The Quantum Pontiff

Well it is certainly true that Mystics and quantum physicists speak the same language, that language most probably being Mandarin, English, or Hindi, but I’m guessing that’s probably not what they meant by that title. I should have stopped reading at the title, but instead I actually scanned down the page.


Oy, this one starts out bad:

Quantum physicists have discovered to their amazement that, in the sub-atomic world, particles behave in very “unscientific and unpredictable” ways.

Well actually what physicists have discovered is that particles behave in a totally scientific manner. Their ain’t nothing unscientific about the scientific theory of quantum physics. Is quantum theory nondeterministic, certainly. But the word “random” doesn’t even come close to yielding the word “unscientific.” (Note the word “sub-atomic” here, which is always amazing: as if atoms don’t behave quantum mechanically or something.)

And then it gets even worse as they try to give examples. Their list of seven examples has some truly amazing misconceptions, my favorite being:

4. Cause may occur at the same time as, not before, an effect.

What does this one even mean? A cause occurring at the same time as an effect? I guess I should be thankful that they didn’t talk about causes coming after effects. Then there is

6. A fourth dimension known as space-time exists.

Besides the, um, minor problem that the discovery of the idea of space-time is special relativity and not quantum theory, I’m quite sure that what people normally call the fourth dimension, time, will not be happy being renamed “space-time.” What space-time do I have to wake up tomorrow?

This followed by some truly breathtaking logic:

The world the mystic sees is indescribable or difficult to verbalize. The world of particle physics that quantum physicists see is indescribable from the Newtonian stand point. Nor can it be understood rationally and scientifically.

So, because quantum theory is indescribable from a Newtonian standpoint, anyone who can’t describe what they are talking about must be talking about quantum theory! Can’t describe how miracles work? It must be quantum mechanics! Can’t verbalize the feeling you got when you were fired? Must be quantum mechanics! Can’t describe why the U.S. elected Bush to a second term? Must be quantum mechanics! And of course, once again we learn that quantum theory is not understood rationally and scientifically. Which must be the reason that there is an entire scientific field built upon the theory: physics. I’m sure all those physicists will be happy to know that what they do can’t be explained rationally or scientifically.

Quantum physicists and mystics certainly do seem to speak the language, it just that one hasn’t quite realized that just because you say it, that doesn’t mean its true (with apologies to Radiohead.)

Comments

  1. #1 Tyler DiPietro
    November 24, 2007

    “Quantum physicists have discovered to their amazement that, in the sub-atomic world, particles behave in very “unscientific and unpredictable” ways.”

    I always love abject quantum gibberish like this. I’ll be the first to admit that I understanding of quantum theory is pretty rudimentary, but even I can understand that the reason scientists have such confidence in it is because it accurately predicts the outcomes of certain physical systems whereas classical mechanics does not. Kind of throws a monkey wrench into the whole “unscientific” thing.

    I also like the fact that classical mechanics is once again attributed to Newton in its entirety. Lagrange, Hamilton, Laplace, etc. get no respect.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    November 25, 2007

    Were you around for Robert Lanza’s excursion into quantum woo? I think that was when I realized how far pseudoscience has advanced in the past few generations. Back in the 1960s, the cocktail-party philosophers said that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity showed that “everything depends upon your point of view”. Today, Lanza tells us that quantum mechanics has displaced relativity, and now, everything depends upon the observer!

    The progress of nonsense is truly a wonder to behold.

    Anyway, the abuse of the quantum is a pervasive disease. I wonder how it got started, and why it spread. Do we just blame Capra for everything, or is there more history to it than that?

  3. #3 Bad
    November 25, 2007

    “What space-time do I have to wake up tomorrow?”

    EVERYWHEREWHEN!!!!

    Honestly, as much as I’m awed by the other things science has produced for humanity, it’s the technical advances its conferred upon the field of elaborate gibberish are truly a marvel.

  4. #4 JohnQPublic
    November 26, 2007

    “I’ll be the first to admit that I understanding of quantum theory is pretty rudimentary…”
    My understanding is even less, but I don’t think it should surprise anyone that in the world of the unimaginably small (literally), and unbelievably fast that things would not operate at they do in the day-to-day world.
    Perhaps, the QM field should start avoiding the word “observer” in their general publications, or define it such that it clearly, and without any doubt, removes human conciseness as a possibility. It is this gap that the charlatans exploit.

  5. #5 Bilal Shaw
    November 27, 2007

    How come there’s no “string theory” buzz word in that article? The mystics always seem to pull that one into an article/conversation some how.

  6. #6 Sonoma bob
    November 28, 2007

    Hello all:

    I have an engineering education and sensibility about reality.

    But, having lived a long time, I have noticed that our internal attitudes have a huge influence on our reality. So at least in the psychological area, reality is quite individual.

    To take measurable observable science as all there is seems unscientific itself.

  7. #7 Jonathan Vos Post
    November 29, 2007

    Hell, having been around a long, long time, I have noticed that our infernal attitudes have a huge influence on our reality.

  8. #8 mrG
    December 2, 2007

    hey, it’s not easy, y’know and I know because I was charged with the task, and I dare you to try it. Go ahead, just try it, just try to craft some quantum gibberish that will be catchy enough to catch journalists for a widely read paper. It is not easy, and remember, ‘Surfer Dude‘ has already been taken.

    In 1994 I was asked by the Ontario Science Centre to provide some technobabble to be used in a cartoon display explaining Internet technology, and the request stopped me dead. “We want a paragraph or two that sounds technical, but actually means nothing.” — I wrestled with it for a couple of days, but eventually handed them some densly jargon’d text that was popularly incomprehensible, but in fact really did mean something. What’s worse, it was something pretty close to what I have actually observed being said in the wild, but they didn’t know that and off they went to happily include my prose in their film.

    It’s not easy. I’m tellin’ you. You have to have the knack, and those who have it, well, let’s confess it, they do deserve some respect for their art.

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