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Can we understand QM by giving up reductionism?

  1. May 28, 2009 #1
    Quantum mechanics is a funny theory. In many respects we don't understand it, but on the other hand we know how to apply it incredibly well, it is probably the most successful theory that we have. This makes it a very unique theory in that we obviously do understand very well because we can apply so well, it has very well defined rules, and yet we seem still to be perplexed by its philosophical problems. But even here within philosophy I don't really think it poses any real problems; it doesn't violate causality in any way, and yet it seems to be no local. To me these to facts are the key to us understanding QM, by which i actually mean interpreting it correctly. Causality is preserved by QM, locality is not. I think if enough inteligent people repeat those words to themselves as a mantra one of them will evidently provide us with a perfect interpretation of QM. I still have faith that one day the next great physicist will write a paper in which he explains the crystal clear meaning of QM in such a way that it will apear to us all to be just an extension of common sense.

    My idea then is that we should probably have to give up so in grained piece of common sense tha is wired into our brains as true without us even taking a secound to consider its validity. I'm thinking here along the same lines as when einstein removed the idea of newton's eternal clocking ticking away keeping time absolute for all observers. Before einstein this idea was unquestioned now to a trained physicist the idea seems laughable. I think the same should be true when we realise the true meaning of QM a preconception we had previously will seem to us so counterintuitive. At the moment the opposite is true it is QM that seems to defy our common sense. What i think may have go is reductionism. I think this is a particularly hard thing for us to give up because it is by redecionism that we can understand the world at all(in terms of science any way). To be able to describe the world we need to break it down into different elements. If however the true nature of the world is not seperate elements interacting to form some whole but just simply the whole itself it makes perfect sense that when we describe "an atom" there should be some amount of uncertainty in that description simply because the description is incomplete. My point here is that we should only consider QM to be an actual description of reality when we apply it to a succifiently large system such that we are considering more of a whole system than an individual part. I by no means think that this idea alone is a satisfactory interpretation of QM it still seems that reductionism seems perfectly logical but i think when we laugh at reductionism(or more likely something connected to it but far more subtle) as much as we laugh at newtons big clock in the sky we will have taken a giat leap down the yellow brick road.
     
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  3. May 28, 2009 #2

    ZapperZ

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  4. May 29, 2009 #3
    Last edited: May 29, 2009
  5. May 29, 2009 #4


    From a professional point of view, how does the delayed choice experiment look like?

    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/27106


    Would you say it's our incomplete knowledge of elementary particles that prevents us from getting a thorough glimpse of the clockwork of the universe and its constituent parts, or is it an emergent property, or is it a reflection of something yet deeper that we are yet to uncover about the essence of the universe? As always, there is the less likely option that our understanding of physics might be screwed up.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  6. Jun 1, 2009 #5

    ZapperZ

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    I have no idea what this has got to do with (i) the topic and (ii) the link that I gave. I also do not understand what you had just written here. What is "incomplete knowledge of elementary particles"? What part of the Particle Data book that you find "incomplete"? And what is "clockwork of the universe and its constituent parts"? What in the world does this have to do with reductionism versus emergent behavior?

    And whose understanding of physics might be screwed up? Yours, or mine?

    Zz.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  7. Jun 3, 2009 #6

    Most of the questions, save for one, were more philosophy than science, if you are not into this kind of stuff, it's OK, keep to whatever you hold as proven beyond any doubt.




    :confused:This question was somewhat unexpected, given your popularity here and your background in high energy physics. I said "there is the less likely option that our understanding of physics might be screwed up". If you believe what you've been thought in physics is 100% correct, it's more than likely that it's not 100% correct and such an approach would be regarded as dogma in most circles. The fact that a theory makes correct predictions does not guarantee 100% that the theory is correct. I am more inclined to think that unless a theory makes intuitive predictions, it's probably wrong to some degree, incomplete or that the observed phenomena are being looked at from the wrong angle. And just like the theory that the Earth was the centre of the universe, scientists of the day managed to accurately predict the movement of the stars, but in a way that didn't make any intuitive sense. They had to invent things like 'epicycles' to explain the retrograde movement of the planets and had charts showing how the planets moved in corkscrew patterns for no apparent reason.

    Of course, the theory must be correct, it makes correct predictions they would say. It doesn't matter that it doesn't make any intuitive sense, it must be so. And so current physicists similarly may say that their theories must be correct because they make such accurate predictions. But is this a 100% guarantee that their theories are correct? You seem to imply that this so, but my reasoning is more inline with that of Einstein - if a picture cannot be seen behind a theory, i'd suspect that it might be wrong or incomplete or taken from the wrong angle. In my mind, a physicist who holds a 99% certainty in modern physics is a much better physicist by default, than a physicist who considers theories in physics 100% correct. In fact i'd venture to say that a physicist who lives with the day-dream that all theories in physics are correct is not a physicist at all. Such a dogmatic approach would be the reserved domain of religion, not science. A lot of physicists used to believe religiously in the aether, so now decades later, would a 100% certainty in anything physics-related seem like a good idea? Could you swear by the Standard Model? Is it correct and is there a chance that it might it be... well, as i said "screwed up"?

