Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Physicists and their pet theories

  1. May 3, 2008 #1
    In quantum mechanics there has been more different interpretations than religions trying to explain the "creation" it seems.
    I remember when Afshar Experiment was conducted John G Cramer immediately used the results to advocate his own pet theory while saying Copenhagen and MWI was falsified.
    Which it somehow turned out they wasn't.
    Niels Bohr verbally "attacked" anyone who went against CI (his pet theory) and said his theory was the only that could work with the formalism (boy was he wrong)
    And the worst of them all, David Deutsch who make false claims that he has proven MWI and that all other interpretations are actually parallel universe interpretations in denial.
    CI, Bohm, TI, all are single universe theories, with NO other made up universes.
    Yet he's claiming this several times.

    I just wonder, what makes physicists willing to ignore truth and make false claims to promote their own pet theory?
    Are they all deluded and don't understand that even if they delude themself to believe in their false theory it doesn't make it right?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 3, 2008 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Note that all the people you mention are FAMOUS physicists. I don't think it is generally true that physicists have "pet theories", but the likelihood of a scientists falling into this trap seems to proportional to how famous they are (there are of course many exceptions).
    Also, most well-known physicists (the kind that write books and get to be on TV) work in rather "speculative" fields like cosmology, foundations of QM etc and in reality this is a very small part of physics; there are probably only few hundred people in the whole word working full time on these fields but they tend to get a lot of attention in the general media.
    I think the reason is simply that many of these people eventually start to believe in their own hype; i.e. the same thing that happens to many other celebrities. We all need to someone to tell us that when we are wrong: but somehow I doubt that happens to Deutch, Penrose, Tegmark and the other very often.

    There are of course examples of famous scientists who have "pet theories" that might actually have some merit; Laughlin and his ideas of emergence is one example (not that he is the only one working on that).
  4. May 3, 2008 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    nonlocal: A response to your question "what makes physicists willing to ignore truth and make false claims to promote their own pet theory?"

    - To be become fame perhaps? It is quite hard also to judge wheter a person are doing wrong and fool people on purpose or if he/she have good intentions but less good physical knowledge.

    What I am most concerned of are all these crack-pottery people. It seems to me that their reoson for making totally false claims and making up totaly non-sence theories is a reaction againt authorities. Mankind has never liked authorities, and there are quite popular to invent conspiracy theories.
  5. May 3, 2008 #4
    you doubt that happens to deutsch?
    He claims he is correct, without any evidence, other reputable quantum physicist keep an open mind, they keep working on their special field ofcourse, but they don't go out in public stating "well I'm correct, all these other guys are wrong, and in actuality, their theories are mine in denial".
  6. May 3, 2008 #5

    Tom Mattson

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Not everyone gets wrapped up in these interpretations of quantum mechanics. I have studied physics at 2 different universities, and I've met many visiting scientists from other universities. I never once met anyone who gave a damn about MWI, CI, or what have you. Consequently, I am not interested in them myself. I couldn't even tell you what the various interpretations are, and I have no desire to learn them.

    So to nonlocal I would put it to you that maybe these disputes only seem to be so widespread because they get so much press.
  7. May 3, 2008 #6


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    What you are talking about are not different pet theories, but instead are "pet interpretations" of that theory.

    There is only one quantum theory, and any real physicist will accept the validity of quantum theory. It is the interpretations they differ on.
  8. May 3, 2008 #7
    Yeah, don't get me wrong.
    I by no means mean to state EVERY physicist are a pet theorist who get his personal conviction/theory get in way of the science.
    It's just I've noticed some people, get so wrapped up in their own INTERPRETATION (which isnt even science) that even if contradicting evidence appeared they wouldn't change their mind.
    Just feel like their having their own religion instead of science
  9. May 3, 2008 #8


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    This is why the interpretations of quantum mechanics fall more into the realm of philosophy than they do in physics. No matter the interpretation, the universe still works the same way and our observations don't change. The interpretation, thus, doesn't change the science involved in quantum mechanics. So, let people argue over their favorite interpretation. It won't affect the science anyway! They might as well be arguing about which football team is best!
  10. May 3, 2008 #9
    True in a sense G01, except arguing which football team is best has no "objective truth".
    An interpretation of QM do, in a sense, while experimentalists go with shut up n calculate, this doesn't tell us anything about the world we live in.
    Either the world is subjective or objective, either it's a single universe or many, either there is locality or nonlocality.
    While these are truely questions of interpretations, they are what matters in the big picture though.
  11. May 3, 2008 #10
    Interpretations of Quantum mechanics are significant if they add something to the theory. Whether or not an interpretation is "correct" or not can only be seen if there exists a verifiable experiment that will distinguish that interpretation from another.

