What we're about
This is a meet-up for people from all walks of life, professions, disciplines, interests, arts, etc, who want to master the fundamentals of quantum mechanics (or help others do the same) in a laid back welcoming setting, and then speculate together about the implications of the quantum mechanical world view to our field of interest, whether it’s science or art, business or pleasure. If you are feeling a lack of quantum in your life, or if you’ve caught the quantum bug already, please join us and we can set this city on fire. Warning: may include math, but only the good kind.
Here’s a more extended blurb:
If you've tried to learn anything about modern physics aka quantum mechanics, about concepts like superposition, entanglement, and complementarity, if you've seen headlines about the crazy quantum computers which governments and tech companies are throwing billions at, about quantum computers breaking current cryptography while providing at the same time for perfect (?!) encryption, the Chinese teleporting photons to a satellite orbiting the earth, if you've encountered philosophers struggling to wrap their minds around what quantum physics is saying about reality and dealt with the nonsense that subsequently came out of their mouths—beautiful perhaps, but crazy, right?—or just bizarre robotic technical jargon that removes all mystery without replacing it with genuine understanding—whether these gurus appealed to Schrodinger-style Vedic Hinduism, building giant monuments to the Unified Field Theory out in the corn fields of Iowa (Maharishi University of Management and Yogic Flying lol), or to a friendly variant of the 1960's American crypto-Buddhism of a practicing experimentalist, or QM IS NOT PHILOSOPHY AND IS JUST A SERIES OF CALCULATIONS SHUT UP, or WHO ARE YOU TO QUESTION GOD'S MATH BY APPLYING YOUR REASON AND EXPERIENCE TO IT ARE YOU AS SMART AS VON NEUMANN I HAVE A DEGREE, or they said something like, Oh yeah I got a C in that class too much calculus and complex numbers, or QM means everything's unreal or an illusion or subjective or nothing really matters or everything matters and anything possible happens in this most infinite of all giant multiverses and everything is connected which maybe means nothing is connected but a particle is a wave and it goes through both slits except when you look at it like schrodingers cat which is both dead and alive and there’s spooky action at a distance which einstein didn’t like and uh...
You tried to find art that deals with it, because artists supposedly know how to communicate. And there were a lot of novels that took place from people's subjective points of view, and weird fragmented things, like cubism where you're gluing together a "representation" of an object from the object seen from incompatible viewpoints... Still it didn't make sense. All this quantum bullshit. In the end, you're born alone and you die alone, right? And what's between man and his god is private information! And things that aren't touching are absolutely separate from each other, because A has to be touching B touching C RIGHT NOW for them to be "together" in ANY sense! And two prisoners in separate cells will always betray each other because of the infinite chain of suspicion that happens whenever two completely separate beings try to trust each other in a world which consists of atoms ricocheting around in a void, vagrant disjoint souls infinitely separate from each other as from the absent god who watches the tragedy unfold in all its aspects from beyond the world with perfect clarity, and therefore: irony, pathos. And because god knows we can’t trust each other, he invented hell, so you’ll think twice before snitching. Meanwhile on fallen earth, life is a competition, and yeah, like we all WANT to be a big happy family, but daddy’s gotta do the dirty business because LIFE JUST ISN'T LIKE THAT, and in the end, god judges you for your deeds and your deeds alone, but secretly probably neither god nor hell exist in this worst of all possible worlds since the key to the gate of heaven is dwelling in the despair of the moment when jesus thought his father abandoned him, and so, I’LL CLEAR THE LAND OF THE INHABITANTS MYSELF SO MY CHILDREN WON’T HAVE BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS. The bottom line: facing the chaos of a thousand jumbling atoms, an anonymous herd stretching in all directions who don’t even realize their EXISTENTIAL APOSTASY, the conclusion is inevitable: WE MUST BE RUTHLESS IN OUR GOVERNANCE OF THE ATOMIC HERD because their natural state is to fall apart in rebellion, since their natural state is being separate and rebellious, and this is precisely why god left this world, because of our sins, and so, to repay our debt in blood to god, we require the ULTIMATE CAPITALIST/FASCIST STATE brought about by GREAT SHEPHERD MEN WHO ARE SMART AND TOTALLY DESERVE IT AND WHOM WE SHOULD ALL WORSHIP BECAUSE THEY ARE GOING TO PUNISH US FOR OUR OWN GOOD to mediate all relationships with money so that by force of self-reliance and self-interest the economy will steer SPACESHIP EARTH THROUGH THE TERRIFYING VOID OF SEPARATENESS. Otherwise: SOCIETY WILL FALL APART BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE DUMB AND LAZY AND JUST WANT TO SIT ON THEIR COUCH ALL DAY AND DO DRUGS. Duh! I grew up in America, that’s just common sense. After all, if we suddenly start thinking of A and B still being “together” when they aren’t touching, if our souls can touch, if we can share the same soul, if human beings become something greater than their parts when they get together, with each other and with the world around us, if we can, in fact, with full justification, have faith in each other across spatio-temporal distances, so that faith actually *means* something, and isn’t just privately glorying in the impossibility of beliving in anything, if we accept the SYSTEMATIC EXPERIMENTAL CONFIRMATION of things like superposition (when two physical possibilities can coexist like two notes in a musical chord), entanglement (when absolutely random measurement results obtained in two spatio-temporally separate places always agree with each other in a way that (seemingly impossibly) depends on the free and independent choices of which measurements to make, separately, in the two places), and complementarity (when two given “properties” of an object, like having a position and having a momentum, can’t be simultaneously measured by anyone, even in principle, or can only be simultaneously measured up to a point), then WHAT IS EVEN REAL ANY MORE AKA WHERE DOES THE LET’S ALL HOLD HANDS HIPPIE BULLSHIT END? ESP, TELEPATHY, TELEKENESIS, TELEPORTATION, MIND CONTROL, GHOSTS, ASTRAL PROJECTIONS, ANCIENT ALIENS, ALL MANNER OF BLESSINGS AND CURSES, BINDING SPELLS, MAGIC AND PROPHECY, THE PAGAN GODS AND IDOLS OF OLD—AND ME! I AM A GOD AND ALL THIS IS MY DREAM! I am a God and all this is my dream. And suddenly, you’re alone again in the terrifying void. So back and forth you go, oscillating between two kinds of separateness: the separateness of being an atom, and the separateness of being a god. Without being able to find a middle ground between them.
