Wednesday, December 17, 2014 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

A philosopher's quantum mechanical delusions

It's been weeks since I was infuriated by nonsense about the foundations of quantum mechanics. A nice time, at least from this point of view. It's over now because a "philosopher" named Chip Sebens wrote a blog post at his co-author Sean Carroll's blog about his and their quantum mechanical fantasies and misconceptions:

Guest Post: Chip Sebens on the Many-Interacting-Worlds Approach to Quantum Mechanics
This babbling is "inspired" by quantum mechanics and especially all the wrong things that are being written about quantum mechanics in the popular books. So some of the sentences are similar to the truth even though they are always slightly wrong – it's never right.

I will try to focus on the things that are wrong and you should be aware of the fact that they were cherry-picked to a certain extent and you could cherry-pick some assertions which would make Sebens' essay look less bad. But such fundamental mistakes shouldn't be there at all, so his text is bad, anyway.

At the beginning, we learn how Sebens is wonderful:
... and like many philosophers of physics, knows the technical background behind relativity and quantum mechanics very well. ...
Obviously, if he knew these matters "very well", he wouldn't be writing completely wrong – and virtually ignored – papers about the foundations of quantum mechanics. As a "philosopher", which is a euphemism for a "physics crackpot", he is receiving funding from the NSF, too. It can't shock you.

The first two sentences written by Sebens himself are:
In Newtonian physics objects always have definite locations. They are never in two places at once.
It's being said as if these two sentences were equivalent. But they're not equivalent and they're problematic for tons of other reasons, too.

What is true about the first sentence is that classical physics allows us to assume that the locations may be completely well-known in principle. However, even in classical physics, they are often incompletely known, e.g. in statistical physics. And the incomplete knowledge is just being extended by quantum mechanics – with some new source of the uncertainty that can't ever be removed and that didn't exist in classical physics. But even classical physics admitted a description in terms of "what we know", not "what is out there", and it is this "what we know" description that has to be used if we switch to quantum mechanics.

Classical physics allows us to believe in the existence of a "meta-observer" who knows all the exact positions and velocities (or values of fields). This metaobserver may be called God. But in contrast with Sebens' claim, classical physics doesn't assert that God in this sense must exist.

The second sentence suggests that in quantum mechanics, a particle is in two places at once. But even though this language is often used in popular presentations and even physicists' sloppy formulations, it's not the case. When a particle is described by a wave function that is a superposition of "here" and "there", it doesn't mean that the particle is in two places at once. It means that the particle is "here OR there" (not "AND") and we can't know which is the right. But the locations "here" and "there" are only potential locations, not "objectively real locations" of anything, and they are mutually exclusive because the two position eigenstates are orthogonal to each other.

A quantum mechanical particle can't be in two places at once.
We are told that quantum theory requires us to revise this classical picture of the world, but what picture of reality is supposed to take its place is unclear.
Quantum mechanics and its postulates and rules presented in the textbooks is what replaces classical physics. It is a "picture" of some sort. After all, we even use the phrases "Heisenberg picture" and "Schrödinger picture" for more particular choices in the quantum formalism.

This quantum mechanical picture or "these pictures" are not "pictures" in the sense of classical physics but there is no reason they should be.

At any rate, what replaced the classical picture is absolutely clear, and Sebens' sentence is just demonstrably false.
There is little consensus on many foundational questions: Is quantum randomness fundamental or a result of our ignorance? Do electrons have well-defined properties before measurement?
Consensus is irrelevant for science. The fact that there is no consensus doesn't mean that science hasn't completely settled all these questions. The consensus doesn't exist – and will probably never exist – because many people who are completely incompetent or irrational or both (like Sebens and Carroll) are trying to offer their opinions and feelings as if they were a part of the scientific evidence. But they are not.

The quantum randomness is demonstrably fundamental – and it may also be interpreted as a result of our ignorance. But the point is that this ignorance is inevitable, due to the uncertainty principle. There is no way, not even in principle, to know in advance the state of all observables that may ultimately be measured. It's impossible because the observables that may ultimately be measured simply don't have and can't have well-defined values simultaneously, due to the nonzero commutators.

Sebens divides the pundits talking about the foundations of quantum mechanics to "doers" and "dreamers". Feynman is quoted as a "doer" and a quote in which Feynman says that the opposition to quantum mechanics is just due to the permanent self-brainwashing saying that "the world must be classical at the end" is the cause of all this nonsense.

Sebens' terminology, "doers" vs "dreamers", is of course extremely tendentious. It's virtually isomorphic to the terminology chosen by the notorious crank Lee Smolin who called people like himself "seers" while serious physicists were downgraded to "craftsmen". In both cases, the goal of the terminology is to pretend that the people doing the physics correctly are just some "superficial engineers" who don't study Nature deeply enough.

But that's of course a lie. The "doers" are better not only in doing real calculations and applying quantum mechanics – or particular quantum theories. They are also – and especially – vastly better in analyzing the truly profound conceptual questions about Nature and the character of things.
Dreamers, although they may often use the theory without worrying about its foundations, are unsatisfied with standard presentations of quantum mechanics. They want to know “how it can be like that” and have offered a variety of alternative ways of filling in the details.
In science, you can propose numerous hypotheses but as long as it is science, they are being mercilessly compared against the empirical data (often with lots of calculations that have to be made as a part of the validation process) and perhaps also more abstract scientific evidence and principles extracted from the data in the past.

You may fool yourself by constantly calling your hypothesis "a dream" but science doesn't care about similar emotional labels and it may easily determine that everything written in the Sebens-Carroll papers are "wrong propositions". Fine, call them dreams but they are still stinky crap, OK?

