“We have been subjected to a word salad of scientific jargon”, that is what I wish I had called this blog post. The words of Richard Dawkins while debating Deepak Chopra.
Earlier today, I was watching What The Bleep Do We Know but, hankering for more thorough science, my son and I decided to watch Genesis of the Daleks instead.
Whenever I wake up, I know that by the end of the day I’ll be more ignorant than I was that morning. Firstly, there are bound to be things discovered and knowledge expanded in far off places over that 16 or so hours that I know nothing about (and may never know about). Secondly, I will read a book and either discover it is too hard for me as I keep drifting off to unrelated memories of the past or imagined future possibilities, before returning to read the same paragraph for the seventh time, or in the act of reading, I will find a whole new subject area I never knew existed; a new arena of ignorance unearthed.
This weekend, I have been reading cartoon strips on quantum theory, beginner’s guides, obfuscating essays, and philosophies by high priests of alternative thinking.
Some I liked.
Some fractured my mind.
Some confounded me with their gall.
The next Monkey Cage recording is about Quantum Woo, scientific thought and action from the turn of the twentieth century, spurred on by quandaries about ultraviolet catastrophe and photoelectric effect, somehow led to mangled yet glossy springboard to new alibis for likely bullshit.
The instant reaction to being told of the behaviour of electrons, the double slit experiment, Schrodinger’s simultaneously alive and dead cat, and other superposition brain jarrers, is an apoplectic confusion. So remarkable and fabulous are these ideas, that once they are on the table, any shady wizard or charlatan apothecary can just jot down a couple of terms , sprinkle them in their sales pitch, and their magic is “justified” by contemporary physics. If you want to argue you against it, maybe it’s because you are just not smart enough.
What has surprised me, is just how cak-tongued many of the pitches are, especially when they are from people who have been pretty successful in the arena of the new age DVD/Lecture/Book circuit.
I am not smart. I find comprehension of ideas of much, if not all, modern physics difficult. I take it step by step, stop, stare, pencil the margin, return, and ponder.
Sometimes when talking to Brian Cox, I think, “he could just be making all this up. How can I tell?”
Partly, I can tell because if I ask him about his words and experiments, there is not just showmanship or chutzpah conning me into a mockery of understanding, there is a plainness and through line in the replies. There is the addition of layers of understanding. The questions do not lead to sleight of hand answers that flit around, dazzle, and then create a further fog of confusion and, when examined further, were nothing to do with what I asked about in the first place. There is not the constant release of doves and glitter to cover the cracks with canyon potential. (this, on the other hand, is probably how I talk a lot of the time. Whenever I do Q&As, the answer starts long before I know what I am talking about, I hope to discover what might mean as I watch myself gabble. This is what this blog post often is).
There is plain speaking, even if it is not plain enough for me to grasp. That is my shortcoming, not his.
I am often surprised by just how useless successful psychic mediums can be. The lack of trickery, just the relentless “is it a name with a B in it or a C in it or a K and they were young…but became old…and a woman…or man who was a bit like a woman…or who knew a woman”, and they still get way with it. The will of the audience to believe is enough to be a pretty shoddy fake. Watching some new age interviews as research for the show, i was surprised by the lack of even an illusion of depth or knowledge.
Here is someone from What the Bleep Do We Know, talking about how quantum theory has influenced their life philosophy. See how much quantum theory you can spot.
“The Copenhagen Interpretation basically means that reality is unset jello, that’s the way I like to put it” – I can’t remember if that was originally a Bohr or Feynman quotation –
“there is just big indeterminate sludge out there that’s our potential life…we are intrinsic to the whole process of reality”.
Meanwhile, Quantum Medicine seems to be vying for the All In, Under 12s Amateur Alan Sokal Award.
And this speech about homeopathy seems to just throw in every science reference point the speaker has come across. In less then two minutes, she has already rewritten Einstein to say E = mc² can really be E = c², now why did Einstein say that in the first place?
I don’t know much. I should be easy prey to these presentations, yet despite all that, there remains something about the mangling and breathless need to throw in glossary terms that makes me suspicious. There is a beauty that is lacking. Just because quantum theory is baffling and counter instinctual, does not mean all baffling and counter instinctual things can be justified by it. It may seem like magic and wizardy, but it doesn’t make all wizards real. Sometimes, even quantum entanglement is not enough to be anymore than a plug in air freshener over your bucket of horse shit.
