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How to debunk a quantum mystic?

  1. Jan 20, 2010 #1
    One of my managers at work is, like me, fascinated with all things quantum, though for very different reasons. His interests seem to stem from the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics. While it may be fun to think about, I just don't buy all the quantum mystical mumbo-jumbo stuff.

    We've been having a friendly debate about aspects of QM but he seems to be stuck on a few things...

    Entanglement-He interprets it as everything being "connected", whatever that means. What I want to know is how do particles become entangled in the first place and it is something that occurs frequently in nature? And am I right in my thinking that not all particles are entangled?

    He's also latched onto the role of the observer, consciousness/thoughts creating or affecting reality, and superposition all rolled up into one.

    Can anyone provide info or websites? I really would get a good kick out of setting him straight!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 20, 2010 #2


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    I don;t see how you have any chance of "setting him straight". If he were getting facts wrong, sure. But all he's doing is interpreting the ramifications of the science. You can't deny him an interpretation.
  4. Jan 20, 2010 #3
    Thanks for replying Dave.

    I guess you are right in a sense. But I think it's more like him using the vagueness of QM to support and justify what he believes, therefore it's all fact to him. I'm not trying to deny him anything, just trying to get him to see things from a different point of view is all. I'm not saying my way is the only way...I just don't think he really understands the science behind it all. I get the feeling he's just looking for things that can be used to justify what he believes and once he's found them he stops and doesn't go any deeper.
  5. Jan 20, 2010 #4


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    Tell him that you can show him a paper in which in just ONE single interaction, the "connection", i.e. the entanglement, can be completely lost. Tell him that he only learned about one aspect of quantum entanglement, without understanding how DIFFICULT it is to maintain such entanglement. In QM, we call such an effect as decoherence. There have been many experiments that showed that our classical world evolves out of such decoherence. When that occurs, you've essentially lost the original coherent information, such as entanglement.

    Same argument as before. Tell him that if he buys QM, then he has to also buy into how QM was verified to be valid, i.e. via experiments. At almost every step of the way, various QM principles and consequences have been, are being, and will be, tested via experiments. There have been zero valid evidence for consciousness/thought affecting reality, and no mechanism for it has been proposed and tested. So adopting such a position isn't based on any science. Even when we know that QM works, we continue to test it at larger and larger scale. We don't take it for granted that it will work all the time and at all scales, both length and time. Simply extrapolating what works at one scale into another scale without any kind of experimental verification is to speculate without valid justification.

    Good luck in your debunking efforts. If he's still stubborn (which isn't unexpected or unusual), send him to my blog! :) :)

  6. Jan 20, 2010 #5


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    Understanding the science will not change anything. He has a mythos about the interconnectness of all things. He had this belief before learning about QM (I'll bet). QM is just fuel for his fire. Setting him straight on QM won't negate the belief.

    It's not that he's stubborn; he just has this belief in this intangible human phenomenon. No explanation of QM is going to negate his belief in the interconnecteness of all things.

    Frankly, QM is a red herring in debunking this guy. You'd need to get at the crux of his beliefs.
  7. Jan 20, 2010 #6
    Thanks for your reply Zapper.

    I've tried before to explain decoherence to him with no luck. Maybe I'll give that another go.
  8. Jan 20, 2010 #7
    Good point Dave, thanks.

    I'm not out to destroy his belief system, I just want him to see the science for what it is, nothing more nothing less.
  9. Jan 20, 2010 #8


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    Well I think that's the key. The science is just the behaviour of the natural world. He is free to use the science as a tool to explain whatever he wants.

    eg. There are those who worship the Moon as a goddess. Explaining to them how the Moon stays in orbit - i.e. the science of it is no more or less than that - does nothing to the belief in the goddess.

    In both cases, the science is subsumed by our human interpretation of its meaning.

    Now, all that being said, educating this guy is a great goal. Removing some of the mystery may cause him to see the world as a little less mysterious.
  10. Jan 20, 2010 #9


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    Ask him if his superficial understanding of QM is sufficient for him to draw the conclusions he has made. If he says yes, then just tell him that there's nothing else that you can discuss with him, and wish him that people do not draw conclusions about him just based on a superficial observation of him.

