular Nanotechnology: It is possible to invent a very small machine that arranges atoms in some nearly arbitrary way, which includes making a copy of the machine.

    * Deepak Chopra: Quantum mumbo-jumbo !

    Anyway, if you discuss some of these items in an episode, then the next time someone calls in about them, you could just tell him, “Watch episode #XYZ”.

  41. tonysnark says

    I was wondering when Penrose and Hammeroff might show up. I suspect even more strongly now that Johannen got all his ideas from the film “What the Bleep Do We Know?”, a film based on the same pseudoscientific ideas about quantum physics and consciousness which underlie the equally dubious (and in my mind dangerous and irresponsible) book “The Secret”.

    Mathematician Roger Penrose and medical doctor Stuart Hammeroff think that the brain is a quantum computer. Their reasoning seems to go something like this: We don’t understand quantum mechanics, we don’t understand consciousness, so the two must be the same.

    To get around the fact that the brain’s synpses operate at a scale a whole order of magnitude too large for quantum effects to play a part, they propose that structures called “microtubules” somehow play a key part in consciousness.

    They fail to provide adequate evidence for this, they fail to provide a plausible mechanism, and they fail to make a convincing case as to why understanding consciousness requires the use of quantum mechanics in the first place. (It’s a bad case of physics envy if you ask me). And so unsurprisingly Penrose and Hammeroff’s view is not shared by the vast majority of the worlds neuroscientists, who seem to have made considerable progress since Penrose first proposed this idea in the ironically titled book “The Emperor’s New Mind” without invoking quantum woo in the process. The microtubules in question are commonly thought to be no more than a structural component of the neuron and show no sign of playing any part in consciousness.

    Hammeroff also cites this view of “quantum consciousness” to “explain” near-death experiences, something that I would imagine would set off a red flag in the minds of wary skeptics.

    Again, I recommend physicist Victor Stenger’s book “Quantum Gods” and his earlier “The Unconscious Quantum”, both of which delve into these murky waters as well as addressing other notorious purveyors of quantum woo such as Deepak Chopra.

  42. says

    When quantum science says an afterlife is probable, or demonstrated, call back.

    Even then, it’s completely academic unless he can tell us what that afterlife will be like and perhaps how to affect it before we get there.

  43. JE Hoyes says

    But, if you don’t buy a ticket, you’re 100% guaranteed not to win. So that feeds into the “Pascal’s wager” argument. I agree though, often the example of mythological ludicrous assertion given to mirror the religious ludicrous assertion is too ludicrous for a believer to accept. Maybe, start with examples similar in nature to religion, like astrology, and work your way up, down or across to flying Loch Ness monsters distributing Christmas presents. In other words, liken one superstition with another of similar repute.

  44. mond says

    Mr quantum seems to enjoy quoting authority figures, so here is a quote from Richard Feynman for him to consider:

    “if you think you understand quantum theory, then you don’t understand quantum theory”

    This quote often comes to mind when listening to quantum woo peddlers.

  45. Peter Horsepucky says

    This is very important. Getting this out of the way early will nip a lot of the quantum matrix argument crap in the bud.

  46. says

    Yeah, drives me nuts when Quantum Woomeisters don’t understand that “observing” something necessarily involves subjecting it to magnetic fields or bouncing photons off of it and that’s what effects changes in that which is observed.

    As far as “souls” go and energy persisting after death, I’d recommend Robert J. Sawyer. He’s written several SF novels of the type Martin was suggesting. “Calculating God” is about what it would look like if Intelligent Design *were* real, “Factoring Humanity” is about “what if we were all one consciousness on a deeper level.” They’re great books, and they wonderfully illustrate not only some great thought experiments, but also subtly highlight that our world *doesn’t* actually work that way.

  47. frankathon says

    Martin and Jasper:

    True, I remember listening to that guy last Sunday. I guess I had never heard of what he was talking about in much detail and wanted to know more even though it didn’t make all that much sense to me.
    Then I went and looked at old episodes of TAE and noticed that this guy has called more than twice and he’s constantly trying to discuss this view. I can see how it can be tedious.

