That Wilkins guy loves to rub it in


Yeah, John, I know.

As he points out, this is probably more a difference of timing than Nobelist vs. pop science communicator. A modern university education has had to pare away so much to meet the demands of a population that just wants to get to the point and get a degree and get out and get a job, that a biologist, for instance, can complete a four year program and never once take a philosophy course, take almost no history or language or arts course (we do demand that our students take ONE course in those disciplines), and so you can be a competent scientist with almost no awareness of the breadth of human knowledge.

And then there are right-wing hacks like Jordan Peterson who want to completely abolish the humanities and to worsen the situation even more.

Comments

  1. says

    I don’t understand this one; I suppose the left side is supposed to be people positive of philosophy and the right side people who are negative. But in that case Dawkins really doesn’t fit. Dawkins, for all his other flaws, doesn’t – as far as I know – tend to take a negative view of philosophy, and the quotes give certainly do not express a negative sentiment about philosophy at all.

    I say this as an (associate) professor of philosophy myself; indeed, not taking common sense as an answer is part of the definition of philosophy I use when I advertise philosophy. Philosophy is precisely thinking in slow motion and questioning unquestioned assumptions, inferences we often draw at great speed out of habit and, yes, common sense. So, Dawkins’s is a positive – and apt – description of philosophy. Moreover, I think he intended it as such (as per, well, what he actually says.)

    Moreover, rigor and precision are probably the central virtues of good philosophy. Indeed, critical thinking is probably the most important class philosophers teach, and when I teach that class, Dawkins’s quote about open-mindedness (didn’t know it was his; in fact, I don’t think it is) is always on one of the first slides.

    Again, I don’t understand the setup here.

  2. consciousness razor says

    The Copenhagen “interpretation” (more like a mixture of incoherent babblings rather than an interpretation), mainly due to Bohr and Heisenberg, also set the field back for decades … indeed, some are still enamored with it today. That they favored mysticism and idealism and so forth is not much a selling point, even if they took themselves to be engaged with certain types of philosophical questions. Plus, except for the mood or the tone with which they express themselves, it isn’t so different from the inane positivism peddled by Dawkins or Krauss or Tyson, when they look for a way to avoid metaphysical issues. (And fail to find one: there is a real world for science to examine, and try as you might, you can’t actually avoid that by coming up with creative ways to insult philosophers.) I would not count their contributions as good or interesting developments in the philosophy of physics, like those of Einstein and Schrödinger and others were.

  3. Rupert Birkin says

    Has anyone verified or scrutinized these claims by reading the actual philosophical works? I’m particularly interested in Erwin Shrodinger’s words. Whatever little I’ve read in Indian philosophy, I could see many fallacious arguments borne out of the ignorance about sexual reproduction and natural laws. Sometimes philosophy and mythology are so seamlessly mixed, one would be excused for finding all of them devoid of any rigorous methodology.

  4. wzrd1 says

    I read the claimed phrase by Bohr at the bottom left and consider, “Well, now we have to get rid of tunnel diodes”.
    And about a half dozen other advances in solid state electronics.

    I suggest to those who create such graphics that they should leave the cherry picking to professional cherry pickers, as they’re trying instead to pick cherries out of meadow muffins.

  5. says

    I’m really not sure what the intent behind this is, but whenever I see quotes from these famous physicists, I’m guessing the sentiment is that whatever they said was right. As a physics Ph.D. this sentiment annoys me to no end. These people are not owed respect for their philosophical views, they are owed respect for their foundational work on physics. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand the physics, so as a subsitute, they put respect in quotes.

    Many of these people had very wrongheaded views. Einstein has a very famous quote which uses “philosophy” to argue that quantum theory must be wrong. Early quantum physicists had a habit of appealing to mysticism when it was inappropriate–hell, the meme shows an example of Schrodinger speaking favorably of Vedantic philosophy. Several modern science communicators take a negative view of philosophy. That’s not great, but I would still take it over science communicators who have a positive view of Vedantic philosophy.

    BTW, after Bill Nye said some stuff about why philosophy is useless, he got pushback, and he publicly changed his mind. You can look that one up.

  6. says

    The real irony of this “two-sided display” is that its existence proves two points about the need for humanities education:*

    (1) Context matters. For giggles, try actually reading one of Bill Nye’s longer pieces discussing “education” and seeing if he actually denigrates learning about the humanities… or taking topics out of context from the humanities and applying them outside of their boundary conditions without acknowledging that there’s something called a “boundary condition” that matters. The same for Dawkins and Tyson and even Krauss.
    If you want to stick to physics for a moment, it matters whether one’s calculation of a vector is taking place in a two-dimensional space, a three-dimensional space, or an n-dimensional space… and even more so, whether and how the parallel postulate is accepted or rejected. We’ve got a few centuries of struggling with this little thing called “long-distance navigation” that proves this rather definitively…

    (2) You can’t trust third-party soundbites to accurately summarize entire bodies of work, especially in translation, and especially when straw-manning or dealing with straw men. There’s an awful lot of “Indian philosophy” out there, and I’m willing to bet that Schroedinger, Nye, and commenter Birkin are all talking about different texts, and even those are translated from non-Indo-European languages and cultures that none of them understand but are infused into the texts.
    It reminds me all too much of those who try to make Animal Farm into a one-to-one-correspondence allegory for the 1917 Russian Revolution… without noting the absence of critical figures or the name “Napoleon.” And, of course, for scholars who actually go back and look at earlier drafts and letters, it’s even more annoying. But there’s one of those humanities things working in again: “Allegory,” “metaphor,” and “analogy” are NOT congruent.

    I’m a weirdo. I have an AB in chemistry with a sufficient-credits-but-missing-a-required-course minor in biology… and an AB (plus substantial grad work stopping short of completing a dissertation) in English literature. And, depending on whether they had to be taught by faculty from a Department of Philosophy, anywhere from six to fifteen credits in “philosophy” as an undergraduate.

