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← How to spot quantum quackery - interview with Lawrence Kauss

How to spot quantum quackery - interview with Lawrence Kauss - Comments

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 1 by SaganTheCat

brilliant!

I get so tired of the abuse of today's magic word (anyone who has heard of Orcwood knows what I mean). I found quantum theory very hard to grasp when i was doing my A levels and it's no easier today.

unfortunately once you get to the level of physics that can't be demonstrated in terms our brains are equipped to understand it becomes "mysterious" and as soon as that happens the door is flung wide open for crackpots.

quantum mechanics has to be explained in metaphors if you want to try and explain anything. metaphors are straw men-in-waiting. you can find some metaphor in QM that you can use to argue against almost anything rational.

then you have the fact it's all a bit unpredictible, just like life, or rather just like human life, or rather just like consciousness, or rather just like ME! (you get what i mean).

the popular use of the word "quantum" is the same as "god". people feel "quantum-did-it" is a satisfactory answer to fill in for a lack of scientific understanding.

I shall be posting this link elsewhere.

BTW I must point out that the brand of deoderant I'm currently using is "Sure Quantum". I pissed myself when I saw it so had to have it.

just thought of a slogan "Sure quantum: get close - it's spooky at a distance"

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 15:54:04 UTC | #522761

huzonfurst's Avatar Comment 2 by huzonfurst

I'm liking Lawrence Krauss more all the time.

In the last couple years of college I actually got to do some quantum mechanical mathematics, so whenever any ignoramus starts going off on the "anything is possible" bit I can usually shut them down, but not always. One newager I knew had me go see What the Bleep..., which I did and was so offended by it that I asked for and got my money back!

I tried to tell this person how misinformed he was but he didn't want to hear it, and that ended our casual acquaintance-ship.

Scientists made another unfortunate blunder similar to when they coined the word "theory" when they decided to use "observer" to mean any interaction between physical entitites. The newage hordes jumped on this like a bitch in heat because "obervers" are conscious, dont'cha know.

Sigh.

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 16:06:34 UTC | #522775

Enlightenme..'s Avatar Comment 3 by Enlightenme..

"Why do you think that people have seized upon this?"

Dr Charlene Werner "seized upon" something else new from sciencey-speak when she credited 'Dr Stephen Hawkings' for his string theory which helped her to develop her parsimonious equation: E=c

I think Lawrence should have answered this last question more curtly with "I refer you to the answer I gave some moments ago".

i.e.: "assume that they want your money. ..."

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 16:11:06 UTC | #522781

tll's Avatar Comment 4 by tll

Really enjoy listening or reading anything Mr Kruass has to offer... My favorite quote of his was at AAI 2009 conference "forget Jesus, actually the stars died so we can be here" Classic!

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 16:50:38 UTC | #522812

at3p's Avatar Comment 5 by at3p

"The Secret" authors are a bunch of MLM-ing assholes. I didn't need quantum theory lessons to figure out their line of lies. Their most important "wish" is prosperity, money, but it so happens that they become rich by selling a book which tells people that they can make money by wishful thinking and another book which tells people the same thing all over again. That's Multi Level Marketing (pyramid/ponzi scheme) and it's all bullshit (to quote Penn & Teller)!

Another "funny" issue with their mind over quantum field theories is that just believing really hard in something will make it happen, but you have to believe with all your "heart", no hold backs, no doubt. ...... Well, we have such people, and you can visit them in mental hospitals and asylums. There are people who believe 100% in really strange stuff with powerful visions and feelings. What about them? Why isn't The Universe making their reality happen? No Peter Pan effect?

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 16:57:59 UTC | #522817

The Plc's Avatar Comment 6 by The Plc

You think Quantum Woo-Woo is bad? Just wait until String Theory Woo-Woo catches hold. I've heard muddle brained religoons justify their belief in god and Jesus based upon the way Scientists "have faith" in string theory because of its elegance and sense, in the same way that the resurrection is supposedly elegant and sense!

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 17:10:48 UTC | #522833

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 7 by Mr DArcy

I have posted this old chesnut before, but it's worth a second go.

