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Aaronson, interpretations of QM, and fashions

Scott Aaronson may have banned me on this blog, he has written lots of insane, extremist, and pathetic things about politics and ideologically sensitive scientific questions, and he's wrong about many physics-related issues, when he places computer science above physics, when he tells you that you have to believe that \(P\neq NP\), and he's been wrong in lots of other contexts.

But I think it's obvious that he's one of the examples of truly intelligent men among those who are visible on the Internet. He's also right in approximately 80% of comments about the foundations of quantum mechanics.

He's wanted to write a long essay about the "interpretations of quantum mechanics", wasn't satisfied with the draft, but now – when he's finally sick – he wrote at least a short version of it,

Interpretive cards (MWI, Bohm, Copenhagen: collect ’em all).
To make the story short, lots of his short evaluations of the "interpretations" are completely adequate. The transactional interpretation makes no sense at all. The dynamical collapse "interpretation" isn't an "interpretation" but a completely new theory which seems likely to be wrong – one can place lots of limits on the new parameters. I've written about it in the past. (Maybe he only sounds reasonable because he's parroting me here.)

De Broglie-Bohm's pilot wave theory is frank but the choice of the hidden variable is non-unique and arbitrary. I would say it's far from the only problem but it's actually one of the most serious problems undermining the whole motivation to work along these lines. So finally his choice is
Copenhagen, or many worlds? That is the question.
He also says that "Copenhagen" largely means the same thing as "shut up and calculate" (or "QM needs no interpretation") – I agree with that point as well, much like with others. The first problem is when he sort of chooses to be attracted to the many worlds. But even some reasonably smart high-energy theoretical physicists make such a statement.

Well, so he couldn't get an A from his essay but his grade would still be far better than the grade of a majority of would-be wise men who love to paint themselves as experts in the foundations of quantum mechanics.

One can of course think carefully enough and eliminate all the non-Copenhagen options, including the many worlds, and I have done so in the union of many blog posts. There's a sense in which I believe that Aaronson would be capable of constructing such proofs as well (Scott, try to spend half a day trying to construct rules "when the worlds split", "what the parts are", "how many worlds are there", "why this scheme implies Born's rule", and "how these rules are applied to several basic quantum experiments", and then generalize your failure and prove that there can't be any such rules) – but he just hasn't tried.

He was too lazy and chose to keep the alternatives as possibilities because that's what some other people say and he has never thought deeply about their statements. He chose to trust them. That's my explanation why intelligent men like Aaronson keep on saying wrong and superficial things about certain fundamental enough questions (like whether quantum mechanics may work with the "many worlds interpretation"). They just haven't thought about them as independent scientists – humanities-style parroting of the clichés by others has seemed enough for them.

But he's still better in independent thinking than others, and this "parroting" will be a key target of the text below.

Another interesting point is his framing of the "Copenhagen vs many worlds" dispute:
... I regard [the disagreement] as coming from two fundamentally different conceptions of what a scientific theory is supposed to do for you. Is it supposed to posit
  1. an objective state for the universe, or
  2. be only a tool that you use to organize your experiences?
Right and nice. That's what the dispute "Copenhagen vs anything else" fundamentally boils down to. The only problem he sort of overlooks is that the two options aren't complementary or disjoint or mutually exclusive. Because the second option contains the word "only", the first option is actually a subset of the second option. It's because
theories assuming the existence of an objective state for the Universe (which are normally called "classical theories" in the adult physicists' jargon) represent a subset of theories that organize our experiences.
In other words, you can organize your experiences in different ways. To assume that your experiences reflect an underlying objective state of the Universe is one obvious strategy to organize those experiences, and that's the strategy that was considered correct and sufficient throughout the whole era of classical physics.

Since 1925, we have known that this assumption is no longer viable. Aaronson doesn't quite know that yet because he isn't a good physicist but he's closer to that 93-year-old insight than most of the self-confident inkspillers who write about the "interpretations" of quantum mechanics.

Let me post a would-be amusing analogy to Aaronson's dilemma:
... I regard [the evolutionist-creationist dispute] as coming from two fundamentally different conceptions of what a scientific theory about the origin of species is supposed to do for you. Is it supposed to posit
  1. a clear schedule saying which species were created by God during His one-week-long workshop dedicated to the creation of animals and plants or
  2. be only a tool that you use to organize your observations of animals, plants, and fossils?
Now, which option is correct in this case? Creationists or believers believe the first option, more conventional modern biologists or people acknowledging progress in biology choose the second option. Note that once again, the options aren't mutually exclusive. The first option is a special case of the second. If you want to explain the anatomy and physiology of animals, you may try to assume a creation event involving a creator who had a well-defined schedule that could be found.

