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Insights Interview with Astrophysicist: Adam Becker - Comments

  1. Mar 24, 2018 #1
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  3. Mar 24, 2018 #2

    fresh_42

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    We should make his book a mandatory read for all who want to debate or turn a debate into the 1,001st take of a Bohemian Rapsody - introduction test to prove it included! The last one which started by a harmless attempt by Shoshany to bring QM nearer to school kids:
    just turned into the obviously inevitable confrontation (post #8 fffff.)
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2018
  4. Mar 24, 2018 #3

    Mentz114

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    I found your response to this question thought provoking, thank you.

    Reference https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/interview-with-astrophysicist-adam-becker/
     
  5. Mar 25, 2018 #4
    fyi, we should be receiving a few copies of his new book to give away very soon!
     
  6. Mar 25, 2018 #5

    Wes Tausend

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    An excellent interview, Greg. Thanks.

    I look forward to Dr. Becker's book showing up here in the boondocks. It seems I need a lot of historical background to see how the theories first developed to understand what they are and Dr. Becker seems to recognize this key to comprehension.

    I don't possess any higher math than some dusty trig. In that unfortunate aspect, I've seemed to reach a plateau with my layman's understanding of the relativities. Most quantum principles seem a lot more difficult to understand and especially incorporate into what might seem to be a simpler mechanical rendition like gravity. I hope to someday see a simpler natural explanation for atomic mechanism too. I ever harbor a secret suspicion that Nature is lazy and not so complicated after all.

    So far I've read some info by Asimov and what might be a similar, but dated book, Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics by Nick Herbert. Herbert describes several perspectives that may lend themselves to simpler nucleic structure models; I hope more like the electron cloud and maybe even a incorporate a gravitational base.

    Wes
    ...
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2018
  7. Mar 27, 2018 #6

    zonde

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    Excellent read his new book. I become too intrigued so read it on my phone with kindle app.
    It describes the path from the early days of quantum mechanics to the more modern times when questioning Bohr and Copenhagen interpretation become safer for professional career. He gives contexts for different periods and characters in his story that makes his book more interesting to read not to mention the sense of deeper understanding of historical context.

    I will add one quote of Einstein that was new for me:
    "When Philip Frank, a founding member of the Vienna Circle, asked Einstein about his philosophy of science, he was astonished to find that Einstein was not a positivist. Frank protested that Einstein had invented the positivist approach to physics in his theories of relativity. "A good joke should not be repeated too often." Einstein replied, much as he had to Heisenberg several years before."
     
  8. Mar 27, 2018 #7

    RUTA

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    My experience with foundations of physics parallels Adam's, "And this asymmetry I’d found was a doozy: the philosophers of physics were, in general, quite well informed about physics, but the physicists were, by and large, wholly ignorant of philosophy, despite the fact that they were making philosophical claims when they dismissed questions about quantum foundations. As a result, the physicists were generally relying upon faulty philosophy when they answered such questions." In the nine courses I took on quantum mechanics, solid state physics, nuclear physics, quantum field theory, string theory, and particle physics, never once did any textbook or professor use the terms EPR paradox, Bell inequality, entanglement, measurement problem, delayed choice, quantum eraser, which-way twin-slit experiment, or quantum nonlocality. I received my PhD in physics in 1987, so hopefully things are better for young physicists today, but the asymmetry extends even here to PF today.

    I've been researching, publishing and teaching in foundations of physics at Etown College for 30 years. I've given dozens of conference and public lectures on topics in this area, so I was particularly excited to see an online outlet become available for dissemination of "the cool stuff" in physics, i.e., PF Insights. I use these for my students in my GR and QM courses, and Ruth Kastner is currently writing a paper referencing two of them, but all of my PF Insights on foundations of physics topics were postdated (to hide them) and had the comments disabled. This sanction even included my Insights explaining papers published in Phys Rev Lett and Nature Comm. This is precisely the attitude towards foundations of physics in the physics community Adam decries.