I am off to tour Australia for Atheist folk (believers welcome too) dates HERE
And I am off to USA with Prof Cox dates HERE
and I have a smattering of UK dates from Berwick to Belfast, Swindon to Glasgow, Edinburgh to Uckfield http://www.robinince.com
Robin, I tried to watch the videos you included, but just couldn’t. I am so excited that you have touched on the things that I have questions about! Entangled particles – I understand the ‘made for TV’ version of the theory: Two particles become entangled and remain entangled no matter what the distance is between them one reacting in opposition to the other: 1/0, 0/1. I am also willing to believe that Brian Cox or someone of his colleagues can prove this with math (at least I assume they have this figured out). What I want to know is how? How do they know these two particular particles, for my purposes: particle Mo, and particle Schmo, got entangled in the first place and how do they know that they grabbed Mo and took him to a distant Easter Island, leaving Schmo behind? Experimentally how do they know that they have Mo and Schmo throughout the entire experiment???
Jim Al Khalili’s recent BBC series will help with some of this
Thanks for the reply. I think I over experimented in that last sentence. I will go look for Jim Al Khalili’s series. :o)
All particles were once condensed into the size of a pea before the big bang. Therefor all particles have that entangled connection that will always remain
By this, do you mean
(a) here is a fact that has some kind of meaningful observable consequence, either for consciousness or for the matter in the universe now
(b) here is a factoid that contains language from quantum physics and sounds really deep and is great to say to people to make them go ‘woo’
If it’s (a), then that’s interesting – what are these consequences? If it’s (b) then that’s a perfect example of exactly what Robin’s talking about.
It’s a win-win.
I see your point, but the entangled particles that react to each other when measured are apparently generated for the experiments they are used in to study what it is that allows specific particles to remain in opposition to each other or the same as each other. At least that seems to be what Jim Al Khalili’s video says.
Your comment does make me think tho’. If all particles are entangled based on the genesis of particles ‘in the beginning’ then how can we specify that any two particles have a specific relationship to one another. Could Einstein be right and the fate of the particles was determined so early in the big bang that we just haven’t been able to detect how that works yet?
That’s true, rlmays11. If we take QM seriously, then all particles in the Universe are indeed entangled… but in a complex system, the observable effects of entanglement decay exponentially over extremely short timescales, and what’s left over behaves according to the far more intuitive laws of classical physics.
If you’re interested, google “decoherence time”. Even better, google “why is the quantum so mysterious” (in the quotes) and watch Zurek’s brilliant explanation 🙂
Thank you, Bob. I will go look at the items you referenced. :o)
This increasingly slick outfit is worth a look: http://resonance.is/
It’s become scarily popular recently, and there aren’t enough sensible voices explaining how ridiculous, how bogus and how much of a vacuous, corporate PR-fest it all is.
They have a film out soon, which will be big, and looks set to be to What the Bleep as What The Bleep is to a Feynman lecture.
There’s a link to the trailer on their homepage.
Welcome to a whole new world of silly 🙂
I’m with you Bob! It’s not only silly it’s downright insidious. I think a lot of it was instigated by Oprah Winfield et al. She had an audience of millions and became one of the most influential women in the world in no time, swearing it was all due to “The Secret”, which she promoted with the rhapsodic fervour of a revivalist preacher, not to mention the even more idiotic “Law of Attraction” – just believe and you shall receive. Folk fell over each other to purchase the CD’s, books and films, only to discover (hopefully) there is no “Secret” – there is no “Law of Attraction” it’s just a whole lot of rotten gobbledegook designed to make people believe it’s based on real science. The only one’s who benefitted from this lucrative scam were the team of ruthless and avaricious marketeers who invented it. The Bleep movies were made by the same mob.
I noticed 2 things in the first video; firstly whenever the interviewer asks a question she looks up and to the side a lot. I seem to recall reading that a lot of people do that when making shit up.
Secondly, her nonsense got bigger and crazier the longer she spoke, as if emboldened by the lack of contradiction from the interviewer to see what she could get away with saying.
A good post Robin. I can relate to it easily. For me there is another fundamental reason I will accept an explanation or description of something (anything really) from the likes of Mr Cox et al, over the likes of the woman in the ‘bleep’ video. That reason is: the former will change their explanation based on evidence, even if it contradicts what they previously said; the latter will do no such thing.