    I work for the public and the amount of entitlement I deal with has given me a short fuse so I get where Matt was coming from in the end.

    Keep up the good work people!

  48. Tomasz R. says

    Small-size entities exist both in natural world and in the products designed for civilization. In the natural world these are semiconductors: computers, photovoltaics etc.

    In the natural world quantum mechanics also plays impotrant role:

    Seth Lloyd on Quantum Life

  49. JE Hoyes says

    Yes, Matt was even more dismissive last week of Johannan. So I’m glad to have heard a little bit more of his thinking this week. I don’t think this show is the right forum, or perhaps Matt isn’t the best sounding board for the physics argument… I’d like to hear Johannan’s view being dissected by a physicist in layman’s terms. I don’t see how his argument has anything to do with the existence or otherwise of a god though.

  50. tonysnark says

    That’s very widely attributed to Feynman, and having read a lot of Feynman it sounds to me like something Feynman might say, but I couldn’t find a source for it. Neither could the guys at WikiQuote:

    I nearly found myself forced to reluctantly conclude that it is probably apocryphal. Then I found this:

    “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics … Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, ‘But how can it be like that?’ because you will get ‘down the drain’, into a blind alley from which nobody has escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.”
    –Richard P. Feynman, The Messenger Lectures, Cornell U. 1964, Lecture 6: Probability and Uncertainty – The Quantum Mechanical View of Nature: (8:02)

    * I’d recommend beginning with Feynman’s book of anecdotes: “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman”. It’s a lifelong favorite of mine, a wonderful book, and very funny.

  51. JE Hoyes says

    That quote leads me to suspect that quantum theory is “woo”, whether it’s being pedalled by a physicist or a supernaturalist.

  52. tonysnark says

    The more I think about it, the more insane this “observer” hypothesis of Johannen’s becomes.

    Consider this: in our experiment a particle is emitted, hits a detector, the detector generates an electrical signal to some kind of display (a simple light bulb will do), a stream of photons goes from the display into the eye of the scientist (the so-called “observer”), and the photoreceptors in the scientist’s eye fire, alerting the brain of the scientist to the presence and/or state of the particle.

    The wave function of the particle collapses when the particle interacts with the particle detector, not when the light from the display hits the back of the scientists eyeball, nor when the neurons fire in the scientist’s brain.

    To say otherwise, somehow the information that a conscious being has observed the result would have to travel backwards through time from the scientist’s brain along the path of the light from the display on the particle detector, into the display, backwards through a bunch of arbitrary electronic circuitry and into the particle at the time it hit the detector. Quantum physics is weird but it’s not that weird. What’s the mechanism supposed to be? Magic?

    Consider also that the particle detector and it’s circuitry are macro-scale objects which conform to classical, not quantum physics. It’s only the particle which is in a superpositional state, not the whole experimental apparatus.

  53. Andrew EC says

    But that (among many other things) shows the vacuity of Pascal’s Wager: you shouldn’t buy lottery tickets; they have a negative expected payoff, even though the magnitude of the potential win greatly exceeds the cost of the (likely) loss.

    Similarly: even if you think Christianity’s “costs” are negligible — granting Pascal’s argument, essentially — it can (and is) still a bad buy.

  54. says

    Other possible example “I’ve got a bridge to sell you”. I either do or don’t have a bridge to sell you and you could make money off turning it into a toll bridge or what ever. Or maybe I’m just after your money ;p.

  55. says

    In the spirit of halloween…

    With the whole witnessing a miracle thing. If a cross appeared on the back wall of the studio before their eyes barring mundane explanations. Wouldn’t the ghost of some christian apologist (or just prankster ghost) be as likely as god coming down himself? I can tell you first thing I’d do as a ghost is cause a whole bunch of contradictory miracles in various churches ;p

  56. tonysnark says

    Suppose our intrepid scientist (the “observer”) instead of sticking around to watch the experiment, sets his computer to record the result and then flies off for six-month sabbatical in Brazil, and only checks the result on his computer when he comes back.