The same comments apply to Sebens' negative propositions. He may repeat that he is not satisfied and "it cannot be like that" millions of times, and he surely will because he is a mindless parrot, but this won't change the fact that quantum mechanics is a theoretical framework – and the only known theoretical framework – that still agrees with all the observations ever made, and that is what matters in science, not "dreams", repeated slogans about "something that cannot be true", and scientifically indefensible "dissatisfaction".
Doers denigrate the dreamers for being unproductive, getting lost “down the drain.” Dreamers criticize the doers for giving up on one of the central goals of physics, understanding nature, to focus exclusively on another, controlling it.
Right. A nice presentation of a confrontation. The only problem is an asymmetry: What the "doers" are saying is demonstrably true while what the "dreamers" are saying is demonstrably false. Quantum mechanics is primarily about the understanding of Nature, not about "controlling it". After all, quantum mechanics was discovered by pure scientists, theoretical physicists such as Heisenberg, Bohr, Dirac, and Pauli (and for purely scientific reasons), and not by any applied physicists or engineers. Quantum mechanics is the understanding of Nature at a much deeper level than classical physics and it's the "dreamers" who just don't want to accept the fact that deeper ideas than their superficial real-world experience has been needed to follow physics for almost 90 years. Quantum mechanics also led to very important practical applications but this fact shouldn't be used "against" quantum mechanics and because of causality, it doesn't imply that something is or was "excessively practical or superficial" about its foundations.

Sebens misinterprets another quote by Feynman as a call to consider then non-quantum alternatives to describe the quantum phenomena. But Feynman actually called for a physicist's remembering and considering many equivalent or dual perspectives – all of them correct, not mutually exclusive – on certain or all problems. He was talking about things like the different "pictures" in quantum mechanics, different bases of the Hilbert space, and so on. He was surely not saying that a physicist must permanently consider paradigms that don't agree with the evidence.

Sebens then "describes" (not really) the recent fad about many interacting worlds. He was not on the most publicized paper but wrote a related one. Instead of saying things that could at least remotely compare to my explanation of this idea, he focuses on bragging about the left-wing news servers that hyped this silliness. He also incoherently mixes these sentences with sentences about droplets as a realistic description of quantum mechanics. He also asks:
“I understand water waves and sound waves. These waves are made of particles. A sound wave is a compression wave that results from particles of air bunching up in certain regions and vacating other. Waves play a central role in quantum mechanics. Is it possible to understand these waves as being made of some things?”
The probability amplitude waves may be proven not to follow from local (consistent with relativity) hidden variables, so in this sense, they are not "made of some things". However, if we wanted to envision a more general way how they could be "made of some things", we would run to the problem that "made of some things" isn't really well-defined in the most general imaginable theory. Is a D-brane made of fundamental strings? It depends what kinds of "making of" we allow. It is possible to determine whether a plastic object was made of LEGO but the building blocks of Nature aren't similar to the building blocks of LEGO so the ability to answer the LEGO question doesn't mean that a similar question may be answered in physics.

He shows a picture of a moving wave in the double slit experiment and says something that made me laugh out loud:
There’s a problem with thinking of the wave as made of something: the wave function assigns strange complex numbers to points in space instead of familiar real numbers.
So the appearance of complex numbers is a "problem" for these "dreamers"! ;-) Cool. Complex numbers are more fundamental from an advanced algebra/calculus/geometry mathematical viewpoints, too. At any rate, there is no problem with them in physics, they are at least as consistent objects in mathematics as the real numbers, and they are badly needed at many places in physics, and especially in quantum mechanics where they become more vital than just some "tools to simplify certain calculations".

If you have problems with complex numbers, you will surely agree that the term "incompetent moron" is much more accurate than a "dreamer", won't you? Well, you should.

Sebens also immediately solves his "problem":
This can be resolved by focusing on \(|\Psi|^2\), the squared amplitude of the wave function, which is always a positive real number.
Phases are erased, the problem is solved. Sorry, you haven't solved any problem, you have just tried to mask your stupidity. The (relative) phases of the wave function are exactly as important as the absolute values. They will decide about the measurements of all observables that don't commute with \(x\) – which are almost all observables. The momentum \(p\), for example, is encoded in the information how quickly the phase of \(\Psi\) is changing per unit distance.

He tries to say that \(|\Psi|^2\) – with the phase indefensibly ignored – doesn't determine the probability but a density. Except that it demonstrably doesn't. One particle is seen on the photographic plate so operationally, the squared wave function surely does determine probability and their distributions, not densities of real things. Suddenly, he gets distracted by the fact that for many particles, the wave function has to be a function of \(3N\) variables. That's important for entanglement, he realizes, but it's very clear that this "complication" is just another "problem" for him, like complex numbers.

This presentation of him is a weird sequence of several paragraphs in which he is simultaneously struggling with some complete basic introductory issues of quantum mechanics; and he wants to pretend that he has some better theory "beyond QM" at the same moment.

To make the story short, he says that \(|\Psi(x_1,y_1,z_1,x_2,y_2,z_2)|^2\) etc. doesn't describe the probability but the density of parallel universes. Well, even in the context of classical physics, any probability may be visualized as a relative fraction of repetitions of an experiment – which may be called "parallel universes" if you imagine that the other histories are somewhere "out there". So this "insight" – a way to make the notion of the probability more tangible – is not new at all. That's how people are normally explaining probability to start with. The other possible outcomes exist in the "multiverse of possibilities". The other outcomes are "not really real for us" but you may view them as "real from some meta-viewpoint".

However, what's new – and completely wrong – is that this visualization of the probability density is used in quantum mechanics. In quantum mechanics, you actually can no longer visualize the probability density in this way because there are many mutually "incompatible" probability densities. The quantities like \(x\) are not the only ones that can be measured. The system must be ready for a measurement of \(p\), too. The probability density in the momentum representation may be calculated from the wave function, too. But it cannot be calculated from \(|\Psi(x)|^2\) because in this probability density, as I have already said, the information about the phases is completely missing and this information is completely essential – actually more essential than the absolute values – for the calculation of the probability distributions \(\rho(p)\) of different momenta.

If you imagine that the parallel worlds are already objectively distributed in the \(x\) variable in a particular way, then you have picked a preferred observable, \(x\), where the measurements may be OK. But all other observables will fail to be represented correctly in this "dot-based" visualization. The uncertainty principle simply prevents you from replacing the wave function with some classical information about a particular observable such as \(x\).

In my October 2014 essay, I discussed the lethal flaw of the Many Interacting Worlds from a slightly different, but ultimately equivalent angle: I treated that proposal as a variation of the Bohmian mechanics.