  7. monad says

    @2: Yeah. So, Bohr talks up philosophy as important, but then tries it and is bad at it; Tyson talks down philosophy as unimportant, but then in tries it anyway (is the universe a simulation?) and is bad at it. Maybe the answer is then more than just respecting philosophy as valuable, but recognizing it as a field with its own difficulties to overcome, and so respecting philosophers.

  8. hemidactylus says

    Egads you landed me on a Facebook page! I was expecting Wilkins’ blog Evolving Thoughts. Violated. Trigger warning next time please.

    As for the value of philosophy I thought Rebecca Newberger Goldstein did a good job defending philosophy to Robert Kuhn on an episode of Closer to Truth. Dan Dennett likewise. Pat Churchland bridges the gulf, if any, between neuroscience and philosophy. My stable of philosophers I read and value is a bit guy heavy: Dan Dennett, Owen Flanagan, Alasdair MacIntyre, Robert Audi, Harry Frankfurt, Simon Blackburn, John Searle, Horkheimer & Adorno, Karl Popper (and monomanic disciple Soros to a limited extent), GE Moore, WD Ross, Paul Kurtz, Phillip Kitcher, Walter Kaufman…

    I have tried to read Slavoj Žižek but past some interesting points he loses me in a Lacanian morass without a compass. I have read some post-structuralism (Barthes, Foucault, Derrida etc) and try not to be reflexively dismissive. Is Fromm more Frankfurt than post-modern?

    Not sure Peterson is dismissive of philosophy (maybe aspects of humanities he reflexively devalues because his own ideological agenda). He should have fondness for Schopenhauer and Nietzsche given his affinity for Jung. And literary reference (Dostoevsky) he can use to dismiss the potential for moral atheism. I’ve pretty much lost interest in hate-reading his stuff.

    Boghossian seems reflexively dismissive of gender studies and social constructionism and the all purpose label of pomo, but he would probably stop short at dismissing philosophy. I find some value in PB’s atheism manual and the street epistemology thingy, but he has pretty much lost me outside that. Ruffled feathers.

  9. hemidactylus says

    If Pinker ever joins in the chorus of being reflexively dismissive of philosophers there will be hell to pay at home.

  10. consciousness razor says

    So, Bohr talks up philosophy as important, but then tries it and is bad at it; Tyson talks down philosophy as unimportant, but then in tries it anyway (is the universe a simulation?) and is bad at it.

    Exactly. Bohr also confused his imponderable meanderings with the physics itself. The statements above are definitely not his only ones suggesting that we could get rid of reality somehow. He thought that this fact had been demonstrated experimentally, and myself, I feel a little embarrassed just saying something that absurd.

    And then of course it wasn’t New Age bullshitters like Deepak Chopra, who introduced the idea that mind/consciousness/subjectivity/etc. plays a role in “collapse” of the wavefunction (if there even is such a thing). That wasn’t Bohr and Heisenberg but others following them, such as Von Neumann and Wigner, who were also good scientists and bad philosophers. Whatever did change pre-WWII and post-WWII in the culture of physics, which Wilkins is trying to point at … well, I don’t know what that was. It was maybe a difference in attitudes about philosophy (perhaps in response to some of the incomprehensible mess created by physicists themselves, while posing as philosophers). Or the older generation was maybe more aware that they were even doing it, albeit badly. But in any case, if you’re going to do the history right, that’s the kind of story to be told about it.

    Maybe the answer is then more than just respecting philosophy as valuable, but recognizing it as a field with its own difficulties to overcome, and so respecting philosophers.

    Sure. And I think that hardly needs to be said, at least when we’re talking about physics (and the philosophy thereof), if you had to pick the work of only philosopher, bullshitters like Hegel would not be a great choice. And you should also be a bit more up-to-date than reading (or misreading) some Plato or Aristotle.

  11. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    thank you reading me go tangential.
    Schrodinger was NOT describing reality, as ambiguous before hard measurement “collapses the wave function”. He was describing how the math we use to describe reality, leaves much of it undecidable until we actually measure it. THEN our math, which is using a wave function, will collapse to provide a value matching our measurement.
    I know I’m avoiding many results results demonstrating reality’s ambiguity before measurement. I simply prefer my illusion to keep my brain from “collapsing it’s wave function” (so to speak)
    thank you for reading, I’ll show myself out

  12. consciousness razor says

    slithey tove:
    Well, yes and no. Yes, don’t blame it on Schrödinger (or Einstein) in the first place. People often believe he approved of some kind of contradictory Schrödinger’s cat, because the thought experiment bears his name. It’s as if he was telling us it’s true (or it’s as if he was acknowledging what “many results” supposedly demonstrate, as you said) that the cat’s both dead and alive, or that it’s neither dead nor alive, or somehow it’s something other than [dead, not alive] or else [alive, not dead]. That’s not what he was saying. He was trying to express how this is clearly a problem that wasn’t properly resolved, not seriously proposing it as the way things are. This was in response to (and in agreement with) Einstein’s very similar complaints (in the EPR paper and earlier).

    They were right about that: we couldn’t (or shouldn’t) rest comfortably thinking there was no problem. The fact that, in later decades, it turned out that people could mathematically and experimentally show that QM is nonlocal, to Einstein’s dismay (totally understandable for the relativity guy), doesn’t change that. He was at least wrong about that particular point for very good and sensible reasons (relativity’s a successful theory too, like QM), which pushed some people to show exactly how and why he was wrong. That’s how progress happens sometimes. Bohr and co. had lost the plot entirely; and if you still want to say that in hindsight it looks like Bohr won that particular debate and Einstein lost, it was only by accident, like Mr. Magoo bumbling around without realizing the trouble he’s stirring up in the process. And of course, if you asked somebody to provide the theory that actually reconciles QM and GR in a satisfactory way, they had better tell you that nobody knows how to do that, because quantum gravity remains one of the biggest outstanding issues in physics.

