It has been another strange week. Yesterday was – I hope – the cherry on the sundae. It snowed. The weather beavers had predicted and it was actually less severe than their pretty (?) graphics – another indication of the progress of climate change and the fudge factors in their simulations? – but I have reached an age where any is almost too much. And I have to venture out into it this morning to spread seeds for the dinosaur descendants and the lords of the trees, and then on FD SCP errands.
While I’m in that mood of mind, I noted a rather strange article [Link] the other day and have had it at back of processing for a bit. It’s about a conference held in 2011 – lots of latency in the journalism; extreme poverty of ideation? – about “Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality”. Seems they gave the participants a multiple guess survey instrument and got rather large variation of answer. I reproduce an example:
I found this example a bit whacked largely because this isn’t really a physics question. If they had asked when we would have the physics to support a working quantum computer that might have been relevant but this question is about engineering and manufacturing and market economics and stuff that quantum physicists, especially good ones, aren’t qualified to answer. I also have to admit to being a bit worried about multiple guess questions since there is no assurance that the author’s set of spanning states includes my state. That’s one of the biggest weaknesses of surveys and is one of the primary reasons for small reply fractions – people get micturated when none of the answers is good enough.
Some of the other questions were a bit more meaningful:
“Do you believe that physical objects have their properties well defined prior to and independent of measurement?”, 48 per cent replied “no”, while 52 per cent replied “yes, in some cases”. A further 3 per cent said “yes in all cases” and 9 per cent were undecided (respondents were able to select more than one answer).
“What is your favourite interpretation of quantum mechanics?” had 12 possible answers. The most popular answer was the Copenhagen interpretation with 42 per cent but 18 per cent chose the many-worlds interpretation. 21 per cent admitted to having switched their interpretation several times with one respondent writing that he sometimes switched interpretations several times a day.
Note how connected these two questions are. The answer to the second one largely influence the answer to the first. If you do subscribe to the Copenhagen interpretation then there is the question of what constitutes an observation. Is sentience relevant? Alternately, if you subscribe to the Popper (many worlds) interpretation, then there is the question of how big does a quantum event have to be to cause a bifurcation? And if you subscribe to the interaction interpretation, then how dense are the backward wave functions generated?
And this isn’t a matter of belief, which is something that even science journalists can’t seem to understand. It’s not some blind abiding lith, it’s something that one tests, with both thought and real experiments. It bears the same resemblance to fundamentalism that adeism does.
Besides, there is an old saying, repeated without adequate attribution by every quantum mechanics lecturer I every had, that if you can visualize QM, you are WRONG. The problem is that we visualize everything, being human, so we are always on the slippery slope of wrong and don’t know how much. Or how much is enough to be WRONG.
That’s the wonderful thing about QM. Even wrong is uncertain until we “observe” it.