I ignore one paragraph by Sebens where he just says quantum-mechanics-resembling things that may sound OK to you if you're not careful enough but they are completely wrong. But let me end up with his last paragraph:
There is of course much more to the story than what’s been said here. One particularly intriguing consequence of the new approach is that the three sentence characterization of Newtonian physics with which this post began is met. In that sense, this theory makes quantum mechanics look like classical physics. For this reason, in my paper I gave the theory the name “Newtonian Quantum Mechanics.”
LOL. That's hilarious. Just to be sure, the theory doesn't just make the world "look" like nonrelativistic Newtonian classical physics. It claims that the world really is described by such a theory. And Sebens thinks it's a great victory to brag about.

So "dreamers" not only want to "undo" the quantum revolution. They pretty much want to undo the transition of physics to "field theory" as well and claim that the world is described by a classical deterministic Newtonian mechanics.

For these "dreamers", everything that has been found in physics since the time of Newton – field theory, partial differential equations (in hydrodynamics, electrodynamics, and elsewhere), the statistical description of thermodynamics, special relativity, general relativity, quantum mechanics, quantum field theory, and of course string theory – was just a sequence of mistakes, increases in the complexity of our theories that were not necessary anyway, and all the evidence that led to these developments in physics has been just a conglomerate of illusions and tricks.

Now, "dreamers", how stupid you have to be to believe a conspiracy theory like that, the opinion that 300 years of the scientific progress – that has led to a dramatically deeper understanding of the Cosmos at the theoretical level as well as an unprecedented technological progress – is just an illusion, a sequence of paradigm shifts that shouldn't have taken place? How blinded and arrogant you have to be not to see that your vision that the world must be controlled by classical Newtonian mechanics should be imposed on physics regardless of any detailed evidence because you consider all the new insights of physics of the last 300 years – as well as complex numbers – to be "problems" for you?

The only real problem, Mr Sebens, is the combination of complete stupidity and arrogance, values that you reconcile so smoothly and naturally.

I am totally infuriated by this junk because complete idiots who are, scientifically speaking, at least 300 years behind the times claim – and use similar idiots in the media to claim – that they are close to cutting-edge science. You can only "dream" about being in the average. Real cutting-edge researchers have not only mastered insights that changed physics 90 years ago, like quantum mechanics. In the most high-brow disciplines, one must really know most of the discoveries made 20, 10, and sometimes even 2 years ago, otherwise he's out. A straight reversal of 300 years of the scientific progress is "somewhat" (insanely) unlikely and all the evidence points against this possibility.

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reader Leo Vuyk said...

IMHO Chip Sebens has an interesting approach on reality, however he does not go far
enough on entanglement.
If the particle density he proposes is based on multiple instant entangled (anti) copy particles living in a number of copy universes far away, then I can fully understand his interpretation of the double slit experiment and even our human choice making phenomena called free will.
IMHO, each particle ( and we) is coupled instantly to 8 or even 12 copy partners in those entangled universes, representing his particle density.
See :
Democratic Free Will in the instant Entangled Multiverse.

reader john said...

I have developed a test to determine a zeroth order estimate of one's understanding of quantum mechanics, inspired by one your posts about probability. Ask him:

Is nature symmetric with respect to time ?

Tested, confirmed :)

reader Vangel said...

Why should Americans care about Ukrainian politics? From what I can tell there are no good guys to support. Note that the leaders of the protesters who orchestrated the coup had snipers shoot at both the police and their own supporters in order to provoke action. Note that this took place after the US spent around $5 billion supporting various Ukrainian groups, some of which are affiliated with Nazi groups and use Nazi insignia.

I think that Americans need to learn to mind their own business. Note that the only reason why the Bolsheviks came to power was because the allies were expecting Wilson to bring the US into World War One. This kept the war going for longer than it should have. It led to a settlement that has created many of the current problems in the Middle East and brought to power the National Socialists in Germany and Lenin in Russia. The Ba'ath party came to power because of MI6 and CIA support. So did the Shah of Iran. It is US aid that is keeping the Egyptian military in power in Egypt and the Saudi royal family in Saudi Arabia.

If you stood aside and let people settle their own problems while you traded with anyone who wished to do business with you we would have a richer and freer world.

reader Shannon said...

Vangel, those Nazis are considered good Nazis. You see there are the bad bad Nazis and there are good Nazis. I know it's complicated, just watch and learn ;-)

reader papertiger0 said...

Should have invested in windmills?


reader papertiger0 said...

In a battle between good Nazis and bad Nazis (all of them socialists) I will root for the bullet making capitalist.

See, it's easy when you have an ethic.

reader Vangel said...

Prices can differ when the large financial players can borrow cheaply and manipulate the paper markets.

Note that the large banks were able to manipulate the LIBOR rates for years and that affected markets that were hundreds of trillions of dollars in size. Note that the London Gold Pool was able to cap the price of gold for a number of years. The US government was able to fix the price of gold for a long time after it took advantage of its key currency status in the Bretton Woods system. When that was no longer possible the price rose from $40 in 1971 to $615 in 1980. The paper market in silver is huge. The data earlier this year showed 160 paper ounces of silver trading for each ounce of actual physical silver. As long as the central banks inject liquidity into the large financial institutions they can use the low cost access to funds to trade in most markets where paper dominates.

The problem is that such systems are unstable. Eventually the low prices will take production off line and demand for physical will not be met. At that time you will see the cracks appearing and there should be a scramble for real assets as the paper markets are discredited.