  13. Ed Seedhouse says

    Well, we have to have some agreed upon basis for understanding what’s “good” (accurate) thinking and what’s “bad” thinking, or so it seems to me. And that seems to be in the realm of philosophy so that would mean we need philosophical thinking in order to pursue scientific knowledge. If our philosophy is bad to start with we are rather likely to misunderstand what we should conclude from experimental results.

    So I think we need both.

  14. Sili says

    Really? Selection bias/motivated reasoning anyone?

    There’s been more than a hundred recipients of the Nobel Prize in physics, so the proper physicist way of going about the experiment is to examine all of their opinions.

  15. F.O. says

    The first philosophy teacher I had was an Opus Dei.
    She showed us an old, blurry, b&w pic of a Pope leaving a discussion with Hitler and asked us if that looked like someone who conspired with Hitler.
    The second philosophy teacher was a creationist.

    The few students of philosophy I personally met were massive wankers.

    I don’t think my experience is unique, and I can wager that most people contact with philosophy is via self-aggrandising wankers, more interested in showing off sophistry and rhetoric than to connect the discipline to the real world.

    I came to really appreciate philosophy only via Existential Comics, Philosophy Tube et al.

  16. loop says

    My (mis?)understanding of the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment is that it was an attempt by Schrödinger to criticize the mumbo-jumbo hypothesis of things being in an indeterminate state, by pointing out that these things didn’t just happen at the atomic level. By using a geiger counter to detect a single quantum event, you could magnify observing the quantum state of an atom into observing a macroscopic event (a cat dying), at which point it’s ridiculousness becomes apparent (apparently). Not that I understand QM.

  17. Rob Grigjanis says

    Siggy @5:

    Several modern science communicators take a negative view of philosophy. That’s not great, but I would still take it over science communicators who have a positive view of Vedantic philosophy.

    I’d like modern science communicators who understand science well enough to communicate it. I’ve seen Tyson demonstrate his utter ignorance of visible light scattering in fog (he seemed to think it was Rayleigh scattering, which it certainly isn’t), and Krauss “explain” gauge symmetry (a continuous symmetry) via charge conjugation (a discrete transformation). Self-promoting PR hacks.

  18. nomdeplume says

    Agree with others about the cherry-picking involved in the graphic above. I would hate my life and career to be summed up by a single sentence I once said.

    But taking the sentiment at face value. I don’t know that “philosophy” is a must for scientists. But I do think that having at least a nodding acquaintance with art, literature, anthropolgy, politics, history, law etc, as well as other scientific disciplines besides their ownis important. Scientists today, trying to communicate their findings in, say, climate change, ecology, cancer research, badly need to be able to put those findings into context in their own mind, as well as understanding how they will be received by the public. In many cases we seem to have scientists, brilliant in one chosen field, utterly unable to communicate their findings in such a way as to make a difference.

    I know science education is time poor, but scientists should at least be encouraged to read widely rather than be discouraged from doing so in order to get good undergraduate marks.

  19. says

    I think at least part of the problem comes from the difference in perception of science and philosophy.
    Science requires highly advanced math and – usually – extremely expensive equipment. So no one outside the field can do it and hardly anyone can understand.
    Philosophy often ignores math and uses no equipment so everyone THINKS understands it and can do it on it’s own.

    The second difference is that science is grounded in measureable (I hope that it is a word :D) reality. If two scientists disagree they do an experiment (r two, or dozen or thousands) and resolve the issue.
    Philosophy… not so much. So there exist many equally viable opinions and philosophy is not so convincing and is much less effective in pruning out bad philosophers.

    It is the same problem that feminism or atheism has – everyone can claim to be one and spew bullshit. Other people are more likely to notice bullshit (that is easy to see through) than to learn really valuable ideas (that require effort to comprehend)

  20. chrislawson says

    I like John Wilkins usually and I agree that we need to defend philosophy from ignorant attacks from science nerds (I keep reminding people that science is a subset of philosophy; saying “science is good, philosophy is bad” is like saying “I love Coen Brothers movies, Pulp Fiction, and Blade Runner but I hate postmodern art”), and yet…

    …this graphic manages to combine quote mining, soundbiting complex viewpoints, argument from authority, and comparative selection bias. The fallacy:wordcount ratio is very high with this one.

  21. chrislawson says

    Gorzi@21–

    This is exactly the sort of comment I was criticising above. I’m glad that you’re a pro-science advocate, but I think you’d find science even more interesting if you took off the fannish glasses.

    1/ Some sciences requires advanced math. Most science requires only moderate math. Some requires no math at all. Galileo’s work can be understood by anyone with a mid-high-school math background. Darwin, Pasteur, and Hooke — all of their experiments and observations can be replicated without knowing any more maths than how to count.

    2/ Science doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s not all Large Hadron Colliders and launching Hubble Telescopes into orbit. There is plenty of excellent paleontological work going on right now with a field kit you could gather in a hardware store for a few hundred dollars.

    3/ Maths and philosophy are not the distinct processes you seem to think they are. Even the most fundamentally mathematical process of defining axioms and deriving proofs comes directly from narrative philosophy. And given that many areas of philosophy are not mathematical in nature (e.g. ethics, aesthetics), it is not exactly pertinent to diminish those fields for not using much math in their papers.

    4/ You seem to be under the illusion that ignorant people talking crap about philosophy because they don’t understand it is somehow not also true of science or math. (Or economics, computing, photography, sports, art history…).

    5/ I do not believe there is any evidence that science is better at weeding out bad scientists than philosophy is as weeding out bad philosophers. For every ridiculous philosopher like Žižek (personal opinion, naturally), I can point to many more examples of bad scientists. Check out this page and scroll down to the “scientific misconduct” section — and these are just the worst cases from one year, 2017. There’s enough bad science out there for Ben Goldacre to run a blog called “Bad Science” for years — and he was only dealing with the medical field. (He stopped blogging because he ran out of time, not examples.)

