Crazy and Dishonest Physics Update

The problem with writing about fake physics is that once you start, it’s hard to stop. And there’s always something new and disreputable to find, such as this hideous bit of scammery. As I said in How to Teach Physics to Your Dog, if quantum physics really allowed you to amass vast wealth just by wanting it, Dave Wineland’s publications wouldn’t need to acknowledge funding from a handful of acronyms– he’d be able to bankroll his own research out of his personal fortune..

Quantum physics is not magic. It allows many things that seem weird and counterintuitive, but those effects are very sharply limited in scope, in ways that are well understood. There is nothing quantum underlying New Age mysticism, and anybody who claims there is is either horribly misinformed or a scam artist. If they ask you to pay money to learn about how quantum physics justifies their New Age nonsense, they’re most likely scam artists, and should be avoided, unless you’re working on either a documentary about flim-flam or a fraud investigation, in which case, go nuts.

Again, quantum physics is not magic. If something sounds too good to be true, it’s almost certainly not true, and adding a few quantum buzzwords doesn’t change that.

The other big area of physics that is unequivocally true and not magic is Einstein’s relativity, which draws the ire of the folks at Conservapedia. I can never quite decide whether this site is a genuine expression of an unmedicated neurochemical imbalance or an inspired bit of performance art, but they apparently have a page of anti-relativity bullet points, having decided that any theory that sort of sounds like “relativism” must be some kind of PC delusion. Happily, Dr. SkySkull has a nice breakdown of why they’re wrong, and Tom at Swans on Tea corrects them on the rotation of the Earth and catches a blatant distortion about GPS.

This is, of course, more mental energy than either the Quantum Cookbook or Conservapedia deserves, but alas, somebody has to warn people off this sort of nonsense.

Comments

  1. #1 Mu
    August 12, 2010

    Conservapedia is so much fun. I especially like how they not only have counterexamples to relativity but also to the bible. But guess what, if you follow the link you find how all counterexamples to the bible have been disproved.

  2. #2 Wilson
    August 12, 2010

    I can never quite decide whether this site is a genuine expression of an unmedicated neurochemical imbalance or an inspired bit of performance art

    <Chuckle>

    Sometimes, you have more in common with PZ Myers than you would like to admit. (What you don’t have in common, happily, are the legions of, how did you put it?, flying monkeys?)

  3. #3 NJ
    August 12, 2010

    Wilson @ 2:

    What you don’t have in common, happily, are the legions of, how did you put it?, flying monkeys?

    OK, so no Pharynguloids. What could we be called? Uncertians? Principalatians? Emmyphiles? Steely Kidomaniacs?

    I smell a new poll…

  4. #4 rob
    August 12, 2010

    my biophotonic zero point quantum prognosticator *knew* you were gonna write this post.

    for only 6×10^23 easy payments of one penny you can buy one too.

    that’s only ONE PENNY per payment for prodigous prognostication power!

  5. #5 Bee
    August 12, 2010

    The problem is that people *want* to believe. I wrote a piece about Magic some weeks back and came to the conclusion that it’s a problem of lacking education that allows people to still believe magical nonsense may be compatible with modern science.

  6. #6 Bing
    August 14, 2010

    I took your advice, before you gave it, even. Because I’m psychic. It’s a whole quantum entanglement thing that is really complicated and you just wouldn’t get. Anyway, this weekend I had some homeopathic biofeedbackery done to me. Then I wrote about it. It was jam-packed with the quantum fizzies.

    http://hjhop.blogspot.com/2010/08/dr-robert-barner-analyze-this.html

    OH CRAP! You used a performance art metaphor too! Grr.

    HJ

  7. #7 yogi-one
    August 14, 2010

    NJ @ 3:

    I vote for “Uncertainties”.

    Hey, where can I get one of those copper pyramid hats?

  8. #8 bo moore
    August 14, 2010

    All this becomes more understandable if we accept that the default mode of the human brain IS magical thinking: 99% (I made that up, but it’s probably true) do not grasp the difference between a real (natural) universe and an imaginary realm (supernatural) that exists only in the human brain. IE, they do not believe that an independent system of matter and energy exists; they DO believe that any emotion, idea, or image that the brain produces describes reality and is physically possible.

    Yes, I am saying that humans are delusional and it results from incoherence in the brain: higher functions have been “tacked onto” the pre-existing animal brain, which is autonomous and instinctual. The human brain did not evolve in a university physics or math department; it evolved in the wild, under conditions of extreme climate change. In a crunch, ANY behavior that aids survival is just fine. The Big Bang Theory, Theory of Relativity, Quantum mechanics would have had absolutely no survival benefit. A few simple tools applied with brute force and violence did. That’s about where we human development stands right now.

    Advanced technology made possible by math and physics is very recent, but sophisticated tools are still operated by supernatural delusions. There is no indication that accurately describing the universe will aid human survival, since 99% of humans are unable to make a distinction between the products of nature and the non-existent magical dimension produced by the brain. The results are appalling: intellect is still enslaved by destructive and violence behavior.

    New Age magicians pirate physics, and physicists turn to supernatural indulgences: it’s embarrassing to listen to that “String Theory Guy” ramble like a crack pot prophet on hokey Discovery channel ‘science’ programs, aligning modern physicists with Nostradamus, alien intervention, the Shroud of Turin, and Bible archaelogy.

