Thursday, October 11, 2007

Where Physics and Mysticism Don't Meet

I've made a comment regarding this issue in relations to the book The Secret a while back as one of the bastardization of quantum mechanics. This is another article that essentially assert the same stand as mine. It is discussing the question on whether everything in the universe is "interconnected" and if this is justified from what we know from QM.

It's a well-written piece in that it tries to explain some of the weirdness of quantum mechanics. However, at the end, this is what the author had to say:

In regards to mysticism, both The Uncertainty Principle and quantum mechanics in general do not validate a belief in the ability for a person to extend their will into the universe through the use of a ‘spiritual’ force of any kind.

Again, what many people who tried to apply QM principles do not seem to address is the FACT that our world that we are so familiar with are extremely classical! The QM laws are not the least bit apparent, nor are they detectable. That's the first issue. The 2nd issue is that to be able to detect such quantum behavior, it requires quite an extreme care and under very special conditions. An atom is a quantum system because it is at such a small scale, but as things get bigger (like the world we are familiar with), to be able to detect quantum properties requires something called COHERENCE. It is why we have to cool down a superconductor to detect superconductivity. The higher temperature destroys such coherence and washes out any quantum behavior. In other words, it is NOT EASY to maintain quantum behavior under ordinary conditions.

But lastly, and this is something that I've talked about already on here, there is no evidence that one can continuously extrapolate some laws on one scale into another. We already know about this when we study phase transition, that some properties change abruptly across such phase transition. Since no one has seen the gradual change between classical and quantum systems, one has no ability to say that the rules of QM can also be applied at our scale. In fact, considering how DIFFERENT these two worlds are, there's more of an argument to say that they are indeed different and does not evolve continuously from one to the other.



Kent Leung said...

There are other flaws in mysticism:

Firstly, the existence of the 'spiritual' force required has never been observed nor has a mechanism of how it works been put forth.

Secondly, even if we assume such a force does exists, who says we are able to control it with will power? There has yet to be evidence that we can control the known electrical impulses in our brains & bodies.

minorwork said...

Maybe not everybody can demonstrate the control, but some can and have. Gee whiz can't you hold your breath? So what do you call the ability to see the spinning girl change rotation directions.
Or even see her face you and go back and forth. This takes effort. I do not call this mystical. Intent? Intentional action? A small demonstration of the control a person can have over the automatic powers of reason expressed through the brain? Much work on a Phenomenological description needed. Get rid of charged words such as "spiritual."

ZapperZ said...

What in the world are you arguing here? "automatic powers of reason expressed through the brain"?

Another demonstration of how there are still plenty of people who can't tell the difference between scientific evidence and ANECDOTAL evidence.

Besides, what does this have anything to do with the article being cited here with regards to another bastardization of QM?

{scratching head}


Adrian Stuart said...

Hi there. I am the author of the article that's being discussed. The reason that the article was comissioned and written for is that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is a concept which is specifically and regularly interpreted as being 'proof' that a human being can 'create' a reality or influence reality in some sort of mystical manner. Other similar concepts are not covered in the article due to limitations of space. Two of these which I would like to write about- and have I have discussed with the editor of - are the concept of 'Wigner's Friend' and the 'Many World's Interpretation'. While neither of these in themselves are proof of a 'mystical' underlying reality, if they are valid, particularly Wigner's Friend, it may appear to point towards a far stranger 'reality' than many scientists would be comfortable with. I hope to see your comments on the site when these articles are published! Thanks! Adrian Stuart

ZapperZ said...

But this "proof" is only valid at the quantum scale on quantum phenomena, not at the human scale with human phenomena. That is the whole point that I've been trying to make.


okham said...

OK, wait a minute, now... I generally agree with this the principles expounded in this posting, but some of the statements made here seem too drastic to me.
I agree that the world in which we live is for the most part classical, and that the laws of QM apply to phenomena that occur at a scale much smaller than the one that is relevant to our daily experience. However, that the QM laws are "not detectable" is not true.
First of all, to argue that one needs to go to low temperature (much lower than room temperature) in order to observe superconductivity is an accurate assessment of the current state of affairs, but a qualifier is needed. Room temperature superconductivity is not (or at least has not yet been shown to be) impossible in principle. Indeed, a significant fraction of the condensed matter physics community is still engaged in the search for it, and given the tremendous increase in the highest critical temperature witnessed after 1986, it seems fair to state that at least the upper bounds believed to exist until that time, no longer apply.
Secondly, it may not be simple, but quantum-mechanical effects can indeed be observed at room temperature, in several ways; one way, for example, is by pressurizing condensed helium in the kbar range (using the diamond anvil cell), and by measuring the momentum distribution using neutron diffraction; one can determine the average kinetic energy per particle, finding it significantly higher than 3T/2 (T being the temperature), as classical statistical mechanics would predict. The excess kinetic energy, which increases as the pressure is raised, can be attributed to zero point motion.
Granted, we are talking rather "mundane" effects which may not capture the imagination of science fiction writers; no "entanglement" of any kind involved here, but legitimate quantum-mechanical effects they are.

ZapperZ said...

I could also mention that the SIZE of the system also isn't a factor here because we already have seen how in the Delft/Stony Brook experiment, we can see quantum effects at 10^11 particle system. So even in terms of size, there may not be an upper bound either.

