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

Suggestion Time for interpretations threads to go

  1. Aug 1, 2015 #1
    This suggestion refers to threads which appear in the quantum physics section of PF. Furthermore, this suggestion is NOT the result of any particular thread currently active.

    Out with it. I believe it is time that interpretations of quantum mechanics be officially labeled philosophy and that threads on the topic be treated with the same vigorous administrative action as other general philosophy threads (effectively immediate closing). PF is about discussing established science found in reputable textbooks and journals. In addition, threads on PF should be informative and illuminating. I would suggest that an objective overview of the threads on interpretations would establish that they are at the very least unilluminating and in most cases not informative (due to running in circles and, at times, pedantry). The same discussions seem to crop up periodically with similar frayed endings.

    The most contentious thing I say will probably come now (Although, I personally feel it shouldn't be.). Interpretations of quantum mechanics can hardly be called established science. I would not deny that there may be benefits for science now and in the future from discussions of interpretation, but their educative value seems to be minimal. There are still many fascinating topics in the foundations of quantum physics which are established and have immediate scientific content. I look forward to the comments/criticisms and discussions which follow.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 1, 2015 #2
  4. Aug 1, 2015 #3
    Hello Stevie. I was aware of that thread, but I thought since the suggestion was different it warranted a new thread. Also, the argument here hinges on what PF should be about and if interpretations meet those criteria. I sort of hedged my bets by trying to argue "equal treatment under the law" with other general philosophy threads (locked quickly) while at the same time trying to argue that the threads in question don't have much educative value. Does someone who knows just basic QM reading a thread on interpretations (in all its meandering glory) come out better for it?
     
  5. Aug 1, 2015 #4

    Drakkith

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Thanks for your suggestion, Haborix. Interpretation threads do pose several problems and they are something that staff is aware of.
     
  6. Aug 1, 2015 #5

    Fredrik

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I still don't know what to think about this issue. If we do this, how far do we go? I assume that we wouldn't allow someone to ask what some named interpretation is saying. Would we allow someone who just started studying QM to ask if the wavefunction is telling us how the particle is smeared out over space? What if someone asks what "the measurement problem" is? What if someone asks what an interpretation is? What if someone tries to explain that we don't need an interpretation?

    I think that if the rules are changed to push interpretation threads out, they need to state pretty clearly what people can talk about.

    I'm certainly not fond of threads on interpretations. I'm especially fed up with threads about "the many-worlds interpretation". I don't think this idea is fundamentally bad, but I also don't think it has been developed to a point where it deserves to be called an interpretation. This makes it very hard to discuss it. Everyone is just stating their own thoughts about it. I'm definitely guilty of that too. Those discussions are very frustrating because it often takes a long time to write a post in an interpretation thread, and you have to write a larger number of them, because people will force you to clarify or justify the things you said.

    I agree with this.

    That should be the least contentious thing you said. Interpretations are statements about what physical systems are really doing when no measurements are being performed on them, and there isn't even a meaningful way to define the "really" in that statement.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2015
  7. Aug 3, 2015 #6
    In this conversation about whether to eliminate 'philosophy' from discussions of physics, I'd like to remind PF participants of a recent statement by Carlo Rovelli in his book Quantum Gravity:

    "According to many contemporary physicists, [Einstein's philosophical thought in developing general relativity] is excessive weight given to 'philosophical thinking,' which should not play a role in physics. But Einstein's achievements in physics are far more effective than the ones obtained by these physicists."
    (p. 56, my emphasis)

    Newton and other pioneering physicists called themselves "natural philosophers". All 'physical' theories involve philosophical assumptions in both their formulation and in their applications. Physicists on the cutting edge are routinely applying philosophical assumptions to their theorizing. To presume that one can do physics without doing philosophy is simply to do bad philosophy (and less productive physics). Physicists are wholly dependent on basic philosophical (ontological and methodologica) assumptions in doing physics. This is the scaffolding upon which all physical theory is built.

    And regarding 'established science': there is no clearly 'established science' about what quantum theory even describes. To opt for 'shut up and calculate' is a philosophical choice: instrumentalism. So there is no escape from philosophy. And we might learn something new about nature--about what QM describes--by considering our own philosophical prejudices as expendable rather than as unquestionable dogma.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2015
  8. Aug 3, 2015 #7

    Fredrik

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The conversation is mainly about eliminating interpretations of quantum mechanics from Physics Forums, not about eliminating all of philosophy from all of physics.

    That doesn't sound like a reason to allow people to discuss what quantum theory describes. I think many people here consider it a good enough reason to not allow those discussions. But I think the main reason is that these threads quickly fill up with speculation and personal opinions.

    There's no established science that tells us that QM must describe something. It might just be a way to assign probabilities to possible results of experiments, that doesn't describe what is really happening, similar to how the obvious probability measure on the set {1,2,3,4,5,6} assigns probabilities to possible results of a die roll without describing what the die is doing.

    Only if one of the interpretations becomes the inspiration for a new and better theory.
     
  9. Aug 3, 2015 #8

    Dale

    Staff: Mentor

    I support this. I also feel like I am usually the "bad guy" closing the ones that do get closed.
     
  10. Aug 3, 2015 #9

    dlgoff

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    At least you are somewhat tolerant and leave them long enough so that I can find things actually related to QM that can be researched; being a learner here. :oldwink:
     
  11. Aug 3, 2015 #10

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I haven't seen a mentor that doesn't support this, or you.
     
  12. Aug 3, 2015 #11

    Dale

    Staff: Mentor

    Yes, that is true. And I also don't get that much grief from the community. The thread linked to earlier being one exception.
     
  13. Aug 3, 2015 #12
    Rkastner, I agree with what you say here, but as Frederik notes, we're mostly concerned with the appropriateness of those conversations on this forum. I appreciate all the comments from everyone.

    Dale... Keep fighting the good fight!

    EDIT: Forgot to say one thing. I recognize that drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable posts is a difficult one and that at some level we are all operating under some philosophical assumptions. Yet somehow progress is made in research without everyone meeting everyday to discuss their existential crises regarding the interpretation of what they are "really" doing.
     
  14. Aug 3, 2015 #13

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    And I think this is a good place to stop. Thinking can best be done without worrying about what to call it.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: Time for interpretations threads to go
  1. Go Go Pf (Replies: 5)

Loading...