    In this sense calling the Copenhagen "interpretation" an interpretation is a misnomer. It is not an interpretation but rather a set of rules for calculation. Copenhagen does not claim to give a deeper picture of reality but rather claims that such a deeper picture is beyond the scope of human observation.

    That said, I do believe that studying some of the various interpretations can be classified as physics. If an interpretation agrees, or reduces to QM, then there is no reason to discount the theory. In addition an interpretation might allow understanding of phenomena that might be inaccessible to quantum theory.
  12. May 3, 2008 #11
    There is no need to think too hard about interpretations if you are simply solving problems ("within the paradigm"). And some people think that String theory is the way forward so there is no need to think about interpretations even if you are attempting to advance our understanding of physics. But if you are not a convertee of String theory or some other established paradigm, then interpretation ARE important.
  13. May 4, 2008 #12


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Right on, although I'll say that I have met some physicists, mostly students, with a strong interest in interpretations. Like you I've studied at 2 different universities, and taught at a third, and seldom heard a word about interpretation, other than about Born's probability density, which even Bohm used in his work on the electron gas. Indeed, the press loves conflict.

    In my opinion, the big problems with most of the heavy hitters who deal in gnostic remarks and pet theories are 1. ego, 2. arrogance, and 3. insecurity. True in physics and all sciences, business, athletics, almost any human activity. Some folks carry aroundlots of personal baggage, which generally leads them to desire attention, although I don't think that's true of Bohr -- see the biography of Bohr by A. Pais - Neils Bohr's Times. By all accounts, Bohr was quite modest, but stubborn.

    I'm delighted to find someone else, nonlocal, who shares my dim view of D. Deutsch,whose lack of modesty is most unbecoming.

    On the other hand, there are lots of heavy hitters who give success a good name--Victor Weisskopf is just one example.

    My pet theory is that physics is an empirical science.

    Reilly Atkinson
  14. May 4, 2008 #13


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Note, however, that there are some famous physicists that do work that is related to interpretations that still manages to produce "proper" science.
    One example is of course Tony Legget who has done quite a lot of work in non-locality etc. Experiments testing "Legget-type inequalities" are quite interesting and give us empirical information about the foundations of QM.
  15. May 4, 2008 #14
    of course there are 'pet theories' you have the example : String theory .. they made claims such us extra dimension, and supersymmetric particles with no evidence at all.

    And in many cases several theories are 'marginal theories' because people tend to accept ideas coming from famous and reputable scientists. for example take the Brans-Dyke theory analogue to Einstein's gravity or Bohmian models of QM and QFT in many cases these theories are not even taught at Univesities so people have not heard about them
  16. May 5, 2008 #15


    User Avatar

    I also think this, but my personal extension and abstraction of this, is right in line with Bohr's philosophy that physics is about what we can say about nature.

    To me this reduces things basically to information processing and statistics.

    But the complicating factor is that the information processing is not unique. And no observer can retain possibly all observed data from it's lifetime. One solution of this is to argue that the observer is dynamically deformed due to the stream of information it's exposed to. This also includes a selection for efficient information processing.

    This is a fairly simple view of things, but it can still have deeper not yet understood implications. The standard "information view" of QM, is just a recast of standard hilbert formalisms into a measurement theory.

    I think I said this before but there are two missing factors.

    1) The theory itself(as an object) is not questioned in the same dynamical, empirical spirit. I think it should be, because I think a theory is alive and in constant motion. It's not static.

    2) Measurements are considered like "projections", but in plain QM, there are no restrictions on the amount of measurements you can project onto an observer before it becomes maximally "saturated". This probably calles for a full QG before we can understand. But the problems can be understood from a pure information theoretic view, without restoring to the more hypothetical ponderings involving the cosmology scale and black holes.

    So the information capcaity constraint, and the information nature of the model itself are the two remaining things I think we need to "add to QM" to get a really nice theory. But I think this addition means tweaking some of the foundations of QM to recast it from "information projections" to a full communication theory that not only focuses on the communication channels, but also the objects communicating and what additional constraints that implies.

Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook