Sunday, March 04, 2007

Bastardization of Quantum Mechanics

I wrote earlier on why Quantum Mechanics is so difficult to understand for laymen, especially those who only read about it in pop-science articles and books. The fact that, without any understanding of the mathematical formalism, QM will appear as if its various principles and consequences pop up out of nowhere, because it has no connection with our classical world that we are so familiar with. The consequence of such an impression is that one can almost make up anything one likes, because it appears that QM does the same thing.

What this implies clearly is that, if one lacks the understanding of the mathematical formalism of QM, one really hasn't understood QM at all! One ends up with all these weird, unexplained, unfamiliar, and frankly, rather strange ideas on how the world works. These conceptual description QM may even appear "mystical". It is not surprising that such connections are being made between QM and various forms of mysticism. One lacks any connection with the existing reality that one has understood. So somehow, since QM can do this, it seems as if it's a licence to simply invent stuff weely neely.

We already see this being done. In the movie "What the $*%&$# Do We Know?", QM was bastardized to the extent that it was used to justified various crackpottery and pseudoscience. Not only will people who do not understand the formalism of QM will be seduced by such a thing, but people who do not understand the difference between anecdotal evidence and scientific evidence will also be fooled into thinking that the various pseudosciences have the same level of evidence as other sciences.

It is disheartening to see that such bastardization continues, especially in the popular media. This article, presumably from a local newspaper in Vermont, talks about, among other thing, psychic and telepathic ability of animals and humans (and between animals and humans). It would have made a good laugh if it weren't for the fact that, as expected, they use QM as a justification for having such ability.

"Until a few years ago I was a firm non-believer in animal communication, an absolutely firm-scientific-skeptic-non-believer," says one of Grillo's clients, Kate Selby, 42, owner and director of riding at The Equestry in New Haven.

"The more and more you read about quantum physics, and particle matter, and how everything is made of energy, including communication, it has been proven over and over again, scientifically, that matter is energy, and communication and thought are energy. If you believe that ... you can access any kind of energy."

This is the very thing that I had addressed. This person cannot distinguish between the scientific evidence of QM that ".. has been proven over and over again.." versus the unproven and frankly, dubious evidence of pseudoscience such as psychic and telepathy. And the fact that QM can have such phenomena, it somehow is a license to apply the same thing to unverified claims. Why? Because they have no understanding about the mathematical rigor of QM. All they see are these phenomena that looks weird and appear out of nowhere that are not related to any reality that they are familiar with. Thus, one can invent and justify anything one likes!

Unfortunately, this is probably not uncommon. It occurs all over the 'net in the numerous crackpot websites. And it will probably be reported in the popular media that often do not have anyone educated in any decent level of science (much less physics) to be able to put the brakes on publishing nonsense like this. I sometime want to yell at these newspaper editors and force them to read books like Bob Park's "Voodoo Science". But of course, such books would force them to actually think, and we don't want them to do that, do we?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"This person cannot distinguish between ..." - do you honestly think so. I say he's pretending to be, shall we say, unable to distinguish those things on purpose. because otherwise there would be no show.