Saturday, June 02, 2012

Perimeter Institute says good-bye to Joy Christian

In the final paragraph of a March 2012 blog entry, I encouraged the Perimeter Institute and Oxford University to cut their ties with an anti-Bell-theorem activist and the author of repetitive and smug, yet almost uncited (if you remove self-citations) and nonsensical papers irrationally assaulting this important theorem in particular and quantum mechanics in general, namely with Joy Christian.

They have listened – either to me or someone else who gave an equivalent recommendation.

In his new comment at Science2.0, Joy Christian wrote:
Richard Gill, you finally got what you wanted. I got fired by Perimeter Institute, and now Oxford has also started its proceedings against me. But my work transcends these institutes and it will go on. I long resolved to accept judgement from no man but Nature.
These are the words from a giant of physics who has been 800 years ahead of his contemporaries but who will only be celebrated by the future generations – assuming that people will have forgotten all mathematics and physics before the year 2812.

I think that Richard Gill is getting too much credit here but otherwise OK. The comment above is authentic. You may Google search for Joy Christian's personal page at the institute and the newest version of it will tell you Person not found.

It's plausible – and Joy Christian's message suggests – that Oxford University will follow.

This is the right approach. There are thousands of self-described revolutionary thinkers of the same kind who don't get any support from these leading centers of theoretical physics (neither financial support nor moral support or affiliation) so it is not clear why Joy Christian should have been an exception for too long. According to any objective or semi-objective criteria, he hasn't produced almost any valuable work in decades that were given to him as a testing period. For years, he's been stuck with a wrong idea that prevents him from doing further progress in science and these facts should arguably have consequences if there is at least some meritocracy in the hiring processes of the institutions.

I wish him good luck. He will need lots of it, especially because the primary judge he cares about is Nature who told him good-bye many years before the Perimeter Institute did. If you want to support Joy Christian, you may buy lots of copies of his book, Disproof of Bell's Theorem, at the top. But don't forget that there may be a billion of other folks in India and elsewhere (maybe even in Central Europe) who may be hungry and millions of them also believe that they have found the Universe's ultimate secret.

It's not clear whether the delisting alters anything about Joy Christian's finances i.e. whether he's been getting any money in recent years from the PI.

Joy Christian plans to supersede Niels Bohr as well as baseball champions and military pilots: he has already hired a coach and been accepted to the Air Force – and I haven't even mentioned that the high school is named after him, too. ;-)


  1. As far as I know, Christian has had no formal affiliation with PI for years. He was a visitor there in 2007 or so, and by an administrative error his visitor's internet home-page was never taken down. Before that time he was a post-doc at Wolfson College, Oxford, so I suppose his email address there is also due to an administrative oversight. Google searching throughout Oxford University websites (colleges and departments) fails to find any evidence of any kind of formal affiliation with any Oxford University department or college. A long time ago he got a grant from FQXi. Since then he received a number of follow-up mini-grants - these are allocated by lottery, there is no further evaluation of research proposals. I'm told he makes his living teaching English to foreign students in Oxford.

  2. PS I had nothing to do with Christian's loss of his old home page at PI or trouble with the authorities in Oxford. He did it all himself by making incredible rude personal comments about Scott Aaronson, and just about everyone else, on Scott Aaronson's much read blog. This got a lot of people pissed off, and it got people from PI and from Oxford rather embarrassed. I know this because I was cc'd on some of the resulting correspondence. (Joy had some wonderful things to say about me, and they got quoted at length). But you and Sascha Vongehr will be happy to know that references were also made to both of your blogs, as examples of how Chrstian's claiming of affiliation was damaging the reputations of those institutions.

  3. Joy Christian is indeed a total crank. Bell's Theorem is forever "the" essential feature of quantum mechanics: it proved Einstein was completely wrong about quantum mechanics. For years, Einstein tried to argue directly for hidden variables. When all such attempts failed, Einstein considered an argument by contradiction, e.g. his EPR argument. Let us assume that quantum mechanics is complete: that there are no hidden variables. Then, that leads us to spooky action at a distance, "telepathic communication" as Einstein said. Therefore, quantum mechanics must be incomplete. Bell showed that Einstein was totally wrong: hidden variables don't work. We are left with spooky action at a distance as the only explanation. To Joy Christian: learn to accept quantum mechanics.