    As to Adam's particular take on the measurement problem, I hope he acknowledges in his book (which I will certainly read!) that the measurement problem is a non-starter for block universe views. For example, there is no "collapse of the wave function" or "non-unitary evolution of the wave function" in the block universe, since one is computing the probability amplitude in spacetime rather than the time evolution of a the wave function in configuration or Hilbert space. This is a psi-epistemic view rather than a psi-ontic view. I have a series of PF Insights explaining the implications of the block universe on foundations of physics starting with https://www.physicsforums.com/insig...ions-part-1-time-dilation-length-contraction/. These Insights have thousands of hits despite being duly"hidden" by the PF Admin.

    My colleagues in philosophy and mathematics (Silberstein and McDevitt) and I have a book forthcoming with Oxford UP on a block universe approach to physics called "Beyond the Dynamical Universe" (already available in the UK, available in the US next month). Here is a link to a low-level introduction on the OUP authors' blog https://blog.oup.com/2018/03/gods-eye-view-of-reality/. Besides resolving the puzzle of the Big Bang, the flatness problem, the horizon problem, the low entropy problem, and the conundrums of quantum nonlocality, block universe physics denies the need for non-baryonic dark matter and dark energy. This also allows for an empirical approach to quantum gravity and unification. In short, we lay the blame for the current impasse of fundamental physics and foundations of physics at the feet of dynamical thinking. We also argue that, as Adam found himself, there is a need for collaboration between physicists and philosophers on these matters. This interview on PF is at least a small step in that direction.
     
  9. Mar 28, 2018 #8

    zonde

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    Adam is arguing against positivism. And positivism has been discussed among philosophers and so there are things that philosophers can bring to the table.
    Have there been similar discussions about adynamical/dynamical thinking among philosophers?
     
  10. Mar 28, 2018 #9

    RUTA

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    The dynamical bias runs deep, even those who interpret QM via future boundary conditions resort to terminology such as “retrocausality,” “completed transactions” and “backwards causation.” I just attended special sessions on foundations of physics at the APS March Meeting earlier this month where Ken Wharton and I gave the only talks on the adynamical approach. [Aside: Ken only recently himself replaced the term “retrocausality” with “all-at-once view.”] Since philosophers of physics tend to follow physicists, there are very few of them who study adynamical approaches. Huw Price is a notable exception, having written a book on retrocausality (Price, H. (1996). Time’s Arrow and Archimedes Point: New Directions for the Physics of Time. Oxford University Press, Oxford) and used the term “global constraint” in a spatiotemporal sense in Price, H. (2008). Toy models for retrocausality. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 39(4):752–61. David Albert worked with Aharonov and Vaidman on weak values corresponding to the Two-State Vector Formalism (Y. Aharonov, et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 60, 1351 (1988)). Peter Evans is another philosopher who has written on this topic (Evans, P. (2015). Retrocausality at no extra cost. Synthese, 192(4):1139–55). I’m sure there are more, sorry I don’t have their names. [Aside: Ruth Kastner has reanimated (if you will) the use of future boundary conditions in her approach: Kastner, R. (2013). The Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: The Reality of Possibility. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.] Replacing the so-called Newtonian Schema Universe (current way we explain, term from Smolin) with the Lagrangian Schema Universe (block universe way to explain, term from Wharton) is an enormous change in what it means to explain something; probably rivaling the change from Aristotelian to Newtonian thinking. Such ideas can take decades to mature. Aharonov et al. introduced the Two-State Vector Formalism in 1964 and according to Wikipedia that idea originated with Watanabe in 1955. Fifty years later (we introduced Relational Blockworld in 2005 at New Directions) time-symmetric QM finally evolved to fully adynamical thinking (block universe patterns per adynamical global constraints). So, adynamical thinking is relatively nascent.
     
