align-toparrow-leftarrow-rightbackbellblockcalendarcamerachatcheckchevron-downchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-small-downchevron-small-leftchevron-small-rightchevron-small-upchevron-upcircle-with-crosscrosseditfacebookglobegoogleimagesinstagramlocation-pinmagnifying-glassmailmoremuplabelShape 3 + Rectangle 1outlookpersonplusImported LayersImported LayersImported Layersshieldstartwitteryahoo

The Dallas Examined Life Philosophy Group Message Board › Quantum Mechanics and Philosophy

Quantum Mechanics and Philosophy

Nathaniel
user 10963465
Group Organizer
Mesquite, TX
Post #: 129
Quantum mechanics is some freaky stuff and it certainly does have many philosophical implications. However, the implications that most point to are rarely based on any real knowledge of quantum mechanics. Instead it is based on some wacky woo woo pop science garbage that has been passed around by all manner of crack pots. Because it keeps being brought up I felt it might be necessary to clear up a few things. I should mention that I'm not a physicist, I'm an art major. However, I have actually watched many lectures about quantum mechanics and know enough about science in general to be at least somewhat confident that usually when quantum mechanics comes up in our philosophy discussions, that it is going to mangle the science to the point of stupidity. I encourage anyone who is interested in quantum mechanics to actually do some research and watch some lectures on the subject. Don't rely on garbage like What the Bleep do We Know and their ilk.

All that being said, I'm going to try to clear some of this stuff up as best as I can, and from henceforth, when it the topic comes up at a meetup, I will refer people to this post. It probably won't do a lot of good, but at least it will be a point of reference and might prevent at least some people from spouting nonsense without actually looking into the science.

First things first. What the heck is an observer? A classic experiment in quantum physics (henceforth QP) is the two slit experiment. Most people even casually interested in the field know about this. Through this experiment we see that light behaves like both a particle and a wave. But we also see that the wave-like properties of photons rely on it being able to pass through both slits at the same time. If we set up a detector to determine which slit the photon went through, it destroys the wave pattern. In this way, the observation of the path of the photon puts it in a definite place/time instead of it being in a wave of probabilities. What basically happens is that the wave collapses into only one of the two possible outcomes. Fridge magnet philosophers take this to mean that the universe is in an indeterminate state until we observe it. This isn't just a huge leap of logic, it is a leap into a big steaming pile of absurd garbage.

Now, why is that the case? Firstly, we can blame the scientists a bit for this one. They picked a really bad word to use for this. "Observer" comes with all this semantic baggage that we can't help but incorporate into the definition. However, when the quantum physicist talks about an observer, he doesn't mean a conscious mind looking through an eyeball at a quantum event. In the two slit experiment, the observer is the photon detector. Think about it for a bit. We can't directly observe the QP world, we have to use machines to do this. Let's follow the logic of the person who believe that it is our consciousness which produces the event. The photon is in a wave-like state, the detector makes a measurement and sends data to a computer, the computer interprets that data and outputs the data on the screen for the researcher to view. If the conscious observation of the researcher is what causes the photon to take a definite path, and until then it inhabits all possible paths, then the data sent by the detector, the data received by the computer and even the computations done in that computer must also operate as if all possible paths were taken and only when the researcher looks at his screen does it collapse into one possibility. Anyone with half a brain in their head can see why this makes no sense. To put it simply, an observation in QP refers to an interaction. This has absolutely nothing to do with anyone's mind.

QP invalidates determinism? Seriously, that's not what ANY scientist actually believes, but I keep hearing this come up. The QP world is a strange one. Quantum particles behave in more or less stastical ways which are otherwise random in the way they behave. But if the QP world is random, why isn't everything else random? The thing is, like in the two slit experiment, interaction between particles forces them to be in one definite place/time. A photon whizzing through empty space can behave like a wave completely. But as soon as it bumps into something else, THAT is where it is. The more interactions you get, the more definite the position of that particle becomes. Just like the photon interacting with the detector and having it's probable course collapse to one possibility, the same thing happens when two particles interact. This is why things behave less and less like quantum objects the larger they get. Atoms still behave in a quantum manner, molecules less so, and big chunks of stuff hardly have any quantum features at all. In order to get big stuff to act in a quantum manner, you have to chill them down to near absolute zero and even then, the effect is reduced the larger you get. This is why, while all the electrons in all the atoms in all of the DNA molecules in my cells may be acting in a random way, my DNA isn't being shuffled like a deck of cards by some QP deamon.

