The true account has been worked out by many people whom Becker cites.
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But he has done prodigious research and created a powerful narrative. As we noted, Einstein was not centrally bothered by the indeterminism of quantum mechanics. What vexed him—as he said repeatedly—was the nonlocality, or, in his pungent phrase, the spooky action at a distance spukhafte Fernwirkung in quantum mechanics.
Einstein put his finger on this right away and never took it off.
If an electron-wave is channeled through a very narrow hole, when it emerges it will spread out in all directions like a circular undulation in water. But a hemispheric screen constructed to catch the electron does not reveal anything spread out: there is a single bright flash, as of a particle hitting the screen. The transition from extended wave to localized particle requires the collapse of the wavefunction.
What bothered Einstein was that the sudden appearance of the flash at one spot implied that there could not be a flash at any other spot, no matter how far away. Somehow, all the distant spread-out parts of the wavefunction instantaneously disappear. Faster than light. Spooky action at a distance. All you had to believe is that the electron was always in some precise location, of which we are ignorant, and takes a humdrum path from the source to the screen, causing a flash. But because quantum mechanics does not specify the location, accepting this picture demands rejecting the completeness of quantum mechanics.
The Copenhagen interpretation cannot be the final story. Bohr never came to grips with this argument. Indeed, it is unclear whether he ever understood it. But while Einstein won—and would continue to win—all the logical battles, Bohr was decisively winning the propaganda war. The Copenhagen doctrine of the completeness of quantum theory and the inescapability of fundamental chance spread, enforced by Bohr and Heisenberg and the rest of the Copenhagen school.
Behind the scenes, the Copenhagenists did not agree with each other, but to the world they presented a unified front. After Bohr and his associates introduced a new and unprecedented lowering of critical standards for scientific theories. This led to a defeat of reason within modern physics and to an anarchist cult of incomprehensible chaos.
Strong words. Surely, one thinks, this mess must have been cleaned up eventually! But it never was. It persists to this day. And we are only through the first third of the book. The first renegade was David Bohm, a bright and dutiful Copenhagenist until he met the aging Einstein and recanted. Bohm rediscovered the pilot wave theory that Louis de Broglie had presented at Solvay in The theory slices through the enigma—wave or particle? The wavefunction becomes a pilot wave that guides the particles along their paths.
The theory is completely deterministic—no playing dice—and recovers all the predictions of standard quantum mechanics. One would think Einstein would love the theory, but he did not. The dreaded nonlocality had not been exorcized. Indeed, it was even more striking. Contra Bohr, the particles are visualizable even at microscopic scale.
In short, the theory demonstrates beyond all doubt that the Copenhagen interpretation is nonsense.
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He was dismissed from his job at Princeton and went into exile in Brazil. His U. He eventually found his way to Birkbeck College in London, but never received the recognition that was his due. The second renegade was a graduate student at Princeton not long after Bohm left in Today this approach is called the many-worlds interpretation. But he insisted that Everett get the nod of approval from Bohr. Bohr refused, and Wheeler required Everett to bowdlerize his thesis.
Everett left academia and did not look back. His work lay in obscurity. The last and greatest renegade was John Stewart Bell. Copenhagen and the pilot wave theory had both failed this test. Bell proved that the nonlocality is unavoidable. No local theory—the type Einstein had sought—could recover the predictions of quantum mechanics.
All that was left was to ask nature herself. The world is not local. No future innovation in physics can make it local again. The spookiness that Einstein spent decades deriding is here to stay. How did the physics community react to this epochal discovery? With a shrug of incomprehension. For decades, discussion of the foundations of quantum theory had been suppressed.
Physicists were unaware of the problems and unaware of the solutions. Even now, the average physicist has no understanding of what Einstein argued in the EPR paper and what Bell proved. The last third of What Is Real? We meet a new cast of characters, and the overall atmosphere is mildly optimistic. But there is a long way to go, and this very book could prove to be a watershed moment for the physics community if it faces up to its own past and its present. Or, following the fate of Einstein, Bohm, and Everett, Becker could just be ignored.