Here is an example of how this can be done:

And just last week, on April 15, 2014, the bankers smashed gold by selling over a half a billion dollars notional of gold futures contracts in a very short amount of time. Allow me to present some quick mathematics for you. If we use the price of the prior day’s close of gold of $1,327.10 per troy ounce, a notional amount of $500M would represent 3,768 gold futures contracts that represent 11.72 tonnes of gold. However, since it only takes an initial margin of $7,150 to control a gold futures contract with a notional amount of $132,710, if the bankers were to buy REAL physical gold instead of fake paper futures gold with the money they used to buy those 3,768 futures contracts, considering they would have to likely pay at least a $30 per ounce premium over spot for real physical gold, they would have been able to purchase only 0.62 tonnes of physical gold to later dump onto the market, an event that clearly would not have had the same impact as dumping 11.72 tonnes of paper gold, or nearly 19 times as much paper gold. The bankers succeeded in knocking $44 off the price of gold by dumping 11.72 tonnes of paper gold, not by selling the 0.62 tonnes of real gold their contractual purchase price would have represented. Thus, this example should make it simple to understand why the notional dollar amounts, and not the infinitely smaller contractual dollar amounts, are the amounts that are key when bankers use HFT programs to smash gold and silver prices. Though many mainstream analysts dismiss notional amounts of the precious metals derivative markets and say that only the contractual values are important, they clearly are trying to cover up the banker fraud that is taking place in these markets. In gold and silver derivative contracts, the notional amounts mean EVERYTHING while the contractual dollar amounts mean almost NOTHING.

reader papertiger0 said...

{Meanwhile, the "Nobel prize winner" Barack Obama plans new sanctions. A complete psychopath who deserves death penalty.}

[raising his hand] OOH! OOH! I know where he lives.

You need directions - I'm your guy. ;)

Make it quick because, I think my taxes might be out of order.

reader Vangel said...

Congress does reflect the body politic in our country; you cannot deny that.

Of course you can deny that. Do you really think that people wanted to bomb Syria or Libya? Do you really think that most people want their taxpayers to be given to NGOs that wind up suing the EPA so that it can force utilities to raise electricity rates? Do you really think that the average voter wants laws that tell them what kind of lightbulbs they must use or regulate the size of their toilet tanks? No car owner wants to pay $3,000 to fix the damage done by a low speed collision. But s/he has little choice because the rules that Congress passes force auto makers to make plastic bumpers that can crack easily.

reader QsaTheory said...

I think your view is simplistic, like most Americans. If Putin was such a bad boy why the west and especially Europe was cozy towards him for the past 15 years giving him all that money for the gas, what has changed. If you understand some rudimentary international politics then you will know it is nothing but a turf war. The superpowers have been cooperating together to keep there interests and when dispute arises some shoving and pushing will happen.
Please stop the "dictator" bleeding heart drama. The US government has not hesitated supporting(even creating) the most ignorant and the cruelest when it was in its interest.

reader cynholt said...

Ever think you woke up in the wrong nightmare, Lubos, one that had an eerie resemblance to Incident at Owl Creek Bridge? Or wonder if someone slipped a rather noxious psychedelic into your morning OJ? These people either are operating from an entirely bad-faith position or they are colossal fools, the reincarnation of the "leaders" of Europe one century ago. Once again, Russia appears to be the model of restraint in light of the machinations of the West.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Tom, I think that your numbers are wrong but more conceptually, the surplus of oil in the international markets is surely not the result of internal inventions of any of these countries, and it is affecting all of them.

Some of them may get the oil very cheaply and others not so cheaply but even this depends on many factors they can't affect.

Your listing of Russia next to countries that are meant to be unflattering is pure demagogy. Canada has also above-the-average dependence on fossil fuels, so it is of course also affected.

In a year and something, the Canadian dollar went from parity to CAD 1.17 per USD, see

But most importantly, this financial instability isn't just due to oil, it is partially and probably mostly due to the sanctions which have nothing whatever to do with any internal politics or management in Russia.

reader QsaTheory said...

Russia does not manage it economy like Iraq or Nigeria. Russia is a mini superpower sells aircraft/helicopter(civil and military), tanks, submarines, arms in general, nuclear stations and many other heavy industry.

Sure, mismanagement is there. But to deny that there is this West fear of Russia precisely because it is a formidable power that is part of a strategic alliance that tries to balance the world, is ludicrous period. The west thinks it can kill it before it grows, that is the reason that Russia has problems at this time.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Interesting, Cynthia.

reader Luboš Motl said...

I completely agree and I meant that Obama is the kind of a "nominally good person who is destined to do monstrosities because of that".

reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, I had to spend a few minutes to get at least vaguely familiar with the Occurence at the Owl Creek Bridge. You can't expect non-literature-fanatical Czechs to have internalized such stories! ;-)

reader cynholt said...

From People's exclusive interview with the Obamas on how they deal with their "own racist experiences"...

“There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys,” said President Obama, adding that, yes, it had happened to him.

[That wasn’t just "somebody," Mr. President. That was Jamie Dimon. Hoped he tipped well for the derivatives push-out.]

H/T: Jim Haygood at Naked Capitalism

[That wasn’t just ‘somebody,’ Mr. President. That was Jamie Dimon. Hoped he tipped well for the derivatives push-out.]

reader cynholt said...

Yes, and Russians are kind of paranoid when it comes to foreign invaders. Centuries of getting invaded have burned it into their culture. I think that they'd push the button before they surrendered their sovereignty.

reader Shannon said...

Ethic is stranger to the US.

reader Shannon said...

Very interesting indeed... and thanks Cynthia for the link to this blog.

reader Kimmo Rouvari said...

Don't be too hard on us classical crackpots :-) We'll take the holy grail and leave nothing but a dust cloud for you Stringy guys to choke on.

reader mesocyclone said...

The main structural issue these problem exacerbate is the over dependence of the Russian economy on energy exports. A significant reason for this is that Russia is not a good place to do business, due to corruption, and thus investments in other areas are not what they should be.

reader strictly speaking... said...

I guess the main winners are Russian banks and other debtors who owe a specific sum in Rubles to their creditor. The money that the Russian citizens have in their bank accounts is likely backed by real assets such as stocks and (to some degree non-Russian) bonds. Their actual assets will likely go down in value somewhat but the money that the banks will owe to account holders will have gone down much more significantly.

There are no morals about "traitors" here. If you tie your entire savings to a single fiat currency, you facing a significant risk of getting burned much like you would if all your savings were in a single company. Diversity is the only defense against unpredictable events.

reader Karel Strašný said...

