QBism, Bohr, and the quantum omelette tossed by de Ronde

New paper posted [download PDF]

Abstract: In his recent paper “QBism, FAPP and the Quantum Omelette” [1608.00548v1] de Ronde makes a variety of questionable claims concerning QBism, Bohr, and the present author’s critical appraisal of QBism [1409.3312v1]. These claims are examined. Subsequently an outline is presented of what one might see if one looks into the quantum domain through the window provided by the quantum-mechanical correlations between outcome-indicating events in the classical domain.

Quantum Mechanics and Experience

My paper “Quantum Mechanics and Experience” has been uploaded to the arXiv [abstract, PDF]. It’s a substantially revised / largely rewritten version of “First-Person Plural Quantum Mechanics,” which was uploaded in October 2014. Here is the abstract:

Whether we want to make sense of the presence of consciousness in a seemingly material world or understand the role (if any) that consciousness plays in the fundamental theoretical framework of contemporary physics, it is imperative that we distinguish between two concepts of reality: an epistemically inaccessible transcendental reality and an empirical reality experienced and objectified by us. After a summary of Bohr’s views and their relation to Kant’s theory of science, two fruitless lines of attack on the measurement problem are discussed: the way of the ψ-ontologist and the way of the QBist. In the remainder of the paper the following results are obtained. (i) Because the testable correlations between outcomes of measurements of macroscopic positions are consistent with both the classical and the quantum laws, there is no conflict between the superposition principle and the existence of measurement outcomes. (ii) Intrinsically, each fundamental particle is numerically identical with every other fundamental particle. What presents itself here and now with these properties and what presents itself there and then with those properties is one and the same entity, herein called “Being.” (iii)  The distinction between a classical domain and a quantum domain is essentially a distinction between the manifested world and its manifestation. By entering into reflexive spatial relations, Being gives rise to (a) what looks like a multiplicity of relata if the reflexive quality of the relations is ignored, and (b) what looks like a substantial expanse if the spatial quality of the relations is reified. (iv) The reason why quantum mechanics is a calculus of correlations between measurement outcomes is that it concerns the progressive realization of distinguishable objects and distinguishable regions of space. (v) The key to the relation between quantum mechanics and experience is that Being does not simply manifest the world; Being manifests the world to itself. It is at once the single substance by which the world exists and the ultimate self or subject for which it exists. The question how we are related to this ultimate self or subject is discussed.

The Quantum Mechanics of Being and Its Manifestation

My article “The Quantum Mechanics of Being and Its Manifestation” has been published at Cosmology.com (Volume 24, April 2nd, 2016). Here is the link to the article, and here is the abstract:

How can quantum mechanics be (i) the fundamental theoretical framework of contemporary physics and (ii) a probability calculus that presupposes the events to which, and on the basis of which, it assigns probabilities? The question is answered without invoking knowledge or observers, by interpreting the necessary distinction between two kinds of physical quantities – unconditionally definite quantities and quantities that have values only if they are measured – as a distinction between the manifested world and its manifestation.

There also is an extended version containing an Appendix which the published version lacks. While the published paper touches on various ways in which quantum mechanics does not have to do with consciousness, this Appendix concerns what quantum mechanics has to do with consciousness. The extended version is available here.

Quantum mechanics in a new light

My paper “Quantum mechanics in a new light” has been published online in Foundations of Science (DOI 10.1007/s10699-016-9487-6 ). The final publication is available from Springer. The manuscript can be downloaded here.

Abstract: Although the present paper looks upon the formal apparatus of quantum mechanics as a calculus of correlations, it goes beyond a purely operationalist interpretation. Having established the consistency of the correlations with the existence of their correlata (measurement outcomes), and having justified the distinction between a domain in which outcome-indicating events occur and a domain whose properties only exist if their existence is indicated by such events, it explains the difference between the two domains as essentially the difference between the manifested world and its manifestation. A single, intrinsically undifferentiated Being manifests the macroworld by entering into reflexive spatial relations. This atemporal process implies a new kind of causality and sheds new light on the mysterious nonlocality of quantum mechanics. Unlike other realist interpretations, which proceed from an evolving-states formulation, the present interpretation proceeds from Feynman’s formulation of the theory, and it introduces a new interpretive principle, replacing the collapse postulate and the eigenvalue–eigenstate link of evolving-states formulations. Applied to alternatives involving distinctions between regions of space, this principle implies that the spatiotemporal differentiation of the physical world is incomplete. Applied to alternatives involving distinctions between things, it warrants the claim that, intrinsically, all fundamental particles are identical in the strong sense of numerical identical. They are the aforementioned intrinsically undifferentiated Being, which manifests the macroworld by entering into reflexive spatial relations.

