Thursday, April 23, 2009

Victor Stenger: Quantum Gods

Amanda Gefter reviews Victor Stenger's new book in Nude Socialist. The book, "Quantum Gods" (click to buy), looks at several religious directions that are mostly based on the following two memes about quantum mechanics:
  1. Because of the uncertainty principle, there is a lot of room for God to control the world, without contradicting the laws of physics.
  2. The mind and the Universe are linked via quantum mechanics.
Gefter's article indicates that he correctly - from a physics viewpoint - says that the first verse is incorrect because the quantum outcomes have to be truly random, unaffected by any data from the past light cone (and probably not even by God's master plan, although this no-go theorem may be harder to prove than the free-will theorem haha).

The second religious principle is incorrect because quantum mechanics applies equally to all systems in the world, "conscious" and "unconscious" ones (these two physically differ by their ability to manipulate with the information only!), and the only relevant difference that separates "objects following the quantum logic" and "objects within the realm of classical intuition" is based on the speed of decoherence.

The book correctly says - in my opinion - that the main message of EPR-like phenomena is that one has to give up determinism and realism, not "locality" (even claiming that most physicists agree with it - a statement that I am sometimes uncertain about), and it offers counter-arguments against the Bohmian school, too.

Stenger also promotes decoherence as an important principle.

Max Tegmark is promoted to a neuroscientist - his order-of-magnitude estimate is used to argue that the brain essentially works as a classical (biological) computer, and can't be viewed as a coherent quantum (biological) computer: decoherence is at least 10 billion times faster (or affecting much shorter distance scales) than what would be needed for quantum mechanics to be relevant for our thinking.

A funny aspect of the article (and the book?) is this picture of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In the very early 1990s, after the Velvet Revolution, his Indian-looking disciples came to our high school in Pilsen, attempting to make us meditate.

Although these particular people seemed completely unable to answer any of my deeper physics questions, :-) their chances were rather high in the case of your humble correspondent because their booklets explaining the unified field theory, strings, and their links to their religion were particularly impressive - to the extent that I began to ask whether they could have been right.

Later, I learned that ex-particle physicist John Hagelin - a genuinely powerful brain - was behind this unexpectedly strong impression that the booklet had on me. In his previous incarnation, Hagelin wrote famous articles about the search for violations of quantum mechanics; weak symmetry breaking in SUGRA; GUT models; FCNCs; search for SUSY at a p-p collider (just like the LHC: it was written in 1983!), and many other things. A damn serious scientist.

Later, he has developed the whole advanced-physics infrastructure for the Maharishi church (and his The Natural Law Party of the USA, for which he has run for POTUS a few times) so that it was based on many details that were more scientifically solid and detailed than the scientific bases of many "atheist" institutions. ;-)

If you allow me to be more specific, you should look e.g. at The Discovery of the Unified Field, a material written by the Maharishi Global Administration in 1999. If Nude Socialist began to print such stuff, their treatment of theoretical physics would dramatically improve, even though this particular article about Stenger's book might be a hint of a more optimistic development. ;-)

Hat tip: Tereza N. ;-)

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