  4. We don't need spooky action at a distance - we just need to reject "realism", the insistence that outcomes of measurements which were not performed are part of physical reality alongside of what really is there. We do need to accept non-determinism. See the paper by Masanes, Acin, Gisin which has a theorem on these lines.

  5. To gill1109:

    You and Motl have completely missed the whole point of Bell's Theorem. Motl often writes on this blog that the correlations result from an interraction in the past light cone. But, the whole point of Bell's Theorem is that this explanation can't work, e.g. no pre-determined properties. Everybody gets this backwards. "Realism" was supposed to be a way of explaning things without spooky action at a distance. Bell showed that realism doesn't work. What does that leave us with? If you don't believe me, FINE! Perhaps Bell himself will convince you.

  6. No, Justin, you're confused. I have never defended "realism" in this hidden-variable sense, at least not in the last 20 years.

    But it is true that the correlations in the EPR-like measurements are caused by the interaction of the subsystems in the past; this interaction or contact of these subsystems is necessary for the correlations to exist.

    Bell's theorem only shows that the high degree of correlations - and diverse correlations - couldn't be explained by a local realist theory. But quantum mechanics avoids this "ban" in a simple way; it is not a realist theory.

    However, quantum mechanics still involves the notion of correlations between subsystems; the term "entanglement" means the most general possible correlation of two subsystems that quantum mechanics, a non-realist theory, allows. With this quantum, non-realist version of the correlations, the inequalities can no longer be proved and are in fact routinely violated. But that's because realism was abandoned; it is still true that a mutual contact or interactions of the subsystems is needed for the predicted probability distributions of the measurements of these two subsystems to be correlated.

    All the best

  7. Justin, that's what I'm saying: realism doesn't work! But you don't need spooky action at a distance. You do need non-determinism. Irreducible randomness. Some people might find that spooky. Not me.

    Lubos: I'm told that entangled states can also emerge through quantum fluctuations in the vacuum: thus without interaction in the past. However it still requires interaction to set up the measurements which first show that the state is there, and secondly to get the "non-local" correlation.

  8. Dear Richard,

    no, there is no entanglement without interactions in the past. If you have a vacuum state, it has various quantum fluctuations and they're entangled. Well, \(\vec E(x_1)\) is close to \(\vec E(x_2)\) for two nearby points. But this is only if you prepared them in the vacuum state, or a nearby state, and to prepare two points or regions in the vacuum state, you need them to share the past, i.e. you need a sufficient amount of time for them to interact etc.

    If you're preparing fluctuating fields in the vacuum state and you're measuring them at two points, it's really fully analogous to preparing 2 entangled photons or 2 electrons or anything of the sort. There is no qualitative difference and the entanglement can never arise out of nothing. Of course, you may just assume that the initial state is entangled, without asking where the entanglement comes from, except that if you assume/prove that the places couldn't have been in contact or interaction, then you can show that the entanglement can't exist.


  9. To gill1109:

    Well, if you watched that link with John Bell himself -- and could manage through the poor sound quality -- you'd see that Bell was saying that hidden variables, i.e. realism can't possibly work. We must accept non-determinism. But, Bell then goes on to say that this non-determinism leads us to non-locality. He even draws a little diagram on the board. I'm not sure why this is so hard to follow, but the whole point is that non-determinism implies non-locality to explain the correlation. Bell also says that what is so disturbing is that the non-local connection has to be very subtle to coexist with relativity, something he says he knows nothing about. To this day, nobody has figured out how to combine relativity and the non-local connection Bell talks about, partly because nobody even has the conception that there is a problem. It reminds me very much of the situation Einstein faced in 1905 when he developed special relativity. Almost everybody at the time was content with the relativity of Poincare and Lorentz, but Einstein realized that there was something much deeper going on, "asymmetry which does not appear to be inherent in the phenomena" as he wrote. Nobody was able to see the real problem at hand, except for Einstein himself. It's a shame Einstein didn't live long enough to see that he needed to give up realism in favor of non-locality. It would be interesting to see what theory he would have come up with to maintain relativity and incorporate non-locality. I'm sure Einstein would be able to see the problem, even if you can't.