Quantum mechanics and the manifestation of the world

My paper “Quantum mechanics and the manifestation of the world” has been published in Quantum Studies: Mathematics and Foundations 1 (3–4), pages 195–202, DOI 10.1007/s40509-014-0017-3. You can download it from Springer (for free) via this link.

An interesting new journal. In the preface to the second issue of Quantum Studies: Mathematics and Foundations the editors wrote:

After a very successful recent launch of this journal with the first issue, we continue to hope that this journal provides a home for those who think there are new worlds to be discovered by looking deeply into quantum mechanics. Our advice is: “Think, reconsider, explore, create deep questions, use paradoxes as a tool for understanding, and finally: publish in this journal!”

The reviewer of my paper wrote that it “describes a unique and refreshingly different view of quantum theory” — something one doesn’t get to hear very often. The paper is based on an invited talk at the Berge Fest, a conference celebrating the 60th birthday of Berge Englert (Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore, 22–25 April 2014).

Conference venue
The Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium at the National University of Singapore, where the conference was held.

The talk in turn was based on my paper “Manifesting the Quantum World”, which was published in Foundations of Physics 44 (6), 641–677, DOI 10.1007/s10701-014-9803-3. You can get the preprint here.

At the European Congress of the Theosophical Society in Paris

Participants at the 37th European Congress of the Theosophical Society
Quantum physics: a tale of two world views — click to watch or download
Evolution of Consciousness: an Indian Perspective — click to watch or download

You can also download the PDFs: First Second

Notes on an Important Book — Another 5-Star Review

Posted by Pete J at Amazon.com on (remember remember) the 5th of November:

For anyone interested in how mysticism can be connected up with physics in a practical way, to the benefit of physics, and without any beating around the bush, this book may be a godsend.

The mathematics of quantum mechanics is well beyond the comprehension of most people and for the most part it goes straight over my head. This text book, which seems to be a thorough introduction to this mathematics, complete with challenging exercises, is therefore unlikely to become a popular best-seller. It is also expensive, having the worst word-to-price ratio of any book I’ve ever bought. However, I’m glad I bought it. It is possible even for the non-mathematician to see at least how the various mathematical approaches fit together and why they are needed, while the real heart of the book is the interpretation it places on the mathematics and this is explained economically and in plain English.

Quantum theory is astonishingly successful despite the utter lunacy of its mathematics, but it rules out any hope of our ever being able to conceive of what it describes by the use of everyday ‘classical’ concepts. We don’t have any other kind of concepts, so we cannot conceive of what it describes. Whatever it describes would have to be vastly more weird and wonderful than anything we observe in our everyday world. So what are we to do? Must we accept that the way have to describe Nature must always remain incomprehensible to us?

While explaining why interpretations of quantum mechanics that try to accommodate classical intuitions are impossible, rendering futile any hope of creating a picture in our heads of what lies behind the mathematics, Mohrhoff quotes Dennis Diecks, Professor of the Foundations and Philosophy of the Natural Sciences at Utrecht University.

“However, this is a negative result that only provides a starting-point for what really has to be done: something conceptually new has to be found, different from what we are familiar with. It is clear that this constructive task is a particularly difficult one, in which huge barriers (partly of a psychological nature) have to be overcome.”