But a key point is that this is an assumption, a hypothesis, and a key principle in science is that assumptions may be wrong and hypotheses may be falsified. In this case, the creationist story has been falsified. In the presence of alternative explanations, a scientist should be open-minded and impartial, ask which of them is correct, and use the evidence to find the answer if the evidence is enough.

When this is done, the hypothesis about the one-week creation may be falsified because it predicts – almost with certainty – the absence of all the patterns that are actually explained by Darwin's evolution. Creationism predicts the probability that these patterns exist to be almost zero (the main loophole could be to postulate that the Creator deliberately tries to fake the patterns so that it looks like a a result of evolution – elaborate versions of this theory may end up being equivalent to evolution and sensible people might agree that God has become redundant in this scheme).

So Christian and Islamic believers might frame this question as one that is standing "above science" – a question "what science means at all". But that's just another way of saying that they treat their preferred answer as a dogma. You may equally say that the statement "the Earth must be at the center of the Universe" stands above science and is a general rule that defines science and that everyone must accept to be called a scientist as well (well, the Inquisition has basically imposed that view in the real world). Is that a legitimate requirement? I don't think so.

A scientist shouldn't treat assumptions as dogmas. The assumption that there's a one-week-long creator's schedule that's waiting to be found and clarified is a fully scientific hypothesis, the evidence for and against should be and may be looked for, and the conclusion turns out to be that this hypothesis is wrong.

Now, the point of this analogy is that the situation is completely analogous in the case of quantum mechanics. Just like one may assume the existence of a creator's one-week-long schedule, one may assume the existence of an objective state of the Universe. But none of them exists and both of them have been falsified by the overwhelming scientific evidence. And both assumptions – creationism and classical physics – have been superseded by much more satisfactory, newer frameworks that actually agree with the relevant evidence – with Darwin's evolution and quantum mechanics, respectively.

Staunch supporters of classical physics (equivalently, of the "objective state of the Universe" that needs no observers) want to deny that they're just fanatical, closed-minded, quasi-religious bigots who are simply wrong about the fundamental question about the Universe. They love to paint themselves as smarter and more scientific than the creationists. But they are not more scientific. They're victims of yet another belief system, and just like creationists, they refuse to discuss certain fundamental questions rationally because the correct answer brought by modern science conflicts with some of their deep beliefs.

If it were right that predictions must really be expressed relatively to the subjectively defined observations by an observer, the life wouldn't be worth living for these people – advocates of many worlds, transactional interpretations, Bohmian mechanics, objective collapse theories, and other strategies to deny quantum mechanics (="to deny Copenhagen") whose basic insight has been from the beginning that the observers are needed to apply the laws of Nature.

To say the least, if most of these people admitted the truth, they would also admit that they have been saying complete rubbish about a very fundamental question throughout their lives. So they prefer to delude themselves and others and keep on spreading increasingly incoherent fairy-tales about Bohmism, objective collapses, splitting worlds, and all this junk that is completely wrong according to the scientific evidence.

The discussion on Aaronson's blog has over 160 comments at this moment, and many new ones will be added. There's a lot of babbling and of course, no consensus or "heureka moment" has a chance to come out of it. These discussions are a complete waste of time, especially because a vast majority of the people who are attracted to such discussions are unfortunately intellectually insufficient to surpass the level of a moronic troll.

But I want to single out one cute exchange that Aaronson deserves additional positive points for:
Bunsen Burner Says:
Comment #12 February 3rd, 2018 at 11:04 am

Also, QBism is now passe, more thought is leading to the Participatory Realism paradigm.

Scott Says:
Comment #13 February 3rd, 2018 at 11:22 am

Bunsen Burner #11: Unless interpretations of QM are like hair accessories, who cares which ones are or aren’t “passé”?

Bunsen Burner Says:
Comment #14 February 3rd, 2018 at 11:41 am

My point is that the label QBism is passe, read what Fuchs et al are talking about now. They view Participatory Realism as more indicative of their ideas and a better label than QBism.
Bunker Brothel starts with a great revelation. According to a 2016 preprint, you should no longer talk about QBism because it's "passé". If you want to be in, you should switch to the "participatory realism", LOL.

Aaronson rightfully questions this whole approach to the truth. A scientist doesn't care what is "passé" – only hairdressers do. Exactly. Just try to search for Passé on Wikipedia. You will be redirected to the article about fashion.