But if you have any interest in the implications of quantum theory, or in the suppression of scientific curiosity, What is Real? There is no more reliable, careful, and readable account of the whole history of quantum theory in all its scandalous detail. Morris has never forgiven Kuhn. And the ashtray is the least of it. It is also delightful, digressive, unpredictable, engrossing, amusing, infuriating, and visually stunning. The tale of The Ashtray is one of serendipity. Kuhn trained at Harvard as a physicist. There he started teaching classes in the history of science, and as a Harvard Junior Fellow decided to switch from physics to the history of science.
His first book, The Copernican Revolution , is a splendid work.
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There are no high theoretical pronouncements, just the patient historical work needed to make the assumptions and commitments of an earlier generation of scientists comprehensible to a modern audience. Had all of his work been of this character, Kuhn would be remembered as a talented historian of science, largely unknown by the general public. Through a series of random events, Kuhn was asked to write a monograph on the history of scientific revolutions for the Encyclopedia of Unified Science. That book became The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
Kuhn said that The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was just a sketch for a longer book which never got written. Instead it went on, as it was, to become the most widely read and influential work of philosophy in the last half of the twentieth century. The first three quarters of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions give an insightful account of the everyday life of a scientist doing what Kuhn dubbed normal science.
As a doctor of physics, Kuhn was on familiar ground and his account rang true. Normal science, according to Kuhn, is designed to solve puzzles. Both the nature of these puzzles and the acceptable means of resolving them are fixed by a set of rules, practices, and examples that Kuhn called a paradigm.
Only by reference to the paradigm could a scientist defend the importance of the puzzle she is working on and the legitimacy of her solution. In particular, says Kuhn, it is not in the nature of normal science to question or challenge the paradigm: the paradigm provides the rules by which the game of a particular science is played. But of course, we are not playing the same scientific games as we did two hundred years ago.
To get from there to here, various paradigms had to be overthrown and replaced. And all of the excitement and controversy surrounding Kuhn turns on the nature and the outcome of these paradigm shifts. Exchanging one paradigm for another constitutes a scientific revolution. We can ask three critical questions about scientific revolutions: how are they fought, why are they won or lost , and what is the cumulative outcome of them. Kuhn explicitly analogized scientific revolutions to political revolutions. The outcome of an attempted political revolution cannot be settled through political means since there is no institutional structure that both sides will submit to.
The fate of David Bohm cannot but spring to mind in this context. In the s, it was chic to depict science as no more legitimate or authoritative than any other cultural practice. Instead, it is all a matter of propaganda and power moves. But surely, one objects, these scientific revolutions lead to progress. Scientific theories, unlike fashion trends, do not merely change; they get closer to the truth. Here, too, Kuhn is adamant: he remarks near the end that the word truth has never once appeared in his text except in a quote by Francis Bacon.
Then comes the coup de grace: truth is just what the winners of the conflict over paradigms say it is. And of course, according to the winners, their own paradigm is true. To top it all off, Kuhn insists that the psychological effect of adopting a new paradigm is to change the very world you live in. Because different paradigms are incommensurable, the people who adopt them cannot communicate clearly with each other. They do not speak the same language and their very experience of the world is different.
Hence there can be no neutral, objective, rational adjudication of their dispute.
After the ashtray incident, Morris did a stint as a philosophy graduate student at Berkeley, but he ultimately went on to be an investigative reporter and documentary filmmaker best known for The Thin Blue Line While shooting a movie about a prosecution psychiatrist in Texas known as Dr. The Thin Blue Line examines the stories people tell, the explicit and implicit falsehoods, the distortions that can seal the fate of an innocent man.
It occurred exactly one way. It is one thing to remark how hard truth can be to establish, and quite another to deny that there is any truth at all. Morris found the latter claim manifestly absurd. Indeed, by getting a confession from the real killer on tape, Morris solves the murder. If a few ring a bell, then with application one can learn some ins and outs of twentieth-century Anglophone philosophy. If none do, the book may be heavy going. His account of the philosophical issues is in the ballpark but not right on target. The central philosophical issue that Morris discusses is the reference of terms: how does a noun such as mass or planet or Albert Einstein pick out or denote something in the world?
