Another honest scientist – making progress with @jimalkhalili

Watched episode 1 of Jim Al-Khalili’s “The Secrets of Quantum Physics – Part 1 Einstein’s Nightmare” at last. (Mentioned related stories in a couple of previous posts.)

In synopsis – ‘cos I’m in a hurry as ever – everything about discoveries of quanta from Einstein on the photo-electric effect, the many forms of the ubiquitous dual-slit experiment(s), “spooky” action at a distance, EPR and the Einstein, Bohr (and Heisenberg) disagreements have been the stuff of popular science writing for some time (archetypically for me, Gribben and Charlesworth in cartoon form.) Even up to Bell’s inequality and the experiments on pairs of polarised electrons following separate paths. No mention of advanced or pilot waves and thankfully no mention of Shroedinger’s cat, despite numerous “open the box” opportunities. If that is unintelligible to you, then you need to watch Jim’s program and/or read his book.

Only weak point for me was that it is not made clear how and why the Bell card-pairs-game and the polarised-electron-pair experiment using Bell’s inequality does actually prove the Einstein-Bohr argument one way or the other. Bell’s inequality is stated without really explaining what it means?

BUT sure Einstein was wrong with his rigged-deck take on avoiding the conclusion of observer driven outcomes. He was of course right on a lot more. I always felt the concept of there even being a (predetermined) deck to be rigged was his point, the point being it’s a daft idea, like Shroedinger with his cat – to illustrate how mad – weird – the prevailing quantum concepts are when related to our common sense world. Thought experiments to demonstrate how inconceivably these metaphors could possibly reflect how reality really is. Which is the point.

Good that Jim clearly sees the ongoing weirdness as a problem needing sorting out. The fact this suggested some serious misunderstandings about the true nature of reality itself, exposed by Einstein’s refusal to agree with Bohr being ignored post-war in the Copenhagen drive to “shut-up and calculate” – QM works for (say) nuclear power and the electronics of the communications age – who cares? Conflicting opinions were simply “swept under the carpet”. Interesting that the hippy and eastern mysticism movement – that in fact led hippy physicists to the polarised-electron-pair experiment – is indeed a part of the story – a story about the nature of reality that is, not about any good or bad “science of the supernatural”. Looking forward to Part 2.

My take – the weirdeness is simply a consequence of misguided common sense about objects and objectivity. ie it’s not their “observation” that’s the problem, but their conceptualisation in the first place, which ultimately leads to them being set up to be observed. We reify into objects what is in fact more immediate pre-conceptual empirical experience – deliberately to make objects distinct from ourselves as subject. Science is based on objectivity, whereas reality really isn’t. I hope Jim recognises that’s a philosophical question and not a scientific problem, ie I’m not knocking the science. Science cannot know reality at these levels. As Jim says it is in some sense unknowable, unknowable to science that is.

Really good takeaways. Honest on the state of what is truly (not) known and understood at the QM level and seriously well done for not resorting to Schroedinger’s damn cat. Well done.

[Aside – no mention of De-Broglie-Bohm advance “pilot” waves – Jim mentioned in a tweet he had a preference for this view – over Copenhagen anyway.]

[Post Note : Even objects as large as molecules comprising 114 atoms (!) giving double slit interference signature. LiveScience via @cpwernham. Beware spammy site, checking secondary sources. Objects are not what they seem.]

[Post Post Note : And in response to comments Jim has blogged more explanation of what he glossed over about what Bell’s inequality said about Einstein, Good stuff. Even again, forced to choose, would side with Einstein. My point is, sure all authoritative science remains contingent, but some science has never got beyond being contentious. Good mention of the De-Broglie-Bohm alternative too. And sure too, a public TV programme is not a physics lecture, so difficult details have to be excused, but the key messages must remain honest.]

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