    Scientists are not immune to magical thinking: incorrect and automatic conclusions taint every human model of reality – the result is that we’ve just about destroyed the capacity of the earth to sustain our delusions.

  9. #9 Sherry
    August 14, 2010

    Thank you for your reasoned responses, so rare in my experience of humanity. I live in Los Alamos, NM where there are many physicists who go to fundamentalist churches that purport the world to be only 6,000 years old. I do not and never have understood how one part of a human brain can be rational and demand proof of something, yet another part of the same brain believes utterly irrational things that have been handed down for generations: miraculous conception, rising from the dead, miracles, etc. Of course, there are also many scientists in this town who do not go in that goofy direction, it’s just that it’s shocking to me the number who do. What is your take on how these two opposing states can exist in the same mind?

  10. #10 bo moore
    August 14, 2010

    This is a problem that has fascinated me since I was a child. We were Episcopalians, who are light on the “magic” stuff, so I was spared the worst of it. When I encountered people who relied on what to me were bizarre beliefs, I was shocked and confused. At first I thought that they were “just kidding” – the discovery that they were absolutely not kidding devastated me. Talk about being an alien on your home planet!

    My father was a mechanical engineer, and his approach to the subject was fairly mechanical: somebody set reasonable rules for nature, nature is wonderful, which made sense to me. People are a mess, however. “God” made rules for people that no one follows. Conveniently for my father, these patriarchal rules matched his inadequate but simple “Do what I say,” solution to human interaction.

    As a science-oriented girl, these “god” ideas were outlandish, self-contradictory, anti-female and dangerous to “..life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Supernatural explanations were not intellectually satisfying to me, nor accurate, so I rejected them.

    Within the last 20 years or so, aggression on the part of supernatural thinkers has ramped up; I have become fed up with being expected to patronize idiotic belief systems just because the members are paranoid about ANY opposition. This over-the-top hysteria is childish – in fact the whole supernatural mind correlates to a period of childhood when magical thinking prevails; we supposedly grow out of it. Wrong!

    I have no fear of poking my brain into other people’s specialties (I’m a geologist), so I have been investigating the sources of human behavior, which can only arise in the brain; therefore BOTH rational and irrational thought processes must arise there. The fact that these two mutually exclusive types of thinking do exist in the same brain means that they are isolated from each other; an evolutionary “wall” must prevent communication between early and more recent functions in the brain.

    For whatever reason, some of us are less likely to rely on magical connections, which are instinctive, and we favor rational, experience-based explanations, which in nearly all humans require instruction to fluorish. Science DOES contradict instinct: it’s an unhappy collision. Modern societies try to regulate the relationship by external means – through dishonest juggling of content, or more commonly, by annihilating people with competing beliefs.

    Many scientists simply embrace both world views without seeing the contradiction. This isn’t difficult or unexpected since these models are distinct within the brain. When confronted with this, most people try to argue that science and the supernatural can be reconciled – smooshed together in some contrived and artificial way, which is ridiculous. New Age junk, creationism, intelligent design, etc are all examples of this.

    I have been investigating the problem for years and writing about my line of thinking; the evidence that really set me off on this approach came from wading through the millions of documents (well, not nearly that many) in which people have tried to explain human origins and behavior: after thousands of years, none is ‘correct’- no group has won the “fight” to claim ownership of what it is to be human. Every school, faction, religion, political theory, etc. THINKS it has. To me this is a whopping big clue that the source of the problem is the brain itself.

  11. #11 Ken
    August 16, 2010

    If it’s any help in your diagnosis, Andy Schlafly, the brain behind Conservapedia, has been like that for over twenty years, presenting exactly the same bogus arguments back on talk.origins. Exactly the same refutations were given back then, too, which seems to point more to “unmedicated.”

  12. #12 bomoore
    August 17, 2010

    Ken, is it? You don’t state whose comment you are commenting on, if any, but if it is my comment, your conclusion that atheists need to be “medicated” merely points out the problem: rational thinking (new in evolution of the brain) is trumped by an old thought process (instinctive religious-magical thinking), in which emotions, mainly fear, direct our behavior. In this old brain, a supernatural realm, which is not external, but is located in the brain, is projected to exist “out there somewhere” – this is our brain trying to make sense of itself.

    In our early evolution, this illusion was important: humans are born helpless. We need adults to survive, but life was brief. Living in groups helped ensure that one or more adults were available, but this was no guarantee that the next generation would have the skills and information needed to survive.

    Eternal (outside time) “parents” installed in the brain as gods preserve information and provide structure, guidance, and rules. What we call religion is the acting out of this survival package through magic and ritual. Unfortunately, humans have added to, altered, and rewritten this instinctive package over the millenia. Directions that spurred adabtabilty millions of years ago essentially lost in the development of culture, and are not adequate today.

    Each of us experiences the contradictions and conflicts between instinct, culture, and the “new” rational brain
    everyday: stress triggers reversion to emotional and magical behavior.

    What we need in the 21st C. are real, physical solutions. Instead of clinging to the illusion balloon, which pepetuates fear, and divides us from nature, we need to let go; when we do we discover that our feet are on the ground where they belong.

  13. #13 Anonymous
    August 21, 2010

    If it makes anyone feel better, bullet points 26-32 on Conservapædia were made by pranksters from 4chan.org/sci/. (Last two now deleted, unfortunately.) Aschlafly’s state of mind still scares the shit out of me – it’s the stuff of nightmares.

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