    6/ You describe the scientific ideal of experiments resolving disagreements. In practice it’s much more complex. There are some experiments that are essentially impossible to conduct. For instance, we can’t say for sure why the dinosaurs went extinct. There is no experiment that will allow us to determine with clarity whether it was the Chicxulub impact, increased volcanism, some other factor, or some combination of them. There is no experimental method for determining which quantum interpretation is best. Wikipedia has an extensive (but obviously not complete) list of unsolved problems in science and maths. Many of these could possibly be resolved by future experiments or proofs but if it were easy they would already have been done, and some of them may never be effectively testable.

  22. says

    I’d push back on the idea that this is “cherry picking”. You can in fact find lots of quotes from early 20th century physics where they try to talk about physics through the language of mysticism. It’s kind of a thing. It’s embarrassing and should not be elevated, but it’s hard to deny that it was a thing.

  23. Rob Grigjanis says

    loop @18: You might read in various sources (e.g.) that Schrödinger was attacking the Copenhagen Interpretation with this thought experiment, which is kind of weird. It’s actually an attack on the notion of (implicitly conscious) observer-induced wave-function collapse. But Niels Bohr, called one of the fathers of CI, certainly wasn’t talking about any such thing, even if von Neumann and others were.

    although Bohr had spoken about “disturbing the phenomena by observation,” in some of his earliest papers on complementarity, he never had in mind the observer-induced collapse of the wave packet. Later he always talked about the interaction between the object and the measurement apparatus which was taken to be completely objective. Thus, Schrödinger’s Cat did not pose any riddle to Bohr. The cat would be dead or alive long before we open the box to find out.

    The lesson? Beware of people glibly dismissing “the Copenhagen Interpretation”. It’s far more complicated than shallow analyses assertions might imply.

    There’s nothing “mumbo-jumbo” about things being in indeterminate states. The indeterminate states are the basis for the most accurate predictions we’ve ever made.

    By using a geiger counter to detect a single quantum event, you could magnify observing the quantum state of an atom into observing a macroscopic event

    No, you can’t “magnify” anything except the number of electrons when a decay actually happens. There is certainly a problem determining the boundary between quantum and classical “reality”, but there is a boundary, and it’s somewhere between the indeterminate state of the atoms and the final state of the ionizing counter.

  24. consciousness razor says

    You might read in various sources (e.g.) that Schrödinger was attacking the Copenhagen Interpretation with this thought experiment, which is kind of weird. It’s actually an attack on the notion of (implicitly conscious) observer-induced wave-function collapse. But Niels Bohr, called one of the fathers of CI, certainly wasn’t talking about any such thing, even if von Neumann and others were.

    It isn’t too clear what Bohr was talking about. He had moments of lucidity, but the total effect of all the things he said about it over the years is just a hot mess. Pointing in the general direction of Copenhagen, whatever exactly was coming out of it, is how people have located the source of different aspects of the measurement problem, since he was in many ways the ringleader.

    I don’t think Heisenberg intended to formally propose it in the way that von Neumann and others did, but you can read his quotes above, discussing it in terms of “ideas” and name-dropping Plato (as if his Forms were concepts in one’s mind, although that’s not what Plato argued). But in the end, all of this crap just blends together into a big pot of mystical soup, and I don’t think there’s much to be gained from trying to identify which mystical ingredient came from which chef.

    There’s nothing “mumbo-jumbo” about things being in indeterminate states.

    Why not? What do you mean by it? I thought you’re not a many-worlds person, so you’re not saying it’s in different determinate states in different worlds. So…. There are situations in which the single real world that we live in isn’t in any particular state or another? What is that supposed to be like and why would we need to believe it?

    The indeterminate states are the basis for the most accurate predictions we’ve ever made.

    No, experimental results are the basis. Those are the things we can see and predict, when the real world is some particular way or another. Experiments have outcomes, not unintelligible mush.

    Supposing that it’s not in a determinate state isn’t logically required, even if that’s your preferred interpretation. Your version of the theory is the thing that’s vague, with a vaguely specified quantum/classical boundary, which isn’t great for something that’s supposed to be fundamental physics. But nobody else’s needs to be like that, and it’s not even clear what it would mean if the world itself worked that way.

  25. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @26:

    The indeterminate states are the basis for the most accurate predictions we’ve ever made.

    No, experimental results are the basis.

    Theory makes predictions. Experiment verifies them, or not. For example. What’s being calculated via the Feynman diagrams is the QFT analogue of a QM wave-function. To put it in more concrete terms: This is the same theory and mathematics which gives us scattering/transition/decay amplitudes. Which in turn provide us with the associated probabilities of scattering/transition/decay.

    Supposing that it’s not in a determinate state isn’t logically required

    Yes, it really is, in quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. Probability is indeterminacy. So, an electron-positron collision can produce any of various outcomes, depending on the initial energy: a pair of photons, a muon and an anti-muon, etc, each with a calculable cross-section. So, supposing that it (the final state) is determinate is simply wrong.

  26. joebiohorn says

    I’m going with the guys on the right side. Here are some thoughts: reality exists without humans to observe it. There is no such thing as a wave function that collapses; the wave equation simply describes probabilities about what we have not yet observed: make the observation and the uncertainty goes away, but there is no change in the real world; similarly for “entanglement” – two “entangled” particles have real values all along: when we observe one of them, we can deduce the state of the other, but we do not mysteriously influence the second particle. I would really like to have a clear explanation for how I am wrong.

  27. consciousness razor says

    Theory makes predictions.

    Yes, and I know that it’s formulated mathematically. But we don’t have to take every bit of math that finds its way into a theory as a serious candidate for the stuff that inhabits the world, now do we?

    You’d still have work to do, to show that your interpretation is right, while empirically equivalent ones are wrong. Or you shouldn’t claim that the peculiar aspects of your specific interpretation are the things that are responsible for all of these successful empirical predictions, since people who disagree with you on those very points can make them just as well.

    Probability is indeterminacy

    The states of the world consist of “probability” now (except when they don’t)?

    Look, I’d know how to kick a rock, Samuel Johnson style, but I don’t know what I should kick if you seriously told me that this is what physical states are. Would a rock still be just fine, as far as you’re concerned? Or I could try waving my hands around in space, I guess … is that where I could find the probabilities?