Without an account of reference, we cannot construct a theory of truth. A true claim correctly describes the object or objects it denotes, so determining truth or falsity requires determining the object under discussion. Analysis of the reference of terms goes back to the very beginning of the strangest and most intellectually shocking philosophical view in the Western tradition. The pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides defended the thesis that all change and motion is an illusion.
We all accept as true the claim that Santa Claus does not exist, or, equivalently, Santa Claus is nonexistent. But what, exactly, is this supposedly true claim about? It cannot be about Santa Claus because if it is true, then there is no such thing. Parmenides took this result to establish the incoherence of all nonexistence claims. And since to say that things have changed is to say that the nonexistent has come to be, and the nonexistent is meaningless, there can be no change.
John Mill accepted the descriptive account of unicorn but objected to the parallel theory of proper names: a name such as Heisenberg has no associated description or connotation. It is a mere tag that has only a denotation, the man Heisenberg himself. There is no description in virtue of which Werner Heisenberg denotes that very man.
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Kuhn believed that we can do no better than miscommunicate, misunderstand, and ultimately resort to raw institutional power to resolve our disputes. One advantage of the descriptive view is that it works not only for talk of the actual world, but also for talk about mere possibilities. The descriptive view explains not just why it is true to say there are no unicorns, but how under certain conditions there would have been.
All you need are conditions that would have produced horse-like animals with horns. So there are two quite different contexts in which the meaning and reference of terms has to be explicated: how they get or fail to get referents in the actual world, and how they work when considering merely possible counterfactual situations. The difference between indicative propositions about the actual world and counterfactual propositions about mere possibilities is illustrated by these two conditionals: if Lee Harvey Oswald did not shoot John F. Kennedy, then someone else did indicative and true ; and if Oswald had not shot Kennedy, then someone else would have counterfactual and probably false.
Kuhn implicitly accepts the descriptive view. Mass as used by Newton means something different from mass as employed by Einstein because the theories they are embedded in are different. Therefore Newtonians cannot really communicate with Einsteinians, Ptolemaic astronomers cannot really communicate with Copernican astronomers, and so on. This is why, for Kuhn, scientific revolutions cannot be settled by rational means: the disputants necessarily speak different languages. The descriptive view was demolished by Kripke and Putnam in a series of lectures and papers in the s.
This left both Kripke and Putnam with the task of explaining both how scientific terms like mass manage to refer to anything in the actual world, and how they function when used to talk about merely possible situations. These two tasks were addressed in different ways: the first by the causal theory of names, and the second by the theory of rigid designation. Here is a Glyptodon, there a map of bomb damage in London, and last of all a photograph of a school class that contains a young Adolf Hitler and, perhaps, a young Ludwig Wittgenstein.
For Morris, Wittgenstein so effectively undermined the philosophical ideals of truth and reason that he seriously pauses to consider which of the two did more damage to mankind. The question may seem extreme but it springs from the noble place of a firm commitment to the possibility of rationality and evidence. Our beliefs should not be whatever feels comforting but what is most likely to be true. For if, as Kuhn suggests, we all live in worlds of our own manufacture, worlds bent to conform to our beliefs rather than our beliefs being adjusted to conform to the world, then what becomes of truth?
All of us living in this post-truth political culture must face that question. Accounts of human gullibility are generally retrospective.
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We laugh at tulip mania, and shake our heads at the Salem witch trials. But both Becker and Morris are after more dangerous game, delusions that are still in effect. One exposes the intellectual rot in the foundations of physics and the other decries the anti-rationalism sprouting from Kuhn. Becker exposes how Bohr and company succeeded, in some cases by smash-mouth academic politics, including the shameful treatment of Bohm and the denigration of Einstein. But Kuhn wielded no such power. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions succeeded through its own allure.
It has its roots far back in time, with the biggest self-deluder of all, Immanuel Kant. The hand of Kant lies behind both Bohr and Kuhn. In his epic and epically incomprehensible masterpiece The Critique of Pure Reason , Kant pulled off the grandest intellectual hocus-pocus in scholarly history.