Seriously, who ever thought that suggesting the universe was random was a good idea? Not only is it obviously and demonstrably false, but all of science pretty much agrees that the universe is built upon causal determinism. There's not really any disagreement amongst the experts. Yes, the smallest stuff appears to be random. Yes, these random events have an effect on the macro world. However, the macro world operates with very little randomness. To imagine otherwise should produce nothing but wonder that the universe even holds together as it may spontaneously transform to be filled with grape jello, after all, it's all random.

The Many Worlds Hypothesis. This is an interesting one that people get wrong all the time. The problem lies in the fact that people take the analogy literally without realizing the absurdity. The analogy states that as I go through my life, I will be confronted with a series of choices. I seem to have made only one choice at each of these junctures. However, the many world's hypothesis suggests that perhaps I took all possible choices. There are an infinite number of such choices at every moment in my life. I imagine that if that were true, that there would be an infinite number of worlds where I choose to smash my face into my keyboard until the stupidity of that idea is erased from my mind... but not in this one. The problem is that this is an analogy, not the reality of the hypothesis. It is talking about the quantum world, not the macro world. It applies to the photon moving through the two slits, but not to what direction I'm going to turn at a given intersection on my way to the next meetup. If the fridge magnet philosopher's vision of many worlds were true, then statistically they would be highly unlikely to make to to meetup as there are an infinite number of worlds where they chose the wrong way there and relatively few where they arrived at the correct location on time.

These are the biggest things I hear people get terribly wrong. There's a lot of snark in the above comments, but in my opinion these beliefs NEED to be ridiculed. I'm not calling anyone an idiot, I know these people are smart and educated. That is why I get so frustrated, I know they're capable of much more. Heck, even just reading the Wikipedia article on QP would clear a lot up.
Rowdy
rowdy.vinson
Plano, TX
Post #: 56
As an avid reader of everything I can understand about QP (without holding an advanced degree) I can say that this is the best write-up I've seen which tries to end the ignorance spread by some "philosophers". Thank you for the time you spent to get this written up, and for the obvious skill you have for keeping it clear.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 306
You're definitely right that there are a lot of silly opinions based on very limited if not confused knowledge of QP. A prime example of this is in the film "What the Bleep Do We Know?," which, other than Goswami, who's a quantum physicist, seemed to be comprised of charlatans and hucksters. Even Goswami has extremely unorthodox opinions.

I was an art major as well and don't claim to know very much about QP. I do think, however, from what I have read, that the experimental data of QP is not always self-interpreting, and that in at least some areas, the meaning and nature of QP is still up for debate. Such issues, as far as I understand, cannot be settled solely through appeal to the data but must be settled through metaphysical decision, which, although constrained by the data, cannot be coerced by it. In other words, the experimental results can render extremely implausible the silly stuff, the "What the Bleep" type opinions, but cannot usually settle on one of two or more equally non-silly alternatives.

QP invalidates determinism.
"What the Bleep" folks may say this, but no actual philosopher that I am aware of does. Some of them think that QP leaves open the question of causal closure, which is very different from claiming to invalidate determinism.
Gregg
gregglll
Lewisville, TX
Post #: 106
Quantum mechanics is some freaky stuff and it certainly does have many philosophical implications. However, the implications that most point to are rarely based on any real knowledge of quantum mechanics. Instead it is based on some wacky woo woo pop science garbage that has been passed around by all manner of crack pots. Because it keeps being brought up I felt it might be necessary to clear up a few things. I should mention that I'm not a physicist, I'm an art major. However, I have actually watched many lectures about quantum mechanics and know enough about science in general to be at least somewhat confident that usually when quantum mechanics comes up in our philosophy discussions, that it is going to mangle the science to the point of stupidity. I encourage anyone who is interested in quantum mechanics to actually do some research and watch some lectures on the subject. Don't rely on garbage like What the Bleep do We Know and their ilk.

