Skip to comments.Written in the skies: why quantum mechanics might be wrong
Posted on 05/18/2008 10:40:38 PM PDT by neverdem
Observations of the cosmic microwave background might deal blow to theory.
The background patterns of space could help us focus on quantum problems.NASA / ESA / Hubble Heritage Team
The question of whether quantum mechanics is correct could soon be settled by observing the sky and there are already tantalizing hints that the theory could be wrong.
Antony Valentini, a physicist at Imperial College, London, wanted to devise a test that could separate quantum mechanics from one of its closest rivals a theory called bohmian mechanics. Despite being one of the most successful theories of physics, quantum mechanics creates several paradoxes that still make some physicists uncomfortable, says Valentini.
For instance, quantum theory uses probability to describe the properties of a particle. These properties obtain definitive values only when they are measured, which means that you cannot predict a particle's position or momentum, for instance, with certainty.
These premises troubled Albert Einstein. He believed that particles contain extra properties or 'hidden variables' that determine their behaviour completely. If only we knew what these hidden variables were, we could predict the fate of particles and the outcome of measurements with certainty. Bohmian mechanics is one of a suite of 'hidden variables' theories many now discredited formulated to tackle this problem.
Neck and neck
So far its been impossible to pick apart quantum mechanics from bohmian mechanics both predict the same outcomes for experiments with quantum particles in the lab.
But Valentini thinks that the stalemate could be broken by analysing the cosmic microwave background the relic radiation left behind after the Big Bang. The cosmic microwave background contains hot and cold temperature spots that were generated by quantum fluctuations in the early Universe and then amplified when the Universe expanded.
Using the principles of quantum mechanics, cosmologists have calculated how these spots should be distributed.
Its far too early to say that this is definite evidence of a breakdown in quantum mechanics but it is a possibility.
Imperial College, London
However, Valentinis calculations show that the hidden-variables theory might give a different answer. Any violation of quantum mechanics in the early Universe would have a knock-on effect that we could see today, says Valentini.
Almost all measurements of the cosmic microwave background seem to fit well with the predictions of quantum mechanics, says Valentini. But intriguingly, a distortion that fits one of Valentinis proposed signatures for a failure of quantum mechanics was recently detected by Amit Yadav and Ben Wandelt at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (see 'Deflating inflation?'). That result has yet to be confirmed by independent analyses, but it is tantalizing, Valentini adds.
Its far too early to say that this is definite evidence of a breakdown in quantum mechanics but it is a possibility, he says.
Hiranya Peiris, an expert on the cosmic microwave background at the University of Cambridge, UK, is impressed by the new work. This is a pretty cool new idea, she says. Nobody has ever thought of using the cosmic microwave background to look into really fundamental quantum questions cosmologists just assume that quantum mechanics is correct, she says.
But Peiris adds that Valentini must now come up with more detailed predictions about the types of distortion that will arise in the cosmic microwave background to convince cosmologists that they are really caused by a breakdown of quantum mechanics. He has thrown some really exciting ideas out there, but now he needs to do the nitty-gritty calculations, she says.
Vlatko Vedral, a quantum physicist at the University of Leeds, UK, agrees that the cosmic microwave background will be a useful way to test quantum mechanics. But he adds that even if quantum mechanics is shown to break down in the early Universe, that doesnt necessarily mean that the hidden-variables theory is correct.
References Valentini, A. preprint at http://arxiv.org/abs/0805.0163 (2008). Yadav, A. P. S. & Wandelt, B. D. Phys. Rev. Lett. 100, 181301 (2008).
Okay. Now I know you're trying to send me into a Google black hole. I wasted 5 years of part time study on this stuff only to figure out that I don't have enough background in Mathematics to really play with this stuff. So please save me the time and tell me when the layman's version comes out.
By the way since we have people interested in physics. Why is matter quantized but time is continuous? I've always wondered.
Maybe the universe is just a big simulation, and quantum uncertainty is just us running up against its minimum resolution :)
So, what exactly did the German pilot Hans Zinsser see on that night of October, 1944, as he flew his Heinkel bomber over the twilight skies of northern Germany? Something that, had he known it, would require the previous badly written Wagnerian libretto to be almost completely revised.
His affidavit is contained in a military intelligence report of August 19, 1945, roll number A1007, filmed in 1973 at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Zinsser’s statement is found on the last page of the report:
47. A man named ZINSSER, a Flak rocket expert, mentioned what he noticed one day: In the beginning of Oct, 1944 I flew from Ludwigslust (south of Lubeck), about 12 to 15 km from an atomic bomb test station, when I noticed a strong, bright illumination of the whole atmosphere, lasting about 2 seconds.