    Does the information that the experiment has finally been observed travel back through time for the whole six months and into the particle before it hit the detector?


    What happens if we sit a cat in front of the particle detector display? Does that count as an observer? How about a frog? A fly? A brainless photosynthetic bacterium? How about a photocell and a simple memory chip circuit? At what point does our observer cease to be an observer?

    What’s the definition of “observer” anyway? Surely we should at least have a definition if the observer is so fundamentally important. In fact, surely this all-important observer should appear somewhere in our mathematical model. Why doesn’t it? How come the theory seems to work just fine without even defining what an observer is, let alone mathematically modelling one?

  57. tonysnark says

    What a load of arse. Quantum theory doesn’t stand or fall on the basis of some quote, no matter who said it. It stands because the equations work, which has been experimentally demonstrated thousands of times over. You have quite a good demonstration in front of you right this minute: if quantum physics didn’t work the computer you are typing on now wouldn’t work either, it would just be an inert lump of matter.

    If Einstein said “internal combustion works because of magic space elves”, would that in any way invalidate the theory of internal combustion?

  58. tonysnark says

    Here is a list of technologies which depend on our correct understanding of quantum physics, or they wouldn’t work:

    Magnetic memories
    Nuclear reactors
    Electron microscopes
    Scanning tunneling microscopes
    SQuID magnetometers
    Nuclear magnetic resonance scanners
    Electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy

    …and that’s just what I was able to come up with in the last five minutes.

  59. John Phillips, FCD says

    Show me any woo where, like QM, the predictions made by its theory matches observation to 10 decimal places.

  60. tonysnark says

    Perhaps it could be interdimensional space elves trying to interest us in a game of tic-tac-toe.

  61. JE Hoyes says

    Why did Feynman suggest that quantum theory is not understandable? Even (by inference) to people who purport to understand it?

  62. JE Hoyes says

    My main criticism of the Pascal wager is that it only addresses acceptance of one religion and doesn’t allow one to spread bets across the field. If we throw in our lot with the Christian god, we’re automatically disallowed from also betting on all the other options. So it doesn’t help with the choice of where to place the bet. So, it doesn’t help the argument for Christianity either in that respect.

  63. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Yeah… From my layman’s perspective I’m pretty sure that the physical act of measuring a quantum effect is what changes it, not that there is a “mind” observing it.

    It’s a fairly hand bullshit filter unless I have it wrong!

  64. Curt Cameron says

    Feynman’s point was that no one understands it, at least not intuitively. We have equations which we can crank out answers that match observations, to ten decimal places, but that doesn’t mean that we understand it.

  65. tonysnark says

    What Feynman is suggesting is that quantum physics doesn’t comport with our “common sense” intuitions about how the world works. This is because quantum effects are only observable on the atomic scale, and we are much too big to be able to directly observe reality in terms of individual particles. At our scale of existence quantum effects cancel out and what we observe in the world around us appears to comport with classical Newtonian physics.

    This kind of thing doesn’t just apply to quantum physics. When we observe objects in our immediate environment they are typically moving at a fairly modest velocities and under relatively low conditions of gravity. An object moving at close to the speed of light or in a deep gravity well (such as the orbit of Mercury, which is very close to the sun) also doesn’t conform with our “common sense” assumptions, which is when we need to use the Einsteinian relativistic model of the universe to figure out how things behave.

    The science of physics depends on mathematical modelling. The measure of whether our scientific models of the universe work is whether, when we plug the numbers obtained by our measurements into the equations, we get an answer out which comports with experimental observation. It’s got nothing to do with how easy or intuitive it is to imagine in our mind’s eye.

    If that doesn’t sound very satisfactory, there’s nothing to be done about it. We are limited creatures and it’s pretty amazing that we can understand the universe as well as we do considering we evolved for survival on the African plains, not for understanding the mysteries of the universe.