  11. Mar 28, 2018 #10
    The philosophy of QFT seems generally more open to thinking about a block world than is the philosophy of non-relativistic QM, because dynamical evolution has to be equally describable in any boosted frame (not everyone feels forced to a block world by Lorentz invariance, but it's not easy to dismiss it as a possible ontology.)
     
  12. Mar 29, 2018 #11

    zonde

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    Bringing in retrocausality takes the discussion even further away from topic of this thread. I'm not going to discuss it in this thread.
    I agree that it takes decades for philosophical ideas to mature, but then it takes more decades to find out if they can contribute for development of scientific knowledge.
    But I do not think that blockworld by itself changes anything just like switching from cartesian coordinates to spherical coordinates won't give any new statements about physical configuration we describe with these coordinate systems. There are other features in your approach that you exclusively associate with blockworld. But I don't. As this can open some offtopic discussion I rather stop here.
     
  13. Mar 29, 2018 #12

    RUTA

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    I agree, we don't want to discuss blockworld per se here, that would be off topic. And, I agree that for most physics blockworld has nothing new to offer. I've purchased Adam's book on audio and will start listening to it this weekend. I'll post any of my responses here. Of course, in that context adynamical thinking is highly relevant, as you'll see.
     
  14. Mar 29, 2018 #13

    vanhees71

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  15. Mar 29, 2018 #14

    DrChinese

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  16. Mar 29, 2018 #15
    "Whether he has chosen to wear the right uniform will be for future readers to judge."

    There's a book signing in New York on April 3rd, https://www.facebook.com/events/420267451764873/, which is part of a regular lecture series, https://nyphilsci.wordpress.com/201...ation-doesnt-work-and-why-its-popular-anyhow/. I know at least one other person who's going, so I'm toying with going myself. Anyone else interested? Frankly, I need a little impetus, because the story I'm seeing, particularly what seems an excessive focus on Copenhagen, doesn't do much for me (Copenhagen is interesting as history, but not much as a basis for new work, particularly for me, working on QFT).

    EDIT: Adam's current list of events is at http://freelanceastrophysicist.com/talks/
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2018
  17. Mar 29, 2018 #16
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2018
  18. Mar 29, 2018 #17

    RUTA

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    From The Quantum Times review:

    “The truth, of course, is that (contrary to what many people, even many physicists, seem to believe) quantum mechanics does not describe electrons in this way. Instead of N wave-like disturbances in a field, the theory describes a system of N electrons as a single wave-like disturbance in an abstract, 3N-dimensional space whose connection to ordinary three-dimensional physical reality is, at best, completely obscure.”

    This is another issue that the Lagrangian, block universe approach to QM clears up easily. By computing a probability amplitude for a specific outcome (path integral uses future boundary conditions), the formalism is moved out of configuration space and into spacetime. Now you can understand QM as providing distributional frequencies in spacetime, i.e., the relative frequencies of experimental outcome patterns in the block universe. And the confusing nature of the time-evolved wavefunction mentioned above is revealed as nothing more than an epistemological constraint of the ant’s-eye view. In other words, as ants we don’t know which particular outcome will occur in any given trial, thus the need for configuration space in a time-evolved approach.
     
  19. Mar 30, 2018 #18

    atyy

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    There's a (mixed, but overall positive) review by Mélanie Frappier on Becker's Book in today's Science.

    http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6383/1474.1

    ""... nontechnical primers are not the place for fastidious philosophical distinctions. They should, however, be careful not to create straw men. ...

    By suggesting that, for all practical purposes, these physicists defended the same position, Becker—like so many before him—ends up portraying the Copenhagen interpretation as a single, internally inconsistent doctrine. His uncharitable account makes it difficult not to conclude that these physicists were at best unsophisticated instrumentalists, at worst self-serving hypocrites. ...