Still, there is a crucial point here in that to GET to see such effects, we have to be able to maintain coherence. The fact is that quantum effects are not "normal", or else they would have been obvious in our classical world. And that is what most people who blindly apply QM phenomena seem to forget (or ignorant of). We have to do quite a bit of gymnastics, either in terms of temperature, pressure, crystal structure, etc.. to be able to maintain such coherence, either as a function of temperature, pressure, size, etc... These things do not happen without effort, and certainly, one can't simply extrapolate without justification that such-and-such QM effects can be applied to "human scale".


okham said...

With all due respect, while of course I broadly agree with the underlying point that you make, I disagree with some of what you write.
You seem to use words such as "normal", as if some absolute or accepted standards existed, when in reality they do not, in my opinion. Although t is true that quantum mechanics is largely hidden to us in our daily experience, the same is true of most chemistry or even biology.
There is nothing "special" about the temperature at which we live. It is possible to observe, with relatively little effort I would add, effects of quantum mechanics (of course, nothing that one could do in a garage, but the same is true of most science)

The excess kinetic energy per particle in pressurized quantum solids can be observed at room (or even higher) temperature in any laboratory equipped to perform neutron diffraction experiments, and with a diamond anvil cell. It does not have anything to do with crystal structure (even a glass would show such excess kinetic energy) and most certainly nothing to do whatsoever with any "coherence". It's a single-particle effect, and its origin can be understood, at least qualitatively, using standard quantum statistical mechanics, for example using a simple harmonic model for a quantum crystal.

The electron liquid in metals at room temperature is well into the degenerate regime, as Fermi temperatures are typically of the order of several thousand degrees. Effects of quantum statistics, such as the existence of a Fermi surface, can be observed with the proper equipment, at room temperature. Indeed, a classical model of the conduction electrons will yield incorrect predictions.

For high temperature superconductivity, the current highest critical temperature is about 135 K to my knowledge, a far cry from room temperature but much higher than the 10 K or so that people believed to be the highest possible critical temperature, prior to 1986.
Sure, it may well be that that is where we are stuck forever, but there are many people who believe that room temperature superconductivity is possible; here too, I am not sure I see how "coherence" comes into play.
If superconductivity arose from purely electronic degrees of freedom, then it is quite conceivable that the transition temperature could be driven all the way up to room temperature.

Incidentally, I find the discussion of how quantum mechanics "merges" into classical mechanics, as described in the book by Feynman and Hibbs "Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals" (based on the path integral formalism) fairly convincing.

ZapperZ said...

But for superconductivity to occur, the coherence of the "condensate" must set in. This is why, for example, in the pseudogap state of the cuprate superconductor, you have pairing above Tc, but still no superconductivity. In conventional superconductors, the coherence and pairing state both set in at Tc. This may not be true anymore with the cuprates if the psedogap pairing are precursor to coherence. It is only after one gets coherence can there be superconductivity.

You also have misunderstood what I've said. I am not arguing that one cannot see quantum effects under "normal" circumstances. One can easily argue that a light diffraction pattern is a quantum effect since it can be explained as such, or that the atomic spectra we ask students to look at in undergraduate intro physics courses are prime example of quantum physics at work. I am arguing that just because it works in one particular energy, temperature, size, pressure, etc. scale, doesn't mean that it can easily be extrapolated to other scale. If this is obvious, there's no reason to do the experiments done so far such as the Delft/Stony Brook experiments. People would simply look at them and go "duh!". Yet, they don't, and these experiments get published in Nature and Science. So that by itself is ample proof to me that these are not obvious.

For someone to argue that since we can create quantum entanglement in a bipartite system, and therefore, all of the universe are "entangled" is simply nothing more than bastardizing this phenomenon without justification. The fact that the preservation of such entanglement is so difficult, and that just ONE interaction alone with a "reservoir" is enough to destroy its coherence is sufficient for me to argue that such claim is unjustified.


okham said...

Well, again, I agree with your condemnation of wild extrapolation and I accept your point. My comments addressed your statement
"Again, what many people who tried to apply QM principles do not seem to address is the FACT that our world that we are so familiar with are extremely classical! The QM laws are not the least bit apparent, nor are they detectable." I may have misunderstood this, as you say, but this reads as a bit of a sweeping generalization.

Also regarding coherence in superconductors, again, I do not believe that there is anything impossible in principle about a superconductor with a transition temperature of the order of 300 K, which would imply the existence of a condensate (of some sort) at that temperature.

Obviously, I agree about everything else that you say, specifically about nonsensical and outlandish attempts to extend concepts such as "entanglements" where they do not belong.
Happy new year !

minorwork said...

I'm just a poor out of work coal miner and I can't afford more than 2 or 3 of Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals at over $400 a pop.
I did just finish Quantum Enigma and prefer the "Extreme Copenhagen" Interpretation as presented. It does away with consciousness better than the other 8 mentioned.

And as far as quantum effects not oberved on a human scale I was wondering if you would consider the Scientific American home experiment
an example on the human scale.

Francis Crick's admittedly slightly dated book; The Astonishing Hypothesis, speaks to the automatic nature of the brain.

Anecdotal is not the same as self-experimentation. By acting "as if" there is an unknown the psychology of seeing automatically alters what is seen in the optic nerve area of vision by filling in the gap.