Category Archives: Science

Quantum Problems and Science PR

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This link – http://tinyurl.com/kf66c3k – 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:  http://tinyurl.com/ldnmyzg

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.

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the unreasonable effectiveness of quantifying habits

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Somewhere at Harvard

Although not a new article, this one is certainly fascinating.  With all the media hyper-ventilating about NSA spy programs, the following articled describes just how much information a retailer can glean from your buying habits.   http://tinyurl.com/9lpkmu6

The idea that most of today’s physicists are self-described Platonists is quite remarkable.   As a group, most physicists would agree that the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in theoretical physics is explained by the fact that mathematics exists a priori from human experience and the physical world.  This piece describes how the deification of mathematics – in pursuit of a “theory of everything” – leads to a dizzying array of realities.  Physics’s pangolin

From the Roof, San Fran.

From the Roof, San Fran.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say Gary Gutting was reading my blog:  http://tinyurl.com/cn99foj Professor Gutting discusses the exact problem I described in a recent blog – the proliferation of scientific studies in the media – and the fact that these studies are misrepresented.  Gutting’s suggestion for a coding system is well received.  As he points out, there are different types of studies – ones that suggest a correlation, and those that establish a causal link.  In many cases, the media fails to distinguish between the two.