Great article. I especially agree with the AND/OR problem.
In my opinion a lot of this confusion would be gone if people stopped thinking about zombie cats...

Although I understand that predicting that the cat is either dead or alive is not cool enough for philosophers :D

reader Edit_XYZ said...

I'm not american; nor am I russian.

Putin is a dictator by virtue of his actions - this is blatantly obvious for anyone who does some research on the subject (see the book I linked to above; it is far from the only one detailing Putin's rise and domestic policies).
Indeed, I find quite disturbing how easily his personality cult, helped by a few scraps from the high-price oil export table, brain-washed the russian people - the ones who will suffer the most due to him.

And yes, realpolitik is a significant part of international policy today; but far from all (this is why Israel doesn't just wipe the palestinians from existence, for example).
Putin broke the fundamental principles on which the world's peace and prosperity post WW2 (especially post 1989) were built - including Russia's given word (see Budapest Memorandum) by invading another country.

reader cynholt said...

Well, after all these years, I still feel a certain amount of sympathy for the Old South. It's reflected in the way I think and feel.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks, Karle. Very true. The very modest change of the wording people like to associate with the Schroedinger Cat could make a big difference.

The cat in the superposition is alive *or* dead, not alive *and* dead. The probability distribution following from a wave function is conceptually the same probability distribution that appears in classical statistical physics. The only new thing of quantum mechanics is that probability distributions for different observables are extracted from a complex wave function, and the nonzero commutator between different observables means that we can't write (positive) probability distributions for all observables simultaneously.

But |Psi|^2 is still a probability distribution which describes that either one options is true or another one is true, with different probabilities.

reader Gene Day said...

Obama is wrong, Lubos, and he lacks leadership skills but he is doing exactly what almost any other American President would be doing under the circumstances. When he is gone in a bit over two years things will not change and it is important to see this point.

The 2016 election of Ron Paul or his like would help a lot but it is nuts to think he can even get the Republican nomination.
The problem goes far beyond any one person; it is endemic to my country and it will not change quickly.

Obama has little remaining political capital and he is not going to waste it on an failed attempt to educate the American people.

What is going on is a classical turf war exacerbated by a deep, well-rooted fear of the Russian bear.

reader Gene Day said...

International relations are amoral and will always be amoral. Nations and their people usually have lofty ideals but they pursue their interests, not their principles. Get used to it.
Your right-wing political views are shared by around 40% of the American people but, unfortunately, we are a democracy: one man, one vote. Get used to it.
By the way, I do not oppose Russia in any way whatsoever and the military/industrial complex is only a small and declining factor in our domestic politics.
It does seem to me that the US will retain its dominant position for the foreseeable future.

reader QsaTheory said...

I said "like" most Americans. What I am trying to say is that this politics existed from before Putin as far back as WWII and beyond. The turf war is about interests, if you see the Russian TV and as a matter of fact the words are almost word for word like Iran. This official Russian statement is that our dealing must contain mutual respect for the interests of both parties. This is diplomatic code word for don't step on my foot, don't push(as in encroaching NATO on Russian border) ...etc. Who engineered the coup in Ukraine!! The US might think that Russia is a push over even less than CCCP, I don't know whether that is true or not, only time will tell.

You seem to want to push the CNN/FOX stuff, most readers of TRF are too intelligent for that. You Know, the buzzwords like dictator, human rights, terrorist, despot ...and so on.

reader Vangel said...

LOL...How do you know that the price of oils is higher than it should be?

Put it in context. A company sends out explorers to some of the most inhospitable environments on this planet. They bring with them drilling equipment and spend millions to take samples. Those samples are reviewed by geologists who determine if there is organic source rock, reservoir rock of the right porosity and permeability, and cap rock. If there is they have a good idea that they may have a viable field. To get a better idea they drill test wells and evaluate the production curves. If everything works out they hire drilling crews to drill wells. Those wells require pads, all kinds of specialized hardware and equipment, etc. The oil that is produced may have water or other impurities so there is usually special equipment to separate the final product. That product is shipped via a newly construction pipeline to a hub from where it is loaded onto rail cars, ships, or transported by another pipeline to the refineries. The refiners take the oil and produce a wide spectrum of products that are sold to their customers. Those products have to be transported by pipeline, trucks, rail, etc., before they make their way to the final customer.

All this requires trillions in capital, which is why you have dozens of very large energy companies producing most of the oil rather than hundreds of thousands of little ones. So how expensive is this product? It is cheaper than the equivalent amount of mineral water, Starbucks coffee, or Diet Coke.

So you will excuse me if I do not agree with your assessment that oil is more expensive than it should be.

reader Tony said...

Considering the Kochen-Specker theorem, for example, isn't it, strictly speaking, incorrect to say that some observable *HAS* value A or B (or that particle *is* at location x or y)?

That *has* or *is* easily leads to EPR kind of reasoning where an observable has to have some definite value before it is observed, we just don't know it.

reader Edit_XYZ said...

CNN/FOX may use dictator, human rights, etc as buzzwords.
I don't. Putin is a dictator as per the definition of the concept.

As for the Maidan - what you are advocating is a conspiracy theory supported only by Putin's word and his propaganda, which are worth exactly nothing nowadays.

International politics - it is and was always a melange of power used to achieve rational self-interest and ideology (witness, for example, Putin's conquest of Crimeea, motivated by nationalism/paranoia as opposed to self-interest).
As for the ideologies - they differ in different eras: squabbles among nobles, religion, nationalism, paranoia, even morals as it is defined by different cultures at different times.
Buzzwords such as vaguely defined 'respect' are not even close to being relevant here.
What can be said is that the melange used since WW2 (or 1989) was more successful in maintaining relative peace than any other before. And Putin blatantly broke the rules.

reader Vangel said...

"International relations are amoral and will always be amoral."

I do not agree. There is nothing amoral about killing little kids by having some drone operator shoot a missile at a wedding party. There is nothing amoral about supporting a tyrant who is oppressing his people. There is nothing amoral about giving weapons to al Qaeda in its attempt to take over Libya.

"Nations and their people usually have lofty ideals but they pursue their interests, not their principles."

