Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Stuck in many worlds

Sorry, but no further thoughts today on Stanley Fish and the origins of human altruism. How about something completely different? I'm stuck with a deadline to send off to Nature, tomorrow, a feature on the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum theory. It's taking rather serious organization -- not to mention a lot of thinking.

I'm not actually a fan of the Many Worlds idea, although I've always been deeply fascinated by the foundational problems of quantum theory. I tend to prefer the interpretation suggested by David Bohm (the so-called Bohmian Interpretation) or the various state-reduction theories proposed by people such as Nicolas Gisin or Roger Penrose, in which the wave function actually does collapse at some point, in an objective way.

Still, it seems that quite a few physicists have become enamoured by the Many Worlds idea, in which there is no collapse at all, but one has to admit a wild and continuing splitting of the universe into ever more worlds, with observers (us!) splitting too all the time. That seems rather too much for me.... but there are some merits to the approach, and smart people putting forth new arguments. (However, and this is my personal suspicion: these theorists tend to be working either in cosmology or in areas linked closely to quantum computing, and so, one might say, lie at the extreme tail of physicists whose views are most weakly constrained by contact with empirical reality.... just my suspicion.)

Anyway,the best person to read on this is Roger Penrose, say Chapters 29 and 30, of his monumental The Road to Reality. I find myself agreeing with him, rather than some very famous others, because his arguments just seem to make more sense.

Sorry... back to the origins of altruism soon....


Burr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Burr said...

'Tim Haab at Environmental Economics points us to a study by University of Oregon researchers on the cognitive aspects of charitable acts that found “knowing your money is going to a good cause can activate some of the same pleasure centers in your brain as food and sex.” The social message, according to Haab: “So give in good conscience people. And then have a smoke.”'
I deleted this comment earlier because I forgot to put quotes around it, and say I forget where I found it.

Partha said...

I hope you will continue to write about the foundations of quantum mechanics and the challenges they pose. After seventy odd years it seems that we haven't made much progress beyond the insights of the pioneers (Bohr, Heisenberg and Schroedinger). Schroedinger had the interesting idea that the paradoxes we encounter in quantum mechanics are connected with the dichotomy we impose between mind and matter. I am not surprised that not much work has been done following up his speculation; but I am a little disappointed as well.

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Anonymous said...

You say the best person to read on this is Roger Penrose? So you subscribe to Penrose over the likes of Hawking, Dewitt, Feynman, Deutsch, and Everett? So you believe that the act of observation by an observer changes the observed? I believe we should all cease calling your favorite the Copenhagen interpretation and start calling it the Harry Potter interpretation.

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