48.The clearly visible pressure wave escaped the approaching and following cloud formed by the explosion. This wave had a diameter of about 1 km when it became visible and the color of the cloud changed frequently. It became dotted after a short period of darkness with all sorts of light spots, which were, in contrast to normal explosions, of a pale blue color.
49.After about 10 seconds the sharp outlines of the explosion cloud disappeared, then the cloud began to take on a lighter color against the sky covered with a gray overcast. The diameter of the still visible pressure wave was at least 9000 meters while remaining visible for at least 15 seconds.
50.Personal observations of the colors of the explosion cloud found an almost blue-violet shade. During this manifestation reddish-colored rims were to be seen, changing to a dirty-like shade in very rapid succession.
51.The combustion was lightly felt from my observation plane in the form of pulling and pushing.
52.About one hour later I started with an He-111 from the A/D at Ludwigslust and flew in an easterly direction. Shortly after the start I passed through the almost complete overcast (between 3000 and 4000 meter altitude). A cloud shaped like a mushroom with turbulent, billowing sections (at about 7000 meter altitude) stood, without any
24. “A/D” probably “aerodrome”.
seeming connections, over the spot where the explosion took place. Strong electrical disturbances and the impossibility to continue radio communication as by lightning, turned up.
53. Because of the P-38s operating in the area Wittenberg-Mersburg I had to turn to the north but observed a better visibility at the bottom of the cloud where the explosion occured (sic). Note: It does not seem very clear to me why these experiments took place in such crowded areas. 
In other words, a German pilot had observed the test of a weapon, having all the signatures of a nuclear bomb: electromagnetic pulse and resulting malfunction of his radio, mushroom cloud, continuing fire and combustion of nuclear material in the cloud and so on. And all this on territory clearly under German control, in October of 1944, fully eight months before the first American A-bomb test in New Mexico! Note the curious fact that Zinsser maintains that the test took place in a populated area.
There is yet another curiosity to be observed in Zinsser’s statement, one that his American interrogators either did not pursue, or, if they did pursue it, the results remain classified still: How did Zinsser know it was a test? The answer is obvious: Zinsser knew, because he was somehow involved, for clearly the Allies would not have control over a test site deep in Nazi Germany.
Earlier in the same report, there are clues that unravel the mystery:
14. When Germany was at this stage of the game, the war broke out in Europe. At first investigations on this disintegrating of [235U (sic) were somewhat neglected because a practical application seemed too far off. Later, however, this research continued, especially in finding methods of separating isotopes. Needless to say that the center of gravity of Germany’s war effort at that time lay in other tasks.
25. The entire documentation of this report is as follows: “Investigations, Research, Developments and Practical use of the German Atomic Bomb,” [A.P.I.U. (Ninth Air Force) 96/1945 APO 696, U.S. Army, 19 August 1945.” The report is classified secret. Note that the report begins in no uncertain terms: “the following information was obtained from four German scientists: a chemist, two physical chemists, and a rocket specialist. All four men contributed a short story as to what they knew of the atomic bomb development.” (Emphasis added). Note also the suggestive title of the report.
To localize a particle, you combine many waves of different frequencies so that the 'superposition' of the waves (wave packet) describes the position and/or velocity of the particle.
But there is a price.
Think Fourier transforms: the more precise you get concerning one attribute, the less you get about the corresponding attribute.
Time, on the other hand, is not subject to wave-particle duality.
true. the apparent random behavior of dice and coins can be explained totally by "hidden variables."
that is why physicists would simply expect "hidden variables" to also explain quantum behavior. the trouble is (thanks to Bell's theorem) any possible hidden-variable explanation would also have to somehow explain "instantaneous" communication across light-year distances.
Does anyone else remember the Bell's Theorum Blues? (I have no idea where I heard this, but I always remember it.) Let's all sing:
"Dr. Bell says we're connected,
I called him on the phone.
Dr. Bell says we're connected,
I called him on the phone.
Yeah, but if we're all connected...
Why do I feel so alone??"
The dice or coin flip analogy is probably correct, though most physicists do not think about it. The behavior of dice and coins is not random, but quite distinctly physically determined. The presumed randomness has entirely to do with our ignorance of what is going to happen.The entire set of probabilities is not random but the timing of any given event is random.
You know with a non-random certainty that you're going to see more poker hands with just a single pair than you are with a full house, but it IS completely random (if the cards are shuffled) whether or not YOU will get a full house on the next deal.
I've heard professional poker players say: "There's only one poker game, and it's going on all the time, and it never changes."