    Feynman can explain it better than I:

    Richard P. Feynman, The Messenger Lectures, Cornell U. 1964, Lecture 6: Probability and Uncertainty – The Quantum Mechanical View of Nature:

  66. tonysnark says

    Take relativity as an example of how our physical models of reality don’t necessarily comport with our common sense intuitions:

    If I set out in my car at 30kmph, and you drive your car directly towards me at 50 kmph, then it’s a simple calculation to work out how fast we are moving towards each other. It’s 50kmph + 30kmph = 80kmph.

    That seems fairly intuitive, right? However…

    If I set out in my rocket ship towards the sun at half the speed of light (0.5c) and the light from the sun is moving towards me at the speed of light (c), then you would be forgiven for thinking that the photons of light from the sun and I are moving together at 0.5c + 1c = 1.5c, or one-and-a-half times the speed of light.

    Not so. No matter how fast I fly my rocket ship towards the sun, the light from the sun always approaches me at a fixed velocity, c. What actually happens is that, from where I am sitting in my rocket ship, time moves at a slower pace relative to the sun.

    I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem very intuitive to me! However, that’s the way things are, and you can tell by direct measurement of reality.

    Eddington confirmed Einstein’s theory of relativity by working out the orbit of Mercury and comparing it to measurement, which had confused scientists for years because it didn’t conform with what Newtonian physics said it should be. Since then vast amounts of experimental evidence (such as the famous Michelson-Morley experiment) has been gathered which confirms that that’s the way reality really works.

    We know whether our models are correct by measuring what we observe, plugging the numbers into our equations, and seeing whether what comes out comports with reality. That’s it. If thinking about the philosophical implications seems completely counter-intuitive and gives us a headache, that’s tough shit for us!

    More Feynman:

    You don’t like it? Go somewhere else! by Richard Feynman

  67. Dago Red says

    This is so obviously true it baffles the mind that anyone still makes this silly argument re: “minds” being needed to cause decoherence/waveform collapse. A scientist’s “mind” only devises and sets up the experiment and observes the data collection mechanism (like photon impact points on a piece of photo-sensetive paper) AFTER the experiment has been run and shut down. During the operation of the experiment, however, there is no “mind” interacting with/observing whatever it is going through decoherence. At the moment that things “come into reality/existence”, as they want to believe, the ‘mind’ is nowhere to be found. It’s just the tools of the experimenter.

    As Vic Stenger points out, are we to believe that the existence of a 14-billion year old beam of radiation picked up by our telescopes, or our own eyes, that likely began during the big bang itself didn’t really exist until we saw it…and then decoherence causes a reverse temporal wave that travels back billions of years instantaneously to create the complete history found recorded in that radiation?

    If any of this is true, the fact that some God-mind might be involved here is the least amazing part of this fantasy.

  68. mond says

    My understanding of QM is that is all in the maths and the maths work.
    There is a lot of weirdness and counter-intuivity, this allows woo peddlers to try an insert it into their own particular brand of crazy.

  69. tonysnark says

    Spot on! Succinct and to the point.

    I would probably have taken half a dozen paragraphs at least to say that.

  70. tonysnark says

    Aw, man! You just reminded me of this completely nutso (in a good way) book I read once which started out with the idea of synthetic human proxies and ended up with the protagonist being able to choose from all possible quantum realities, being able to do wildly improbable things like walk through a crowded room without being seen (because nobody happened to look in his direction) or have locked doors pop open as he approached them. I can’t for the life of me remember what it is!

    Anybody got any ideas?

  71. Max Entropy says

    I like all of those ideas for show topics. I would only add that the Deepak Chopra quantum mumbo jumbo episode should also discuss Amit Goswami, the retired theoretical quantum physicist who claims that the “Newtonian world view that has shaped our understanding for centuries is now giving way to the revelations of quantum physics which goes beyond materialism; to show that consciousness, not matter, is the ground of all being” and “we now have a science of spirituality that is fully verifiable and objective.”

  72. Aaroninaustralia says

    I read your comment and thought “Why are these ‘messages’ and ‘miracles’ always supposed to be (even expected to be) so vague and inconclusive?” I’ve never heard someone seriously say that the jet turbine engine works to keep planes in the sky as the result of magic rather than fuel and physics.

    Then I thought what might be truly impressive. A telepathic, distinct, and practical thought pattern simultaneously implanted in all seven billion human heads giving us immediate knowledge of faster-than-light intergalactic engine construction might qualify. But then, why would we assume such knowledge came from a ‘supernatural’ deity that ‘existed outside the universe’? We could not discount such distinct information could come from a spacefaring species. Indeed, such a conclusion is more believable simply because it doesn’t involve magic.

    Now here’s the cruncher: why do people presume that messages from a being that’s supposedly far more powerful than those hypothetical ‘spacefarers’ would need them to tell me that such a being has gotten itself worked into a slather over something so banal such as my growing or not growing a beard… and their proof of their own telepathic communication with such a being is that this thing made a pattern like a face on a piece of toast (if you look really, really hard)?

  73. tonysnark says

    That explains a lot. I hope he is feeling better!

    I understand there is sometimes a need to cut off callers early on rather than allow them to build an argument on top of faulty premisses, but I kept wishing that Matt would let Johannen talk just a little more, just to play him out a little slack before reeling him back in.

    There were some interesting and productive ways to demolish his argument if he’d been allowed to run with it just a little longer. The problem was, I think, Johannen is an inveterate waffler who is glacially slow in getting to the point, very boring and annoying to listen to, and Matt was clearly not in the mood to indulge him. Part of me doesn’t blame Matt for that.

    OTOH, the particular varieties of quantum woo promoted by Johannen are quite common thanks in big part to the film “What The Bleep Do We Know”, the book, “The Secret”, and to Deepak Chopra, notably:

    1. The over-blown importance of the “observer” in quantum quackery, taken to mean that a conscious mind is necessary to “bring reality into being”, when all physicists usually mean when they say a particle is “observed” is that it was detected by the experimental apparatus.

    2. The mistaken notion that the human mind is some kind of quantum computer. This is a pseudoscientific, fringe view based on no evidence and faulty reasoning, and not the consensus view held by neuroscientists.

    If Johannen calls in again, I would very much enjoy hearing him being taken to task for this nonsense!

  74. tonysnark says

    I find the so-called miracles in the Bible frankly insulting. I concur with Ingersoll’s assessment:

    Excerpt from “Why I Am Agnostic”
    by Robert Green Ingersoll

    Not one word was said by Moses or Aaron as to the wickedness of depriving a human being of his liberty. Not a word was said in favor of liberty. Not the slightest intimation that a human being was justly entitled to the product of his own labor. Not a word about the cruelty of masters who would destroy even the babes of slave mothers. It seems to me wonderful that this God did not tell the king of Egypt that no nation could enslave another, without also enslaving itself; that it was impossible to put a chain around the limbs of a slave, without putting manacles upon the brain of the master. Why did he not tell him that a nation founded upon slavery could not stand? Instead of declaring these things, instead of appealing to justice, to mercy and to liberty, he resorted to feats of jugglery. Suppose we wished to make a treaty with a barbarous nation, and the President should employ a slight-of-hand performer as envoy extraordinary, and instruct him, that when he came into the presence of the savage monarch, he should cast down an umbrella or a walking stick, which would change into a lizard or a turtle; what would we think? Would we not regard such a performance as beneath the dignity even of a President? And what would be our feelings if the savage king sent for his sorcerers and had them perform the same feat? If such things would appear puerile and foolish in the President of a great republic, what shall be said when they were resorted to by the creator of all worlds? How small, how contemptible such a God appears! Pharaoh, it seems, took about this view of the matter, and he would not be persuaded that such tricks were performed by an infinite being.

    Excerpt from “Ingersoll’s Lecture of the Mistakes of Moses”
    by Robert Green Ingersoll

    Then we find in this book how God went to work to make the Egyptians let the Israelites go. Suppose we wish to make a treaty with the mikado of Japan, and Mr. Hayes sent a commissioner there; and suppose he should employ Hermann, the wonderful German, to go along with him; and when they came in the presence of the mikado Herman threw down an umbrella, which changed into a turtle, and the commissioner said: “This is my certificate.” You would say the country is disgraced. You would say the president of a republic like this disgraces himself with jugglery. Yet we are told God sent Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh, and when they got
    there Moses threw down a stick which turned into a snake. That God is a juggler–he is the infinite prestidigitator. Is that possible? Was that really a snake, or was it the appearance of a snake? If it was the appearance of a snake, it was a fraud. Then the necromancers of Egypt were sent for, and they threw down sticks, which turned into snakes, but those were not so large as Moses’ snakes, which swallowed them. I maintain that it is just as hard to make small snakes as it is to make large ones; the only difference is that to make large snakes either larger sticks or more practice is required.

    from Lectures of Col. Robert Green Ingersoll.

    Ebook version:

    Audiobook version:

  75. JE Hoyes says

    “Christians seem to buy into a “libertarian free will” that’s basically a soul that, from a parallel dimension, uses your body as a sock-puppet as sort of a “first cause” for decision-making.”

    Even if that we’re true, does that inter-dimensional soul have free will?

  76. Muz says

    How do we deal with this scale problem and explain to guys like the caller that proven quantum effects don’t extrapolate to all of reality at every scale?
    That part of our (that is public) comprehension of this stuff is absent so far and doesn’t seem to be stressed in any lay-explanation. Instead it’s arrived at implicitly by learning the science properly (something few people do).
    That, to me, seems to be how Quantum Woo got off the ground in the first place and it gets reinforced accidentally every time someone starts going on about ‘the fundamentals of nature’ at the subatomic level.
    It’s something I think even the experts have trouble avoiding sometimes in their zeal to wow people with sub atomic weirdness.

  77. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    That’s what seems to be the case, and the difference between Quantum Theory (how and why it works) and Quantum Mechanics (how to apply it). Lots of folks use #2 as it just works, #1 is arcane to say the least!

  78. Jason Goertzen says

    This was my beef with the call, and really, with how it was handled (though understandably so, on account of the frustration).

    The answer to his quantum ramblings should have been:

    “I do not understand what you are saying enough to know whether the premises of your argument are true, and so I can’t assess whether it’s valid. Until it’s the consensus of the kind of people who CAN assess the truth of your premises–physicists–I’m not interested.”

    This is what Matt was saying, glibly, with “Why should I care?” but it came across a little like someone making an argument that proves God and them “not caring” because they didn’t want to have to think about it long enough to understand. I think more time needed to be spent explaining WHY it was reasonable to not want to spend the time, effort, and frustration assessing such a complex, and probably nonsensical argument.

  79. codemonkey says

    IIRC, Jeff said that he’s basically with Dan Dennett. For the record, so am I. Here is a wonderful video of Dennett on the topic: (Where wonderful is quite subjective. I personally do love it.)

    Daniel Dennett lecture on “Free Will” (Edinburgh University)

    In short, whether we have free will first depends on a pedantic argument over definitions. If you define free will to be incompatible with determinism, then we likely do not have free will (whatever it is). I do not know if determinism is true, but if you define free will in anything resembling the conventional sense, and specifically state it’s incompatible with determinism, then I fail to see how quantum randomness will save it, and quantum randomness and determinism appear to me to be the only possible choices.

    You can define free will like Dennett, and his definition involves the ability to predict possible futures and make choices and take actions based on those predictions. We would argue that this is the conventional understood sense of free will, and it exists.

    Are deterministic choices still choices? Dunno. I think it’s useless philosophical speak at that point. The rest of us are going to set up a government, laws, social norms, etc., and you’re welcome to play along. If you don’t play along and insist that you don’t have a choice in the matter, then we’ll say that “that’s nice” and possibly lock you up for our own good.

  80. says

    Whenever Matrix-apologists call I want to ask, “Does the author of the paper or research you’re citing come to the same conclusion you did?” because that would be hilarious. I do like Martin’s quip about not telling him he’s in the Matrix ueas you can get him out. Classic!

  81. Kevin H says

    Well said, Jason.

    However erroneous the caller’s conclusions may be, I resent Matt’s utter dismissal of the idea. If at the fundamental level, the universe looks like the matrix, that’s really cool, whether or not there’s a way out. Even if there’s no way out, I would like to know as much about how the universe operates as possible.

