Fact and Fiction

Thoughts about a funny old world, and what is real, and what is not. Comments are welcome, but please keep them on topic.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

What's done is done, or is it?

There is an article by Patrick Barry entitled What's done is done, or is it? in this week's New Scientist, in which he discusses whether quantum mechanics allows the future to change the past.

Ho hum! Here we go again.

I debunked this whole class of phenomena (or, at least, the wrong interpretation(s) of them) in an earlier posting of mine called Spooky action at a distance?, where I showed exactly how QM explains the instantaneous communication that seems to occur between separated particles. Of course, there is no such instantaneous communication; any correlations between separated particles are explained entirely by the fact that they were in close contact at an earlier point in their history, together with the fact that the full QM description of the real physical state of the particles and the "observers" is a superposition of all of their allowed alternative states. For a detailed explanation of this see Spooky action at a distance?.

People love to imagine that QM is mysterious (remarkably, that includes the vast majority of physicists), and journalists take advantage of this weakness by writing articles like What's done is done, or is it?. I would prefer that we didn't encourage this sort of folk science, because it makes our thinking muddled, which makes it impossible to develop a correct shared understanding of QM.

If that sounds haughty, then I apologise, but this torrent of articles about "mysterious this" and "spooky that" tests my patience. Maybe I should write a popular science book to share my understanding of QM with others.

Update: That rant of mine seems to have scared you all off! Surely, I am not alone in feeling this way about the "reverential" treatment of QM in the popular press? As long as we insist on calling QM "spooky" and "mysterious" we will hold ourselves back from really understanding it.


At 14 October 2006 at 01:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Steve, check this out and tell me what you think.

At 14 October 2006 at 10:32, Blogger Steve said...

Huh? What's that got to do with my QM posting?

At 14 October 2006 at 15:51, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't have any other way to contact you.... is what.

At 18 November 2006 at 00:02, Anonymous Anonymous said...

These things shouldn't test your patience - they are opportunities to clarify your thinking. So clarify, and stop whingeing.

At 18 November 2006 at 00:57, Blogger Steve said...

Optimistically, what you are saying to me is that I can sharpen the razor edge of my thinking on the rough stone offered by these unfortunate people who write drivel about QM.

At least, I hope that's what you are saying.

At 1 December 2006 at 20:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Err - sort of.

But maybe I would word it more like - answer the points they raise or miss, instead of just being rude about them.

Your rudeness does nothing for your case, it simply spotlights your own insecurity and uncertainty.

At 1 December 2006 at 20:24, Blogger Steve said...

In my posting (did you not read it?) I cited my earlier posting here, where I explained the correct way of viewing QM. However, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink, as they say. The phrase that I used, (i.e. "unfortunate people who write drivel about QM") is entirely accurate, and I stand by it.

This is a particular example of the more general problem that most people uncritically accept what they read or hear, and perceive as rude anyone who dares to point this out. This was the original reason that I started this blog with my posting on the "Parrot Effect" here.


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