The Quantum Pontiff

Over at the Optimizer’s place, the Optimizer compares libertarians and those who believe in the many worlds interpretation of quantum theory. (Key Ron Paul apologists in three, two, one…) An amusing comparison. So if many worlders are the libertarians of interpretations of quantum theory, what political parties do the other interpretations of quantum theory fall under?

  • Copenhagen Interpretation: The standard interpretation before many-worlds became the standard. Key personality trait: worship of the founders of quantum theory. If Bohr said it, it must be true! Clearly these are the characteristics of the Reagan worshiping wing of the Republican party and of the Constitution Party. Questioner: “Did Reagan raise or lower taxes?” Copenhagenist: “Such questions are meaningless, just as you cannot ask where the position of a particle is before you measure it, you cannot ask whether Reagan raised or lowered taxes.”
  • Shut-Up and Calculate Interpretation: An interpretation favored by those who do experiments which don’t actually reveal any quantum coherent effects. Key personality trait: unwillingness to dwell on calculations beyond the numbers returned. Philosophizing is not, not, not allowed! Clearly these are the characteristics of the lower tax fanatics of the Republican party. SUCIer: “If we lower taxes on corporations then the corporations will make more money!” Rest of society: “But what about the welfare of the environment, those who work for the corporations, and the moral results of totally free wheeling capitalism?” SUCIer: “Shutup and lower my taxes!”
  • Bohmian Interpretation: An interpretation characterized by a strong desire to bring some form of determinism back to quantum theory. This is achieved by turning the wave function into a universal field which guides particles. Key personality trait: a strong sense of pastoralism, wishing for the past view of reality to make a return so that one doesn’t have to deal with all this quantum uncertainty. Also characterized by the belief in a mystical guiding wave function. Clearly these are the religious conservatives of the Republican party. Bohmian: “We are fallen from our past glories. If only you accept that God has a plan for you, then you too can be saved.” Questioner: “But does your view lead to any experimental differences?” Bohmian: “Well if you knew Gods plan, a.k.a. the positions of all the particles in the universe, then you would see that what I am saying is the one and true way!”
  • Transactional Interpretation: An interpretation characterized by mucking around with causality. Transactions going back and forth in time somehow arrange for quantum theory to be true. Key personality trait: no respect for causality. Clearly these are Naderites. Transactioner: “If I vote for Nader, it won’t lead to Bush winning the election, because causality is an illusion” Questioner: “But if you vote for Nader instead of Gore in a close election, aren’t you aiding Bush?” Transactioner: “Bah! You silly Democrats and your respect for chronology. I can just go back in time and change my vote to Gore if Bush wins!”
  • Relational Interpretation: An interpretation in which quantum theory is a theory about the relation between an observer and a system. Key personality trait: It’s all relative, dude! Quantum theory is only about you and your relation to the system you are studying. Clearly this is the postmodern wing of the Democratic party. Relationalist: “One must accept that all is according the prism through which you view the world. All moral systems are relative.” Questioner: “But what of the abuse of girls in polygamist sects in Teaxs?” Relationalist: “There you go bring in your own particular unrelational view of quantum morality!”
  • Many-Minds Interpretation: An interpretation characterized by a belief that your mind can enact the collapse of the wave function. Key personality trait: minds are special and, since the mind is where we discuss and rationalize about quantum theory, this must also be the place where reality is created (obviously!) Clearly these are the characteristics of the new age faction of the Democratic party. Many-Minder: “Quantum theory tells us that we create our own reality. Thus if we just think positive thoughts, smoke a little dope, and use magnetism to cure cancer, all will be well!” Questioner: “But what if your mumbo jumbo belief in the power of creating your own reality isn’t true, and that actual hard work is needed to overcome the problems in the world?” Many-Minder: “See now your mind is creating negative energy which is collapsing our universe into one with bad things happening!”
  • Consistent Histories Interpretation: An interpretation where the mysteries of quantum theory are magically brushed under the rug by focusing on consistent histories where traditional probability theory is upheld. Key personality trait: by the application of an authoritarian set of consistencies everything can be made nice and Kosher. This is clearly the Communist Party of the USA. Consistent historian: “Equality for all workers! Down with the proletariate! You are not special, and homogeneity must be enforced!” Questioner: “But what of these cases where quantum effects seem to obey quantum theory and not traditional local probabilistic realism?” Consistent historian: “These effects are not special, and must be wiped out! Down with you upper class quantum effects!”

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    May 13, 2008

    Many-Minds Interpretation: An interpretation characterized by a belief that your mind can enact the collapse of the wave function. Key personality trait: minds are special and, since the mind is where we discuss and rationalize about quantum theory, this must also be the place where reality is created (obviously!) Clearly these are the characteristics of the new age faction of the Democratic party.

    . . . or the Bush White House. Remember where the phrase “reality-based community” came from?

    We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

  2. #2 Robyn
    May 13, 2008

    Hilarious. But what about the Green Party? Surely you don’t lump them in with the Naderites or the New Age Democrats? Nader and Kucinich are not interchangeable. Are they?

  3. #3 Dave Bacon
    May 13, 2008

    Ha, actually in my first draft I tried the Green party in both the Naderite and New Age Democrats spot!

    I think maybe the Green party is the “There Is No Problem Interpretation of Quantum Theory.” All about saying that whatever interpretation you choose, that is fine. Peace between the factions and all.

