What is your favored interpretation of quantum mechanics?

In summary: Relative stateIn my opinion it is the best interpretation so far. It avoids the problems of the other interpretations and moreover it is empirically testable. It does suffer from some problems though. For instance it does not really explain how a single value of the measured observable is picked up.- Information theoreticI cannot imagine anything more radical. It is basically the 'last thing to be changed'. It requires also the necessary introduction of macroscopic concepts.- Quantum logicI cannot imagine anything more radical. It is basically the 'last thing to be changed'. It requires also the necessary introduction of macroscopic concepts.- Relational interpretationToo solipsistic. It is basically saying
  • #1
Demystifier
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As more than 10 options are not allowed, I was forced to put some different (hopefully similar) interpretations together.

After voting for the favored interpretation, you may also indicate what is your second best interpretation, what is the worst interpretation for you, or even make the whole top-list.
 
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  • #2
For each interpretation (including my favored) I indicate what, in my opinion, is its main weakness:

- Shut up and calculate
Too pragmatic. (If I wanted to be pragmatic, I would be an engineer, not a physicist.)

- Copenhagen
Requires an artificial separation between classical and quantum realms.

- Decoherence solves everything
It does not explain how a single value of the measured observable is picked up.

- Statistical (ensemble)
Does not even try to describe the properties of individual objects.

- Conciousness causes the wave-function collapse
Too antropomorphic.

- Bohmian (pilot wave)
Requires a preferred foliation of spacetime.

- Nelson (stochastic dynamics)
The relation between first and second quantization is obscure.

- Spontaneous collapse (e.g. GRW)
Requires an artificial modification of the Schrodinger equation.

- Many world
Too metaphysical. (Additional worlds are not observable even in principle.)

- Relative state (a softer version of many world)
The origin of the Born rule is obscure.

- Consistent histories
Does not even try to anser the crucial question:
What, if anything, exists at times at which measurements are NOT performed?

- Information theoretic
As Bell said: Whose information? Information about what?

- Quantum logic
I cannot imagine anything more radical. Classical logic is the last thing to be changed.

- Relational interpretation
Too solipsistic.

- Something else
Too obscure. :biggrin:

- None
Too nihilistic.

You are encouraged to do the same according to your opinion.
 
  • #3
I prefer "Shut up and calculate". Its easier on my brain than the others and there is something nice about not needing any interpretations. If I can work out some probability amplitude then I am happy.

I don't really see the need for some interpretation to tell us that when we measure something it changes the possible futures. As far as I am concerned its intuitively obvious that when you are working with a function which produces a distribution then as it evolves it will evolve differently if you have a "predetermined" measurement as a boundary condition than if you have another distribution as a boundary condition. What happens when we actually sample from the distribution to create the measurement is probably more important... but I don't really think about. At first glance it seems like something which could be answered with some causality argument...

This is probably just my limited understanding at work though, which just gives me more reason to stick with "Shut up and calculate!".
 
  • #4
Where do the ideas of Penrose fall ?--his comments on the matter make sense to me.
 
  • #5
Rade said:
Where do the ideas of Penrose fall ?--his comments on the matter make sense to me.
They fall to "Spontaneous collapse" I guess.
If not, then they certainly fall to "Something else".
 
  • #6
More than 100 readings and only 10 votes! :frown:
Come on people, why don't you vote!?
 
  • #7
I prefer Bohm's interpretation (some subjective experiences make me prefer provisionally hidden variables interpretations). Some quick comments (no time to elaborate):


- Shut up and calculate
Too close to the old positivism (of Mach). Besides it is widely accepted now that science can be non-cumulative sometimes; there is nothing 'metaphysical' to prefer provisionally a certain interpretation (as a personal research program deserving to be pursued further).


- Copenhagen
Again too positivistic (too close to logical positivism), requires also the necessary introduction of macroscopic concepts.