So? In a free society we all pursue our own principles. We benefit not from altruism but from voluntary cooperation and exchange.

Your right-wing political views are shared by around 40% of the American people but, unfortunately, we are a democracy: one man, one vote.

Right wing? I argue that you need to stop supporting dictators abroad and to pull back the troops and bring them home. While that used to be the position of the Old Right, I do not consider it to be a policy of the right wing today. The fact that I oppose Obama does not make me right wing. And the fact that I opposed Bush did not make me left wing either.

Here you go. Ten questions that can be answered in a minute. I scored 100% in both personal freedom and economic freedom. That makes me a Libertarian. What are you?

"By the way, I do not oppose Russia in any way whatsoever and the military/industrial complex is only a small and declining factor in our domestic politics."

Your country spends as much every year on military related activities as it takes in from personal income taxes. That cannot be said to be small no matter which dictionary you own.

reader Philip Weisler said...

''Really, Lubos, your fixation on Russia is irrational - little different from the left's dogmas.'' - well said. I think Lubos can be (and often is) convincing when he discusses topics he has personal knowledge of/related experiences. Like Western PC / cultural Marxist nonsense (he has worked at US universities, I undertstand - and some of the Western colleges are really notorious hotbeds for left wing radicalism).

But I'm pretty sure he has never spent more than a couple of weeks in Russia. His views vis-a-vis Russia are really naive and onesidedly optimistic.

reader Tony said...

So what do you propose? That US starts arming Ukraine, or a blockade of Crimea? That we try liberate poor Russians from the dictator? When USSR invaded Czechoslovakia we didn't try to send arms. Why now when it would be practically on the doorstep of Moscow? Is Putin really so much worse than the old regime?

reader Shannon said...

A lot of people who have never been to the US have a lot of pre-conceived ideas about it too (one wonders why ;)). My last visit to ugly shitty filthy Manhattan was a reminder to me to never ever set foot in this fucked up country again.

reader john said...

Because oil market is not a free market. Cost of a barrel to Saudi Arabia is : $5-6 (source

reader Edit_XYZ said...

The guiding principles for 'what should we do' are easier to define than the concrete actions (mostly due to the unpredictability of Putin's responses).

So - the principles:
It would be in our interest if Putin gets his ass handed to him as thoroughly as possible over his actions in Ukraine.
It would also be in our interest for this to come to pass with as little resources expended on the part of the West as possible - and with as little risk as possible.

As for the ongoing events/taken measures:
Economics seems to be hurting Putin's Russia quite nicely.*
Arming Ukraine is part of an american law that is to be signed by Obama.
And a war of the West with Russia is definitely not advisable.

*Of course, considering Putin's huge popularity among the russians (80-90%), he will probably not be deposed. But if he pays a large enough price, this crisis should serve as a cautionary tale for the next power which wants to help itself to some conquests.

reader QsaTheory said...

You have avoided discussing the real issue, so I will simplify it for you with a question.

Are you denying that the west in general(US in particular) are trying to make Ukraine join the NATO virtually strangling Russia and get Russia to give up his support for its only ally Assad regime(while the US can keep zillions of them in that area).

Go ahead and repeat. Putin is a dictator. You seem to either trying to convince us or yourself that it is all about Putin.

reader QsaTheory said...

What a contradiction, Putin is popular but a dictator. Nice!

reader Edit_XYZ said...

No one is trying to make Ukraine join NATO or EU.
Ukraine very much wants to join NATO and EU. NATO doesn't seem very interested. EU, on the other hand, is more open to Ukraine's ouvertures.

Will this 'strangle' Russia? I seriously doubt 'buffer' states would mean much in a major future war - what with the changing

technology; history is a spiral, not a circle (nuclear weaponry, long range weaponry, etc - the rules of a future major war are unlike anything seen in the past).

I suspect this 'strangling' due to a lack of 'buffer states' is paranoia (born out of centuries in which everyone from the mongols to Hitler trampled on the russians), as opposed to any rational calculation; a claustrophobic illusion rather than any real existential danger.

As for Putin being a dictator - I see your position is finally reduced to its essence: belief in Putin as a saviour supported by no rational argument.

reader Shannon said...

EditXYZ, why are you being so hateful against Putin? What has he done to yourself and your country? Russians are our friends here in Europe, so, excuse me but fuck off...

reader QsaTheory said...

I see, what I have been seeing and hearing on the news all these years was all a dream. The Russian military are so stupid, their government so naive, no danger.
This is a severe problem for Russia that they are trying to address and started by an engineered coup, Putin or no Putin.

reader Tony said...

Well, since somebody is unpredictable, and it is a nuclear superpower, what about: *ck that, he can have whole Eastern Europe back if he wants, I'm outta this mess!?

reader john said...

I don't know about Putin but those two things are not contradictory.

reader Luboš Motl said...

No, Tony, the assumption that a value objectively exists is an assumption in classical physics and it is simply wrong in quantum mechanics. However, the word OR is just a part of mathematical logic and logic works in QM outside classical physics, too.

reader QsaTheory said...

Sure, define the words and anything goes. The context here is clear though for the humble.

reader Tony said...

Following the same logic, even if Putin runs into Ukraine, US is certainly in no real existential danger. Neither is Western Europe. Eastern Europeans don't leave impression of being too scared, either. So why bother with Ukraine?

reader john said...

I wanted to mean that there were many dictators who were also popular through history. Sorry if I was not clear enough.

reader YourChannel? said...

Hey Lubos, is that your youtube channel?

reader QsaTheory said...

That is what I meant. typically we mean by dictator a ruler who dictates to unwilling population. But it is also used as sort of a cuss word to label rulers( popular or not) by their enemy, justifiably or not.

reader Smoking Frog said...

That's a great idea.

reader Smoking Frog said...

Although I understand that predicting that the cat is either dead or alive is not cool enough for philosophers :D

Well, yes. Until now they've overlooked the question of whether the cat understands QM. :-)

reader woodnfish said...

