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The Hidden Reality Draws Ire From Physicists 387

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-anger-the-physics-nerds dept.
eldavojohn writes "Scientific American is running a piece by science journalist John Horgan attacking pop physicist Brian Greene's latest offering, titled The Hidden Reality. He's not entirely alone; Not Even Wrong backs him up and reminds us of a growing list of multiverse propaganda. The journal Nature ran a short piece (subscription required) trying to remind everyone that Greene's book is more theory than fact, but apart from those three responses, the popular press seems to be gobbling up this tantalizing concept of a multiverse. NPR offers an excerpt while SFGate and The Wall Street Journal entertain us with interviews of the controversial Greene. The New York Times and Salon seem to think it's worthwhile, with Salon even calling it 'the science behind' the multiverse theory. The New York Times thought it worthwhile to give Greene an op-ed column. For better or for worse, Greene has certainly brought this great debate to the public's attention — similar to his exhibition of String Theory."
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The Hidden Reality Draws Ire From Physicists

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  • by PCM2 (4486) on Monday January 31, 2011 @04:39PM (#35060714) Homepage

    People want to know what they're doing, because they've been told that we're Just Around The Corner from The Big Answers. It's a lie, and essentially everybody familiar enough with the work knows it.

    Jesus, paranoid much? The public is intellectually curious because they're being lied to. People like Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene have some ideas about how the universe might be organized but they're liars! They're lying to you! Don't listen! LA LA LA LA LA LA!

    Settle the fuck down. Brian Greene wrote a book in which he tries to explain some modern avenues of conjecture about physics in a way that you don't need to know "a lot of very, very difficult calculus" to understand. Period. Sorry if that cost you your funding, or whatever you've got your panties in a wad about, but you're sounding like a serious ass right now.

  • I'm curious (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Xaedalus (1192463) <Xaedalys AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday January 31, 2011 @04:55PM (#35060886)

    Did you ever read Rational Mysticism ? Because I did, and I found it to be very fascinating, written from a skeptic's viewpoint (as opposed to a cynical skeptic) and he came away with a lot of interpretations that I found intriguing.

  • Re:Uhhh... whut? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday January 31, 2011 @05:03PM (#35060952)

    Mod parent up.

    Horan is also, as he points out himself, kind of cranky (in the bitter way, not the crazy way). I haven't read Greene's latest book, but his others cover established theory (relativity and QM) quite well, and then introduce string theory as something very much in development. I doubt very much his latest book departs significantly from that formula, as the label "pseudoscience" would require.

    Speculation is an important part of science, despite what Horgan thinks. The difference is that scientists don't claim their speculation is fact, but merely an interesting idea that perhaps should be studied further.

    The term poppernazi does seem to fit Horgan, and yes, if you allow a little bit of explanation, it is indeed a counter to his arguments.

  • by da cog (531643) on Monday January 31, 2011 @05:20PM (#35061120)

    As a physicist, I believe that the many-world interpretation of quantum physics is the best because it is more practical than its competitors.

    The first major competitor is the theory that the world is deterministic and its just our lack of knowledge that causes us to perceive a non-deterministic world. The problem with this is that we have no evidence in favor of this proposition and to the extent we have any evidence it is *against* this proposition.

    The other major competitor is the theory that the wave function of the whole universe collapses every time we make a measurement. This agrees very well with experiment as long as the person asking the question is the one doing the measurement, but it has a major problem: since wave functions don't collapse unless measured, what counts as a measurement? For example, does collapse only happen when *I* make a measurement? If so, why should I be uniquely privileged? Alternatively, does collapse happen whenever some human being makes a measurement --- that is, if I perform the Schroedinger's cat experiment but with a person instead of a cat inside the box, then has the wave function collapsed even if I never open the box (assuming it is perfectly insulated)?

    The advantage of the many-worlds interpretation is that it solves the problem of measurement by *not* treating measurement as being an special-case exception to the rules; it postulates that the wave function of the universe never actually collapses. Given this, how do we make sense of the fact we human beings *do* observe such a collapse? The answer actually appears right in the math: when we demand that a particle in a mix of states tell us which state it is in, it causes us to become entangled with the particle so that a *portion* of the universe splits into two states: one with the particle in the first state and us seeing it in the first state, one with the particle in the second state and us seeing it in the second state, and so on. So from the perspective of each of the observers the wave function has collapsed even though it never did. What happens then if you put an observer in a box and have him or her make a measurement? The answer also appears in the math: although the universe splits inside the box, it does not split outside the box.

    This might seem fanciful, but it is something that we can actually test. Although we cannot put human beings in a box for ethical reasons, we can put increasingly large systems in the box that act as "observers" of some particle (by engineering an interaction between the observer and the particle) and then perform interference experiments to determine whether the wave function in the box has collapsed or not. Every such experiment we have performed has shown that the wave function does in fact *not* collapse inside the box but rather splits.

    So what is the mathematical difference between being inside the portion of the universe that splits and being outside it? It is simple: if you are outside the portion that splits, then the wave function of the universe can be expressed as a tensor product between you and splitting portion. If you are inside the portion that splits, then this can never be the case.

    Thus it turns out that measurement *already falls out of quantum mechanics* in a mathematically rigorous and observer-independent fashion, as long as we are willing to accept that a consequence of this is that from the view of someone external to the universe there is a (mathematically rigorous) sense in which there are multiple copies of you and I within the universe. Sure, if we don't like this consequence we can add a rule that gets rid of it by specifying that the wave-function collapses, but then you have to introduce some arbitrary rule that specified that some macroscopic bodies have the power to cause a collapse but not others. Now in fairness, there do turn out to be mathematically rigorous ways to do this and some of them even provide testable predictions so one of them might be proven correct one day, but there is

  • Re:not science (Score:4, Interesting)

    by c6gunner (950153) on Monday January 31, 2011 @05:42PM (#35061318)

    Asimov said it best:

    "when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

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