  4. #4 peter
    May 13, 2008

    don’t they all come under “fuzzy logic”?

  5. #5 t-guy
    May 13, 2008

    Maybe the Greens are the ones who think that messing with too much quantum physics is going to create a black hole and collapse the universe.

  6. #6 wolfgang
    May 13, 2008

    So many different approaches…
    Can we overcome party politics and find the one true interpretation?
    Yes we can.

  7. #7 Ian Durham
    May 13, 2008

    One problem with all that: I’m a libertarian but I don’t particularly like MWI. In fact, I have offered arguments against it including a suggestion for potentially testing it. See here and here.

  8. #8 debunker
    May 14, 2008

    “Bohmian: “Well if you knew Gods plan, a.k.a. the positions of all the particles in the universe, then you would see that what I am saying is the one and true way!”"
    It can be rephrased in such way. There living many civilazations and there exist many universe (far apart fromeach over), but some of them disapearing after few nanoseconds, seconds, minutes, hours years, etc and very small probability that some of them doing evrything coherently, but at any time can colapse to some “blackhole-nothing”. In our world it can be at any time, but if it will be we wouldn’t be able to even think about it… So we think that we living in normal universe, but it can colapse like black hole at any time, but we just very lacky…
    But actauly I don’t believe nor in Boheman nor in MWI. Every teory which going farther than geometric math is false, especialy it is for many universe theory… No wonder that it in such “brutaly unrealistic” way traying to make quantum computer not iliusion…
    Interesting what interpretations can be regected if suppose quantum computer is imposible?

  9. #9 andrew
    May 14, 2008

    Hm, I wonder where the Quantum Pontiff sits in all this. :)

  10. #10 Dave Bacon
    May 14, 2008

    The pontiff is agnostic.

  11. #11 Ian Durham
    May 14, 2008

    Ah, but if you were agnostic you would have allowed my last post to appear (it contained two links and thus was quarantined).

  12. #12 Dave Bacon
    May 14, 2008

    Fixed. Fair and balanced here, you know. Except I must say the many-minds interpretation is for those who’ve smoked too much dope.

  13. #13 CCPhysicist
    May 14, 2008

    As a theorist (and liberal progressive) who supports the “Shut up” school, I don’t buy that analysis on any level. We would want to see experiment and theory demonstrate that cutting taxes has improved the health and living conditions of the average American, whereas Stockman told us there wasn’t even a theory behind Reagonomics.

    In any case, it is based on the false premise that the “Just Calculate” school is not concerned with quantum coherence. Quite the contrary. We just don’t see where a philosophical mental image of what is really going on has resulted in any revisions to the theory. It only seems to help in getting the experiments funded.

  14. #14 Michael Bacon
    May 15, 2008

    “We just don’t see where a philosophical mental image of what is really going on has resulted in any revisions to the theory. It only seems to help in getting the experiments funded.”

    Perhaps not a revision to the theory, since MWI takes the theory at face value, but I do think a reasonable argument can be made that, for example, David Deutsch’s belief in the MWI was the motivation for the theoretical breakthroughs he made in developing the framework for quantum computation. Perhaps that’s what you mean when you say “. . [i]t only seems to help in getting the experiments funded.”

    There has been quite a bit of funding in this area since Deutsch’s early work. :)

  15. #15 Roman Werpachowski
    May 15, 2008

    “Copenhagen Interpretation: The standard interpretation before many-worlds became the standard.”

    It’s a joke, right?

  16. #16 Michael Bacon
    May 15, 2008

    “It’s a joke, right?”

    No, it was the prior standard interpretation :)

  17. #17 Roman Werpachowski
    May 16, 2008

    How many papers can you cite, which do not research the question “which interpretation of quantum mechanics should we choose” and just use the many-world interpretation?

    I think the number is pretty close to zero. Most physicists just ignore this stuff.

  18. #18 Michael Bacon
    May 16, 2008

    “Most physicists just ignore this stuff”

    Roman,

    I don’t disagree with you. I think many physicists do ignore these types of questions because they don’t see how adopting one or another view leads to differences in the questions they ask or in the answers that they get to those questions.

    My only point in mentioning Deutsch was to highlight one instance where contemplating an overall explanation helped motivate somewhat different questions and answers.

  19. #19 Dave BAcon
    May 16, 2008

    Yep most physicists ignore it, thus setting back an entire field (quantum computing) by at least twenty years. Good work Physicists!

  20. #20 Roman Werpachowski
    May 16, 2008

    @Dave

    “Yep most physicists ignore it, thus setting back an entire field (quantum computing) by at least twenty years.”

    Can you explain how?

    In my opinion, what sets back quantum computing is the fact the we failed to build a working quantum computer.

  21. #21 Dave Bacon
    May 16, 2008

    Well of course I say this half facetiously…

    But there is a case to be made that the very idea of even thinking about a quantum computer was set back because physicist deemed thinking to hard about what the theory actually meant kept people from noticing that it implied a new kind of computing device. Indeed if you look at the people who really showed that quantum computation might even be worth considering, after the early “idea” work of physicists like Feynman, Bennioff, and Deutsch, these were predominately computer scientists (Jozsa, Vazirani, Bernstein, Simon, Shor…) I suspect part of the reason they could make progress is that they didn’t have physicist yelling down their throat to “not think about quantum theory.” (In addition to the fact that they’re all brilliant people, of course.)