Among those who study the human mind and consciousness, there is what is termed “The Hard Problem.” It is in contrast to, and qualitatively different from, problems that are merely hard. (Simply put, The Hard Problem is the question of how subjective experience arises from the physical mechanism of the brain.)
This post isn’t about that at all. It’s not even about the human mind (or about politics). This post is about good old fundamental physics. That is to say, basic reality. Some time ago, a friend asked me what was missing from our picture of physics. This is, in part, my answer.
There is quite a bit, as it turns out, and it’s something I like to remind myself of from time to time, so I made a list.
I’ve posted more than once regarding my view of the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum physics. I find its rise in modern popularity genuinely inexplicable. (I can’t help but think it’s exactly the sort of thing Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder is talking about in her book, Lost in Math.)
Hoping to find the logic that apparently appeals to so many, I read Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime (2019), by Sean Carroll. It is, in large part, his argument favoring the MWI. Carroll is a leading voice in promoting the view, so I figured his book would address my concerns.
But as far as I can tell, “there is no there there.”
Last time I started with wave-functions of quantum systems and the Schrödinger equation that describes them. The wave-like nature of quantum systems allows them to be merged (superposed) into combined quantum system so long as the coherence (the phase information) remains intact.
The big mystery of quantum wave-functions involves their apparent “collapse” when an interaction with (a “measurement” by) another system seemingly destroys their coherence and, thus, any superposed states. When this happens, the quantum behavior of the system is lost.
This time I’d like to explore what I think might be going on here.
Quantum physics is weird. How weird? “Too weird for words,” as we used to say, and there is a literal truth to words being inadequate in this case. There is no way to look at the quantum world that doesn’t break one’s mind a little. No one truly understands it (other than through the math). It’s like trying to see inside your own head.
Since we’re clueless we make up stories to fit the facts. Some stories advise that we just keep our heads down and do the math. (Which works very well but leaves us thirsty.) Other stories seek to quench that thirst, but every story seems to stumble somewhere.
One of quantum’s biggest and oldest stumbling blocks is wave-function collapse.
Wow. April First, but it’s no joke how much — and how quickly — life changed. March 2020 changed the world. Now we’ll see if we survive it.
Spirits seem high around here. On my morning walk, in the park I saw that someone had used colored chalk to write good thoughts on the asphalt path: “Stay Positive!” “Nature!” “Yay! Vit. D.” “Family Time” “Exercise!” (Maybe others will join in. I think I have some colored chalk…)
It’s hard to top the real life wows, but I do have a few interesting items that might at least offer something of a distraction.
The ideas of free will, causality, and determinism, often factor into discussions about religion, morality, society, consciousness, or life in general. The first and last of these ideas seem at odds; if the world is strictly determined, there can be no free will.
But we are confronted with the appearance of free will — choices we make appear to affect the future. Even choosing not to make choices seems to affect our future. If reality is just a ride on fixed rails, then all that choosing must be a trick our brains play.
These questions are central to lives, but answers have remained elusive, in part from differing views of what the key ideas even mean.
Time for another Friday News Dump! The good news is that these are about quite recent news articles that caught my eye. (The bad news is that I might dump some older ones on you if there’s room.)
Usually I present them, more-or-less, in order of their interest to me… and apparently to my readers, since the comments seem to always involve the first article. So this time I’m going to save the meatier one (in my eyes) for last hoping the others get some interest.
So the lineup is: Dog brains, static electricity, quantum DNA, and free will.
It’s time for another Friday news dump from my list of links. (Actually a folder of emails sent from my iPad, where I do the news reading, to my laptop, where I write my blog posts.)
The intent, originally, is to write a full post about them — which I sometimes do — but often, if the urge to bang out a post right away isn’t there, the email with that link ends up sitting in the folder. The longer they sit, the less likely I am to post about them.
So occasionally I open the cage and let some of them return to the wild…
Credit where credit is due, both the major ideas in this post come from Fareed Zakaria on his CNN Sunday program, GPS. If you follow TV news at all, you know Sunday mornings have such long-running standards as Meet the Press (on NBC since 1947!) and Face the Nation (on CBS since 1954). (Or was it Meet the Nation and Face the Press?)
Zakaria is one of the good ones: very intelligent, highly educated, calm and measured. He’s well worth listening to. (I’ve realized one attraction to TV news is the chance to — at least sometimes — hear educated, intelligent talk. It’s a nice respite from most TV entertainment.)
Two things on Zakaria’s last episode really rang a bell with me.