Ron Rosenbaum

After Obama/Mccain Could We Take Up Einstein/Bohr

Important as the election is–and I’m proud of supporting and defending Obama here for a year in on what might not be the most Obama-friendly site in the world, but one that hasn’t objected to my dissent. And I consider the insults from the racists-in-denial among some of the anti-Obama commenters a badge of honor. Same with those from the midget minded on the Left who are so used to preaching to the choir they don’t understand that not every site needs to have a stalinoid “line”. But I’m getting ready to leave the election behind.

There are more important unresolved questions, you know. the kind Graham Greene asks about the nature of the human heart, the heart of the matter. And the ones the physicists ask about the nature of matter. I’ve been pleased to learn that the cutting edge cosmological physicist Frank Tipler reads my blog at least occasionally.

Just an example of what I’d regard as an even more profound and deeper questions, the question that need to be resolved are not political but the kinds of questions Tipler asks, about the nature of Being, of Reality, the very existence of cause-and-effect “all the way to the bottom” as the philosophers say.

If there is a statistical and experimentally verifiable probability that 50 per cent of a group of atoms of Uranium will decay in a given period of time (half life), then which atoms will spontaneously decay? Is there any way of knowing? Are there “Hidden variables” as Einstein believed to the day of his death? Or is there no way to predict the fate of a given atom. No cause, no cause, just a statitstical probability of 50 per cent, as Neils Bohr and the quantum physicists of the Copenhagen school believe.

Einstein’s belief in hidden variables implied faster than light communication or “entanglement” of quanta, “spooky action at a distance” whose implications nobody wants to really face. Becasue when a particle splits and the two halves ae separated in time and space, observing the spin direction of one will affect the nature of the spin direction of the other, which until then–quantum physics insists–is not determined. Which would require faster than light communication in some cases so the iundetermined article knows what identity to “choose”even though not in contact, not “engtangled” with the other. Or is in some faster than light way since the identity determination must be made instanteously with the measurement of the other particle. Unless you believe in “pre arranged hidden variables”.

But Bohr’s insistence there is “no cause, no cause”–to quote Cordelia to King Lear–means the only alternative to Einstein’s determinism is fundamental indeterminism, everything built on sand, a maze of statistical probabilities nothing real at all.

Recently I read a summary of the argument by Michelle Jenkins that gives the history of the argument with both clarity and detail: the only thing you need to know is that “EPR” stands for “the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen” thought exeriment which suggested the necessity of “spooky action at a distance” or the hidden “entanglement” of particles implicit in the hidden variables theory:

“After the 19th century brought an incomplete understanding of the sub-atomic and electromagnetic as well as Hertz’s alternating current, Max Planck, Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr made contributions that would elevate and revolutionize Newtonian physics. When Niels Bohr and Arnold Sommerfeld observed quantum jumps in atoms, the Keplerian modeled atom had been adjusted but not disproved. This planetary motion of orbit predicted that atoms should collapse; new theories explained why they do not seem to. In 1925, George Uhlenbeck and Sam Goudsmit proposed individual electromagnetic fields and spins explaining angular momentum in motion of orbit. Thereafter electron orbit could no longer be defined as a point in space-time – they moved in orbitals, “patterns of regions in which the wave function is concentrated.” 2 Erwin Schrödinger created an electromagnetic wave equation for this in 1925 where amplitude of the wave determined by its probability of state and quanta (“small particle-like packets of energy”) existed in superpositions of states.4 Werner Heisenberg in 1927, calculated that wave-particle duality and wave-mechanics made any measurement of location and momentum both impossible to measure. Niels Bohr argued that the conventionally named Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle was an Indeterminacy principle (this is also akin to noncontextuality), where the inability to measure a wave-like particle (or quanta) does not preclude its, albeit unknown, existence.12 Einstein disagreed with quantum mechanic in a 1935 paper called EPR stating it was incomplete; else, it necessitated faster-than-light travel. Schrödinger responded with his dead-and-alive ‘cat’ thought experiment (a metaphor not applicable to cats) and by naming the EPR concepts, entanglement. In entanglement, two or more quanta (particles) posses related states and both will be affected at the same time if one is measured. In quantum mechanics, an interruption of state (as in measurement) results in a wavefunction collapse, and classical physics takes over. Entanglement occurs with specific polarizations or spins in ‘Cat states’ or ‘Bell states’ (after Schrödinger’s cat and John Bell, who in 1964 experimentally disproved a purely classical probability for entangled states, in part proving quantum mechanics).”

So what do you think? I personally believe that the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum physics preserves a reality beyond statistics, even classical determinism. We just happpen to live in the universe where uranium atom X distintegrated, but there’s another world in which it didn’t and Y did. Both are real.

Too bad. I bet the Y world is much better than ours. The grass is always greener in the other universe.