- Decoherence solves everything ('consistent' histories is basically the same)
What decoherence? Even Roland Omnes agrees that one of the main drawbacks of this approach is that we cannot put it in evidence even in principle...Of course I am not arguing that it is not a valid approach, decoherence is only a theoretical concept indeed, but it 'works' acceptably (at this moment of time).


- Bohmian (pilot wave)
'Requires a preferred foliation of spacetime' indeed but this does not mean that it has been falsified. Besides all 'no go' theorems are not really relevant here (at least contextual approaches are fully viable).

I happen to prefer it at this moment of time (more exactly I prefer a hidden variables interpretation; Bohm's interpretation is the only one enough successful so far).

It seems rather degenerative at the moment indeed (and too close to the classical physics) but this is not necessarily fatal (Lorentz invariance for ex. is not something 'set in stone' forever). Philosophy and history of science are much more relevant here than physicists usually believe...indeed future may still be full of surprises.


- Many worlds
Inesthetic. Too many worlds.


- Consistent/ Decoherent histories
'Copenhagen done right'. Roland Omnes argue extensively for it and for decoherence...but personally I do not like it too much (too close to Copenhagen). Besides I am far from considering his over-optimistic epistemology (see for ex. his book 'Quantum Philosophy') based on this interpretation as really solving the problem of infinite epistemological regress once and forever (he is a foundationist).

Anyway he has the merit of recognizing that we have a problem which has to be solved here (regarding the empirical basis of science); the vast majority of scientists take for granted naive realism, without offering a justification for this; I'm afraid that merely labeling philosophy 'sterile' does not really solve this problem (the fact that science 'works' at the pragmatic level does not automatically imply that it necessarily approaches Truth).


Transactional Interpretation
Too 'science fiction' (this does not mean that I consider it wrong, I just don't prefer it at the moment, the same is valid for all viable alternatives - apart from hidden variables interpretations).


Could we make a ‘weak’ difference (non strongly prescriptive) between the different interpretations, based on other parts of physics (and the actual scientific methodology)?

What interpretation has the greatest coherence with the other accepted parts of physics?

Well I would say that the coherent/decoherent histories interpretation is the first choice here. But of course the most coherent hypothesis at a certain moment with the other parts of science does not necessarily indicate the 'right branch'...
 
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  • #8
I am happy to see that (at the moment) the Bohmian/Nelson interpretation is on the second position, just after the shut-up-and-calculate/decoherence interpretation. But this may change, of course.
 
  • #9
By the way, nobody said which interpretation is the most meaningless to him/her. For me, it is the quantum-logic interpretation.
 
  • #10
I voted, as you can guess, MWI.

I like the arguments against MWI:

- Many world
Too metaphysical. (Additional worlds are not observable even in principle.)

and

- Many worlds
Inesthetic. Too many worlds.

Also, note that between MWI, relative state, and consistent histories, there is not really any difference.

Finally, even by the authors of decoherence (such as Zeh), they recognize that decoherence doesn't solve the measurement problem, but is only a tool which indicates why, in a MWI setting, the classical worlds that appear as subsolutions seem to act classically (do not interfere anymore).
 
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  • #11
vanesch said:
Also, note that between MWI, relative state, and consistent histories, there is not really any difference.
Didn't you forgot to put the relational interpretation on that list too?
BTW, I was writing the above before you explained me your view of the MWI.
 
  • #12
Unlike Einstein, I believe that God does play dice, but he doesn't cheat.

Things at the quantum level are to small and individually inconsequential to bother with absolute physical control as in Classical Physics.

Its on automatic and statistical chance is the rule. This allows the universe to exist and still be indeterminate.
 
  • #13
metacristi said:
Could we make a ‘weak’ difference (non strongly prescriptive) between the different interpretations, based on other parts of physics (and the actual scientific methodology)?

What interpretation has the greatest coherence with the other accepted parts of physics?
The assumption of hidden variables has the greatest coherence with the paradigms of other sciences. The Bohm interpretation has the greatest coherence with the other accepted parts of physics.
 
  • #14
Demystifier said:
The assumption of hidden variables has the greatest coherence with the paradigms of other sciences.