    If you were not implying that your understanding of physics is 100% correct and flawless, what i said above does not pertain to you and your quoted paragraph.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2009
  8. Jun 4, 2009 #7

    ZapperZ

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    To me, that appears to be an insult to philosophy, because you're implying that philosophy involves non sequitur, completely disjointed discussion. Without bothering to explain yourself, you somehow think you can get away with such mumbo jumbo just by calling it "philosophy".

    Now it is MY turn to be puzzled. How did my asking THAT question somehow implied that I believe physics is 100% correct? That contradicts the VERY reason one becomes a physicist, to study things that still are not yet know, that are beyond the boundaries of current understanding, or to look for something completely new! So that implication makes no sense and reveal your completely misunderstanding of the profession.

    Furthermore, I am a condensed matter physicist, not a high energy physicist. That, of course, would have been VERY clear if you had understood the argument of reductionism versus emergent behavior, and why it would be inconsistent for me to be a high energy physicist and yet, not buy into reductionism.

    You might want to try and answer my direct questions rather than going off in your own "orbit" <pun intended>. None of what you said has any relevance to answering my original questions to you. But, if avoiding direct questions for clarification is "philosophy", then that's fine too and I won't play that game.

    Zz.
     
  9. Jun 7, 2009 #8
    When discussing science I find it ironic that some people have a religious approach which was a thorn in th back of scientists. Sometimes there is total bias to the mainstream science, when the total bias should be to the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method" [Broken] that made the mainstream science what it is and made some extraordinary claims become scientific facts...
     
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  10. Jun 7, 2009 #9
    I having come across many perception similar to your about scientific discussions that you insists scientific debates. you have the right to explore science and PEOPLE also has the rights for a any sort of belives they want to believes.
     
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  11. Jun 7, 2009 #10

    ZapperZ

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    1. Have you ever looked at WHEN such extraordinary claims become 'scientific facts'?

    2. Have you ever considered where in a "religious approach", independent experimental verification is the most crucial ingredient in the designation of the validity of something?

    3. Have you ever mingled with a large enough group of scientists in any particular field to realize that this is a VERY difficult group to convince, much less, get a consensus? This indicates that when there is such a consensus on the validity of something, it really, REALLY has to pass through such thorough scrutiny?

    4. And finally, have you ever realized that nothing in science is considered sacred? Anything can be challenged when there is either a logical inconsistency, or valid empirical evidence? And scientists do this every single day!. Where in any "religious approach" is that done?

    How this thread has gone off topic from an issue on reductionism to an attack on the "religion" of the scientific method is anyone's guess.

    Zz.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  12. Jun 7, 2009 #11

    What mumbo jumbo? Are you 100% sure that modern particle physics has revealed the ultimate reality of matter?

    Could this picture be incomplete because certain assumptions were wrong? Are you 100% certain that the electron is fundamental and indivisible? Could there be a 1% chance that, although electrons are completely identical and all obey the Pauli exclusion principle, that they might not be fundamental and this prevents us from getting a thorough picture of how everything arises in nature and possibly give some insight on the nature of 'emergent properties'?

    If we have really strong conviction in all modern theories of physics and find them impeccable, how are we ever going to move forward? Didn't Einstein lay to ruins most of 19 century physics that was reeling and unable to explain a lot of phenomena such as radioactivity, etc?

    Should we assume we know all about elementary particles - like their charge, mass, spin, flavour? Could a new paradigm shift, a revolution in physics possibly shed light on the nature of the dreaded 'emergent properties'? Do you really believe we've reached the end of physics when it comes to revealing the true nature of 'emergent properties'?
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2009
  13. Jun 7, 2009 #12

    ZapperZ

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    You have gone off on a completely different tangent.

    Here's what you wrote originally:

    Here's what *I* responded with:

    You never bothered to explain what I asked. However, it did not deter you by turning it around and somehow put it into my mouth that I'm claiming that "modern physics" is 100% correct. Simply by ASKING YOU to explain what you mean automatically made me to be an advocate of something I never even claimed!

    This makes no sense, and this is a severely underhanded way of carrying a discussion. You are only interested in compartmentalizing people into YOUR OWN vision, regardless on whether that vision is correct or not. Go read back everything I wrote, and see if what you claimed that I said was actually said by me, or simply something that you imagined!

    I have no desire to defend something I never said. You are welcome to argue with your own imaginary ZapperZ.

    Zz.
     
  14. Jun 7, 2009 #13
    "I still have faith that one day the next great physicist will write a paper in which he explains the crystal clear meaning of QM in such a way that it will apear to us all to be just an extension of common sense."
    Finbar
    QM is not my area of expertise and I admit it. However, from what I have read QM is not based on common sense. Common sense is vastly overrated. To me common sense is what makes sense to a hominid brain. Non-locality etc cannot be visualized in our minds and so therefore makes no sense to a hominid brain. Yes, QM when applied is spectactularly predictive. Imagine a math that is based on the possibility of a square circle and also that that math when applied is extremely useful. Our ability to use it does not mean we understand what a square circle is. The inability of our hominid brain to visualize something ( common sense) does not mean that reality is not like that. We use the square root of negative one and yet I defy anyone to visualize a cube whose volume is the square root of negative one by the square root of negative one by the square root of negative one!
     
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