  28. John Morales says

    What amuses me is how, to decry philosophy, philosophy is employed.

    (A bit like arguing that argument is useless)

  29. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @29:

    You’d still have work to do, to show that your interpretation is right, while empirically equivalent ones are wrong.

    Show me an “empirically equivalent” calculation of the electron’s anomalous magnetic dipole moment, and I might take you seriously. It’s you that has the work to do. We’ve done this dance before.

  30. Owlmirror says

    @John Morales:

    What amuses me is how, to decry philosophy, philosophy is employed.

    The author of Existential Comics, linked @#16, thought it was amusing enough to depict Simone Weil punching out Richard Dawkins while pointing it out.

  31. John Morales says

    Owlmirror, so I see. The author of Existential Comics, linked @#16, at least got that (sorta) right.

    So there’s that.

    Seen the comic before, but. My impression is that it tries to mock philosophy.

    (Perhaps it’s too subtle for me)

  32. KG says

    I think this could validly be adapted to the current context:

    Scientists (and science commentators), who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any philosophical influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct philosopher of science.

    These days, I’d hazard, generally Karl Popper. A notable example is the common – and absurd – contention that science doesn’t prove things. It does so all the time. What it doesn’t prove is universal generalizations (which Popper was rather narrowly focused on), and how it doesn’t prove is in the way logic and mathematics do, by demonstrating the logical necessity of what it proves. But it proves plenty of singular facts (e.g. that humans and chimpanzees have common ancestors, that pure water is a compound of hydrogen and oxygen) and the verb “to prove” has a much wider application – in law, history, medicine, etc. as well as science – than its specialised meaning in logic and mathematics.

  33. KG says

    Ach! The first part of my comment #35 got cut off, because fucking freethoughtblogs was telling me I was logged in, then when I submitted the comment, told me I had to be logged in to comment (while the page was still telling me I was logged in), so I copied the comment – but missed the first bit – while I wnet through the rigmarole of logging out – and being asked if I was sure I wanted to log out by the same fucking useless system that had just told me I was logged out when I tried to comment – then logging in again. Grrr – this happens quite regularly.

    The first part of comment #35 was intended to be:

    John Maynard Keynes famously said:

    Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist

  34. richardemmanuel says

    Empiricism is ultimately circular, since all is done within spacetime. Much harder without, which is nowhere, never.

    The minimum break in a circle is into two. Thus Physics will end up with two fundamental theories, ultimately incorrect – incompatible, but right all the way down, and right all the way back up, as this is merely a reversal of their derivation.

    Beyond this line projections are invalid, and will yield infinite false positives of zero utility.

  35. richardemmanuel says

    I think you’ll find that’s so. Later results will be circular re Time, which humans find cognitively transparent, as this is how they see. To see Time, one has to run two times @ once, and look from one at the other. This will look like two where’s, and fiddled third person, triune. Etc.

  36. richardemmanuel says

    As with that catapostrophe, certain spelling mistakes will stand out. But infinite mistakes will pass the spell-checker. There is an inherent difficulty in imparting fluid concepts on a falsely static page, to machines wired for linear thinking, but here ‘infinite’ is spelled incorrectly. It doesn’t fin. So keep typing until you notice it implies continuous creation, and a violation of the laws of thermodynamics. Etc.

  37. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    OK, first, merely taking a bunch of quotes out of context doesn’t show much. In this case, given that the subject is quantum reality, it is worse than a lie. It is absolute bullshit.

    Second, sorry, Consciousness Razor, but it is utterly clear that you understand nothing about the philosophy of quantum mechanics, the Copenhagen interpretation, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schroedinger, Werner Heisenberg or Albert Einstein. The Copenhagen interpretation is still the predominant one taught to physicists. It works, and in fact stands as a heroic effort to save the concept of physical reality in the face of quantum indeterminacy.

    I don’t expect a non-physicist to have a full appreciation for the finer points of quantum mechanics. I would expect a layman to have a degree of humility when trying. The facts are that Bohr and Heisenberg were correct and Einstein, Schroedinger and Bohm were wrong.

    As to other interpretations, the only ones that have proven acceptable are those that make predictions indistinguishable from the Copenhagen interpretation (e.g. Everett’s Many Worlds interpretation). The advantage of the Copenhagen is that it doesn’t require the Universe to divide into mutually unobservable universes every time we look at anything.

    Bohr was not a good expositor or communicator. He was a very deep thinker. He doesn’t deserve to be dismissed with an ignorant wave of the hand.

    There are plenty of good books on the subject. I can suggest some if you’d like.

  38. madtom1999 says

    I thought that damned cat was simple example of the incorrectness of QM, It seemed to me if this interpretation was true then the sky would be dark as my observation of it would be required to collapse things to make the light that I could only observer much later.
    Sometimes it seems true while my eyes adjust.

  39. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    madtom1999,
    The answer to Schroedinger’s cat is that the cat knows whether the atom has decayed and so whether the cyanide has been released, however briefly. Consciousness is not really required for observation, merely irreversibility.

  40. petesh says

    @33: Possibly not subtle enough. I loved it. I speak as someone who attempted to study philosophy at Oxford when Ayer still ruled (so I focused on the politics and economics part of my PPE course).

    Personally, I think the trouble with many scientists (not including our gracious host) is the worship of certainty. Addressing that nearly broke the beautiful mind of Bertie Russell.

  41. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Marci Kesserich,
    I strongly recommend Folse’s “The Philosophy of Niels Bohr,” in part because it does a pretty good job of interpreting Bohr’s nearly impenetrable prose.

    Max Jammer’s “Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics” is a classic. If I think about it, I can probably come up with half a dozen more.

  42. consciousness razor says

    I don’t expect a non-physicist to have a full appreciation for the finer points of quantum mechanics.

    A minute ago, it was utterly clear that I understand nothing about several topics beyond that. But if that’s just about blowing off steam and not to be taken seriously, well…. Okay. Are you ever going to say what these finer points are, which I don’t fully appreciate?