Well no one denies the fact that Bohm's pilot-wave interpretation is the closest to a 'classical' realist view (I've stressed myself that above; some critics consider this a weakness but I argue that such a complaint is rather a 'red herring' characteristic to an obsolete very strong positivistic view, largely abandoned now in philosophy and even in the scientific QM community). But anyways it can be equally claimed that other interpretations do support realism, also fully regaining common sense at the macro level; they appear thus as compatible as Bohm's interpretation with the methodologies used by the so called 'higher level' sciences.

Now of course the methodologies used by the current science imply much more than this and it is here where Bohm's interpretation really has (at the moment) a lower coherence.



The Bohm interpretation has the greatest coherence with the other accepted parts of physics.


Bohm's interpretation needs some 'patches' which appear, at least at this moment, as rather ad-hoc. These auxiliary assumptions are not really blowing it apart (as some claim too loudly my view) but certainly make it less coherent with the other parts of physics and requirements of the actual scientific methodologies.

How can it be that the electrons do not fall into the nucleus? Vigier's answer is such an auxiliary hypothesis, still viable of course, but it appears now as rather ad hoc since neither could we use his hypothesis to make novel predictions nor could we obtain it as a deduction from other accepted theories. Remain to be seen however, we cannot rule it out yet.

Also it is very unlikely that a relativistic form of Bohm's interpretation will retain Lorentz invariance (which has become part of the methodology used by physics, at least since 1919; there is the requirement that new, 'deeper' theories, should retain it). Anyways even if this is possible it looks that we should use other variants of transformations, compatible with the preferred frame of reference involved by Bohm's interpretation. Consequently we should use this modified set of Lorentz transformations for GR too; this is not in itself a problem (GR can be constructed around such modified transformations, giving equally valid empirically alternatives) but the actual methodologies used by physics have the usual set of transformation at their core...

Why should the spin be only a useful theoretical construct (not really referential) as the pilot wave hypothesis (Bohm's variant) implies? Indeed one of the reasons for supporting so enthusiasically QED was the accuracy of its predictions regarding spin...spin seems very real...And there are some other problems (the photon for example has a different status than other constituents of the micro world) etc.

But while I agree that these problems make Bohm's interpretation (at this moment) less coherent with the other parts of physics and currently accepted methodologies it does not result yet from here that such a research program is necessarily a 'dead end', even the methodologies could change in non trivial ways (i is still fully possible that for example Lorentz invarince will be totally abandoned)...it may be lower placed now in a (non strongly prescriptive) list of existing research programs but the future may still be of surprises...
 
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  • #15
Metacristi, I agree with you that the Bohmian interpretation contradicts relativity (and also locality) in its usual form, which makes it uncoherent with the rest of physics. However, most other interpretations deny the existence of objective reality itself, which, in my opinion, makes it uncoherent with the rest of (non-quantum) physics even more. After all, when we were young, nonrelativistic and nonlocal Newton law of gravitation or Coulomb law of electrostatics seemed quite viable to us. Many physicists (applied physics, solid state physics, ...) still use them and think of them as fundamental.
 
  • #16
metacristi said:
Well no one denies the fact that Bohm's pilot-wave interpretation is the closest to a 'classical' realist view (I've stressed myself that above...


:approve: Fully in agreement with what you write.
 
  • #17
Demystifier said:
However, most other interpretations deny the existence of objective reality itself, which, in my opinion, makes it uncoherent with the rest of (non-quantum) physics even more.

MWI is an "intermediate". Although it postulates the existence of a genuinly real objective world, and even with an entirely "classical" deterministic evolution, and fully compatible with a 4-dimensional geometrical spacetime view (as long as it is not dynamical - the problem with gravity in GR is still open), it does say that what we "observe" to be reality, is only part of it, and the part which is observed is stochastically determined. This is probably the main conceptual difference with Bohmian mechanics, which "trades" the 4-dim spacetime compatibility for the benefit of being able to say that what is observed is "all" of the (particle part of the) world.
 