  10. That's a stretch, Justin. Relativity is (to me) the ultimate of continuum mechanics, and minimizing possible options for Lorentz invariance. Taking this to "need" to incorporate non-locality defies imagination.

    Einstein by the way, would have "agreed" with every single "advanced thinker" there is out there.

    I'm not kidding! He would have supported AGW, complexity "theory," AIDS vaccines, "disproofs" of general relativity, and every other thing every crank out there claims he would support.

    It just so happens that he's dead, making it difficult for him to lend his immediate endorsement.

    That shouldn't dissuade anybody from invoking his endorsement of their fantasy

  11. Guys I need some help understanding a few things, and bear with me, Im a senior econ major at Cornell University with no advanced physics knowledge, but I have always loved the subject and read books and multiple blogs all the time. First and foremost is this anti-realism stance, which I am having trouble understanding. I'm almost positive that virtually every scientist, including those such as Anton Zeilinger, who is at the forefront of quantum foundations, believe in the existence of a reality independent of our minds. If that was not so, then "electrons" and "laws of physics" and other things that physicists take as existing are useful fictions, which strikes me as similar to those crackpots in the field of continental philosophy that constantly preach postmodernism, deconstruction, and social constructivism. If you mean by anti-realism the idea of contextuality, then this should probably be more explicitly stated, as there are theories such as MWI that are realist in the sense of independent objects but where measurement is influenced by experimental setup. In addition, all this non-determinism talk is also confusing to me. Not only are both general and special relativity causally deterministic, and those theories are considered to be correct by most scientists, but the schrodinger equation is totally deterministic as well. Couple this with several recent papers all positing that the wavefunction is real, and it seems that realism and determinism are both viable. Personally I identify very closely with Sean Carroll, who seems to accept realism and determinism. In fact, I don't believe in true randomness at all. If true randomness existed there wouldn't be equations governing our world that constrain its evolution, and on top of that it can argued that the probabilities of QM are totally determined by our equations at the present. I constantly read on this blog about anti-realism, then what is reality? Is it some mind-dependent idealism, which strikes me as totally nonsensical? And if true randomness exists, what would be the mechanism? Both those things strike me as untrue, and its not because of some deep seated classical thinking. The world existed before humans, no one watched the big bang occur, things exist independently of us. As for determinism, it is foundational in both SR and GR, and appears in MWI, causal set theory, and other theories of physics. Any help in answering these questions would be appreciated.

  12. Apologies, this has been addressed about 900 times on this blog. Nature won't adapt to your prejudices. Nature simply doesn't work in the way you believe.

    There doesn't exist any version of quantum mechanics that could be called MWI and that would be both correct and completely well-defined.

    Natural phenomena don't respect realism in the philosophical sense attributed to classical physics. Schrödinger's equation evolves the wave function deterministically but the wave function isn't a reality, just a collection of probabilities (more precisely, complex probability amplitudes which are semi-finished products to be converted to probabilities), and the actual facts – outcomes of experiments – don't follow deterministically from the previous state of the Universe.

    Classical theories compatible with special relativity or classical general relativity are deterministic; however, quantum theories – and everything in our Universe is quantum – are not deterministic.

    Mind-dependent idealism, crackpotism, and all the other libels you may invent for quantum mechanics are surely cute and may impress you but the amount of humiliation you're trying to squeeze into the description of quantum mechanics doesn't change anything about the fact that this is exactly how Nature works and we've known it for 85 years. Fundamentally speaking, everything is encoded in the observer's knowledge about the physical system which is subjective and which may be processed via the rules of quantum mechanics to get predictions of probabilities of future events. In this scheme, one may still show that different observers will agree whenever we would correctly expect them to agree.

    But the agreement isn't fundamentally incorporated into the rules of physics. Quantum physics shows that the data describing the Universe are fundamentally not objective. Objective reality is an emergent phenomenon.