Unfortunately for us and the world, the US does not know how to mind its own business. I was all for revenge after 911, but we never attacked Saudi Arabia for it. Why is that, as all the terrorists were Saudi's. I was okay with going into Afghanistan to destroy Al-Qaeda. I was not okay with staying there or invading Iraq. I was never okay with Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia or any of the other phony "police" actions the US has carried out around the world since WWII (Although Korea was before my time). I was also okay with our attacks on Libya after they destroyed our Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland. I have no problem with revenge, but I prefer we trade rather than invade and manipulate other sovereign countries.

Too bad that is NEVER going to happen. Too many people in this country believe we have a "manifest destiny" to lead the world to goodness and light. They can't see how corrupt our government is, and ignore the criminal acts of our government against other countries and our own citizens.

The US is big, rich, and powerful, and we have a large number of deluded flag waivers who will be happy to send our military to kill you for your own good if you don't like it.

reader woodnfish said...

The US has a very large military industrial complex and spends more on our military than any other country - 11 times Russsia, 6 times more than China.

It used to be said that war was good for the economy because of the military contracts that go out to companies for arms, equipment, infrastructure, etc. So, there is an economic benefit. But in my opinion, the human toll is not worth it.

If you look at the trillion dollars only in respect to the political and military results of the Afghan War, yeah, it was a waste. But a lot of companies and people here in the US have made a lot of money off that war.

I'm pretty sure that is Anna's point.

reader woodnfish said...

"Afghanistan is still home to the poorest, most squalid white people in the world, mostly due to 35 years of more or less continuous civil war."

Partly true, but they are mostly poor because of their culture and religion. Afghans make Africans look smart.

reader RM said...

You've shown several times over on physicsoverflow that you don't even know several basic aspects of undergraduate *classical* physics, like how Lagrangians and Hamiltonians work. So far you don't even deserve to count yourself among the physicists who are getting things *wrong*, forget the ones who get things right. You're trying to assemble a 'theory of everything' before you even know the tiniest fraction of what the 'everything' actually is. You'd really progress a lot faster if you practiced a little humility and didn't consider yourself an authority on a concept the second you learned the terminology.

reader NikFromNYC said...

"Painting is a good thing to fight for to show people that there is more in them than the photographer can get." – van Gogh

reader Shannon said...

Putin has been fighting financial corruption in his contry too. One could say the US themselves are a global mafia too.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Is *what* my YouTube channel?

reader Don said...

Because of articles like this, Lubos, I am trying to learn how to actually set up and solve quantum mechanics problems in my spare time. As you know, I am a molecular biologist and never have any practical use for this stuff in my day job, but I am interested in the science nonetheless.

Through your writings, I have come to appreciate that Bohr was just being realistic and that it was Einstein who was being unreasonable by insisting that science describe what can never, in principle, be measured. I was pretty shocked to see in this latest Carroll caricature that there was no reference at all made to Schrodinger's interpretation of his wave function. I have been reading translations of his papers from the 1930s-1950s and he tried very hard to overcome the Born interpretation. But even he never succeeded. I don't know why some philosophy major with no working knowledge of QM thinks he can succeed where Schrodinger could not. You are correct that these people are trying to turn the clock backwards. It is because they have low wattage brains. I am right now trying to read Hermann Weyl. He had a philosophical view that was very sophisticated. But he never tried to argues against QM. In fact, he invented new math so that people could eventually use the symmetry ideas and get away from Schrodinger's PDE formulation.

All of that said, it does seem clear that QM cannot be "by itself" as a formalism. I am slowly coming to understand what you mean about the constraints laid down by general relativity and QM and how hard it will be for any new ideas because they have to account for these too. I am even starting to see why you make fun of Smolin's alternative quantum gravity ideas.

Right now there is only string theory that fits these constraints. But as I am reading Weyl, I have a faint inkling of a different way. He thought of the links between math, mathematical physics and experiments in a very unique way. I have not seen any examples of Weyl's thinking in the current generation of physicists. His way of thinking led him to his new forms of topology that eventually were applicable to QM. I wonder if applying his weird philosophical/mathematical way of thinking will lead to the next major step in physics by allowing someone to have the insight about a new principle that links us as observers to some new form of math, that will all of a sudden make both QM and general relativity seem very intuitive.

Anyway, I share your frustration with Candy-boy Carroll. I don't see how it can even pass for science. I am glad you have the knowledge to vent it so well. And I am glad you keep repeating about the past 90 years. It has caused me to go back and read and learn exactly what they were saying in the early 20th century and it is still worth considering their thoughts today as a framework to deal with the current problems being faced.

Speaking of which, did you see this video of Dirac?



reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Don, thanks, excellent to hear these things. Weyl is probably a fancy reading. Dirac was great - those spoken lectures are a bit boring, I feel.

Concerning Einstein vs Bohr and "careful physics", it's exactly a seed of the often repeated confusion. People often say that Einstein was "careful" or "conservative" or demanded "high standards" by de facto requiring physics to fit into classical physics, and speak about the values before measurements - because that's what centuries of physicists were used to believe to exist.

But the truth is the opposite one, it's Bohr who is careful, conservative, and demanding evidence. The state before measurements can't be measured ;-), pretty much tautologically, so one can never experimentally show that such an observable had some particular value, which is why it is necessary to allow theories not to say anything firm about the properties of the system before the measurement, and indeed, quantum mechanics uses this mandatory tolerance and says that the reality before the measurement isn't objective but a matter of knowledge that at most knows probabilities and most of the physically meaningful (in principle measurable) Yes/No answers cannot be 0% or 100% certain, not even in principle.

reader Kimmo Rouvari said...

Practicing humility is in my todo list... Anyway, my progress in mastering physics is on the fast track now. Two physicists forced me to study physics deeper ;-)

reader Frank Ch. Eigler said...

"but we never attacked Saudi Arabia for it. Why is that, as all the terrorists were Saudi's."

reader Oleg said...

Great post, Luboš, you just read my mind!

reader Luboš Motl said...

Telepathy shouldn't work, Oleg.

The amount of amazement about calmness has dropped by those 10+ percent by which the rouble recovered, plus by the banker's suicide and a few intense waves of purchase of Western cars and electronics, but it's still high! ;-)

reader papertiger0 said...