Q. What do you call a female crew member of a nuclear sub, who likes disco dancing?

A. A sub-atomic party girl.

Whether the sub has a boson in it's crew is not known! No entanglements allowed on board.

Sorry!

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 17:46:04 UTC | #522854

tll's Avatar Comment 8 by tll

@ Comment 5

I have to admit I earned quite a good living in the early nineties off of spinning MLMing "bullshit" related to concepts such as Think and Grow Rich, NLP, Between the Gap, Secret etc... However, I also have to admit like religion as you and I may both know and able to see right threw the very fabric of it, some people actually do end up bettering their lives based on false belief system regardless.

It's really a catch 22. In my seminars as I pushed my books or tapes I realized 90% of the buyers would end up putting the material on a book shelf to collect dust. However, I used to look at it this way, as mature adults it's not up to me save or wipe some poor buggers ass that came to me in the first place if their not willing to at least try it out. Can't really say I'm proud of myself back then either...

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 18:01:08 UTC | #522870

Piquant's Avatar Comment 9 by Piquant

Krauss has really impressed me too in the last year (since his incredible Origins talk sponsored by RDF). I'm so pleased and grateful to have a scientist of his caliber come out and advocate good science and debunk woo-woo. I find guys like Krauss to be far more interesting than even Randi or Shermer because he is the expert.

Now can we get him on TV debating Deepak Chopra? Chopra's head will explode and paint the studio with woo. I also like to see him get defensive and raise his quantum voice.

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 18:54:02 UTC | #522919

stevecaldwell's Avatar Comment 10 by stevecaldwell

The webcomic "Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal" has a possible solution for folks want to misuse quantum physics language for the promotion of woo-woo:

http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1841

That might stop Chopra and others from misappropriating scientific concepts.

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 19:28:28 UTC | #522937

epeeist's Avatar Comment 11 by epeeist

Comment 6 by Wasted Tourist :

You think Quantum Woo-Woo is bad? Just wait until String Theory Woo-Woo catches hold.

Yes, we can expect people to say that souls are hidden in curled up dimensions.

Oh, wait...

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 20:09:30 UTC | #522963

Tronberman's Avatar Comment 12 by Tronberman

"Oh, I love quantum mechanics because I'm really into meditation, or I love the spiritual benefits that it brings me."

These people need a slap.

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 20:39:36 UTC | #522978

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 13 by Stafford Gordon

"Quantum leap" is the greatest media misconception.

They employ it to mean a huge change, when in fact it's the smallest conceivable one possible that has yet been observed.

S G

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 21:36:23 UTC | #523007

Saganic Rites's Avatar Comment 14 by Saganic Rites

Isn't this the same woo-woo that a certain 'clearmind' was putting forward (while trying to promote his book, strangely enough) on the 'all things quantum' thread on here recently?

Tue, 21 Sep 2010 23:58:16 UTC | #523064

William T. Dawkins's Avatar Comment 15 by William T. Dawkins

Guess I'll have to trash my theory that Metaphysically: Consciouness is ones nth capacity for negative entrophy / Hawkings time lived.

William

Wed, 22 Sep 2010 02:09:19 UTC | #523108

spmccullagh's Avatar Comment 16 by spmccullagh

I guess that things of the like described above are only to be expected as (some) scientists try to market their research and gain support - there has to be appeal otherwise the public will rightly question it saying "but what's the point?"

Medical science has obvious gains that people appreciate, but mathematical or physics research isn't always as tangible.

Wed, 22 Sep 2010 12:18:23 UTC | #523322

Ali Duncan's Avatar Comment 17 by Ali Duncan

I'm a layman, interested in science, and have a question, which I'll put in context. Although as a recreational pilot I accept Newtonian laws, I have often speculated that Newtons fascination with alchemy was simply an expression of his own dissatisfaction with his own advances, an averral that there was more to it than his own discoveries, important as they are. Does this mean that I'm a quantum quack. I hope not. Oh how I hope not.

Wed, 22 Sep 2010 16:10:56 UTC | #523416

katt33's Avatar Comment 18 by katt33

While I strongly believe that an optimistic, and positive attitude, along with setting goals and such is crucial to realizing ones dreams, I do not believe in a magic bullet. It is something that can easily be exploited. I have strong interest in intuition and gut feeling, often heard by police officers, and believe it can be of value, it must not be seen as the be all, end all.