  • #18
vanesch said:
MWI is an "intermediate" ... it does say that what we "observe" to be reality, is only part of it,
At this point, the relational interpretation (RI) differs from MWI. If there are many parts of reality, than one can think about the whole reality, consisting of all these parts together. On the other hand, in RI, the notion of the whole reality does not make sense. Do you agree?
 
  • #19
Wave–particle duality
From Wikipedia,
Quote
Because waves are non-local then all objects are non-local too (exist in many places at once) - see non-locality.
End quote
Measuring them makes them local.
-I- exists in all places
 
  • #20
-I- said:
Wave–particle duality
From Wikipedia,
Quote
Because waves are non-local then all objects are non-local too (exist in many places at once) - see non-locality.
End quote
Measuring them makes them local.
-I- exists in all places

I would suggest that a wave is not 'something', but the description of how something moves. Try to locate a 'wave', all you will find is some form of atomic or subatomic movement that can be described as moving, or has been moving, in a particular manner that we call a wave. Equations are great, but they do not necessarily make things real.
 
  • #21
"Bohm is Everett in denial".

- Many world
Too metaphysical. (Additional worlds are not observable even in principle.)
No interpretation makes predictions different from any other. Why blame MWI?
- Many worlds
Inesthetic. Too many worlds.
But the worlds are deduced, not assumed. Occam says minimize assumptions, not minimize stuff. I think MWI does an excellent job of minimizing assumptions.
 
  • #22
Ontoplankton said:
No interpretation makes predictions different from any other. Why blame MWI?
Even if all interpretations above cannot be tested in practice, at least not yet, some of them could be tested at least in principle. MWI (or more precisely, the existence of parallel worlds) cannot be tested even in principle.
 
  • #23
But as you just admitted in the other thread, even though they may not "count", Bohm has all those branches too! Anyway, if a hypothesis isn't testable, that's not a reason to think it's false, just that future observations won't prove it true. Hypotheses that pass tests get bonus points compared to hypotheses that can't be tested, but hypotheses that could one day pass tests don't get these bonus points. And isn't falsifying the alternatives one way of testing MWI?
 
  • #24
Ontoplankton said:
And isn't falsifying the alternatives one way of testing MWI?
Interesting reasoning! I was never reasoning that way. My first reaction is - no, but after additional thinking I must admit that there is something about it. :smile:
 
  • #25
"Shut up and calculate"

All the interpretations are useful in furthering knowledge. However, since nobody has a clue what is *really* going on, people should distinguish between the math, which works, and everything else which are square pegs in a field of round holes.

We won't have any good confidence in our models until we know what's below quantum physics, as we now know the boundaries of usefulness of Newtonian physics at the quantum and relativistic levels, *why* it works inside that range.

Something is horribly wrong with the universe because quantum physics works. Is there any interpretation that goes, "God is f*cking with our minds just to see if we get the joke", or "It's a trick question I.Q. test", or "Nyah, nyah, Einstein, I'll play dice with the universe if I want to!" ?
 
  • #26
Cane_Toad said:
Something is horribly wrong with the universe because quantum physics works. Is there any interpretation that goes, "God is f*cking with our minds just to see if we get the joke", or "It's a trick question I.Q. test", or "Nyah, nyah, Einstein, I'll play dice with the universe if I want to!" ?
There is a conspiracy interpretation, which is perhaps the closest to your interesting interpretations above.
 
  • #27
Cane_Toad said:
Something is horribly wrong with the universe because quantum physics works.

I don't think so. If you look at the history of how the theory got developed, it's a long string of ad-hoc assumptions to force calculations to agree with experiment. Which is fine, except people should refrain from talking nonsense about the universe when they really don't understand what they are saying.

Consider the blackbody radiation problem: surely the model that predicted infinite energy had something fishy about it, but while postulating "quanta" solves the mathematical problem, the original problem remains unaddressed. From then on, it's confusion upon confusion.

