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Should you just "shut up and calculate"?

  1. Yes

    2 vote(s)
  2. No

    1 vote(s)
  1. Jul 16, 2014 #1
    Hi Everyone

    I would like to get your opinions on something to do with the philosophy of QM.

    Quite a few quantum physicists say that when working out something to do with QM, you should just "shut up and calculate" which means that you should not be trying to visualise what is going on. I strongly disagree with this for the following reason:

    I can only think of the following two types of mathematics:

    1. Completely abstract mathematics which does not describe anything in the physical world and which may or may not be visualisable.
    2. Applied mathematics which has been derived, at least at it root, from something visualisable.

    Can anyone think of any mathematics which is not in either of the above two categories?

    I don't see how the human brain, even a quantum physicists brain, can come up with mathematics which supposedly describes something in the real world but which is not, at least at some semi-abstract (if not fully real) level, visualisable.

    If I was in the in the company of two quantum physicists, one of whom says they can visualise their work and the other one just says "shut up and calculate", I would want to put my faith in the visualiser. What does everyone think?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 16, 2014 #2


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    The philosophical problem or "measurement problem" of quantum mechanics is not whether the mathematics is visualizable or not. The problem is that in the Copenhagen interpretation, the universe is divided into classical and quantum parts. Shouldn't quantum mechanics also apply to the classical part? A very good explanation of the problem is Bell's "Against 'measurement'" http://www.tau.ac.il/~quantum/Vaidman/IQM/BellAM.pdf.

    There is at least one solution to this problem, called Bohmian mechanics. Another leading approach is many-worlds. A limitation of Bohmian mechanics is that it only works for non-relativistic quantum mechanics, with its applicability to relativistic quantum mechanics still being researched. I think, but am not certain, that the entire standard model of particle physics (without gravity) can be reproduced by non-relativistic models, so the limitation of Bohmian mechanics to non-relativistic physics is not very serious.

    Given that at least one solution exists, I am indeed happy to shut up and calculate in the good old Copenhagen way.
  4. Jul 16, 2014 #3
    Hi Atyy

    Thank you very much for your reply.

    When you are "shutting up and calculating", are you just doing so using equations you have been taught by other people or are you working on new aspects of QM?

    I think my dispute is basically that I don't believe you can just "shut up and calculate" if you are at the coal face of physics.
  5. Jul 16, 2014 #4
    Based on what do you make this statement? Have you got any experience with research or do you know what it is like?

    The ultimate test for a physical theory is that it agrees with experiment. That is the only test. So if you "shut up and calculate" and eventually find some data, and then do the experiment and see that the data agrees, then your theory is good. It doesn't matter how you found your result.
  6. Jul 16, 2014 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    2017 Award

    This is completely false.
    Infraction-worthy false.
    Nothing is to be gained by taking a straw man as a starting point. Nobody thinks you shouldn't be thinking about what is going on. Shoehorning what is happening into one's classical intuition is a mistake, to be sure, but that's a far, far cry from what you said.

    This thread is closed. We're not going to get into an argument over a straw man.
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