Wed, 22 Sep 2010 18:56:27 UTC | #523473

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 19 by Anaximander

I have often speculated that Newtons fascination with alchemy was simply an expression of his own dissatisfaction with his own advances, an averral that there was more to it than his own discoveries, important as they are.

Maybe; but then he was right. Chemistry can not be explained by Newtonian physics. Though I don't know if alchemy can.

Wed, 22 Sep 2010 23:36:47 UTC | #523568

aspaterson's Avatar Comment 20 by aspaterson

I'm actually rather surprised at how dismissive Krauss is of Penrose. I recently read Penrose's book "The Emperor's New Mind," and I personally found it rather interesting, and it certainly doesn't fall into the category of "new age" mysticism that some of these other ideas of quantum consciousness do. Quantum effects are important in biochemistry, especially with regard to protein structures. Proteins are constantly moving and changing shape, and depending on their chemical environment, can flip to a completely different conformation and take on new biological functions. To really understand what is happening at the molecular level in organisms, quantum thermodynamics and quantum chemistry must be considered. When I was reading "The Emperor's New Mind," one thing particularly stood out to me:

"There is, in fact, at least one clear place where action at the single quantum level can have importance for neural activity, and this is the retina. (Recall that the retina is technically part of the brain!) Experiments with toads have shown that under suitable conditions, a single photon impinging on the dark-adapted retina can be sufficient to trigger a macroscopic nerve signal (Baylor, Lamb, and Yau 1979). The same appears to be true of man..."

The reason I found this so intriguing is that if a cell is capable of detecting a single photon, then quantum effects are clearly significant in some way to that cell. I'm not an expert in biology (I'm an undergraduate in Chemical Engineering) so correct me if I'm mistaken. It is my understanding that light-detecting cells in mobile organisms have been around for a while in evolutionary history. If quantum mechanics is in some way responsible for creating “awareness," then I could see how it might not take an extremely improbable number of mutations in the genetic code for cells with "consciousness" or "awareness" to be produced from a mutated segment of DNA that previously coded for biological structures capable to detecting a single photon. Have any biologists looked at the genetic/evolutionary history of neural cells to see if they could have arisen from mutations in the DNA that codes for light-detecting cells? If quantum mechanics does in fact play a significant role in consciousness, it seems plausible for nature to exploit it in this manner. Natural selection pressures select for light-detecting cells where quantum phenomena are significant to the function of the cell. Subsequent mutations evolve cells with some type of structure that exploits quantum phenomena in a different way so as to generate awareness at some basic level. A mutation like this would be extremely advantageous to the organisms that carry those genes, and organisms with this sense of “awareness” outcompete the others lacking the trait.

Am I way off base here, or did that make sense to anybody? To me the idea of consciousness being the result of the “enactment of some algorithm” doesn’t quite seem right. The Romans had purely mechanical computational machines built out of wood, and I don’t think a complicated enough machine would suddenly have awareness when carrying out some algorithm. The proponents of Strong A.I. and the Turing test, in my mind, are making a big (almost unscientific) assumption that executing an algorithm creates consciousness. What makes an algorithm so special? Some have argued that an algorithm will only produce consciousness if the components are of carbon-based nature. That’s a pretty big assumption to make, considering it’s based on a loose foundation, and it isn't very helpful in developing a fundamental understanding of how awareness arises in a physical system. What difference would the material make in determining whether an algorithm will produce consciousness or not? I am aware that there are structures in the brain that resemble algorithmic logic circuits, but there are also functions of the brain, which are carried out subconsciously. I just don’t think the Turing test really gets to the root of the problem of discovering what physical principle(s) give rise to awareness. I could be wrong. I still think, however, that not all ideas regarding consciousness arising as the result of some quantum phenomena should be hastily dismissed as quackery. I think some legitimate scientific research could be done in this area.