Mohrhoff continues, ‘Something conceptually new has been found, and it is presented in this book.’ What is presented is a big idea. ‘What quantum mechanics is trying to tell us’, says Mohrhoff, ‘is that reality is structured from the top down.’ As something to think about this is probably worth the price of the book. It seems possible that as stated this is a one-sided view and that there are two equal and opposite ways of looking at this structure, as might seem more typical for the world-view of the Upanishads, but it hardly matters. What matters is that we can see from The World According to Quantum Mechanics that the ancient psychological, metaphysical and cosmological doctrine endorsed by Sri Aurobindo and his group would dove-tail perfectly with the mathematics of quantum mechanics and allow physics to be reconciled with metaphysics and mysticism.

The book is a vindication of Erwin Schrodinger, who concluded early on that the new physics he was helping to invent implied the truth of the advaita doctrine. With its publication it may not be unreasonable to think that for theoretical physics a paradigm shift may be approaching of even greater magnitude than quantum mechanics.

No need to make the world stranger than it is

Another review at Amazon.com, by Adrian Icazuriaga:

For those who have been following Mohrhoff’s revealing ideas during the last decade (the so called “Pondicherry Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics”), this book adds a few very important points to what is already one of the most comprehensive and consistent interpretations of the fundamental laws of physics that anyone has put forward up to the present date.

He obviously didn’t start this journey one fortunate Monday morning. He is following the steps of people like Bohr, Peres, Mermin and many other physicists who have contributed greatly to one and the same philosophical project: the de-reification of quantum-mechanical correlation laws, and the enormous implications that this carries for our understanding of physical reality.

This book is probably the best synthesis of that long-standing project. Its merit not only lies in taking a few isolated ideas about QM’s probability algorithms and integrate them into an overall consistent view, which would be a huge achievement in itself, but first and foremost, to explain classical mechanics and classical conservation laws as part of (in the limit of) that same fuzzy state of affairs.

In this way, he very cleverly differentiates between what an equation of continuity says and what a local conservation law is, basically “a feature of our calculational tools”. Key concepts like energy and momentum are introduced as underpinning the homogeneity of time and space respectively, instead of being just symbols in an abstract equation. On the other hand, the deceptive idea of force, deeply entrenched in our perception of a physical world, is redefined in a way that permits us to make sense of the Lorentz force law and the gravitational force as not being a mediating agent between causes and effects.

This is a profound, exhaustive and very well organized textbook, which should be of interest to anyone with a previous background in physics or, even better, to anyone who has not yet been contaminated by the mainstream habits and tricks of philosophy of science and crash undergraduate courses in QM. You won’t find here any of the fancy stuff that philosophers like to talk about (backwards causation, many minds, many worlds and many papers), but it will give you enough substance and plenty of material to think about for the next ten or twenty years. At the very least, it will give you the basic tools to approach any other interpretational strategy with the necessary dose of scepticism and awareness. As the author correctly stresses, there is “no need to make the world stranger than it is”.

The style is not as incisive and confrontational as most of Mohrhoff’s shorter works, which is a bit of a disappointment, but understandable giving that this book is aimed at the general public. In years to come, “The World According to Quantum Mechanics” will be taken for what it is: a serious and courageous challenge to our fundamental ideas about the fabric of space and matter.

From Science to Google News

Robert McHenry, former editor of Encyclopædia Britannica has written this excellent piece for American.com.

One of the major reasons that science is held in low repute among portions of the citizenry is that it has too often allowed itself to become entangled with public relations. The PR connection has nothing to do with peer review, that essential element in the scientific method. The PR connection has to do with institutional politics, funding, and personal ambition.

What happens is this:

1. Some scientists publish a report of their work.

2. An alert PR guy who works for the university or institute notices some potentially hype-able words in the report.

3. He writes up a release, under the impression that he is Arthur C. Clarke.

4. J[ournalism]-school grads at a number of media outlets, whose science education ended in 8th grade, pick up the release, change three words to make it their own, and it is published to an unsuspecting public.

5. The unsuspecting public, which is not as dumb as the PR guy believes, dismisses the story as bushwah and blames the scientists.

Comment by Yours Truly: Where quantum mechanics is concerned, the progression usually stops at item 4, and the physicists are not blamed, in spite of their complicity in projecting the myth that physicists have exclusive access to “ultimate truth”, which jams the public’s BS meter.