Kant called it his Copernican revolution in philosophy. According to Copernicus, phenomena that had been attributed to the motion of the stars and other heavenly bodies—the daily cycle of the sun and stars, the erratic motions of the planets—were really the product of the motion of Earth itself. These apparent motions had their source not in the observed but in the observer. Similarly, Kant argued that what have been taken to be features of a mind-independent reality—the structure of space and time, the existence of cause and effect, the law of conservation of energy—are actually imposed upon our experience by the mind itself.
We have no justification for thinking that reality is intrinsically spatiotemporal or causally structured. But we are nonetheless eternally destined to experience the world in those terms because those are the intellectual and perceptive structures we must bring to our experience.
http://ac.mlsit.ru/img/1282.php But the moral he wanted to draw, which goes by the name of transcendental idealism, is easily summarized. I just did. Bohr grew up in an atmosphere of neo-Kantianism. And his most prized achievement, the doctrine of complementarity, is an insidious tweak on Kant. Kant had argued that in order to be comprehensible to us—in order to be anschaulich— the world of experience must be given in space and time and governed by deterministic laws of causation. Fundamental quantities must be conserved. Bohr adopted these as the essential properties of the classical world.
The world of everyday experience, of lab experiments and their outcomes, must of necessity be classical, said Bohr. The microphysical world, according to Bohr, is not visualizable, not classical. But Bohr hit on his great revelation: although the microscopic world cannot be both pictured in space and time and regarded as governed by deterministic causal laws, it can be either pictured in space and time or treated by means of deterministic causal laws.
Furthermore, which of these two possibilities is realized is up to the observer. By setting up one sort of laboratory situation, the concepts of space and time can be applied to the microsystem, and by setting up an incompatible laboratory situation the concepts of causation and determinism, of energy and momentum, can be applied. He started to see this complementarity everywhere. There was complementarity between the practical and mystical understanding of human life.
Complementarity would solve the mind-body problem. Bohr showed as much obsessive attachment to his brainchild as Kant had to his. When granted the Danish Order of the Elephant in , he chose as the motto on his coat of arms Contraria Sunt Complementa opposites are complementary. He even appealed to complementarity to account for the obscurity of his own writings. Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Hume all strove for both clarity of expression and for truth. But according to Bohr, necessarily the more you have of one, the less you have of the other.
Bohr triumphed through anti-rational aphorisms such as this. On one hand, he was extremely dogmatic. On the other, it was never really clear about what. What of Kuhn? He was quite explicit about his relationship to Kant. Tags: Bertrand Russell. The laws of physics are the canvas God laid down on which to paint his masterpiece. Tags: Anonymous quotes. To what extent can physics be abridged for popular consumption before it loses its essential meaning?
How apt are the metaphors that stand in for the overtly mathematical processes that govern the universe? Is physics sans equations the Mona Lisa with a Charlie Brown smile? Physics is the most fundamental of the sciences, undergirding astronomy, chemistry, geology, biology, and--absent some paradigm-shattering revelation--human thought and action.
Its analytical methods and machines have plumbed the unknown and the inaccessible, from the submicroscopic confines of the atomic nucleus to the billowing expanse of the observable universe. Physics has superseded our biochemically mediated perceptions of the world, replacing qualitative impressions with highly precise quantitative models: We can't dive into the sun to see what's going on, yet we can accomplish as much with a physics-derived computer simulation. Those reductionists who try to reduce life to physics usually try to reduce it to primitive physics -- not to good physics.
Good physics is broad enough to contain life, to encompass life in its description since good physics allows a vast field of possible descriptions. There is no reason why living beings should be compared to primitive machines which don't make use of feedback. Some string theorists prefer to believe that string theory is too arcane to be understood by human beings, rather than consider the possibility that it might just be wrong.
We have a closed circle of consistency here: the laws of physics produce complex systems, and these complex systems lead to consciousness, which then produces mathematics, which can then encode in a succinct and inspiring way the very underlying laws of physics that gave rise to it. There is no democracy in physics.