If you take what we know about the universe at its fundamental level, and you were to look back at the universe around 500,000 years after the big bang when atoms were first formed and before fusion produced heavier elements, would anything based our understanding of physics indicate that our universe is capable of producing conscious beings? It's easy to look from the top down at a brain and take note of the logic structures, and then jump to the conclusion that a physical system carrying out an algorithmic process creates awareness, but when you look at the the universe in a time devoid of life, it is more difficult to imagine how exactly some particular arrangement of matter will result in awareness, especially when science is lacking any profoundly accurate way of explaining it. I don't take a metaphysical view on consciousness; if it exists in our universe then it can be explained (and hopefully quantified at some point) in terms of logical and scientific principles. So where exactly in our understanding of the laws of physics and nature does consciousness come from?

Like I said before, I could be wrong about quantum phenomena playing an important role in consciousness, and I would be happy if someone could show me convincing evidence that a complicated enough algorithm really creates awareness when enacted by a physical system. At this point, however, the Turing test just opens up more questions than it answers in my opinion.

Thu, 23 Sep 2010 03:16:54 UTC | #523622

keddaw's Avatar Comment 21 by keddaw

As I was reading this my laptop turned into a bowl of petunias and a very surprised looking whale. Which promptly fell off my desk.

Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the Universe than we do now.

Thu, 23 Sep 2010 10:50:19 UTC | #523724

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 22 by Anaximander

If quantum mechanics does in fact play a significant role in consciousness, it seems plausible for nature to exploit it in this manner.

There are only two theories: quantum theory and general relativity. So if it is not quantum theory that explains consciousness, the it must be general relativity.

Probably both are needed.

Thu, 23 Sep 2010 21:06:03 UTC | #523953

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 23 by Anaximander

If you take what we know about the universe at its fundamental level, and you were to look back at the universe around 500,000 years after the big bang when atoms were first formed and before fusion produced heavier elements, would anything based our understanding of physics indicate that our universe is capable of producing conscious beings?

That would be very difficult in practice. But in principle it should be possible... no, I think it would take as much simulation time (in a computer) to calculate, if the conditions lead to consciousness, than it takes nature itself to produce consciousness.

Thu, 23 Sep 2010 21:12:00 UTC | #523955

locutus7's Avatar Comment 24 by locutus7

Maybe Quantum of the Gaps is replacing God of the Gaps among the more scientifically inclined of the credulous: "well, we don't fully understand consciousness, therefore it is a quantum mechanism."

How about, "we don't yet fully understand conscousness, but we are closing in on it. Stay tuned."

Thu, 23 Sep 2010 22:00:34 UTC | #523985

Sarmatae's Avatar Comment 25 by Sarmatae

My curiosity has gotten the better of me time and again. Many decades ago I came across an advertisement in a newspaper that said;

"Learn how to make thousands of dollars with little effort, please send a self addressed stamped envelope with two dollars to 'some P.O. box'"

Well I knew that it was a ruse. But I couldn't get my mind around how they were able to legally(at that time) rip people off without being caught. What was it they are selling, if anything? How did they evade fraud charges. It was only two dollars after all. So I sent the self addressed stamped envelope with two dollars just to satisfy my curiosity. Almost two weeks later I received back my envelope with a single piece of stationary inside. Written on it:

"Place an ad in your local paper that says 'Learn how to make thousands of dollars with little effort, please send a self addressed stamped envelope with two dollars to... And get a P.O. Box". I had to belly laugh at myself, the laugh was worth two dollars actually.

A few years ago I saw an advertisement for a movie called "The Secret". Well I knew that it was a ruse. But I couldn't get my mind around how they were able to...

You see where this is going don't you? Not only is there one born every minute, apparently we can be born again. (Born again pun intended) It's why there have been snake oil salesmen for as along as anyone can remember. And still people buy the miracle hair growth, erectile dysfunction and weight loss all in one cream from late night infomercials. Whether its a church selling it or a politician, a self help guru or some purveyor of quantum quackery. In short, lying makes good business sense and people can profit by it. The profit/prophet incentive, that's not going away any time soon.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 00:21:49 UTC | #524043

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 26 by Anaximander

Maybe Quantum of the Gaps is replacing God of the Gaps among the more scientifically inclined of the credulous: "well, we don't fully understand consciousness, therefore it is a quantum mechanism."