Here is a dandy example. The Journal of the American Chemical Society has recently published a paper titled “Evidence for the Likely Origin of Homochirality in Amino Acids, Sugars, and Nucleosides on Prebiotic Earth.” No non-chemist would get beyond the seventh word.

Here’s what the original paper is about. (I am no chemist, but among the formulae and jargon there are patches of intelligible English. I welcome anyone to correct my interpretation.) Many of the compounds that make up organic life exist in mirror-image forms. This is called chirality. So, amino acids, sugars, and other things can have right-handed (D) or left-handed (L) forms. On Earth, almost all living creatures incorporate L amino acids and D sugars. Since, purely as a chemical matter, either form is equally probable, the question arises, why is Earth’s life so strongly biased? We are immediately in the realm of conjecture. Of course, this is fine for science, which begins in “maybe” and proceeds by way of evidence to “probably.”

What is the evidence? Well, there isn’t much, really. Some meteorites found in Australia contained compounds with a slight bias in favor of what is found on Earth. Why might that be? Well, it has been shown that circularly polarized light of just the right directionality and wavelength can produce such a bias. And so the author of the paper tells us:

If there was also [yet undetected] right circularly polarized light with energy in the uv or higher irradiating the asteroid belt when the amino acids were present on a particle that later came to Earth, this could account for the small excesses of the L anantiomers seen in the α-methyl amino acids.

Or not. The key words in that sentence are “if” and “could.” It’s pure speculation, with no foreseeable possibility of being confirmed or disconfirmed. Again, this is not a bad thing in science. Speculation like this points out areas for active investigation.

The author of the paper concludes with a fairly obvious guess: If the L-D arrangement on Earth is the product of chance (such as the presence of circularly polarized light of just the right sort), then elsewhere in the universe there might be life based on a D-L arrangement. Or, as he puts it:

An implication from this work is that elsewhere in the universe there could be life forms based on D amino acids and L sugars, depending on the chirality of circular polarized light in that sector of the universe or whatever other process operated to favor the L α-methyl amino acids in the meteorites that have landed on Earth.

That’s it. That’s the whole substance of the paper. Straight-ahead chemistry, exploring a possible explanation for an observed phenomenon and drawing out one tentative prediction. “Showing that it could have happened this way is not the same as showing that it did,” the author most properly concedes. He should have quit while he was ahead. What imp of the perverse induced him to add two more sentences?

Such life forms could well be advanced versions of dinosaurs, if mammals did not have the good fortune to have the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroidal collision, as on Earth. We would be better off not meeting them.

Maybe the PR guy talked him into it. Maybe he wrote that bumf after a celebratory lunch. Maybe he lost an election bet. Who knows? But he provided all that a hungry PR guy needed. The ACS press release begins thus:

Could “advanced” dinosaurs rule other planets? New scientific research raises the possibility that advanced versions of T. rex and other dinosaurs — monstrous creatures with the intelligence and cunning of humans — may be the life forms that evolved on other planets in the universe.

Cool, no? Stop the presses! Or cue the Internet. A website called TG Daily (which provides “edgy, compelling, and independent news” to “mock, tease, tempt, and tantalize our readers”) upped the ante by posting a piece headed:

Claim: Advanced dinosaurs may rule other planets

What began as a throwaway closer and became a “possibility” is now a “claim.” The piece concludes with a nostalgic look back at a popular episode of “Star Trek: Voyager,” complete with a video clip.

The piece then got picked up by Discovery News online—which is to science roughly as were my old Tom Swift books—with an “analysis” under the headline:

Do Intelligent Dinosaurs Really Rule Alien Worlds?

dinosSee the trick? PR triggers tabloid treatment, which then is transformed into respectable journalism through the pretense of questioning the premise. Is it really true, or is The Man trying to fool us again? Investigative reporter on the case.

FoxNews.com jumped into the game next with another maybe yes/maybe no piece in which it is asserted that “the rather outlandish prospect of alien—not terrestrial—dinosaur life is explored” in the paper.


Finally, the “intelligent agent” at Google News, probably abetted by a human secretly in the employ of Ming the Merciless, fed this stuff to the great information-seeking public. The downside, as far as ordinary citizens are concerned, is that a piece of journeyman work was turned into patently junk science.