    And end it there. There's nothing else that can be done if the way he draws up his "knowledge" and conclusion are faulty.

  11. Jan 20, 2010 #10
    This is true of SOOO many things. You need to be able to recognize when someone is dealing with their cognitive dissonance through any means that are at hand. QM is weird, I think we can all agree on that, but we can agree it's an unfinished theory too. This guy is not going to understand what you explain, and if he DID, he'd probably be even MORE commited to his belief. After all, any two particles can share a little "Spukhafte Fernwirking". He'll miss the NATURE of that "connection" just as people want to believe that they can such energy from empty space in their basement.

    This is a thorny subject in Physics, but "faith" is a unique phenomenon in human beings as far as psychology and neurobiology is showing. When you find you "just can't get through" to someone, you may LITERALLY not be able to get through to them. The parts of the brain involved in group behaviour (Nucleus Accumbens) lights up like a christmas tree for people fitting this guy's description. He wants to believe, and he gets a sense of what is popular and accpeted and latches on. Actually succeed in disabusing him of this and it'll be Reiki next week.

    Personally I just think it's the human condition, but I know some people who essentially think everyone needs their own therapist (think relativity and individual clocks... but with Phd's lol). Sometimes I see their point.

    EDIT: To clarify: The Nucleus Accumbens is responsible for a LOT, including it is believed, The Placebo Effect. People have a need for something... call it a crutch, or a viewpoint, or a sense of place and purpose (I don't know), and that may well be biologically and not psychologically based. It's also the classic part of the brain that made the poor little rats press the lever instead of eating until they died of exhaustion. Keep that in mind when you're arguing with someone's faith or crutch vs. their reason. When confronting someone about obvious inconsitant views, you create dissonance and you don't know how that's going to fall. Try not to be under it when it does. ;)
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2010
  12. Jan 21, 2010 #11
    Thanks everyone for your replies.

    Wondering if anyone could address my questions about entanglement? How do particles become entangled in the first place and is it something that occurs frequently in nature?
  13. Jan 21, 2010 #12
    Yes it occurs all the time. Any interaction between quantum systems will lead those systems to become entangled (i.e if the initial state is a product state, in the presence of interactions between two particles the final state after any finite amount of time will almost invariably be entangled.). In the classical world whenever one thing has an effect on another thing, the quantum description of the same phenonemon will involve entanglement.

    I'd probably agree that everything is connected in this sense.
  14. Jan 21, 2010 #13
    Entanglement does occur naturally all the time. Literally all the time. That doesn't mean it's the classic scifi or mystic view of that, but rather a consequence of how pairs of particles are produced through decay and other processess. The idea, and the paradox, is that if you knew some property (spin is often the example) of one particle then you'd other value instantly. This can be a result of natural pair production, or maybe casual interaction (exchanges of momentum) or states induced in a lab.

    I should point out that WHAT Entanglement is, depends on which interpretation of SQM you adhere to. The most popular, The Copenhagen Interpretation, doesn't even bother to explain it in any terms other than functional math. Entangled states are interesting, but the global implication for mystical ideas which always seem to hinge on FTL, or some other blatant violation of well respected theories is precisely NONE, from TCI.

    Bottom line: Entanglement seems to be both a mathematical and a physical reality, but the explanation of just what is going on depends on your Interpretation, or the more common rejection of local realism. Personally, I think "Spukhafte Fernwirking" is the best label, no matter HOW it works. It's spooky as hell.

    EDIT: Peteratcam: Connected, much in the way we're made of stars. It's true, but not meaningful in the way this person wants it to be.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2010
  15. Jan 21, 2010 #14
    I don't actually think that what he believes is that bad. Maybe the entanglement and interconnectedness part doesn't follow, but putting consciousness and the observer in a central role seems like a fairly reasonable interpretation to me. Many famous physicists entertained or upheld this idea (Bohm, Schrodinger, Wigner). It also seems more natural to interpret the wavefunction as describing our knowledge of a system than as a physical entity. I'm sure I'll get some angry replies after this one...
  16. Jan 21, 2010 #15
    Not angry, but if you're being honest it's just a matter of interpretation again, and right now any interpretation is really an exercise in personal preference. TCI and formalism is all that produces the results needed to continue progress.
  17. Jan 21, 2010 #16
    Well more I meant that you come to know of things by interacting with them, and in doing so entangle yourself with them. It follows that everything (literally all things which you have become aware of through interaction in someway) are correlated/connected.