Meaning that all concepts such as "good streak" or "bad streak" or "getting bad cards today" are illusions and that every single deal has the exact same set of probabilities.
Time and energy, like position and momentum, are two sides of the same coin. The more you know about one, the less you know about the other. (through e=mc^2, matter and energy are mere manifestations of one another)
The uncertainty of T x the uncertainty of E is greater than or equal to Planck's Constant(h) over 2pi(2 x 3.14)
Am I a quantum physicist? No. But I did sleep at a Holiday Inn last night!
Did not Bell, who was a pretty accomplished mathematician as well as physicist, pretty much totally prove that there was no possible hidden variable theory that was compatible with the observations of QM?
I wasn’t poking fun at you, but rather myself (you certainly seem to have an excellent understanding of these subjects). In any case, what I wrote about time and energy is apparently correct. I got it out of a not too old physics text book titled Basic Concepts in Relativity and Early Quantum Theory (by Robert Resnick). Many people can grasp the position and momentum uncertainty correlation, but are somewhat puzzled by the time and energy one.
You know, a fascinating question arises from this whole non-locality/Belle’s Theorem business: Since it states that quantum entities (photons, etc) which were once ‘entangled’ with each other at the subatomic level, then later separated, theoretically to unlimited distances, somehow remain in a state of instantaneous quantum connection with each other, then, since the entire universe was once quantumly entangled (within the big bang singularity), might the universe today be in some sort of instantaneous communication with itself? A single quantum entity? I once asked this question to Roger Penrose (Hawking’s mentor) at a lecture he gave a few years ago at Columbia University. He really loved the question which seemed to have never crossed his mind. Unfortunately, he went off into some related discussions which I didn’t quite follow.
I have wondered about these types of questions. I am interested in physics and math not so much for the actual results, as the theoretical implications. Epistemology and heuristics.
There is another very interesting result of Bell.
According to Einsteins theory, we can “rotate” the four dimensional space so that “time” becomes a linear dimension, and one of the linear dimensions rotates to become time.
The gist of this is that Bells theorem that talks about non-locality of space applies equally well - to time.
So, it would seem at least, that it is not theoretically impossible for you to open up your door tomorrow and see a baby pterodactyl there.
Or possibly - and I emphasize this is just educated speculation - change the past.
I have Bell’s set of lectures “Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics” I can understand alot of it, but in some places, the math is just too daunting.
And BTW, the last I heard, the Aspect experiments have been done, and managed to completely and decisively prove that Bell was right. That non-locality is a fact.
Thanks for that bit of rich history.
I understand Edward Teller (The father of the H bomb) was also close to Enrico Fermi. I cannot imaging the outcome of W.W. 2 if the Germans had gotten hold of Teller.
Although the Germans were so arrogant and filled with race superiority syndrome, they would not have listened to such a “stupid Jew”.
In the physical world, all events are determined, and what appears as “undetermined” is just our ignorance of the minutiae of physical influences involved. The principle is this: every physical entity will be have in the same way in the same context.
That's where QM indeterminism is unique, and it's not exactly the kind of indeterminism people think it is, and includes an element of ignorance, but not in the sense that we just do not know, but cannot know.
The indeterminism, in the case of QM, happens to be very precise. We know exactly the degree of indeterminism in quantum events—it is always a factor of Planck's constant. It has nothing to do with what we usually call randomness.
While I happen to think the math is right, and that mathematically it will never be possible to “measure” a particle’s position and it's momentum simultaneously, there is a mistake in assuming that all characteristics can be described exactly in terms of mathematics. For example, we know there is an exact ratio between the legs and hypotenuse of an isosceles triangle, or between the radius and circumference of a circle, but all such ratios cannot be expressed exactly, mathematically. There is also the little matter of Planck's constant. As important as it is, no one asks why it is. It is just assumed because it, “fits the phenomena,” but no one knows (or even asks apparently) the explanation for why that number and not another.
Interesting, too, is the fact all this "indeterminism" is very determinisitic--such as the half-life of racioactive substances.
Mostly thinking out loud here. Forgive my rambling.
Isn't that where the instantaneous stuff comes in?
Lothar Schäfer is the author of the book, In Search of Divine Reality - Science as a Source of Inspiration, . The book is, in essence, a brilliant description of the encounter of Science and Religion, wherein Schäfer proposes that the traditional conflict between the two disciplines is mainly one involving classical, Newtonian Science; and many of its most pressing issues have obtained an entirely different meaning by the change in world view effected by the discovery of Quantum Mechanics.