    Despite an oversimplified treatment of the philosophical issues at play, What Is Real? offers an engaging and accessible overview ... who like Einstein, wonder if the Moon is still there when no one is looking."
     
  20. Mar 30, 2018 #19

    vanhees71

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    Well, this review is, however, also a bit besides the point. I've not read Becker's book, but to think that any of the physics problems, some seem still to claim to be existent, could be solved by philosophy is wishful thinking. There's not a single example in the history of science in the modern sense (which with about 400 years is however not that old yet) where philosophical considerations have solved any physical problem. The progress has been made by a mutual interaction between experiments/observations, model and theory building as well as, in my opinion often underpreciated, progress in mathematics.

    There is, as far as I can see, no measurement problem, because quantum theory is successfully used to predict experimental results and to suggest new experiments to test and clarify it. The philosophical quibbles between Bohr and Einstein haven't lead to anything interesting in physics before Bell hasn't found a way to reformulate the philosophical opinions of the two in terms of a scientifically well-defined theoretical statement (Bell's inequality must hold if a local deterministic hidden-variable theory can reproduce the probabilities of QT), which in turn lead to high-precision experiments due to technological progress in AMO physics. The outcome is very clear: If there is a deterministic HV theory that could reproduce the probabilistic predictions of QT (which in fact were shown to be correct, and the Bell inequality is violated as predicted by QT!) it must be non-local, and it's obviously hard to produce non-local HV theories in accordance with Einstein causality. All we have that is compatible with experiment and in accordance with causality in the sense of SRT is relativistic local QFT (and classical relativistic field theories of continua, which however are to be seen as effective theories of macroscopic systems), but no non-local relativistically causal HV theory.

    The case of Bohm is in a way indeed tragic, and of course one should not intermingle political opinions with scientific questions. That said, however, it should be pretty clear that Bohmian-de-Broglie pilot wave theory is not very much appreciated in the physics community because Bohm had unwanted political views in his time, but because it is of not much use. The point is that it works to a certain extent for non-relativistic QT but there's no satisfactory reinterpretation of relativistic local QFT in its sense. Also the claimed Bohmian trajectories seem not to be observable, at least it's not unambigously clear how to measure them. The rest of the interpretation just reproduces the probabilistic statements of the (minimal) standard interpretation, and the minimal standard interpretation (also known as statistical interpretation) is just a flavor of Copenhagen where all the philosophical mumbo-jambo of some of its followers is stripped off bringing bare bones of physically observable facts into the focus, i.e., there is a theory that predicts the probabilistic outcomes of measurements in real-world labs very well, and that's it.

    It's also not clear to me, why one makes Bohr the main culprit. Although guilty of having produced a lot of philosophical gibberish with notions as "complementarity", he usually was the one who argued with the hard physics facts. It's, e.g., not so clear to me, whether he agreed to the collapse conjecture, which is the most problematic ingredient, in clear contradiction to Einstein causality (and thus rightfully criticized by Einstein as "spooky action at a distance"). Interestingly Einstein also did not think very favorably about the Bohm-de-Broglie pilot-wave idea. If there is a main culprit of the "Copenhagen gang" it was Heisenberg, who was pretty dogmatic too. Ironically he got the interpretation of the uncertainty relation wrong. Bohr had to correct him, but unfortunately Heisenberg's first paper on the subject somehow stuck, and even today statements are made in textbooks that the uncertainty relatation is about the impossibility of accurately measure observables rather than the impossibility to prepare states for which the standard deviations of incompatible observables are small for all of them.

    So the main problems with QT today, if there are any, are because of philosophical gibberish and imprecisely formulated claims. The real problem with QT today from a physics point of view, still is the unsolved problem to find a compatible quantum theory of gravitation rather than artificial philosophical issues on some apparent measurement problem.
     
  21. Mar 30, 2018 #20

    atyy

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    @vanhees71 - congratulations on such a long post on philosophy! I think you are addicted to philosophy :biggrin:
     
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