  13. Trust me Lubos, I'm not trying to ridicule QM, and am well aware that it is our most accurate physical theory in history. I drew a parallel between the anti-realism I've read on this post and continental philosophy because, to be frank, it sounds and awful lot like that sophistry, and I happen to be a firm proponent of the analytic philosophy tradition that accepts mathematical, logical, and empirical rigor over that other nonsense. Lets be clear, nature doesn't give a shit what we know and dont know about the universe, and positing that the wavefunction represents our epistemic knowledge of the system seems to privilege us in a way I find unacceptable. In addition, a few things I would love an answer to are what the fundamental nature of this randomness seems to be (and don't tell me its just that, random, as that explains nothing). Again, I mentioned its not because of a classical dogma stuck in my head, but the fact that no experiment in the history of mankind has disproved either determinism or realism, and it seems like many more seem to follow from well defined cause and effect relations. Even John Bell said his own theorem doesnt imply a flight from realism. If you don't believe in an objective reality, what the hell are you studying? String and other dimensions are all subjective nonsense no? I find that position untenable.

  14. Your position is logically inconsistent. Quantum mechanics is a non-realist theory: axioms that guarantee non-realism belong among the fundamental universal postulates of quantum mechanics whether you include them to continental or oceanic philosophy, sophistry, or anything else.

    In effect, what you say is equivalent to saying that it's preposterous that a man evolved from something similar to a chimp or gorilla and it's a sophistry or crackpotism to believe so, but then you say that you're not trying to humiliate evolution theory. Of course that you are.

    Quantum mechanics doesn't privilege any particular property of human being; but it is a framework whose fundamental building blocks must be interpreted subjectively. These are completely different statements. Being a set of numbers and rules to link subjective knowledge (which is a right description of QM) is something completely different than being linked to particular 2-leg 2-arm mammals (which is what QM has nothing to do with).

    You're wrong that no experiment has disproved determinism. Quite on the contrary. Every experiment that is outside the approximation of classical physics unambiguously rules out determinism - and almost every experiment that was new after 1920 belongs to this category. The very fact that the electron lands at different, random positions on the photographic plate in a double slit experiment rules out determinism. The probabilistic wave describing the probabilities evolves according to a deterministic equation but the actual facts, results of measurements, are not determined by any property in the past. This proposition of mine has been proved in numerous incarnations, numerous theorems such as Kochen-Specker or the free-will theorem.

    I won't comment on your repetitive references to negatively sounding words such as "untenable", "other nonsense", "unacceptable", or names of other confused people who don't understand quantum mechanics. Nature doesn't care about either of these things or you, for that matter. Read e.g. Dirac's textbook or any other textbook of quantum mechanics that knows what it's talking about and please don't dare to post a new comment about realism, determinism, or anything of this sort before you do so because I will ban you if you will. There are just way too many ignorant people offering their completely unsubstantiated and unjustifiable opinion about these matters and if I were not banning them, this blog would be turned into just another forum of screaming pseudoscientific armchair would-be physicists.

  15. Relax Lubos, I was asking some questions that have clearly been deflected and you're already set in your opinion. It's your blog, I'm not trying to screw things and will cease to ever ask a question about realism/determinism out of respect for you. Do yourself a favor though, don't threaten people who make it a point to look at your blog and agree with many (not all) of the things that you post. It's a bad way to act, grow the fuck up.


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  18. Florin MoldoveanuDec 21, 2012, 12:46:00 AM

    I wrote a comment earlier, but it did not show up, so apologies if the message will appear twice.

    I spent too much time debunking Joy's nonsense, and I made an earlier decision to let go and work on more important things. So I was not aware of this development but I am certainly glad about it because Joy is a charlatan who was engaged in coverup for quite some time knowing full well his math is faulty.

    One thing I could never figure out: was Joy's math original mistake genuine (which later on he covered it up with other elementary mistakes in fancy mathematical settings), or was a carefully planned hoax from the very beginning? I tend to think it was all a hoax designed to boost a failed research career, while Richard thinks it was a mistake.

    When I'll have a bit of time early next year I'll upload a second version of my paper debunking Joy and I'll debunk his replies to me, Hestenes, and Gill (which are identical) and I'll have a little tutorial on Clifford algebras for people who want to understand them better (Clifford algebras are really easy).