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Demagogic puzzles involving randomness, quantum mechanics

Pradeek Mutalik is a "puzzle columnist" in the Quanta Magazine. Readers are usually invited to solve some problems or puzzles. But they're not "just puzzles". They're always claimed to have implications for the fundamental laws of physics. This latest one is

How Randomness Can Arise From Determinism
and it is clearly presented as "puzzles that help the reader think about quantum mechanics".

The only conversation under this video is: Frederick Mush: It's fraud. - Sazka Corp: Why should it be? - Because I don't see a notary and I don't win much when I guess three numbers right.

After all, the word "quantum" appears in the first sentence and 6 other places in his article (and 18 times on the HTML page now). The only problem is that everything that the reader "learns" about randomness in quantum mechanics is completely wrong.

In effect, Mutalik's "puzzles" are an excellent example of the omnipresent demagogy and misinformation in the "mainstream" media that makes the readers of such media increasingly deluded and scientifically illiterate.

Everyone who actually knows at least basics of quantum mechanics may see that the article is deluded from the very title:
How Randomness Can Arise From Determinism
Well, if the determinism is strict, randomness can't ever arise from it, pretty much by definition. "Determinism" means that the evolution is determined; "randomness" means that it isn't. These two words sharply contradict each other.

But we know what he means, right? He means that randomness may arise from some tiny imbalances, e.g. from the question whether a die turns 112 times or 112.1 times around its axis, or whether a bean falls 1 micron to the left or 1 micron to the right.

The real crime is that he presents the title as a template of the relationship between randomness and determinism according to quantum mechanics. However, the correct relationship is exactly the opposite one:
Our Universe is fundamentally quantum mechanical – the random outcomes are also the most obvious and the most universal trait of the quantum mechanical experiments – and all outcomes are fundamentally random. Whenever we see some deterministic evolution anywhere, it's approximate and it may be derived as a limiting case of a random, probabilistic prediction. In other words, determinism always arises from the fundamental randomness.
He wrote the exact opposite – which is just wrong. The phenomena in our Universe become classical and deterministic if quantities describing the experimental situation are much greater than (a finite multiple of a positive power of) Planck's constant. The error margins of predictions may be much smaller than the predictions themselves which means that the predictions are basically precise and determined.

Mutalik just misleads the reader – he leads the reader to believe that the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics are deterministic and the randomness is emergent. It's not. The fundamental predictions are random and it's the determinism that is emergent and approximate.

Every single explicit statement he makes about quantum mechanics is wrong, too:
Is nature inherently random? According to some interpretations of quantum mechanics, it is, explaining why we can’t precisely predict the motions of single particles.
Nature is inherently random and it's unquestionably a basic postulate of quantum mechanics. It's complete nonsense that one may avoid this fact by choosing an "interpretation". Equivalently, someone may talk about an "interpretation" that denies the fundamental randomness of quantum mechanical predictions but this person immediately proves that he or she is a full-blown crackpot who doesn't have the slightest idea about the subject.

And it goes on and on and on.

But I want to mention something else. Much of this text by Mutalik isn't about quantum mechanics and doesn't even pretend to be about quantum mechanics. It is about a bean machine, the Galton board, where beans drop to some boxes where the number of beans ends up being proportional to Pascal's triangle. Great. So it's some straightforward example of a classical machine with some random terms that may be treated as random inputs in an otherwise classical evolution. The machine automatically computes sums of some random numbers which is how we get Pascal's triangle.

However, when the reader spends some time with this bean machine, he is being deceived into thinking that he's spending time with learning something about quantum mechanics – because that's what the first sentence of the article explicitly talks about. But it's a complete lie. At most, the article encourages the reader to completely misunderstand quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is a subtle subject and bean machines may also be subtle but these two types of "subtlety" are completely different from one another.

All the technicalities of the way how that Pascal's triangle is reproduced by the bean machine have absolutely nothing to do with the conceptual questions about quantum mechanics and the role of randomness in quantum mechanics (or in our Universe, at the fundamental level). Mutalik makes the readers spend their time with a non-elementary, composite, contrived gadget that combines many random numbers in a certain way.

But if you want to understand the fundamental laws of physics, you need to study the elementary building blocks, not complicated Rube Goldberg bean machines – and not even Galton boards. You may reduce the random generator to a simpler one – such as dice or Sportka in the video at the top. Sportka is the most popular lottery in Czechia which has been operating since the 1950s.

