Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Real Science?

Perusing the science blogs at, I notice that the topic of the day - or the week - is Tony Stark as Iron Man, and how real science basically debunks the movies Iron Man 1 & 2. 

Like, how it is impossible for his suit to work, or how Tony Stark would be crushed like a bug by the acceleration of being hit with a missile, or a tank shell, or falling out of the sky. Yes, and I'm also very worried that you can hear spaceships cruise through vacuum like in Star Wars and Star Trek. Or how lasers make a noise like "voosh!", or "peeee-yoo!" And other important topics that movies get wrong for the sake of dramatic action.

For some reason, I can't help but envision every single one of these bloggers as looking and sounding like Comic Book Guy from the Simpson's. ("Worst blog ever! Rest assured I was on the Internet within seconds to register my complaint!")

Actually, I'd like to talk about some real science, which quite possibly might be exciting! So, here's a news article which got my brain a jingling. Quantum Darwinism.

Sounds weird don't it? What the heck does particle physics and evolution have in common? Well, here's what.

Poor old quantum mechanics. That word "quantum" has just been abused and mangled by every con artist and charlatan from Madame Blavatsky through Deepak Choprah. And the sad thing is, the interpretation that mind somehow effects mater through quantum interaction is not only so 20s (as in 1920s), but based upon a complete misunderstanding through the unfortunate use of the words "observer" and "measurement". As in "observer effect", or "experimental measurement". As if physicists are changing the world by measuring things. (They are not. Sorry folks, but experiments have been performed that prove that an objective reality exists out there that is independent of you. So sorry). And some interpreted this to mean that consciousness somehow is involved in physics, that the mind is choosing the reality. But, if you really think that you can change the universe with your mind, or that positive thoughts can change reality through quantum this or quantum that, try this very simple experiment.

I want you to not pee for a week. 

That's all you have to do. If you can control your bladder for a whole week, you are on to something. Otherwise... oh, what's that you say? Deepak Choprah says that is a ridiculous request because it requires Advanced Mind Powers? Okay, have Deepak Choprah, or whatever guru or superior mentality you choose to mention, not pee for a week.

But that's actually a good question, though. If the universe is fundamentally quantum, in other words, subject to sensitive changes, to odd fluctuations, to weird superpositions, where objects can be particles or waves, where you can pin down the position or the speed of something, but not both, then why isn't the world as we see it more unpredictable? In a state of flux? Why does it look so orderly and classical? (Well, actually you can see things quantum! Look at a shadow sometime. See how the edge of the shadow is not crisp and clear, but kind of fuzzy? That's light acting all goofy and quantum and refusing to be pinned down).

I mean, different people should be seeing different things, right? As we all learned in Quantum Mechanics 101, directly finding out something about a quantum system (read "everything" for "quantum system") involves taking a measurement (read "looking at") that inevitably disturbs that system. This is all basic elementary stuff, right? 

So how come, if we go to Disneyworld, we both see Cinderella's castle as the same? How come you don't see twelve spires and I see thirteen? How come you don't see blood seeping from every surface and the reanimated corpse of that notorious anti-Semite Walt Disney hovering above with glowing red eyes scanning and scouting the park for unwanted Jews? 

Oh, you didn't take the shrooms? Never mind... but why isn't reality like being on shrooms? 

Why is it we all see the same thing?

Well, a physicist at Los Alamos, Wojciech Zurek, has an answer to this. And I, for one, think he is on the right track. Quantum Darwinism. Reality, having just settled into a certain state (a particular regime of energy or configuration) , has a tendency to reinforce that state. It may be that that state, whatever it was that was "selected" may in some way be a lowest energy, or resting state. (Not necessarily). But once it is in that state, all the other fuzzy, weird, possible quantum states "collapse" to that selected state.

So, there's a parsimony going on in reality, just as we see in evolution. And there's no need for all the messiness - the inevitable Solipsism - that comes from trying to throw mentation into the mix. Cool by me. I'd just make a mess of things anyway, if I had to recreate the world second by second.

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