All that being said, I'm going to try to clear some of this stuff up as best as I can, and from henceforth, when it the topic comes up at a meetup, I will refer people to this post. It probably won't do a lot of good, but at least it will be a point of reference and might prevent at least some people from spouting nonsense without actually looking into the science.

First things first. What the heck is an observer? A classic experiment in quantum physics (henceforth QP) is the two slit experiment. Most people even casually interested in the field know about this. Through this experiment we see that light behaves like both a particle and a wave. But we also see that the wave-like properties of photons rely on it being able to pass through both slits at the same time. If we set up a detector to determine which slit the photon went through, it destroys the wave pattern. In this way, the observation of the path of the photon puts it in a definite place/time instead of it being in a wave of probabilities. What basically happens is that the wave collapses into only one of the two possible outcomes. Fridge magnet philosophers take this to mean that the universe is in an indeterminate state until we observe it. This isn't just a huge leap of logic, it is a leap into a big steaming pile of absurd garbage.

Now, why is that the case? Firstly, we can blame the scientists a bit for this one. They picked a really bad word to use for this. "Observer" comes with all this semantic baggage that we can't help but incorporate into the definition. However, when the quantum physicist talks about an observer, he doesn't mean a conscious mind looking through an eyeball at a quantum event. In the two slit experiment, the observer is the photon detector. Think about it for a bit. We can't directly observe the QP world, we have to use machines to do this. Let's follow the logic of the person who believe that it is our consciousness which produces the event. The photon is in a wave-like state, the detector makes a measurement and sends data to a computer, the computer interprets that data and outputs the data on the screen for the researcher to view. If the conscious observation of the researcher is what causes the photon to take a definite path, and until then it inhabits all possible paths, then the data sent by the detector, the data received by the computer and even the computations done in that computer must also operate as if all possible paths were taken and only when the researcher looks at his screen does it collapse into one possibility. Anyone with half a brain in their head can see why this makes no sense. To put it simply, an observation in QP refers to an interaction. This has absolutely nothing to do with anyone's mind.

QP invalidates determinism? Seriously, that's not what ANY scientist actually believes, but I keep hearing this come up. The QP world is a strange one. Quantum particles behave in more or less stastical ways which are otherwise random in the way they behave. But if the QP world is random, why isn't everything else random? The thing is, like in the two slit experiment, interaction between particles forces them to be in one definite place/time. A photon whizzing through empty space can behave like a wave completely. But as soon as it bumps into something else, THAT is where it is. The more interactions you get, the more definite the position of that particle becomes. Just like the photon interacting with the detector and having it's probable course collapse to one possibility, the same thing happens when two particles interact. This is why things behave less and less like quantum objects the larger they get. Atoms still behave in a quantum manner, molecules less so, and big chunks of stuff hardly have any quantum features at all. In order to get big stuff to act in a quantum manner, you have to chill them down to near absolute zero and even then, the effect is reduced the larger you get. This is why, while all the electrons in all the atoms in all of the DNA molecules in my cells may be acting in a random way, my DNA isn't being shuffled like a deck of cards by some QP deamon.

Seriously, who ever thought that suggesting the universe was random was a good idea? Not only is it obviously and demonstrably false, but all of science pretty much agrees that the universe is built upon causal determinism. There's not really any disagreement amongst the experts. Yes, the smallest stuff appears to be random. Yes, these random events have an effect on the macro world. However, the macro world operates with very little randomness. To imagine otherwise should produce nothing but wonder that the universe even holds together as it may spontaneously transform to be filled with grape jello, after all, it's all random.….


Thanks for your concise description of pitfalls in describing QP. In addition to those citing the film, "What the Bleep do we Know", these pitfalls are also very commonly presented when our group discusses whether there is such a thing as "objective truth".
Powered by mvnForum

People in this
Meetup are also in:

Sign up

Meetup members, Log in

By clicking "Sign up" or "Sign up using Facebook", you confirm that you accept our Terms of Service & Privacy Policy