Monthly Archives: June 2014

Quantum Problems and Science PR


This link – – takes you to a debate on the quantum measurement problem. The quantum measurement problem remains one of the most intractable problems in modern physics.  Over the last few decades, physicists have developed roughly 4 interpretations of the problem.  These interpretations are summarized in the video.  Without knowledge of the formal math behind these approaches, I feel compelled to develop my own assessment of the interpretations – but I won’t get into that here!

Yet, what is equally interesting in this debate is how Brian Greene frames the assessments of each contributor.  He asks them to give a thumbs up or down to each approach based on whether they think the interpretation is worthy of further study, or as Greene puts it:  “sufficiently promising that it’s worthy of further development.”   (They even have a table of the contributors decision).   The cubist Ruediger points out that it is rather unscientific to deem any approach unworthy of further development.  (Greene concedes this point).  But…I’m not so sure that all of these are worthy of further development.  The key criteria for further development of any theory is how will the theory be tested? Or can it be tested?   If you can’t test it now…can it be tested in the future?  Because without a testable proposition, you don’t have a theory.   Of course, for those who read the popular science books that describe the quantum problem for non-scientists…(and follow these debates in other outlets)…you won’t be surprised to see Sean Carroll carrying the flag of the many-worlds interpretation.  Fortunately, three of the other participants give this interpretation a thumbs down.  They have their own reasons…but the simple question of:  How will you test this “theory” should be enough to sink it.

In other news….the blog post on 19 March that trumpeted the discovery of gravitational waves seems to require an update.  As noted in the blog post, as fascinating as the reports were…the results needed to be confirmed by others.  And…I think if you’re reading this you know what the update says:

I’m not sure why scientists can’t get wrap their heads around good PR.  If you trot out new “discoveries” without confirmation, you need to properly educate the media on the fact that further information is needed to confirm.  But no….now you have a “major discovery” that looks like it might be a major snafu.

constructing language

Work Site - Harvard Square

Work Site – Harvard Square

I’ve blogged about science and related matters up to this point…so it’s time to change course and bring in some literature.  I’ve been slowly going through the work of Chilean author Roberto Bolano.  I’m drawn to his method for story-telling and the way his stories blaze forward with an unnerving tempo.  In addition, he has a way of describing characters and situations that emphasizes the simple realities that we often can’t describe without long, philosophical treatises.  I’ve included 2 examples of his literary voice – certainly not the best or only examples – but sufficient to provide some words for thought.

Description of a character, from Last Evenings on Earth:

“Another aside: Tony was very hardworking; he worked harder (by far) than any of Anne’s previous lovers.  And another:  Tony never got angry, never argued, as if he could see absolutely no point in trying to make someone else agree with him, as if, for him, everyone was lost, so how could one lost person presume to show another the way.  Especially since the way, as well as being hidden from everyone, probably didn’t even exist.”

Describing the angst a character feels about the presence of a vase in a room, from Amulet:

“Once I was in that frame of mind, I even started looking for reasons to justify the continuing presence of the vase, and sure enough various reasons occurred to me, but what’s the point of listing them, what purpose could that serve?  All I knew for sure was that the vase was there, although it could also have been sitting on the ledge of an open window in Montevideo or on my father’s desk, in Doctor Lacouture’s old house, my father the doctor who died so long ago I’ve almost forgotten him, and even now the pillars of oblivion are collapsing onto that house and desk.”

I do enjoy Bolano’s prose.  I’m not sure about anyone else, but I’ve felt the pillars of oblivion collapsing around me from time to time.