Six numbers are picked out of fourty-nine. These 49 numbers were originally labeling 49 different sports – that alternative way to count from 1 to 49 wasn't terribly important for determining the winners LOL so I think that most people don't even know this history today (and therefore the reason why it's called Sportka). But as you remember very well, there are (49 choose 6) = 13,983,816 different possible results so the probability that you guess all six numbers correctly is one in 14 million or so. (Some guy got $2 million last week, the jackpot is much larger ($10 million now; a Czech recently won a billion crowns in a Eurojackpot). You get smaller prizes for guessing fewer than 6 numbers, too.)

Great. The gadget – modernized relatively to the 1980s when I already watched it as a kid – has some balls with winds and the balls, like molecules in gas, fly in some vessel before they drop from a hole. The details don't matter but the result of the Sportka ritual is equivalent to a die with 49 possible outcomes. Great. We can imagine that the gadget operates according to the laws of classical physics and the random numbers are determined from some tiny, basically unpredictable details of the initial conditions and fluctuations of the wind speed in the vessel.

That's how classical physics imagines the inner workings of this gadget. But that's just an approximation. In the real world, all predictable quantities are probabilities or their densities (and rates) and their functions. When there's some "classically looking randomness", like in the dice, it's just an example of the quantum randomness that didn't disappear in the \(\hbar\to 0\) limit, typically because a bean was placed on the edge between the left hole and the right hole, or something like that. So the quantum wave function got split into two separated parts – and cannot be described as a single wave packet. Instead, we need several packets. And that's why the behavior of the machine – Galton board, Sportka engine, or a simple die – looks random even in the classical limit.

However, once again, the fundamental origin of all the randomness in our world is always the same fundamental randomness of the quantum mechanical predictions!

Propaganda: fool the manipulated person into thinking that he's discovering the conclusions himself

More generally, Mutalik shows a "mode of brainwashing" that is omnipresent these days. People are led to spend some time with something – and by spending the time with something, like the bean machine, they are encouraged to think that they understood something else. But they haven't. By playing with a bean machine, you won't understand any quantum mechanics, and if the "lesson you have learned" is that there is perhaps no fundamental randomness in quantum mechanics, then it's a totally incorrect lesson and you may at most join the column of full-blown, hopeless crackpots who wrote numerous utterly retarded books about quantum mechanics, especially in recent 5 years or so.

Most readers – if they can solve trivial problems with bean machines at all – still lack all critical thinking abilities so they're led to thinking that by doing something with bean machines, they must surely be getting better in quantum mechanics (because that phrase was mentioned at the beginning of the article). I think that a relatively low intelligence should be sufficient for everybody to figure out – without any help from others – that it is simply not the case. But the sufficient intelligence isn't enough. One simply needs some critical thinking which is a partly moral characteristic. Some people, albeit relatively intelligent, are still immensely easy to be manipulated.

In effect, Mutalik's text is exactly the same kind of anti-scientific propaganda as an article titled
The Bible may imply genetic relationship between animals and old Jews
which would contain some exercises where the readers would solve the family relationships between some characters in Genesis or Exodus or something like that. You would spend hours by figuring out whether Moses, David, and Goliath are cousins because they triply-gay-married and had Mary Magdalene as their daughter, or whatever the modernized Bible says ;-). But the real point of that article would be to manipulate you into thinking that Creationism is the right starting point to understand genetics.

It's not and ten hours of your playing with family relations between Moses and Mary Magdalene clearly can't change anything about this trivial fact. In the same way, determinism isn't a possible starting point to define or understand quantum mechanics and ten hours that you spend with a bean machine can't change anything about it, either!

If you want to understand quantum mechanics, you need to look at elementary particles, experiments with spin, and their description in terms of linear (but non-commuting) operators, bra vectors, ket vectors, and interfering complex probability amplitudes. Those are quantum mechanics; bean machines are not. If you want to settle whether the randomness of spin measurements could be due to hidden variables similar to those in Sportka or the Galton board, you need to study commutators, no-go theorems for hidden variables, Bell's theorem, the free will theorem, things like that, and the only correct and provable conclusion will be that the randomness simply cannot be due to any hidden variables!

