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Psychology of QM Interpretations Studied?

  1. Sep 4, 2012 #1
    Does anyone know of a psychological study done of the various people who take different positions in the debates about interpretation of quantum mechanics? I mean something that would analyze the philosophical reasons for the arguments, and the emotional drives that might lead physicists to take one or another viewpoint. In a sense, I am looking for a definition of interpretation, as well as an understanding of what elements an interpretation *must* have to satisfy various people.

    Note I do *not* want to hash through the Einstein Bohr debate for the millionth time. I want to know *why they were arguing in the first place.* Please do not reiterate "Einstein thought QM was right but incomplete"-- I want to know *why* he thought it incomplete, and what would qualify as "complete." I know that they spent decades trying to work that out, but since there are a plethora of interpretations out there, has anyone done a study of what drives these people?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 4, 2012 #2


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    I feel it's like asking someone why they like the color blue. There are as many answers as there are people who like blue.
  4. Sep 5, 2012 #3
    Einstein believed in two postulates that QM violated.

    First was of physical nature and it was determinism. QM probability interpretations violate determinism, so they were inattractive for Einstein.

    The second postulate was purely philosophical. Einstein believed that a final theory should be mathematically beautiful. He even succeeded in the search for the gravitation teory using only his aesthetical instinct. What it means to be beautiful - this has little to do with a formulation, despite QM was indeed very poorly formulated at that time. Rather it is a property of a physical theory to closely reflect some mathematical theory.
    What I mean: suppose you have some "natural" mathematical theory, say vector calculus in a 3D space. Is our physics the theory, on in other words, do the properties of the vectors explain all the physical phenomena? To some degree, yes. But we also need some additional postulates in addition to the bare vector calculus to explain everything. Now we can say: the mathematical beauty is lack of the additional postulates. If some mathematical theory fits physics without additional help, then it is beautiful. If it needs additional constraints, it is not.

    In my opinion this is close to Platonian philosophy. Physical world is an image of an ideal mathematical world. Science is a search for the mathematical theory that most closely describes our world. The perfect final theory of everything will be the mathematical model that fits our world with a smallest possible set of axioms. You may think of it as of an Ockham razor in a sense.

    Einstein even had another platonian thought - does the world have any mathematical degree of freedom in a way it can be built. That means: is there only one possible world (our world) or could there be a different world with different laws of physics. Einstein used the words: "did God had any choice". Does the world have some parameters to tune, or are all laws of physics logically linked?

    To sum things up, Einstein didn't like QM for two reasons: apparent indeterminism ("God doesn't play dice") and mathematical ugliness. The first postulate is just a physical law that can be true or false, but the second one is an important philosophical thought revealing one's phychological profile.
  5. Sep 5, 2012 #4
    Drakkith, people like different flavors of ice cream but they don't start feuds over it. QM has bent and broken careers. I think there is something important there to look at, something to understand. But thanks for responding.

    Haael, thank you. That is the sort of response I was hoping for. I actually don't think you have covered all the philosophical reasons Einstein objected to QM, though. There is a fundamental question about the nature of reality being argued about. In particular, apparent violations of spacetime locality were of great concern to Einstein. He wanted to know, if there was no such thing as a specific spin value (as QM claims), how nevertheless Nature could "keep her books straight" by having the correlations hold over great distances. When we see a phenomenon, a pattern, we want an explanation, not just a recipe. I'm just struggling to figure out what constitutes an explanation--and QM defenders always seem to assume that doubters of QM want everything to be "just like classical," as if we have no flexibility. I for one loved learning relativity and had no trouble bending my mind around the ideas, for example.

    Personally, when I read that Bell's theorem required that either reality, logic, or spatiotemporal locality had to go, I was absolutely astounded to find out that anyone had even considered the first two options, let alone that rejecting reality was the mainstream choice.

    Whatever reality is, that's what some of us came to physics to study. QM is a set of recipes--really, really good and accurate recipes--that don't seem to say anything at all about reality. And I don't know how to express what I mean to people who look at me blankly when I say that.

    I suppose for myself what I can't abide is the ambiguity. If spin obeys completely different mathematical rules, fine. I can live with that. That's something new. But if you turn on a magnet to line up the electron spins, and the *magnet starts rotating macroscopically due to conservation of angular momentum*, then that is a connection between two completely incompatible models of angular momentum. I want to say, "stop being inconsistent. Make up your mind." Either angular momentum is based in arrangements of positions and masses and velocities, or it is based in this magical "spin space" where the electron has to turn around twice to be back where it started. One or the other. What I want is the explanation of how those two can possibly both be true at once. And "complementarity" is not an answer, it is an evasion.

    I once defined reality as "that which cannot be ignored without consequences." That is clearly inadequate but one has to start somewhere. Thanks for responding.
  6. Sep 5, 2012 #5


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    I disagree. I think it says a PROFOUND amount about "reality".

    How isn't it an answer?

    To be blunt, I think that is a terrible definition. Ice cream can be something which cannot be ignored without consequences in the right circumstances, especially if you are about to fall into a lake of it and don't have a spoon! :biggrin:

    To provide another viewpoint, here's the definition of reality from wiki:
    As you can tell, this isn't exactly a perfect definition either, but I think it works for scientific purposes.
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