    There was plenty else to say about the caller: “I’m not sure about your premise (without scientific consensus)”; “Even if we are a simulation or a dream, that does not point to a theistic, personal God”; and “This is not the right forum for this discussion.” Why jump to “Why should I care?” as understanding the universe is not an end in itself?

  82. says

    It is solipsistic, and that’s why Matt was right to point out the irrelevancy of it while it’s impossible to escape from it or know it’s happening. Regardless of what “generates” this “reality”–even if it’s a projection of some kind and not what it appears to us, it’s still the only thing we are referencing when we say “tree bark,” for example. Whether it’s tree bark as it seems or simulated tree bark–if it’s the only “tree bark” we have access to, then it’s the only “tree bark” that exists. And if “existence” is simulated, that changes nothing. Fine, then our definition of “existence” means things that manifest in this simulated projection from which we cannot escape. I never grasp the point of people who seem to think “what it really is” even matters. They think it’s profound, but it’s actually irrelevant. I’d like to ask this guy on the phone, “so, if you’re right, does that mean I don’t have to pay my mortgage anymore after today? Because if I still do–then I don’t know what relevance your ideas have in my life…?”

  83. codemonkey says

    Even if there’s no way out, I would like to know as much about how the universe operates as possible.

    If there’s “no way out”, and no other way to distinguish it from competing ideas, then it is not testable, and you do not know it. The quantum arguments are at best a very over-extended extrapolation, and probably are merely someone’s favored untestable interpretation of quantum mechanics.

    Why jump to “Why should I care?” as understanding the universe is not an end in itself?

    It’s my preferred debate tactic in similar situations, although Matt didn’t do it well IMHO. Most people, but I think not this caller, use the cosmological argument et al as a red herring and a straw man. In short, even if they could demonstrate their argument to me, so what? That’s not their real goal. Their real goal is an afterlife, and belief in Jesus gets you in, and their cosmological argument is entirely unrelated. You can have an afterlife without gods, and you can have gods without afterlife.

    As others have said, the better way to phrase the reply would be “Ok, so, you are for some sort of pantheistic god, right? And you agree you have not demonstrated the existence of an afterlife, nor the existence of miracles, right? Don’t you think it’s a little disingenuous to use the word ‘god’ for that? It’s not a creator god. You haven’t demonstrated an afterlife, miracles, that it cares about humans at all, etc.”

  84. Kevin H says

    I take your point and agree that cosmological and quantum mechanical results are often misunderstood and misrepresented by New-Agers and Christian apologists alike. I imagine once someone (as Matt has) runs into enough of these types of arguments, it’s tempting to try to shut them down as emphatically as possible, even to the point of discounting any legitimate underlying physics.

    If there’s “no way out”, and no other way to distinguish it from competing ideas, then it is not testable, and you do not know it.

    I would note here that I simply said “no way out,” not untestable. Of course unfalsifiable claims are fatuous, almost necessarily so. But there are a variety of interesting observations that have been made about the universe that are unavoidable, from which there is no escape: our sun will die, our galaxy will collide with Andromeda, the universe will meet a slow, inevitable “death” by entropy. This stuff is interesting, whether or not it has any impact on our daily lives.

  85. Nathan says

    Apparently, Johanan thinks that Matt has an anti-science agenda and plans to flood the show with calls to ‘educate’ him.

    So this week should be interesting again.

    Even if we grant his claim that we are in the mind of some god, that doesn’t get us anywhere. Does god have certain rules for us he wants us to follow and how do we know those rules. Should we follow those rules, or can we convince god to change them somehow. If it opens up the possibility for an afterlife as he claims, again how do we know how to get there and how did Johanan learn about this. This is like so many other supposed proofs for god, even if you accept that a god exists none of these proofs then tell you any characteristics of that god or what rules we are supposed to follow, like which laws we should pass. So ultimately why should I care?

