Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chopra Versus Shermer at CalTech and on Nightline - Follow-up

If you didn't read the earlier entry on the debate between Deepak Chopra and Michael Shermer at CalTech, you might want to catch up first.

One of my argument against Chopra is that he's using merely a superficial understanding of QM and applying it to where it doesn't belong or hasn't been shown to be valid. In fact, in that earlier article, he even agreed to get a lesson in QM by a theorist in the audience. Unfortunately, even with his admission that he doesn't know QM, it doesn't stop him from continuing with his ignorant "use" of it.

It appears that he has blog a rebuttal to that debate. And sadly, it continues to propagate the same faulty understanding of QM. His usage of the HUP is, to put it mildly, is very pedestrian.

It would be consistent with common sense if these particles, and the subatomic particles that they can be broken down into, were solid and stable in spacetime. But they aren't. Thanks to two breakthrough ideas -- the Uncertainty Principle and the Observer Effect -- nothing in Nature can be seen as solid and fixed in spacetime. The Uncertainty Principle says, in its simplest terms, that you cannot know the position of a particle and its momentum at the same time. The observer effect says that particles are only a superposition of possibility waves until a non-material observer causes them to collapse from one state, a wave, into another, a particle.

Already I can see readers glazing over, but these are important points for the existence of God and also for our existence. All solid objects exist, in essence, as invisible waves that extend infinitely in all directions. When an observer enters the picture, the wave collapses into a point, and that point is a spacetime event -- or a particle -- that you can measure. So it turns out that looking at a virtual electron (waves) causes it to appear as an actual electron (particle).


This, of course, isn't correct, because the HUP doesn't say anything about the accuracy of one single measurement of the position and one single measurement of the momentum. This is a common misconception of the HUP.

But the amusement doesn't stop there. He then tried to argue that quantum effects can be extended to "large" scale.

On the side of materialism, Shermer and many others say no. Quantum behavior, or as Shermer calls it "Quantum weirdness," is confined to the microscopic world. It doesn't leak into the macroscopic world of rocks, trees, clouds -- and the moon. But there are three weaknesses in this argument:

1. Recent discoveries have produced quantum weirdness on the macroscopic level. See this article about "supersizing" quantum mechanics

2. Quantum physics is behind all kinds of technologies used in the big everyday world: transistors, superconductors, experiments with superfluids. There are even cutting-edge experiments with time travel and teleportation, very Star Trek, although so far the results are on the level of light beams, not Scottie and Captain Kirk.

3. Most crucial of all, if you don't allow quantum phenomenon to interact with the big world, you run into a huge problem with physics itself. Quantum physics is the basis of our macroscopic physical world, so there has to be an interaction, even if that interaction is not fully understood.


Let's tackle this one at a time, shall we?

1. Look at the amazing set of conditions that a system HAS TO BE PUT UNDER for the quantum effects to show up. It has to be cooled down to ridiculously low temperatures, it is completely isolated from the environment, etc.. etc. In other words, it is NOT EASY to observe quantum effects in progressively larger and larger systems! Why? Because thermal noises and interactions with the environment can easily destroy the coherence of the quantum effects! He cited the news reports of such a thing, but he did not understand the physics, nor the experiment, on how we were able to observe such a thing. It is another clear example of my claim that he and his minions only know QM superficially, but still have no qualms and "using" it without any fundamental understanding.

2. This is right, QM is the physics behind devices, etc. However, these devices rely macroscopic behavior of the system. We measure not "electrons" directly, but current, let's say, which is a macroscopic measurement. In fact, one can safely say that the physical quantities that we measure, such as position, momentum, energy, etc, are ALL classical properties, because they require the system to interact not only with a macroscopic device, but also because we measure a LARGE NUMBER of them. Those devices do not make use of ONE particle, but rather a huge number of them. Any student who has done any amount of basic QM in school can see that when we average out a large number of system, the system approaches the familiar classical behavior (ref: harmonic oscillator). So while the microscopic description of the behavior of the system is quantum mechanical, the physical behavior of the devices above is purely classical (you don't see your semiconductor in your computer appearing in several locations simultaneously, do you?)

3. If the interaction of QM with the macroscopic world is not fully understood, then why in heck is a Deepak Chopra already using it? The problem here is that we KNOW that the classical world is different than the quantum world. You NEVER see a soccer ball appearing in different locations simultaneously. You NEVER see the macroscopic effect of quantum entanglement. So we KNOW these two are different. How different they are, and how QM can merge into such differences is the question that continues to be studied. It means that anyone making use of QM into a realm where we still don't fully understand is making an utterly speculative proposition.

It is ironic that he's using QM to support his crackpottery without even giving one second of consideration that QM has plenty of experimental evidence, while he has none. Again, it comes back to what I was saying earlier, than lacking direct experimental evidence to support his view, he simply piggy-back onto a well-established physics and say, hey, if it works there, it should work here as well, and left it at that without providing any evidence. This is what happens when one understands QM superficially without any clear view of the basic formalism of QM. As I've mentioned earlier, when they only see the philosophical implication of it and see all these "strangeness" appearing out of nowhere, they seem to think that anything goes and things can be invented freely.

I sometime wish that they leave our physics alone and invent their own silly theory of the world to back up their claims.

Zz.

1 comment:

altertoby said...

Your response to the point about devices is not really "up to date". There are devices which relay heavily on QM, eg. transistors which transport only one/few electrons, or are so small, that QM influence there behavior very much.

But these effects happen one a very small lenght scale, so I can not see any argument behind Chopras "Quantum physics is behind all kinds of technologies used in the big everyday world, so QM can not be confined to the microscopic world".

Keep up the good work!