Category Archives: Science

MWI: Questions, part 3

This is the third part of a series examining the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (the MWI of QM). The popularity of the MWI in books, blogs, and science videos, especially among the science-minded, tends to keep in present in some corner of my mind. Blog posts are a way to shoo it out.

The first part introduced the topic and talked about cats. The second part discussed the Schrödinger equation, wavefunctions, decoherence, and the question of how multiple instances of matter can coincide. That question, to me, is a central issue I have with MWI.

This time I dig into quantum superposition and touch on a few other topics.

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MWI: Questions, part 2

Last time I started exploring questions I have about the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (the MWI of QM). Obviously I’m not a fan; quite the opposite. It presents as parsimonious, hung on the single hook of a universal wavefunction, but I think it gets more complicated and cumbersome when examined. I can’t say it’s broken, but I don’t find it very attractive.

I suspect most people, even in physics, don’t care. A few have invested themselves in books or papers, but these interpretations don’t matter to real physics work. The math is the math. But among the philosophical, especially the ontological, it’s food for debate.

Being both philosophical and ontological, I do smell what’s cooking!

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MWI: Questions, part 1

Back in January, in a post about unanswered questions in physics, I included the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (the MWI of QM). I wish I hadn’t. Including it, and a few other more metaphysical topics, took space away from the physical topics.

I did it because I’ve had notes for an MWI: Questions post for a long time, but shoehorning it in like that was a mistake. Ever since, I’ve wanted to return and give it the attention of a full post. I’m reminded about it constantly; the concept of “many worlds” has become such a part of our culture that I encounter it frequently in fiction and in fact (and in other blog posts).

Its appeal is based on a simplicity, but to me it doesn’t seem at all that simple.

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Knowing Other Minds

I’ve got stuff on my mind!

My post last month about Dr. Gregory Berns and his studies of animal minds ran long because I also discussed Thomas Nagel and his infamous paper. Dr Berns referenced an aspect of that paper many times. It seemed like a bone of contention, and I wanted to explore it, so I needed to include details about Nagel’s paper.

The point is, at the end of the post, there’s a segue from the “Sebald Gap” between humans and animals to the idea we can never really even understand another human (let alone an animal). My notes for the post included more discussion about that, but the post ran long so I only mentioned it.

It’s taken a while to circle back to it, but better late than never?

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What’s the Wavelength?

Lately I’ve been playing a little game of What’s the Wavelength? The question is certainly a bit evocative. Wavelength could refer to many things: a favorite radio station or, metaphorically extended, a favorite anything. It might even evoke an old news meme, although the supposed question posed that time was about frequency (which is just the inverse of wavelength).

Wavelength might even apply to one’s political, social, sexual, musical, or whatever, alignment, but in this case I mean it literally and physically. Under quantum mechanics — our best description of small-scale physical reality — everything manifests as a wave. That means everything has a wavelengththe de Broglie wavelength.

I’ve been curious about it for a couple of reasons.

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Is Reality Determined?

The notion of emergence — because it is so fundamental — pops up in a lot of physics related discussions. (Emergence itself emerges!) A couple of years ago I posted about it explicitly (see: What Emerges?), but I’ve also invoked it many times in other posts. It’s the very basic idea that combining parts in a certain way creates something not found in the parts themselves. A canonical example is how a color image emerges from red, green, and blue, pixels.

Also often discussed is reductionism, the Yin to the Yang of emergence. One is the opposite of the other. The color image can be reduced to its red, green, and blue, pixels. (The camera in your phone does exactly that.)

Recently I’ve been thinking about the asymmetry of those two, particularly with regard to why (in my opinion) determinism must be false.

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Entropy Isn’t Fundamental!

particles & their momenta

Over the decades I’ve seen various thinkers assert that entropy causes something — usually it’s said that entropy causes time. Alternately that entropy causes time to only run in one direction. I think this is flat-out wrong and puts the trailer before the tractor. (Perhaps due to a jack-knife in logic.)

The problem I have is that I don’t understand how entropy can be viewed as anything but a consequence of the dynamical properties of a system evolving over time according to the laws of physics. Entropy is the result of physical law plus time.

It’s a “law” only in virtue of the laws of physics.

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Like Being a Dog

Back in 1974 Thomas Nagel published the now-famous paper What is it like to be a bat? It was an examination of the mind-body problem. Part of Nagel’s argument includes the notion that we can never really know what it’s like to be a bat. As W.G. Sebald said, “Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.”

But in What It’s Like to Be a Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience (2017) neuroscientist Gregory Berns disagrees. In his opinion Nagel got it wrong. The Sebald Gap closes from both ends. Firstly because animal minds aren’t really that different from ours. Secondly because we can extrapolate our experiences to those of dogs, dolphins, or bats.

I think he has a point, but I also think he’s misreading Nagel a little.

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QM 101: Bra-Ket Notation

When I was in high school, bras were of great interest to me — mostly in regards to trying to remove them from my girlfriends. That was my errant youth and it slightly tickles my sense of the absurd that they’ve once again become a topic of interest, although in this case it’s a whole other kind of bra.

These days it’s all about Paul Dirac’s useful Bra-Ket notation, which is used throughout quantum mechanics. I’ve used it a bit in this series, and I thought it was high time to dig into the details.

Understanding them is one of the many important steps to climb.

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Solar Derivative

Today is the first Earth-Solar event of 2021 — the Vernal Equinox. It happened early in the USA: 5:37 AM on the east coast, 2:37 AM on the west coast. Here in Minnesota, it happened at 4:37 AM. It marks the first official day of Spring — time to switch from winter coats to lighter jackets!

Have you ever thought the Solstices seem more static than the Equinoxes? The Winter Solstice particularly, awaiting the sun’s return, does it seem like the change in sunrise and sunset time seems stalled?

If you have, you’re not wrong. Here’s why…

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