Now I don't know how the original problem that quantum mechanics set out to solve could be solved in a different way. People much brighter than I have tried and failed so I won't even bother. But we have to understand that being able to come up with a mathematical model for the atom is an astounding achievement in itself; to expect it to make sense is akin to demanding that a blind man perfectly describe the world as we see it.

Is there any interpretation that goes, "God is f*cking with our minds just to see if we get the joke", or "It's a trick question I.Q. test", or "Nyah, nyah, Einstein, I'll play dice with the universe if I want to!" ?

There is my interpretation: "sometimes people get into so big a mess that not only they can't see a way out of it, they start to believe there isn't one"
 
  • #28
nabuco said:
There is my interpretation: "sometimes people get into so big a mess that not only they can't see a way out of it, they start to believe there isn't one"
I have a similar interpretation:
Some people are too clever to see the obvious.
(In my opinion, this refers to most interpreters of QM.)
 
  • #29
nabuco said:
...

Now I don't know how the original problem that quantum mechanics set out to solve could be solved in a different way. People much brighter than I have tried and failed so I won't even bother. But we have to understand that being able to come up with a mathematical model for the atom is an astounding achievement in itself; to expect it to make sense is akin to demanding that a blind man perfectly describe the world as we see it.
...

Agreed, QM isn't responsible for the dismaying state of the Universe, it's just that it represents a catalog of observable nonsense: contradictory duality, causality violation, action at a distance, etc.

The fact that QM works so well, however, is troubling. One would expect that an ad-hoc solution, as you say, would fall down sooner. QM only seems to fail describing things like gravity and grand unified theory, which nobody has been able to crack anyway. It seems to suggest that the substructure of the universe is probabilistic and mathematical in a way which resembles a child's game of "let's pretend". On one hand, I think that's pretty cool, but on the other hand the arbitrary nature of it all leaves little hope that life might somehow be fair :-)
 
  • #30
Cane_Toad said:
Agreed, QM isn't responsible for the dismaying state of the Universe, it's just that it represents a catalog of observable nonsense: contradictory duality, causality violation, action at a distance, etc.

I honestly don't find much wrong with that catalog of observables. The only thing that looks really strange to me is the double-slit experiment, but even then I notice there are so many unjustified assumptions behind the experiment that I'm inclined to think the interference patterns are due to something simple that hasn't yet occurred to anyone.

Remember how people were dumbfounded when the Michelson-Morley experiment revealed that the Earth was not moving relative to the aether? Surely if you don't question the assumption that there is an aether, it really looks very strange, but when you drop the assumption, it actually sounds silly to expect anything else.

The fact that QM works so well, however, is troubling.

Chinese medicine often works very well, and while that does indicate there's something slightly wrong with Western medical knowledge, it doesn't make commonsense about the human body completely invalid.

One would expect that an ad-hoc solution, as you say, would fall down sooner.

And hasn't that happened already? If the theory implies the reality of several paradoxes, it has already fallen down. It is still around for lack of sometihng better, and when somebody finds a model that predicts the same observables and makes a lot more sense, QM will cease to be science and will become history. It happened to quite a lot of scientific theories already, we have no reason to believe it won't happen again.

Speaking of ad-hoc, Newton was never happy with the law of gravity since the action-at-a-distance concept was completely foreign to him. He accepted it for lack of something better, but to this day gravity remains a problem for theoretical physics.

QM only seems to fail describing things like gravity and grand unified theory, which nobody has been able to crack anyway.

Speaking of the devil... see above about gravity.

It seems to suggest that the substructure of the universe is probabilistic and mathematical in a way which resembles a child's game of "let's pretend". On one hand, I think that's pretty cool, but on the other hand the arbitrary nature of it all leaves little hope that life might somehow be fair :-)

The belief that the universe is deterministic was never justified and there was never any evidence for it. Enough said.