    I don't really know what the quantum mystic thinks from the brief description we got: "Entanglement-He interprets it as everything being "connected", whatever that means."
  18. Jan 21, 2010 #17

    It's not that what he believes is bad, it's just I think he's assuming too much from far too little.
    The problem I see in giving consciousness or observers a central role is that it seems to give us humans too much emphasis, almost like the science wouldn't work were there no one around to observe it. I also prefer to interpret the wavefunction as a physical entity as opposed to knowledge.
  19. Jan 21, 2010 #18


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    Yes. But that is not a conclusion he's come to.

    It is the premise he's starting with.
  20. Jan 21, 2010 #19

    Yes, I can agree that in a vague sense everything is connected at the quantum level, but how does this connectedness carry over to and fit into the classical world? Does it have any practical use or inherent meaning? I'd have to say no to that.
  21. Jan 21, 2010 #20
    I believe what he gets from entanglement is that since everyone is connected we can influence others through happy thoughts or meditation or what have you. Also since everything is connected, we can or do influence or create our own reality.
  22. Jan 22, 2010 #21
    That really is the beginning and end of this. You can't reason with faith, but you can argue until you hate him. Just remember that the reasoning behind his beliefs breaks down at some point, and at that point he'll become VERY defensive. I'd leave this alone.
  23. Jan 22, 2010 #22
    "It's not that what he believes is bad, it's just I think he's assuming too much from far too little.
    The problem I see in giving consciousness or observers a central role is that it seems to give us humans too much emphasis, almost like the science wouldn't work were there no one around to observe it. I also prefer to interpret the wavefunction as a physical entity as opposed to knowledge."

    I don't have a problem with giving observers a central role, or giving humans emphasis. I've never been satisfied with materialism as a paradigm. And the it has been shown that quantum theory cannot be both local and real, so the standard interpretation is that science really wouldn't work if no one was around to observe it. Most of the quantum physics I'm learning at the moment doesn't even use the idea of a wavefunction, which is one reason I'm skeptical about interpreting it as physical.

    "Yes. But that is not a conclusion he's come to.

    It is the premise he's starting with."

    This is also true about the materialist interpretation. Everyone needs to have something to start from, and unfortunately I think the reasoning behind everyone's beliefs breaks down if you push them far enough. But if I'm being reasonable, I'd have to admit that it sounds like he's taken a bit more than he should from quantum mechanics.
  24. Jan 22, 2010 #23


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    One needs to be very careful in extrapolating the QM rules into the rules that we observe classically. After all, we know that when we observe something via "coarse-grained" measurement, we get back the classical observation that we know and love in which the role of the observer isn't critical and doesn't affect the object being observed.

  25. Jan 22, 2010 #24
    I hate to be the one on PF to say, "Ladies and Gentlemen... you are overthinking this one," but it has to be said. You're giving the person the OP is talking about WAAAAAY too much benefit of the doubt. "Quantum Mysticism" is the **** the "Secret" people, and Depak Chopra started selling in the late 80's. This is pure ****, that uses maybe a tertiary rendering of the interpreations of QM, feeds it through a jet turbine, and crams it into their brain.

    There is nothing about the mindset that has anything to do with QM. The basic assumption is that the observer does not play a role in waveform collapse... they're saying you DETERMINE the collapse and which persists based on PREFERENCE. These are the geniuses who like to eat mushrooms and talk about "Quantum Immortality", but think that Schrodinger IS the cat. :roll:

    These are people to be debunked with standard skeptical methods, which don't resort to actually trying to expalin SQM to them. This is no different than arguing with a religious individual about their preconceptions and faith... it's not going to end well.

    @madness: True... but this isn't a Physicist wrapped up in a particular interpretation... this is a shmuck using QM the way Scientologists use... well... everything, but especially the term "science" and "medecine"
  26. Jan 22, 2010 #25
    Oh, am I the only one who thought, "How To Debunk A Quantum Mystic..." ... With a frying pan to the head? :)
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