This young lady looks beautiful, including the gown, whatever it is in Czech. But if you follow fashions, you know (I hope that no TRF reader knows, however) that she is "passé" because the picture (placed at the top of the "Fashion" article on Wikipedia) was taken at a 2010 Paris fashion show – which is over 7 years ago. You don't need to look at Wikipedia. If you like to solve crosswords, you may also know that Passé should often be written in the place of "no longer fashionable".

The page offers several additional synonyms such as out, dated, and outdated.

"No longer fashionable" is exactly what the word "passé" means! And indeed, that's how Mr or Ms Bunker Brothel has used the word, too. When you discuss what is "passé", you are discussing fashions! There's no way to avoid this conclusion. And yes, Ms Bunker Brothel discusses fashions, indeed.

She tells us that "QBism" (the label) is no longer "fashionable", just like the 2010 gown.

But you know, a real scientist really doesn't care what is "fashionable". She or he cares what is true. When a real scientist sees the 2010 gown, he will be aroused even in 2018 (or jealous even in 2018, if the scientist is female). We're still actively using lots of laws and equations that were written down over 100 years ago. When some insights, propositions, notation, or anything else are replaced by others, it's because the older ones have been falsified or at least found misleading, insufficiently general, or otherwise inferior relatively to the new ones. There has to be some meritocratic reason and the "ageing of an old fashion" isn't one.

So scientists just generally don't care about gowns. Or about lipsticks, like the fake scientists in the notorious EU's video clip "science, it's a girl thing". So Bunker Brothel's whole method of judging the world of ideas is absolutely unscientific. She is doing fashions, not science. And a bigger problem is that the same comment may apply to QBism's Christopher Fuchs, too (and almost everyone who does "interpretations of quantum mechanics" as her job).

Ms Bunker Brothel tried to fix that clear conclusion when she wrote (I assume she's female because this kind of approach is mostly female but she can be male or shemale, too, or a member of one of the 25 other sexes and genders):
... They view Participatory Realism as more indicative of their ideas and a better label than QBism.
A nice try. But it's ludicrous. If someone gets obsessed with names, it's clear that he began to work on gowns, lipsticks, and fashions, not science. Do we need to change the names of the "preferred interpretation" as frequently as gowns? Or more frequently? Why?

It's normal for physics terms to be misleading – if taken literally in a certain straightforward way. "Quantum mechanics" may be considered a misleading term by itself. One reason it's misleading is that the observables don't have to have discrete spectra i.e. quantized eigenvalues. Continuous spectra of eigenvalues are still possible for operators such as \(\hat x\) or \(\hat p\) on the infinite line.

So the single phrase "quantum mechanics" doesn't "precisely" answer the question about the character of the spectra of eigenvalues of all Hermitian operators – all observables. But should it? I don't think so. It is not sensible to expect that the precise rules and implications of a theory that is as advanced as quantum mechanics can be precisely squeezed into a phrase consisting of two words. It's just impossible so scientists don't even try to find a "new, perfect name" for quantum mechanics. It's just stupid.

There is a whole theory and one needs to learn it for some time. One needs hundreds of pages to properly explain the basics of the theory. The phrase "quantum mechanics" is just a phrase that appears in the title of the textbooks, just like "Romeo and Juliet" appears in the title of a play due to William Shakespeare. But just like the words "Romeo and Juliet" can't be expected to encode everything that happened to these young people, the phrase "quantum mechanics" can't encode all the novel lessons that quantum mechanics has taught us. "Quantum mechanics" is just a name, like the names of the birds discussed by Feynman. The names may be anything and you don't learn anything when you learn the names. You still need to learn the content which matters, the logic, the rules.

A reason why the people with the thinking of "humanities" don't get this elementary point is that in humanities, the "beef" often does follow from the two-word titles. When they need to write a PhD thesis, they invent a few words in the title, and then they just add 200 pages of complete gibberish (obviously true, obviously false, ambiguous, and usually repetitive and pompously sounding nonsense) that comes to their mind when they see the title. And I don't think that I am exaggerating! Most of the time, humanities don't have any beef at all and they love to assume that no one else (e.g. scientists) can possibly have any beef, either.

If an extra "interpretation" were needed on top of the universal postulates of quantum mechanics – it's not needed because the postulates are the correct interpretation and everything you need about it and everything that is scientifically meaningful – the approach I sketched above should apply to the names of the interpretation, too. So it just wouldn't matter whether you called it QBism and you became fond of another name that hasn't spread yet. When you want to rename QBism to the participatory realism, have you changed the beef? Do you still care about the beef at all? Have you actually ever cared about the beef?