Needless to say, the same kind of manipulation is exploited in the case of the climate hysteria, too. So lots of people are encouraged to think about the implications of the drowning of 330 million Americans in the sea – because all of them went to Florida for vacations and didn't notice the rising sea levels (by 25 meters) or something like that. So all these sheep think about some catastrophic scenarios like that for hours and they enjoy scaring each other as if they were kids in a dark closet. And because they have already spent so many hours with that, it must surely make this investment of their time justified, right? So it implies that the threat is real and the assumptions are realistic, they are led to think. Otherwise they would have wasted their time! Which can't be true, can it?

Sorry, the climate threat is not real and every single person in the world who is spreading this fear is a charlatan. The fact that you have spent 10 hours or 50 years by inventing some bad implications of a worrisome scenario doesn't make it possible. If you're worried that such a conclusion would mean that you have wasted your life, so it can't be the case, well, yes, you have wasted your life, indeed. But what is worse is that you are wasting time of billions of other people and trillions of their dollars as well and the most notorious climate alarmists would probably be given the death penalty by the judges if those were impartial.

There is no valid law in logic, mathematics, or science that would say that if you waste your time with something, it's good for something. If you waste your time with something, it most likely means that the time has been wasted, indeed. Virtually no method to waste your time is a good method to learn quantum mechanics.

Incidentally, there's also this cute wishful-thinking-based prediction about the Bitcoin halving. Right now, every 10 minutes, the miners receive 12.5 bitcoins for the newly mined block (which involves guessing the input for a nontrivial, irreversible calculation that yields a desired output). That's about 660,000 bitcoins a year or $5.3 billion at the current BTC/USD price around $8,000. In Spring or Summer 2020, the bounty will be reduced by 50%, to 6.25 bitcoins per block, OK? That's $2.6 billion a year. So some "intellectuals" say that this must mean that the Bitcoin price will double in Spring 2020, otherwise the miners would be getting just 1/2 of what they're getting now for the same period! ;-)

Of course, there is the other, more sensible possibility, that the miners will indeed earn less because the Bitcoin price just won't double because of that change, and many of them will go out of business, and maybe in the chaos, the fees will be huge or the fear of impossible payments will make the price and the whole system collapse. The Bitcoin cultists don't want this scenario so they prefer to treat it as impossible. But it is completely possible and much more likely than their wishful-thinking scenario. Many people seem incapable of distinguishing "unwanted" and "impossible".

The manipulation of the people – and it's also true for the schoolkids – is most efficient when the kids or readers have the feeling that they have done some work themselves, they have experienced something themselves, and they have discovered the right conclusion themselves. However, all these "learning algorithms" are designed in such a way that the schoolkids, readers, or others are being pushed (almost deterministically) to a predetermined opinion – that is almost universally wrong because the quantum mechanics columns, textbooks on quantum mechanics, and curricula for schools are mostly created by crackpots, liars, and unhinged left-wing ideologues these days – and it would be easy for the schoolkids or readers to see that they're being had if they had some basic skills in critical thinking. But an overwhelming majority of the people have nothing of the sort today.

That's why we're drowning in a growing sea of unhinged climate alarmists and people who believe that quantum mechanics should be replaced with a deterministic theory, among thousands of other insane crackpotteries.

And that's the memo.

Related bonus:

One day ago, a social scientist wrote an essay, mostly about Slavoj Žižek, a Marxist philosopher. The essay also mentions quantum mechanics and the Copenhagen Interpretation. What they say is "not important" for the purpose at hand – how could the actual beef every be important for a social "scientist", right? ;-) But even though he knows nothing about the beef and finds it unimportant, he decides it must be wrong to say "shut up and calculate" because it's analogous to rejecting AOC's demands to "smash capitalism".

I agree it is analogous indeed – the people who haven't understood that the anti-Copenhagen talk about quantum mechanics is a deluded waste of time are complete morons which is why students have been told to "shut up and calculate" for decades – and in the exact same way, AOC is a complete moron because she wants to "smash capitalism". These conclusions are not pre-determined dogmas. Instead, they are results of a careful but rather straightforward scrutiny of basic mathematical arguments and empirical facts about quantum mechanics, capitalism, and related phenomena. Yes, the anti-Copenhagen folks are crackpots analogous to AOC – and to the author of that deeply unintelligent rant, too. He doesn't like when some opinions are labeled episodes of Bugs Bunny because opinions that are demonstrably equivalent to the episodes of Bugs Bunny are the only opinions that he possesses!

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