I mean that consciousness should be a result from physical processes - and they can be described by quantum mechanics. But there must first be a universe etc., and that is explained by general relativity.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 07:40:09 UTC | #524122

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 27 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 26 by Anaximander

I mean that consciousness should be a result from physical processes - and they can be described by quantum mechanics.

Any classical definition of consciousness runs into the zombie paradox. Essentially it's an argument that states, if one can reduce consciousness just to electrical, chemical, or whatever interactions....then one could create a device that contained those same interactions and was not conscious. The zombie paradox is fundamentally behind the whole problem of just exactly how do you determine that something IS actually conscious.

I'm not at all impressed by things such as the 'mirror test' for determining consciousness. For example an ape is show itself in a mirror, and that it has a red mark on its face......the assumption being that if the ape 'recognizes' itself in the mirror it must be conscious. But the logic of that is dodgy at best. I'm quite sure one could program a quite crude AI system to 'recognise' such a mark ( there are already AI systems that can recognise cars, planes, trees, people, etc ) without the slightest need for consciousness.

I also find the whole 'is consciousness a quantum phenomenon ?' argument somewhat dodgy. All we have to go by in this world are conscious experiences.....it's an inescapable fact that an unconscious person has no grasp of quantum mechanics at all. In order to ask the question 'is consciousness a quantum phenomenon ?'....one has to actually BE conscious. Perhaps the better question is whether quantum mechanics is a consciousness phenomenon.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 13:27:18 UTC | #524265

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 28 by Steve Zara

Any classical definition of consciousness runs into the zombie paradox. Essentially it's an argument that states, if one can reduce consciousness just to electrical, chemical, or whatever interactions....then one could create a device that contained those same interactions and was not conscious.

That's only a paradox if you think it's a paradox. There is no need for it to be. There is no reason to think that a system, of "just" electrochemical interactions would not be as conscious as we are. All we have against that position is an argument from incredulity.

In fact, if you start to consider why such a system would not be conscious, the results are rather strange, and I think make dualism an absurd position to hold.

Perhaps the better question is whether quantum mechanics is a consciousness phenomenon.

What does that even mean?

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 14:07:50 UTC | #524280

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 29 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 28 by Steve Zara

What does that even mean?

It quite simply means there may be no one-to-one correlation whatever between conscious experience and 'the real world'. Given that such fundamental conscious experiences as even the blue of the sky are entirely our own creations.....where does one draw the line ?

Our perception of light itself is a creation of consciousness. What we 'experience' simply does not exist in the external world. In fact from an evolutionary standpoint, consciousness does not need to have any direct perception of the external world whatever.....all that is required is that whatever is presented is self consistent.

Our perception of light is the entire basis for our geometrical modelling of the world. Of course, one might argue that maths and geometry 'must' be correct...otherwise how else could we have working theories of space, time, and quantum mechanics. But again.....these are just models, no different to our 'perception' of light and heat and sound. They do not NEED to be 'the world'.....all they need to work is to be consistent.

That's the context within which I'd argue that quantum mechanics is a consciousness phenomenon. The whole of quantum mechanics is in any case an attempt to abstract a realm of which we have no evolutionary experience and hence no means of conceiving.....into a mental model we can 'comprehend'.

Any 'theory of everything' is going to have to include consciousness. For too long science has totally ignored that it's the only lens through which we see the world.

Being conscious is a pre-requisite for arguing about quantum mechanics !

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 15:25:15 UTC | #524319

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 30 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 28 by Steve Zara

That's only a paradox if you think it's a paradox. There is no need for it to be. There is no reason to think that a system, of "just" electrochemical interactions would not be as conscious as we are. All we have against that position is an argument from incredulity.

I think perhaps the point I was making needed to be expressed more clearly. A better argument would be to argue that if all the brain functions are the result of causal interactions....why does the creature then NEED to be conscious in order for these interactions to happen anyway ? The zombie paradox then arises out of causality.....or the absence of 'free will'. If A causes B....surely there is no evolutionary need to be conscious of the experience, because A is going to cause B whether you are conscious of it or not.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 15:38:10 UTC | #524329