One-half of the people who love to preach about "interpretations of quantum mechanics" are just wrong and victims of the dogma that the Universe is fundamentally obliged to follow the laws of classical physics; the other half knows that this view has been ruled out and they sort of "feel" how quantum mechanics has to work but they don't care about the beef. They prefer to care about the gowns, lipsticks, fashions, and marketing. They must know that they are not creating any added value of the scientific type (something that Heisenberg or Bohr could learn and see that they have learned something new, true, and relevant that wasn't available in their lifetimes); they are producing an added value in fashions, marketing, and babbling, and that's enough for their careers.

Sorry, this is not science. Even though it often looks like the proponents of QBism could understand quantum mechanics because QBism sounds like reworded rules of quantum mechanics as discovered by Heisenberg and pals (I am still not sure), the correct statements could be coincidences. They're not really doing science, they're doing gowns, fashions, lipstick, and marketing.

Later, Aaronson wrote another explanation of these matters to Ms Bunker Brothel:
Dear Ms Brothel in the Bunker:

Classifying interpretations is well and good (I also have a predilection for classifying things in big tables), but if you’re just trying to figure out for yourself what’s true or reasonable about a given philosophical question, then needing to address every subtle variation on every alternative version of every possible answer that anyone ever cared enough to write a paper about or attach a catchy slogan to, is just as likely to be a hindrance as a help. After spending some time to acquaint yourself with the literature, why not thereafter mostly restrict your attention to those possible answers that are actually live options for you?
Right. The monologue may sound confusing because he's not quite as articulate as I am but Aaronson simply wants to say that scientists write their papers and build their theories (and "interpretations", if needed) on the part of the literature that they evaluated as coherent, correct, and/or useful to explain the data. Scientists throw the incoherent, incorrect, and/or useless literature to the trash can. They ignore it or explain why they don't use it, and separate it sharply from the things that they do use and they do believe.

On the other hand, someone may decide not to care what is coherent, correct, and/or useful. He may write about everything else that someone else has mentioned. But people who are writing such articles – people who don't ever exploit the separation of statements to right and wrong ones – are simply not doing science. They're doing some comparative literature or a related social science or humanities.

Bunker in the Brothel doesn't even understand this simple difference between the approach of science and that of comparative literature:
I’m not sure what your point is, Scott. The classification I provided represents how experts in Quantum Foundations are thinking about the conceptual links between the various interpretations. If these experts consider all of those options still available then who am I, a complete dilletante, to say differently. That way lies Dunning-Kruger.
Aaronson adds another comment saying that the "work on taxonomy of other people's statements takes one too far away from science" but the Brothel in the Bunker never gets it. Aaronson tries to remind Bunker that most physicists, even the best ones, don't even know the basic groups of the "schools invented by the experts in quantum foundations" because that's not needed for the actual science. Bunker never gets such things. Well, a more general statement is almost certainly correct: Bunker has never thought scientifically about a single question about the world so everything she is doing is some kind of crappy humanities.

You would go bonkers if you decided that it makes sense to discuss quantum mechanics with similar Bunkers.

But the diversity of loons and simpletons is much greater in that threat, of course. Self-described philosopher, hardcore pompous crackpot Tim Maudlin couldn't have been absent in the thread. His discussion with Aaronson and others who are saner gets rather tense. But of course, it can't get anywhere.

There are lots of people whose way of thinking – or intellectual prerequisites – are defective in one fundamental aspect or many fundamental aspects which prevents them from understanding quantum mechanics and sometimes the strategies of the scientific method in general. But many of them are extremely self-confident and they sometimes paint their fatal intellectual defects as virtues.

Discussions with such people simply are a waste of time. The very fact that one may – and one should – discard lots of "theories" and monologues by others as garbage is a cornerstone of the scientific reasoning that the people whose thinking is absolutely unscientific can never understand. They think you're totally intolerant and perhaps immoral if you think that you have reasons to think that something is wrong.

Their brain is made of jellyfish and they could have never sharply separated the right from wrong. So they always look a little bit high, incoherent to be sufficiently certain about anything, and they're always affected by anything that an arbitrarily moronic old or additional human adds to the discussion about anything. Well, that's exactly the approach that a scientifically inclined person considers pathetic and incapable of finding the truth in any context. In this very sense, the scientific method does existentially require intolerance or closed-mindedness.

Users of the scientific method simply don't keep options alive just because someone keeps on talking about them. When something gets falsified, it's dead and those who keep on talking about that are morons. More generally, users of the scientific method don't care about everything that someone else has said. You may call this whole approach to the truth "intolerant" but if you do so, you only prove that you haven't understood even the tiniest glimpse of the rational, scientific reasoning. In other words, it means that you are a complete and hopeless moron (such as a professor in the humanities).

And that's the memo.

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