  86. says

    Well i finally got to watch it. He was talking about the experiment that debunked materialism and well..he’s wrong. he says the mere observation of the 2 slit experiment changed the outcome. look it up.
    basically you shoot a particle through a slide with one slit it makes a line and when you shoot participles through 2 slits it makes several lines on a back ground because the peaks i said look it up.
    he basically said that when a measuring devise was added to the experiments it changed the outcome. what he left out that after many tests they found the measuring device interfered with the waves. The scientists working on the experiment said that they could not find a measuring devise small enough that would not interfere with the experiment at this time. He either didn’t understand the experiments or lied (a lie is any statement that confuses, alters, or omits fact)..quack debunked

  87. says

    @Jasper and @Codemonkey (thanks for the Dennett’s video)

    The Free will of Christians as I understand it has nothing to do with the Free will of a naturalistic view, I know. Free will of Christians I think is about Free to choose between Heaven or Hell.
    But even that Free Will (vs Predestination) is kind of not coherent with the Bible. In so many places in the Old and the New testament it says God elected some because he liked them and others he hated them even before they were born, Jesus talks in parabels so only the choosen one will understand, God endurce the heart of Pharaoh, etc. So I don’t see free will in a christian persperctive.

    The Free will of Dennett (sounds like the one approved by Jeff) is kind of included inside Determinism. As if with the evolution we have more “free will” and the more we evolve the more we have “free will”. I think Dennett plays a game word or he redefines or changes the concept of Free will. It seems he is saying that we have more possibilities, more “choices” offer to us. But having more choices doesn’t implied that as a person we are more “free” (to ourselves?)in taking “decisions” and in our actions. He lacks to show that Free will exist.

  88. Sonorus says

    I agree with you but only because to all the “woo” fans out there, Matt’s dismissal of the caller sounds like (to them) someone who is dismissing evidence that the earth is more than 6,000 years old sounds to us. “I’m not educated enough in quantum physics to comment on what you just said” really is the same thing as “why should I care”, but the former is probably a better response for purposes of the show. Maybe they can find someone who does understand all that to (happily, I would guess based on the clips I have heard of physicists dismissing Deepak Chopra and his ilk) call in and explain what parts of it are possible and which ones are not.

  89. not says

    A scientific quak a plenty.

    I found God and the ism on youtube more interesting, and it had no preachy self professed scientific nonesense.

  90. says

    So right. I would love sometime to ask a theist what would happen if I accept that his hypotheses are true. What then? What testable predictions can we now make? How do we now get to Mars or Europa? How do we now develop new technologies? How do we learn more about curing disease, or about ending hunger and other suffering?

    Better yet, I’d like to ask any three theists and compare and contrast their (surely congruent) answers.

  91. nailo1 says

    he is equivocating, when i posting the working definition from the quantum randi challenge he said

    “Direct realism is synonymous with naive realism”

    he also says “Quantum information theory reduces all of the effects of quantum mechanics in terms of information rather than matter or energy.”

    QIT is a generalization of information theory which includes “One of the strengths of classical information theory is that physical representation of information can be disregarded”

    basically he overstates a simplified model to a complete view of reality

    he also disregards the whole photoelectric effect (well its implication) “Well no, you never actually observe the wave.” when he claims this he ignores that it is important for making a photon a (part-time) particle instead of a wave (this statement is dumb but the easiest way to put it is travels as a wave interacts as a particle)

  92. Kevin H says

    he also disregards the whole photoelectric effect (well its implication) “Well no, you never actually observe the wave.” when he claims this he ignores that it is important for making a photon a (part-time) particle instead of a wave (this statement is dumb but the easiest way to put it is travels as a wave interacts as a particle)

    Could you elaborate on what you’re saying here? It’s not clear to me how this relates to the photoelectric effect, or what his erroneous position is.

  93. quizzard says

    This is essentially the same discussion I was having with my 13 yr old the other day,. We discussed the old concept of whether the color he sees as green is the same as what I see as green. He soon came to the correct conclusion, that it does not matter, because it can never be demonstrated. It’s an interesting concept, but If we have no way to determine the answer, it’s essentially a waste of time even discussing it.