Sunday, 27 September 2015

Quantum weep: "Like the scent of burnt toast...."

Physics is hard.

And that difficulty associated with physics leads to a general lack of understanding amongst a lot of people. And if we're talking about quantum physics you can amplify this as much of the theory is non-intuitive, even illogical. It isn't deterministic, its probabilistic meaning we can perform the same experiment twice in exactly the same conditions... and the results can be different. That flies in the face of much of the scientific method. Einstein, for one hated the idea that the universe maybe governed by probability. It led to one of his most famous quotes "God does not play dice". Add to this quantum theory isn't complete, there are varying interpretations, and where there is ambiguity, superstition can be squeezed in.

To someone who has discovered the elegance and beauty of physics, the general lack of understanding among others can be saddening*.

Now on to something that ANGERS those who have actually put in the time and tremendous effort it takes to study physics. People exploiting the general public's ignorance of physics to support supernatural bullshit. All physicists have been through the same things. They learnt advanced calculus, polynomials and quadratics and binomial theorem. They learned to differentiate and integrate in their sleep.  They've sat horrible exams. They've stayed up until two or three in the morning agonising over a problem they just can't quite define. These people have skipped all that.

Let me be clear, and I say this in no uncertain terms....



Let's look at a few common claims then a specific one.

Here's a comment left on a recent post on site I visit quite often. In the interest of fairness I won't say where or who posted it. It just happens to be quite a good example of some of the claims that are used to connect the paranormal and quantum physics.

Wow, that's a lot of  quantum related words thrown about with, unfortunately, very little understanding behind them.

To be fair, Chris is just repeating common claims here, he has likely obtained them from another source and just accepted to be true, he's not really passing himself off as an expert, but he is circulating ignorance.  Shame of him for not doing further research, but why would he? He has the answer he wants already.

First of all there is no "Law of observation". What I think Chris is referring to here is the observer effect. As in the very act of observing a physical process changes the outcome of that process. Now if you think of that in everyday terms, or the macroscopic world, that concept would be pretty stunning. Imagine if observing an oak tree grow caused to grow differently. Or change the outcome of a chemical reaction...

One might reasonably conclude that something in the act of viewing, perhaps consciousness itself. has effected that process. That's what Chris has concluded, but here is the problem with that reasoning:

The observer effect as Chris seems to mean is seen only quantum and particle physics (the observer effect also applies in thermodynamics and electronics, in both cases its a direct effect of the instruments). Taking particle physics as an example, to observe an electron its necessary to bombard the electron with photons. The electron must interact with the photon, which naturally changes its state as the energy state of system depends on the energy of individual electrons, which changes as a result of... photon emission and absorption.  Absorption of photons of particular energies moves an electron from its ground state to a corresponding excited state, emission moves it from an excited state to a lower excited state or a ground state,

Thus act of observing a quantum state, defined by observables such as energy, position and momentum, has changed that state, thus it changes all possible future states.

There are many interpretations of the phenomena described. One thing is clear:

Consciousness isn't a factor.

To understand why see don't see these effects in the macroscopic world we have evolved to comprehend, consider this: One wouldn't expect the influx of photons to effect an oak tree because statistically we are talking about a lot of atoms, a lot of electrons and a huuuuuge amount of photons here: the amount of absorbed photons is balanced by the amount emitted by electrons returning to ground state or lower excited states via a process known as spontaneous emission.

Another concept that Chris touches on is entanglement. Again this is a phenomena not seen on a macroscopic level, and one that Chris introduces with an immediate and fatal misunderstanding. Entanglement doesn't show that ALL THINGS are connected. Pairs or groups of particles are entangled when they are created via the same process. You can't extrapolate this to all things!

The physical properties of particles that are entangled are spin, polarisation, position and momentum. The measurement of these properties in one of a pair of particles created in the same process causes is the immediate adoption of converse values in its partner.... even if its on the other side of the universe.

This was an immediate problem for physicists such as Einstein, who saw this as a violation of the universe's set speed limit of c the speed of light and of the theory of general relativity, information shouldn't be able to travel instantaneously. Its an area of intense research and there is yet to be a solid explanation for the phenomena, but there are a lot hypothesis that go some way to doing just that. Did Einstein call this "spooky"? Kind of. He actually referred to it as "spooky action at a distance" the word "spooky" here isn't referring to anything supernatural, and the instantaneous transfer of information we are talking about isn't information in a classic sense. For instance it isn't useful, you couldn't use it to pass a message for example. Certainly not from the dead via a medium, or from an owner to a dog letting them know they are heading home.

At least Chris showed some understanding of what he's talking about. He HAS done some reading. Its what he has been reading that is the problem.

Maybe its been tripe like "The Quantum Theory of ghosts"

What?  What does that even mean? I Googled it to find out. Guess how many exact results I found.... one. This page. Its word stew. Thrown together because seems intelligent, it isn't. Its fucking nonsense. Let's just say I accept the phrase means something, anything, why would a strong emotion impact on the physical properties of the universe beyond the brain of the person in the midst of the emotion and any action they may take? We're asked to make two massive assumptions here based on nothing. That consciousness extends beyond the brain and can effect the universe at large.

"Quantum tapestry of the universe" again Googled it. One exact result. It was the home page of MIT.... not really it was this goon again. So ghosts are created when the observer's emotions.... wait a second... the observer CREATES the ghost? Then what are they "observing" exactly? The ghost they haven't created yet? Surely that violates causality. Effect can't precede cause. The ghost can't be there to be observed if the observer hasn't observed it yet... GAH. I can't believe I even had to just type that shit.

AND I'll just realised that whoever Googles  "Quantum tapestry of the universe" and  "subatomic weave of the universe" will now get this blog as well as the Quantum Theory of ghosts. Hello I'm not a quantum woo... you can go now future Googler....WAIT! What's the future like? No don't tell me...

Anyway now they're gone now, back to the bullshit...

 Negative emotions many times more likely to cause those effects... any evidence for that? Considering that you are unable to show any emotion has any effect... I can just dismiss this out of hand can't I? After all, what can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed just as easily. Also, the universe doesn't have "spin" in the sense used when when we discuss particles. Dismiss that as well then.

This just goes on and on. Claim after claim. Dividing ghosts into categories, sorting which emotions make the biggest indents.  No substance at all, certainly no evidence, no peer reviewed papers. Because this isn't science... none of it.

Its superstition dressed as science. 

Sorry Chris, you seem like a nice chap, but there isn't a damned thing behind any of the words you sprayed out like silly string that suggests that Auntie Mildred can communicate from the great beyond. Entangled particles and talking to the dead: does not compute.

And sorry nutter who wrote a load of gubbins about ghosts... you can't just make up phrases and make a ton of claims without so much as a jot of evidence.

There's no way I could've been exhaustive here, there's so many people out there linking quantum physics to the paranormal based on nothing but ignorance, it just wouldn't be possible. I've tried to cover some general and some specific claims. In the next part I look at another specific claim and someone who is claiming to be an expert on Quantum physics. Someone who prepared to lie to obfuscate the truth to an extraordinary level.

* As a side note: What we need to resolve this lack of understanding is better physics education, part of the problem in England for example, is that many of the teachers actively teaching physics to our children aren't qualified in it. I'm sure most do an adequate job, good even, but the most neglected aspect of teaching is imparting passion. How do you do that if you never had that passion in the subject yourself? Its a fault not of any individual, but of the system that doesn't offer adequate reward for one of society's most vital roles.

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