As to life being fair, well, QM at least leaves open the possibility of a God who plays dice with the universe. If it's a fair God, there's nothing to worry about. If not, there's nothing we can do. Whichever way, all we have to do is sit back and relax :cool:
 
  • #31
nabuco said:
I honestly don't find much wrong with that catalog of observables. The only thing that looks really strange to me is the double-slit experiment, but even then I notice there are so many unjustified assumptions behind the experiment


Hmm. It seems too straightforward to leave any wiggle-room in my mind, especially with the Mandel version. You spit out one photon, and it interfers with *itself* creating a clear probability pattern on the wall/detector. Yuck #1. You then block one of the *four* split branches the photon wave is traversing, and BAM, all branches collapse, and you get a single blotch on the wall where the "particle" hits. Yuck #2. Blocking the aformentioned photon creates an effect (the collapse) that propogates backwards in time/space through two split/branch points. Yuck #3-->spew.

The only conclusion I can come to is that the photon (and everything else) is, in actuality, a mathematical construct, and not a "thing" at all. Things we can understand in our reality just don't behave that way. Yes, I know this could be a failure of imagination, but the alternative is that our reality bears no resemblence to our current understanding, which is no comfort either.

What are the assumptions you speak of?

that I'm inclined to think the interference patterns are due to something simple that hasn't yet occurred to anyone.
...
I held this assertion for a long time. I finally gave up and decided I was grasping at straws. The experiment seems too clear-cut. There's no funky special detector required, just stick your thumb in the way of one of the beams, and presto digitalis! (for your heart-attack).

...
The belief that the universe is deterministic was never justified and there was never any evidence for it. Enough said.
I don't know about deterministic, but the belief that the universe is rational and therefore ultimately understandable is what science is all about, for me anyway. (The belief that the universe can be reliably reverse engineered might be an alternate view, but it does make us all engineers instead of scientists, though that's not a bad thing...)
As to life being fair, well, QM at least leaves open the possibility of a God who plays dice with the universe. If it's a fair God, there's nothing to worry about. If not, there's nothing we can do. Whichever way, all we have to do is sit back and relax :cool:

You know, I want to do that, and I try, but as I look at the world through rose and sh*t colored glasses alternatively, it's not something I have a lot of control over. But that's just a personal problem. :devil:
 
  • #32
Actually, I think it can be proven that quantum mechanics can be derived from logic itself. Starting from the premise that all possible states must be consistent with each other, the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics can be derived. It does not require any physical assumption or observations in the proof. Quantum mechanics is a simple consequence of consistency. Check it out:

http://www.sirus.com/users/mjake/Physlogic.htm

I would appreciate your comments. Thank you.
 
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  • #33
I would appreciate your comments. Thank you.

I read the whole thing over, and I thought it was good. For me the only stumbling point is taking the interpretation beyond the path integral.
 
  • #34
Mike2 said:
Actually, I think it can be proven that quantum mechanics can be derived from logic itself. Starting from the premise that all possible states must be consistent with each other, the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics can be derived. It does not require any physical assumption or observations in the proof. Quantum mechanics is a simple consequence of consistency. Check it out:

http://www.sirus.com/users/mjake/Physlogic.htm

I would appreciate your comments. Thank you.

From the web page:

Historically, students of physicists are completely mystified by how quantum mechanics is possible. Where does the wave-function come from? How can the imaginary square-root of a probability have anything to do with reality? Some complain that it is completely counter-intuitive and even illogical. But I'd like to suggest that quantum mechanics is derived from classical logic only, without imposing any physical considerations.

Which is basically the same statement.

What I saw was an interesting demonstration of how "Richard Feynman's path integral formulation of quantum mechanics" can be " derived from classical logic only, without imposing any physical considerations".

I think it's cool that it can be done, but I think it proves nothing new about the validity of QM with respect to the real world. We're still stuck with all the same problems with respect to the counter-intuitive nature of QM. It doesn't matter whether reality at the subatomic level is modeled either by usual QM process or a logical process doesn't change that it ends up modeling a set of phenomona that seem self-contradictory according to any human experience.

I have to admit that I don't fully undestand the implications, and if I did, and I understood the math better, I might have a better appreciation for QM. Sadly, I suspect that's not to happen soon.