Lothar Schäfer is the Edgar Wertheim Distinguished Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He received his Ph.D. (in Chemistry) from the University of Munich in 1965, and is the recipient of numerous awards for his scientific work. His current research interests include topics in Applied Quantum Chemistry and Molecular Structural Studies by Electron Diffraction.
On the Foundations of Metaphysics in the
Mind-like Background of Physical Reality
by Lothar Schäfer
That the basis of the material world is non-material is a transcription of the fact that the properties of things are determined by quantum waves, - probability amplitudes which carry numerical relations, but are devoid of mass and energy. As a consequence of the wave-like aspects of reality, atoms do not have any shape - a solid outline in space - but the things do, which they form; and the constituents of matter, the elementary particles, are not in the same sense real as the real things that they constitute.
Rather, left to themselves they exist in a world of possibilities, between the idea of a thing and a real thing, as Heisenberg wrote, in superpositions of quantum states, in which a definite place in space, for example, is not an intrinsic attribute. That is, when such a particle is not observed it is, in particular, nowhere.
In the quantum phenomena we have discovered that reality is different than we thought. Visible order and permanence are based on chaos and transitory entities. Mental principles - numerical relations, mathematical forms, principles of symmetry - are the foundations of order in the universe, whose mind-like properties are further established by the fact that changes in information can act, without any direct physical intervention, as causal agents in observable changes in quantum states. Prior to the discovery of these phenomena information-driven reactions were a prerogative of mind. The universe, Eddington wrote, is of the nature of a thought. The stuff of the world is mind-stuff.
Mind-stuff, in a part of reality behind the mechanistic foreground of the world of space-time energy sensibility, as Sherrington called it, is not restricted to Einstein locality. The existence of non-local physical effects - faster than light phenomena - has now been well established by quantum coherence-type experiments like those related to Bells Theorem. If the universe is non-local, something that happens at this moment in its depths may have an instantaneous effect a long distance away, for example right here and right now. By every molecule in our body we are tuned to the mind-stuff of the universe.
In this way the quantum phenomena have forced the opening of a universe that Newtons mechanism once blinded and closed. Unintended by its creator, Newtons mechanics defined a machine, without any life or room for human values, the Parmenidian One, forever unchanging and predictable, eternal matter ruled by eternal laws, as Sheldrake wrote. In contrast, the quantum phenomena have revealed that the world of mechanism is just the cortex of a deeper and wider, transcendent, reality. The future of the universe is open, because it is unpredictable. Its present is open, because it is subject to non-local influences that are beyond our control. Cracks have formed in the solidity of the material world from which emanations of a different type of reality seep in. In the diffraction experiments of material particles, a window has opened to the world of Platonic ideas.
That the universe should be mind-like and not communicate with the human mind - the one organ to which it is akin - is not very likely. In fact, one of the most fascinating faculties of the human mind is its ability to be inspired by unknown sources - as though it were sensitive to signals of a mysterious origin. It is at this point that the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Ever since the discovery of Humes paradox - the principles that we use to establish scientific knowledge cannot establish themselves - science has had an illegitimate basis. Hume was right: in every external event we observe conjunction, but infer connection. Thus, causality is not a principle of nature but a habit of the human mind. At the same time, Hume was not right in postulating that there is no single experience of causality. Because, when the self-conscious mind itself is directly involved in a causal link, for example when its associated body takes part in a collision, or when the mind by its own free will is the cause of some action, then there is a direct experience of, and no doubt that, causal connections exist. When this modification of the paradox is coupled with the quantum base, a large number of pressing problems find their delightful solutions.
Like the nature of reality, the nature of knowledge is counter-intuitive, and not at all like the automatic confidence that we have in sensations of this phenomenon. The basis of knowledge is threefold. The premises are experience of reality, employment of reason, and reliance on certain non-rational, non-empirical principles, such as the Assumptions of identity, factuality, permanence, Causality, and induction. Where do these principles come from? Neither from an experience of external phenomena, nor from a process of reasoning, but from a system program of the self-conscious mind. By being an extension of the mind-like background of nature and partaking of its order, mind gives the epistemic principles - those used in deriving knowledge - certainty. Since they are not anchored in the world of space-time and mass-energy but are valid nevertheless, they seem to derive from a higher order and transcendent part of physical reality. They are, it can be assumed, messengers of the mind-like order of reality.
In the same way, moral principles. Traditional societies based their social order on myths and religious explanations. By assuming a purpose in the world, they told people why things are the way they are, and why they should act the way they were supposed to act. In the animist ontogenies values and knowledge derived from a single source, and life had meaning in an animist covenant as Monod called it. By destroying the ontological base of the animist explanations, - their astronomy, physics, and chemistry, - science also destroyed the foundations of their values.