Andrew Cuomo of New York laments the free market driven price of oil. I imagine he would prefer state owned energy production become a universal norm. More over he has taken steps, limited as they may be by dent of living in a republic, to regulate shale gas extraction out of existence. Don't know if that makes him a "good nazi" or a bad one, but I do notice the timing is rather suspicious. It's as if the New York Govn'r is serving a Russian constituency rather than his actual constituents.
I remember not so long ago when a big chunk of Europe was being held hostage to the Russian monopoly of nat gas production. Now that there is a glut, born mostly of American free enterprise, Russia is experiencing the downside of jerking around his main customers. You all went shopping, singularly and collectively, for the better bargain.
Can't help it by sympathizing with Putin. People love a bargain. You do too. If there's a two pairs for the price of one special at the shoe store, you do too. It's nature.

If you really feel bad for Putin you could send him a book on customer relations.

reader NikFromNYC said...

Q: How, mathematically, do you define categories?

reader NikFromNYC said...

"Tell me where is fancy bred.
Or in the heart or in the head?" – William Shakespeare (“The Merchant of Venice” 1598)

reader Gordon said...

Calling complex numbers "strange" just emphasizes his unfamiliarity with them. They are, in fact, beautiful; and complex analysis enriches and often simplifies nearly everything it touches in mathematics, physics, engineering etc.

reader andy said...

Even if Sean doesn't like you, you would think he would have at least one friend/colleague who is an expert on QFT who could explain this basic stuff to him. It just goes to show how a PhD in anything can just be meaningless. You would have thought Physics PhDs would be better somehow.

reader Don said...

Dear Lubos

Yes, I agree with your interpretations of Einstein vs. Bohr. Einstein was being a philosopher, but Bohr was being a scientist. I now understand that QM is the correct formalism to act as an ACCOUNTING DEVICE for observations. It is the math needed to account for how observation happens in fact, not in theory. I see the neccessity for the non-commutative algebra (this is explained nice in the Dirac talk for beginners like me). It is clear to me now that that is what Bohr was arguing for.

One thing to add to the above is that, even though Einstein took the losing side of the argument, his constant pressure on Bohr (like the EPR paper for example) was important to help sharpen and make very clear the "Copenhagen" interpretation of QM. This is good, and Einstein's role as a positive force should be made clear.

Yes Weyl is fancy reading. It helps, I feel, to read the original authors, instead of highly digested text book axiomatic presentations, because then one can see why and how specific ideas developed. One thing I see little talk of was Emmy Noether and her theorem linking symmetry to physical law. Have you written about her in your many posts?

Weyl was one of her colleagues and he was humble enough to admit that she was smarter than he was! But it is clear to me that the line of thinking to come from these German mathematicians was very important for the development of QM and Relativity. Maybe if people today better understood these histories, silly people like Carroll, who focus on silly stuff like many worlds, would not be taken so seriously.

As usual, Sir Dr., thank you for the informative and illuminating posts.

Best wishes,


reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks, Don! Right, Einstein enriched things even when he was wrong. To say the least, people were forced - and are still being forced - to articulate some things more clearly than Bohr did. ;-)

Maybe if there were fewer articulate sentences with the perfect grammar, there would be a higher percentage of valid propositions in texts about quantum mechanics, however, because the humanity types would be repelled from physics which would be a good thing, I guess.

A Noether bio is in the middle of

but the name Noether appears in 36 TRF blog posts.

The proof of her theorem is in almost every good textbook of related things so I didn't try to be original or unoriginal...

Yup, I think that the history of the people born between 1880 and 1905 or something like that is heavily underrated, and they were so amazing. It's politically given - people like to overhype folks who worked in the 1960s because they were linked to hippies and similar stuff.

But the real advances were done by someone much older...

reader metamars said...

From the elite Anglo-American POV, the convenient chaos in Syria and Ukraine are invaluable constraints against Russia. See references in my diary "Supposed moderate, anti-Assad rebellion cooked up in West, funded by Qatar’s $10 billion" , .

Russian economic implosion would be icing on the cake for neocon and neoliberal nutjobs.

Russia's restraint has been admirable, and IMO Putin should be given a Nobel peace prize, as surely as Obama's should be stripped from him. (Though we can be glad crazy John McCain was not in his place.)

If things get bad enough in Russia, and they decide to use force (even if illegally), my guess is that they need only render two Saudi ports "inoperable" for a lengthy period of time, on successive days, to force oil prices back up, and make the Saudis think twice about funding yet more terrorism. (The point of more than 1 operation is to demonstrate that they have the capability and will to completely cut off Saudi oil exports.)

Philip Giraldi, an ex-CIA guy that still has contacts in the intelligence community, has told us that Saudi pumped $5 Billion into overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood dominated government in Egypt. The Saudis don't like democratic Islamists, because it makes it obvious that you don't need a royal family to run an Islamic government....

They do love terrorists, though ISIS appears to have gone Frankenstein monster on them.

reader Vangel said...

I am sorry but all I get is unsupported rhetoric that is motivated by political ideology and a misunderstanding of history.
While I do not like Putin I hardly think that he is a dictator. He did come to power in an election and is clearly more popular than Obama or GW was in either of his two terms. If you want to bring up the topic let us note that in the US it is impossible for a third party to make any headway because the electoral process is controlled by the two main parties. This is why the GOP and DP are very unpopular yet still have the majority of seats in Congress and why it is nearly impossible for an independent to challenge for the Presidency.

On the Crimea issue, Russia had every right to be there because it had an agreement to use the military bases. And let us note that the Crimean people rejected Kiev. I suspect that the Russian areas of Ukraine will do exactly the same thing as is their right.

As for international politics, I see no profit in engaging in games by meddling in the affairs of other nations. History shows us that such things are never a profitable activity except for the merchants of death that get naive people to support their crazy schemes.

reader Don said...

Thank you for the links to the additional material, Sir. That was a nice (albeit short) bio of Emmy Noether.



reader Rehbock said...

As poin

reader Rehbock said...

The right people have aways taken LM seriously. A book would be very nice, though, and would be on my books to have if castaway.

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