    The facts are that Bohr and Heisenberg were correct and Einstein, Schroedinger and Bohm were wrong.

    What were the former correct about, and what were the latter wrong about? Just plain “correct” and just plain “wrong”? If this is how you dole out your “facts,” then don’t be surprised that I have nothing to understand about them.

    As to other interpretations, the only ones that have proven acceptable are those that make predictions indistinguishable from the Copenhagen interpretation (e.g. Everett’s Many Worlds interpretation).

    Tell Rob Grigjanis about it, because he acts like there are no other interpretations which are empirically indistinguishable from his (and maybe yours, if it’s the same). But really, he doesn’t even seem to understand what an “interpretation” is, since he assumed “calculations” are what he should be looking for. Explain that to him too, since you’re so sure I understand nothing.

    Bohr was not a good expositor or communicator. He was a very deep thinker. He doesn’t deserve to be dismissed with an ignorant wave of the hand.

    “There is no quantum world” is just a deepity with all the profundity of a wet fart, and I’ll gladly dismiss that (not him as a person).

    If it didn’t exist, like phlogiston or ancient aliens or ESP, then it shouldn’t be part of a science that describes what there is and what that stuff does. I have no clue what I’d have to be ignorant about to reject this simple line of reasoning, but please fucking enlighten me if that’s what you think I need.

    What was that business about “a heroic effort to save the concept of physical reality in the face of quantum indeterminacy”? Did it fail at that task, heroic though it may be, or did it not? If you think it did, would you attempt to explain why you think that?

  43. leerudolph says

    Rob Grigjanis @19: “I’d like modern science communicators who understand science well enough to communicate it.”

    A late friend of mine, a mathematics professor in Brooklyn , occasionally taught a course (not in the mathematics department) called something like “Why is Scientific American always so bad when you know something about the subject?” (but shorter).

    I and another mathematician once were commissioned to write an article (about a knot-theoretical breakthrough which had, and I think still has, practical applications to the biophysics of DNA) for American Scientist. It was then I first learned that mathematicians have a bad reputation among science journalists and their editors: “a mathematician would rather be correct than interesting”.

  44. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @47:

    Tell Rob Grigjanis about it, because he acts like there are no other interpretations which are empirically indistinguishable from his

    Huh?

    But really, he doesn’t even seem to understand what an “interpretation” is, since he assumed “calculations” are what he should be looking for

    I don’t assume that. But when you claim that Bohmian Mechanics (BM) is just an interpretation which gives all the same results as “regular” QM and QFT, you have to show your work. You should know this, since you’ve linked, in the past, to papers which do explicitly BM calculations* to demonstrate just that, for nonrelativistic QM. The problem is that no-one has yet come up with a Bohmian QFT which can duplicate the results of quantum electrodynamics, never mind The Standard Model. That’s because they can’t incorporate photons into their models. If you can’t incorporate photons, you can’t do calculations that have been around for decades**.

    You and Richard Carrier should start a club. You can commiserate with each other about all the things physicists don’t understand as well as you do.

    *And, by the way, make ridiculous claims about resolving a paradox in QM. I can dig up the thread if you like.
    **The earliest I can think of was the work by Dirac, ninety years ago, on spontaneous emission.

  45. lotharloo says

    @joebiohorn

    two “entangled” particles have real values all along: when we observe one of them, we can deduce the state of the other, but we do not mysteriously influence the second particle. I would really like to have a clear explanation for how I am wrong.

    It seems to me that what you are suggesting is the notion of “local variables”. Look up Bell’s Theorem. As far as I understand, there are no local hidden variables. In other words, if you want to propose that there “are real values behind entangled particles”, then your only choice is to accept that whatever you do to one particle effects the other with speed faster than speed of light (i.e., non-locality).

  46. lotharloo says

    @madtom1999

    I thought that damned cat was simple example of the incorrectness of QM, It seemed to me if this interpretation was true then the sky would be dark as my observation of it would be required to collapse things to make the light that I could only observer much later.

    Yeah, Schrondiger’s cat is not really the best example. It is more confusing than it is illuminating and you should not take it literally. If you actually do what the thought experiment suggests, you will end up with either a dead cat or a living cat but not a cat whose state is the superposition of dead and alive. The act of “decay activating a switch” is an act of interaction with the macro world which will basically cause the wave function to collapse so the state of the cat is not going to be a quantum state. The thought experiment is just to show you how confusing the quantum world actually is and it sohuld not be taken literally.

  47. joebiohorn says

    @lotharloo
    Your interpretation of my comment is the exact opposite off my meaning. I clearly suggested that the particles have real values, we just don’t know what they are. When we observe one, we LEARN the value of the other but WE DON”T MAGICALLY INFLUENCE IT. Again, explain how that is wrong without just waving your hand at Dr. Bell.

  48. consciousness razor says

    You should know this, since you’ve linked, in the past, to papers which do explicitly BM calculations* to demonstrate just that, for nonrelativistic QM.

    Well, yes. One can evaluate and compare nonrelativistic theories/interpretations. There’s no measurement problem for BM, and by design, it gives the same predictions as textbook/orthodox QM. (Maybe it’s your turn to tell a_ray about that.) If your interpretation is Copenhagen, then you’ve got no coherent way to address the measurement problem, and that can’t be fixed by saying “QFT” a bunch of times. That’s just a lot of noise, a lot of Whataboutism. And the historical fact that fewer people have worked on BM (because what, Bohm was run out of the country as a fucking communist? it’s different from the textbook?) should not count as a mark against the theory, since you shouldn’t take for granted that others rejected it on its merits.

    If you’re genuinely wondering about extensions to Bohm’s 1952 theory, then for a start, its wiki article has a section discussing some of that, although many other books and articles would of course provide much more information. I don’t claim to understand many of the technical details, but if you’re saying that something about that whole project is impossible, then tell me specifically what contradicts what. I bet I could understand that. But I’ll remind you that at one time, people had claimed (for completely spurious reasons) that Bohm’s theory was impossible, yet Bell famously remarked how he had seen the impossible done.