In this process Monod saw the origin of the contemporary sickness in culture, das Unbehagen in der Kultur: on the one hand science is the basis for our power and survival; on the other, it has broken the animist covenant, rendered life meaningless in the process, and disconnected the world of values from the world of facts.
The sickness of spirit and the concomitant erosion of moral standards are the great danger for the future of mankind, already apparent in the public adoration of violence and debased behavior. At its roots is the unsolved question, on whose authority are the moral principles to be based now that the authority of the animist myths has been found lacking?
For those who are willing to listen, the answer is: on the authority of mind. In the same way that the self-conscious mind grants certainty to the epistemic principles, it invests authority in the moral principles. Like the former, the moral principles are non-empirical and non-rational, - not derived by a process of logic nor verified by experience - messengers from a higher reality beyond the front of mass-energy sensibility.
Epistemic principles give us a sense of what is true and false; moral principles, of what is right and wrong. The former establish the certainty of identity, permanence, factuality, causality; the latter, of responsibility, morality, honesty. By the same process that allows us to accept, without possible verification, the epistemic principles, we can also accept the authority of the moral principles. Violation of any one of them will put us in contrast to the nature of reality. If the nature of the universe is mind-like, it must be assumed to have a spiritual order as well as a physical order. As the epistemic principles are expressions of physical order, the ethical principles are expressions of the spiritual order of physical reality. By being an extension of the transcendent part of the nature and partaking of its order, mind establishes the authority of the ethical principles.
The challenge of reality and the ability to explore it are wonderful gifts to mankind. Understanding reality requires refinement of thought. That is, it has to do with culture. It requires an effort, is not afforded by automatic, intuitive reflex. Making sense of the world takes the response to a challenge, not the complacency of common sense. It is one and the same as striving for the moral life. An important part of it is the need to become aware of the specific character of human nature, to recognize the human mystery as Eccles called it: the mystery of how mind and body interact, how self-conscious human beings with values emerged in an evolutionary process supposedly based on blind chance and brutality. The evidence is growing that there is more to human nature than the laws of physics or chemistry, more to the process of evolution than blind chance and brutality; that evolution is more than, as Monod wrote, a giant lottery, and human beings live at the boundary of an alien world that is deaf to our music and indifferent to our hopes and suffering and crimes.
The barbaric view of reality is mechanistic. It is the easy view of classical science and of common sense. In epistemology mechanism is naive realism, the view that all knowledge is based on unquestionable facts, on apodictically verified truths. In physics mechanism is the view that the universe is clockwork, closed, and entirely predictable on the basis of unchanging laws. In biology, mechanism is the view that all aspects of life, its evolution, our feelings and values, are ultimately explicable in terms of the laws of physics and chemistry. In our legal system, mechanism is the view that the assumption of precise procedural technicalities constitutes perfect justice. In our political system, mechanism is the view that the assertion of finely formulated personal rights constitutes the ideal democracy. In our public administration, it is the view that responsible service manifests itself by the enforcement of finely split bureaucratic regulations. All of these attitudes are the attitudes of barbarians.
The quantum phenomena have taught us that, without naive realism, knowledge is possible. They have taught us that, without naive animism an ethic of knowledge, as Monod has called it, and a life with values are possible. Principles exist which are valid even though they cannot be verified. The discovery of the quantum phenomena has established a new covenant - between the human mind and the mind-like background of the universe - one that provides a home again to the homeless and meaning to the meaningless life. Whether or not the human mind is separate of the brain, as Sherrington and Eccles thought, I do not know. But I do not doubt that it is human only in some parts, and in others shares in the mind-like background of the universe. It is now possible to believe that the mind is the realization of universal potentia, a manifestation of the essence of the universe. Therefore, the only good life is in harmony with the nature of reality.
Sorry I did not see your post earlier.
You mean if we knew exactly what every atom in a die was going to do, we could predict the behavior of the die?
Not exactly. I mean, at the macro level, all physical events are determined. If they were not, the behavior of everything from computers to lasers would be unreliable. Except for manufacturing errors, they are entirely reliable. If you knew the exact amount of energy and momentum applied to a pair of dice, and coefficient to friction of the material the landed on and the angle at which they landed (the entire physical context, in other words) you would know exactly what they would do. Every time that identical context was repeated (if it could be) the behavior of the dice would be identical.
I do not think that behavior has anything to do with the indeterminate (not random) quantum behavior.
A thought for you. Quantum mechanics treats particles as discrete. The wave nature of these “particles” (which is analog) is ignored.
Not make an argument for my view, just telling you what it is.