The reason you can’t find the middle ground is that you don't understand the math of quantum mechanics. The math of quantum mechanics will teach you to find the stillness of the middle path.
Quantum mechanics is more than a theory of physics. To quote Scott Aaronson, QM is like the operating system that our theories of the world run on. It’s a general framework for reasoning about the way things evolve, combine, separate, and emerge, that makes different mathematical assumptions about separateness, and about the relationships between parts and wholes, than those which were “traditionally” or “classically” understood as possible in reality. The assumption had been: a whole can’t tell you more information than you can get from asking each of its parts separately. In QM, a whole can tell you more than its parts, but there is a big restriction! By extracting information from the whole, you become a part of it, and that conditions what you observe. Furthermore, because of another assumption—that information cannot be transmitted between A and B faster than the speed of light—QM ends up being highly constraining, even as it allows us to do what formerly would have been ruled out as simply impossible a priori. The math—the constraints demanded by QM—will give your brain the mental machinery necessary to actually conceive of THE REAL WORLD of entangled observers agreeing transubjectively on the results of measurements in accordance with the way their histories of interaction have tangled them up in togetherness, stratifying reality from the smallest to the largest scale, so that there is all sorts of intermediate structure between atom and god that you can rely upon, a middle place for you to relax in, something between the NIGHTMARE of ATOMS IN A VOID and the FANTASY of ALL THIS IS A DREAM. To quote Alexander Pope, a human being’s proper place is in the middle. But to take the middle path, you have to take it. You can’t just think about taking it. You have to transform yourself because otherwise you won’t be able to imagine it. I mean, that is, if you want to. If it’s a problem for you. If you’re oscillating between god and atom, for example. There are a thousand ways to take the middle path, and most of them don’t involve math. For example, it’s easy for writers to understand that a whole is greater than the sum of its parts—they die a little inside every time a sentence is taken out of context. A musician too knows when they are properly “tensored” with their band-mates and can play as one instrument in perfect harmony. But depending on who you are, sometimes math can help. Sometimes math is the only way. You’ll know it when the time comes.
Most of the supposed academic consensus about well, mostly everything: evolutionary history, biology, anthopology, sociology, economics, psychology, linguistics, literature and literary criticism, the nature of art and the artist, even theology, was originally developed from a classical perspective, the general heuristic being that we are mindless automata built from separate atomic components who swap meaningless symbols around that thereby gain conventional meanings which you can discover by looking at how the robots behave differently around them. The robots have a symbol for “I” which is the name for a self-model they developed to more efficiently regulate their algorithms for planning, action, and memory retrieval, and which leads to characteristic delusions in the robots, for example, that they have free will or consciousness, both of which concepts are incoherent because a) everything has a cause given beforehand b) if you could walk into a room sized brain, where’s the consciousness? It may sound dramatic, but in a sense, revisiting these classical assumptions requires *all human knowledge* to be re-evaluated. Your confusion is not an accident. Its origin lies in history. An influential worldview, developed over millenia by Christian influenced modernizing Europe, was demolished by QM at the turn of the 20th century, and it is because of the trauma of that period that the subject still retains a spectral, ghostly character.
The idea of this meet-up is that we should all get together, and do what we can’t do apart, which is give life to the ghost in all its glory. We’ll go through the basics of QM—the math is actually not hard—and in fact, it’s getting easier every day, as people develop new tools for thinking about quantum processes more conveniently as the race to the quantum internet of the future continues with all its drama. Once we all have a firm, shared foundation in how to use the math to help us think correctly about quantum phenomena, we can turn to the speculative bit: the group can help each member explore the potential quantum implications for their especial field of interest.
Here’s some links to a few introductory papers, some established, some speculative, for inspiration. The least mathematical and most broadly philosophical is Heisenberg’s. The most hip one, by far, is Bob Coecke’s. Aaronson is a brilliant and lucid expositor and theorist, who also writes on the issue of free will. Nielsen and Chuang deliver the solid goods. I don’t know who Flitney and Abbott are, but their paper, chosen more or less at random, is indeed a nice intro to the basics: quantum game theory is the first step in starting to think about how QM might be relevant to “social” issues. W. F. Lawless might be talking out of his ass, but after I read his paper, I tell ya, it stuck with me—and given the nature of this meet-up, it’s kind of meta. As the weeks go by, we can decide on a set of core readings that we’ll all work through in common.
Werner Heisenberg, Reality and its Order
Scott Aaronson, Excerpts from Quantum Computing Since Democritus
Also, The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine
Michael A. Nielsen & Isaac L. Chuang, Quantum Computation and Quantum Information (Chapters 1 and 2.)
Bob Coecke, From quantum foundations via natural language meaning to a theory of everything
A. P. Flitney and D. Abott, An introduction to quantum game theory
W. F. Lawless, The entangled nature of interdependence. Bistability, irreproducibility and uncertainty
Also, free food and beer!