  49. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @53: OMG, I am not in the least interested in addressing, once again, your half-baked assertions and wall-of-text maunderings about QM interpretations. Same old tired nonsense you’ve been peddling for years. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. You’ve demonstrated, over an over again, that you don’t understand the stuff you talk about, reference, or link to. Numpty*.

    *Le mot juste. Merci, KG.

  50. lotharloo says

    @joebiohorn:
    Hmm, I don’t see how what you are saying is not the same as “hidden local variables”. Which of the following cases are you proposing?

    1) You have two coins. One of them is heads and the other one tails. You put one under your hat. You mail the other one to Antarctica. You then look under your hat. It is tails, therefore you conclude that the other one was heads. This is classical and nothing quantum about this. In other words, each coin is either heads or tails and there is no randomness about this. It’s just that we don’t know.

    2). You have two coins. Their state is quantum and they are entangled, meaning, if you look at one and see heads, the other one will for sure be tails but you don’t know which one and you cannot know which one. There is no “headness” or “tailness” “unknown attribute” about the coins.

  51. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    CR,
    The validity of a theory is not contingent on whether you understand it. Plenty of people do understand it–those of us who have devoted years of study to it.

    The controversy between Schroedinger and Einstein on the one had and Bohr and Heisenberg on the other was whether quantum mechanics represented a complete description of the microscopic world–that is, whether the indeterminacy is inherent to the physical world, or merely an artifact of our theory. All the experimentation and theory to date has shown that the microworld is inherently indeterminate.

    When Bohr says there is no “quantum world,” he is essentially responding to the controversy between Ernst Mach (who thought the very concept of a physical world was meaningless) and the naive realists. Bohr clearly does believe in a physical world that underlies our measurement and observation. He does not think that our concept of it must necessarily have any 1:1 correspondence with the reality that is there.

    The description IS the math. Putting it into words is going to be like reading a translation of Pablo Neruda.

  52. consciousness razor says

    @ #54
    Then don’t address anything, Rob. I was going to be the one reading and listening to you, while you explained and substantiated your views, whatever they may be. There would have been nothing of mine to read. But somehow that’s not okay with you either. I’m a numpty who doesn’t understand, or what the fuck ever — got it, that message is loud and clear. Now what? Is it time to shut up and calculate?

  53. Rob Grigjanis says

    joebiohorn @52:

    I clearly suggested that the particles have real values, we just don’t know what they are.

    I’ll wave Dr Bell’s paper at you. The gist: If they had real values, then the result of measuring one particle’s spin shouldn’t depend on the way you measure the other particle’s spin. But it turns out it must.

  54. says

    I suggest there’s something else going on here, too.

    Left-hand column: No native speakers of English.
    Right-hand column: No native speakers of the same native language as the person whose position they’re “opposing.”

    {sarcasm-ON} What we have heyah is… failure to communicate. {sarcasm-OFF}

    I cannot speak for the specific aspects of quantum physics that are at issue here. I CAN speak to the problems with the development of organic, and especially aromatic, chemistry that were caused by the German/FrancoEnglish divide because the word “ring” LOOKS like it probably has the same meaning and doesn’t. That confusion held organic chemistry back for at least a decade.

    I have a more-recent physics example to offer, but it’s not in quantum mechanics. Leo Szilard’s demonstration that there’s a nonzero cost to the system of Maxwell’s Demon even when the “system” is purely informational doesn’t have a good, faithful translation from German to English that isn’t imposing the translator’s interpretation of what it all really means. The math seems to translate pretty well, but the verbiage… not so much. And in the instance of quantum mechanics, my hazy recollection from thirty-five years ago is that in the 1930s, even the math itself (in particular notation) wasn’t well established, let alone soluble in anything close to practical time due to the lack of computational power, which would further inhibit communication — not to mention experimental follow-up.

  55. John Morales says

    petesh @44, Monty Python then? :)

    Personally, I think the trouble with many scientists (not including our gracious host) is the worship of certainty. Addressing that nearly broke the beautiful mind of Bertie Russell.

    Yeah, but the use of error bars is ubiquitous. Scientists love to quantify.

    And sure, Russell’s approach to logicism was unsustainable — and he was not a scientist.

    (Also, he considerably advanced analytic logic is its pursuit, so… was that a bad thing?)

  56. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    What Rob G. is referring to is the noncommutativity of quantum mechanical operators. The order in which you make measurements affects the outcome, so AB-BA is not equal to 0. You can put on a sock and a shoe, but it’s not the same as putting on a shoe and a sock.

  57. petesh says

    @61: I find the citation of error bars unconvincing. Essentially, they quantify uncertainty in pursuit of certainty itself. As to Russell, he seemed to regret the toll that Principia (in his opinion) took on his brain.

  58. John Morales says

    petesh, do you not accept that to quantify uncertainty is to acknowledge uncertainty?

    As to Russell, he basically said it wore him out. Whence this putative regret?

    (Also, I’d personally take that toll were it to leave me as puissant and cogent as Russell was, well into his dotage)

  59. joebiohorn says

    @lotharloo

    1) You have two coins. One of them is heads and the other one tails. You put one under your hat. You mail the other one to Antarctica. You then look under your hat. It is tails, therefore you conclude that the other one was heads. This is classical and nothing quantum about this. In other words, each coin is either heads or tails and there is no randomness about this. It’s just that we don’t know.

    Yes that is exactly what I am saying: It’s just that we don’t know. Again I say: tell me in plain English why that is wrong

    Read more: https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2018/09/29/that-wilkins-guy-loves-to-rub-it-in/#ixzz5SerBTtgK

  60. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    joebiohorn,
    Unfortunately, nature is a bit more complex than that. In the quantum mechanical realm, the indeterminacy is inherent to the physical system, not merely a product of our subjective ignorance. The problem is not when you have a simple binary system, like a coin, but rather when you have a quantity like spin. If a system has a definite spin in the z direction, it cannot have a definite spin in the x or y direction. Rather, you can express the definite-z-spin state in terms of states that have a definite spin in the x or y direction, and the coefficients of that expression give you the probability that you get + or – in the x or y direction.