The author sets out to deal with,
Historically, students of physicists are completely mystified by how quantum mechanics is possible. Where does the wave-function come from? How can the imaginary square-root of a probability have anything to do with reality? Some complain that it is completely counter-intuitive and even illogical.

and I don't think it succeeds. As I see it, the problem is *not* with math of QM, but the physical phenomona that QM is modeling. Nutso things are happening, and it's no surprise at all to me that the resulting QM functions also seem a bit nuts. That two different disciplines of math can converge doesn't help me with duality, indeterminism, etc.

It might help people who are actually just complaining because the QM functions have bits that they personally object to, i.e. "imaginary square-root of a probability". If so, these people are just quibbling, IMHO.

We're back to the original axiom, QM works, ergo, deal with it.
 
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  • #35
Cane_Toad said:
It seems too straightforward to leave any wiggle-room in my mind, especially with the Mandel version. You spit out one photon, and it interfers with *itself* creating a clear probability pattern on the wall/detector. Yuck #1. You then block one of the *four* split branches the photon wave is traversing, and BAM, all branches collapse, and you get a single blotch on the wall where the "particle" hits. Yuck #2. Blocking the aformentioned photon creates an effect (the collapse) that propogates backwards in time/space through two split/branch points. Yuck #3-->spew.

Well, I don't claim I understand what is going on, I just think it makes sense to think QM is not telling us there's something fundamentally strange about the universe that we couldn't have known otherwise. In fact, I suspect what QM may be doing is provide a formal proof of our complete inability to understand the world without making unjustified assumptions.

The only conclusion I can come to is that the photon (and everything else) is, in actuality, a mathematical construct, and not a "thing" at all.

As far as I understand it, the whole of physics is a mathematical construct. I never believed those physical entities called laws, forces, fields, and so on, had any reality to them, I always thought of them as abstractions.

I still remember, in grade school, when our teacher told us that bodies in motion will remain in motion forever unless a force acts on them. I thought that couldn't be true as it went against our ordinary experience of motion, in which things always stop by themselves. He then explained that things stop because of "friction", and even as a child I immediately understood that sometimes you have to invent a fictitious entity to maintain the validity of a fictitious law. It's a wonder that it all works so well, but I still think of the whole structure of physics as nothing but a very clever fiction.

Things we can understand in our reality just don't behave that way. Yes, I know this could be a failure of imagination, but the alternative is that our reality bears no resemblence to our current understanding, which is no comfort either.

It's not a problem of failed imagination, I see it as the result of a very powerful one. Just think what Newton would do if he thought as I did as a child: as soon as he came up with his laws of motion he would think, "nah, this doesn't make any sense unless I invent some additional entities to account for the cases when the laws don't hold, and that would not be right".

So physics is a big pile of laws that are just the product of human imaginations, plus a lot of purely imaginary entities that are required to account for the cases where the laws would otherwise not hold. I'm quite sure the photon is such an imaginary entity. (notice that I mean "imaginary" in the sense that friction is imaginary; the effects of an imaginary entity can be quite real if you assume their existence)

What are the assumptions you speak of?

I hope you can have an idea from the above. Mostly, once we lost the ability to see what we are dealing with (the atomic level), all we were left with was the ability to make assumptions.

I don't know about deterministic, but the belief that the universe is rational and therefore ultimately understandable is what science is all about, for me anyway.

Well, from my perspective the universe can't be rational anymore than a junkyard can. And I don't even think science is about discovering the absolute laws of a perfectly predictable universe, I see science more as an attempt to help us sort out what is essentially an incomprehensible mess. At a minimum you have to admit that science only explains the universe in general principles; in practice most problems are too complex to be approached scientifically.

You know, I want to do that, and I try, but as I look at the world through rose and sh*t colored glasses alternatively, it's not something I have a lot of control over

But that is only because you are confused. There is a perspective from which it is silly to worry about this stuff, except as an intellectual pastime. But here we're leaving the territory of physics and going into something far more important.
 

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