    More generally, any quantum state can be expressed in terms of a superposition of states representing a measurement, and the coefficients for each state give you the probability that you get the value for the measurement corresponding to that particular state. (Note: if you’ve ever done a Fourier Series expansion of a function, it’s kind of like that.)

    The problem comes when you have entangled states–where the value for one partner determines the other partner’s value, and which can be separated to distances where they do not interact causally. Einstein thought that was a “gotcha”, but it turns out that the predictions of quantum theory are correct. The only way to explain them is to posit that an individual particle doesn’t have a definite spin until it is forced to by measurement. The only way around this is to sacrifice concepts like free will, causality and physical reality. That the entire premise behind quantum computing is the quantum mechanics of entangled states ought to tell you something about the reliability thereof.

    Unfortunately, quantum mechanics is pretty much impossible to express in plain English. I’m convinced that one of the problems Niels Bohr had in communicating his ideas was that he tried to achieve mathematical precision with normal language. In math, it’s clear. In language…not so much.

    Consider this–the whole point of quantum mechanics is that at the quantum level, the energies of systems are roughly commensurate of their interactions with any other system. To “see” and electron, you have to hit it with a photon that will have sufficient energy that it won’t be where you see it by the time you do. Even the concept of the identity of a particle is problematic in a world where electron positron pairs pop out of the vacuum and annihilate continually. What if the positron instead annihilates with the electron you were looking at?
    It is no wonder that when Robert Oppenheimer started going to see a psychiatrist in the 30s to deal with his frustration coming to terms with quantum theory that the shrink diagnosed him as schizophrenic.

  61. lotharloo says

    @joebiohorn:
    Yes, that is basically the notion of “local hidden variables” and it is ruled out experimentally. As a_ray_in_dilbert_space said, it is difficult to talk about the why in plain English so maybe a cooked up example like this will be more helpful:

    1) Imagine you have a coin under your hat and another in Antarctica and we know one is heads and the other is tails. Imagine I have a test that is 90% accurate. I run the test on both sides:
    A) With 0.9 * 0.9 = 81% probability, both tests will success and I get e.g., that it is heads under the hat and tails in Antarctica.
    B) With 0.1 * 0.1 = 1% probability, both will fail and I will get the tails and heads results.
    C) With 0.9 * 0.1 = 9% probability, first test will fail but second will succeed and I will get tails, tails results.
    D) With 0.1 * 0.9 = 9% probability, the first test will succeed but the second one will fail so I get heads, heads results.

    If I repeat this test a billion times, I am expected to see a particular pattern emerge. Now it turns that when you do this in practice with entangled particles, you don’t see this pattern. You see a different pattern. You see a pattern that is very much consistent with the Mathematical description given by quantum mechanics. And the famous Bell’s theorem says that there is no way you can resolve it by assuming that there is some hidden “agreement” between the two entangled particles (i.e., one of them has agreed to be heads and the other tails). Unless of course, you allow for certain effects to travel faster than the speed of light.

  62. Rob Grigjanis says

    joebiohorn @65: I wish I’d remembered this earlier. Siggy wrote a very good explanation of Bell’s theorem for a general audience here. I highly recommend that you take the time to read it carefully.

  63. petesh says

    @64: Oh yeah, those who valorize error bars recognize uncertainty; but deplore it. I view any kind of certainty as an unfortunate concession to practicality, like drinking bad wine.
    I cited Russell from memory, and several minutes research failed to turn up the quote, so I cannot definitively support my inference; but I did find a couple of other entertaining ones (he had a million):
    The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice.
    Contemplation of the lives of philosophers is enough to drive one to the study of sociology.

  64. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Petesh,
    Tell ya what. Let’s say there are two bridged. One of them has been engineered with a thorough understanding of uncertainties. The other has not. Which one you gonna cross?

    Error bars are important. Knowing sources of error and managing them is important. Understanding how errors propagate is important. This has nothing to do with a demand for certainty. It has to do with a world that works.

  65. petesh says

    @70: Sure about that?
    :-)
    We’re talking at cross-purposes, and I do think that humility is in short supply, not just among scientists.

  66. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Petesh,
    What I am saying is that you are completely misunderstanding the role and importance of error bars and error analysis in science. Understanding and controlling errors is of enormous importance. It has nothing to do with humility. It is about what the evidence allows us to say and do. It has enormous theoretical as well as practical importance.

  67. Rob Grigjanis says

    joebiohorn @65: Bit late, but I remembered a simple argument why your picture cannot work.

    Your view is that the spin of each of the entangled particles is set before any measurement is done, and that our representation of the entangled state as a superposition of states is merely an expression of our ignorance. Of course, if one of the particles (at location A, say), is measured along the z-axis and found to have spin +1, a measurement of the other particle along the same axis would yield -1. You would say that the original state was always (+1 at A, -1 at B), even before measurement.

    But what if the axis at B was shifted from z by some angle θ in the x-z plane? In your picture, any particular pair has definite spin states along any axis, so a particular pair could now have +1 at A and +1 at B, or any other combination. Now, if the angle is small enough, we would both expect a strong, but not perfect, anticorrelation over a large number of measurements. So, maybe 99% of the measurements show opposite spin for a particular small angle.

    Now shift the axis at A to coincide with the axis at B, but then shift the axis at B further, by the same small angle, in the x-z plane. So the angle at B is now 2θ relative to the original axis at A. The two axes are now still θ apart, so we know a large number of measurements would still give a 99% anticorrelation.

    Now shift the axis at A back to its original position, so that the axis at B is 2θ from it, and run the experiment again. In your picture, the anticorrelation should be 0.99 x 0.99, so approximately 98%.

    But, quantum mechanics and experiment say that the anticorrelation in the third experiment is actually about 96%. Your picture fails.

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