The bouncing droplets imply having to drop the Bohmian approach?

If you are interested in the area of QM foundations, then may be you should drop everything at once, and go, check out the latest pop-sci news report: “Famous experiment dooms alternative to quantum weirdness” by Natalie Wolchover in the Quanta Magazine [^].

Remember the bouncing droplets experiments performed by Yves Couder and pals? In 2006, they had reported that they could get the famous interference pattern even if the bouncing droplets passed through the double slit arrangement only one at a time. … As the Quanta article now reports, it turns out that when other groups in the USA and France tried to reproduce this result (the single-particle double-slit interference), they could not.

“Repeat runs of the experiment, called the “double-slit experiment,” have contradicted Couder’s initial results and revealed the double-slit experiment to be the breaking point of both the bouncing-droplet analogy and de Broglie’s pilot-wave vision of quantum mechanics.”

Well, just an experimental failure or two in reproducing the interference, by itself, wouldn’t make for a “breaking point,”i.e., if the basic idea itself were to be sound. So the question now becomes whether the basic idea itself is sound enough or not.

Turns out that a new argument has been put forth, in the form of a thought experiment, which reportedly shows why and how the very basic idea itself must be regarded as faulty. This thought experiment has been proposed by a Danish professor of fluid dynamics, Prof. Tomas Bohr. (Yes, there is a relation: Prof. Tomas Bohr is a son of the Nobel laureate Aage Bohr, i.e., a grandson of the Nobel laureate Niels Bohr [^].)

Though related to QM foundations, this thought experiment is not very “philosophical” in nature; on the contrary, it is very, very “physics-like.” And the idea behind it also is “simple.” … It’s one of those ideas which make you exclaim “why didn’t I think of it before?”—at least the first time you run into it. Here is an excerpt (which actually is the caption for an immediately understandable diagram):

“Tomas Bohr’s variation on the famous double-slit experiment considers what would happen if a particle must go to one side or the other of a central dividing wall before passing through one of the slits. Quantum mechanics predicts that the wall will have no effect on the resulting double-slit interference pattern. Pilot-wave theory, however, predicts that the wall will prevent interference from happening.”

… Ummm… Not quite.

From whatever little I know about the pilot-wave theory, I think that the wall wouldn’t prevent the interference from occurring, even if you use this theory. … It all seems to depend on how you interpret (and/or extend) the pilot-wave theory. But if applied right (which means: in its own spirit), then I guess that the theory is just going to reproduce whatever it is that the mainstream QM predicts. Given this conclusion I have drawn about this approach, I did think that the above-quoted portion was a bit misleading.

The main text of the article then proceeds to more accurately point out the actual problem (i.e., the way Prof. Tomas Bohr apparently sees it):

“… the dividing-wall thought experiment highlights, in starkly simple form, the inherent problem with de Broglie’s idea. In a quantum reality driven by local interactions between a particle and a pilot wave, you lose the necessary symmetry to produce double-slit interference and other nonlocal quantum phenomena. An ethereal, nonlocal wave function is needed that can travel unimpeded on both sides of any wall. [snip] But with pilot waves, “since one of these sides in the experiment carries a particle and one doesn’t, you’ll never get that right. You’re breaking this very important symmetry in quantum mechanics.””

But isn’t the pilot wave precisely ethereal and nonlocal in nature, undergoing instantaneous changes to itself at all points of space? Doesn’t the pilot theory posit that this wave doesn’t consist of anything material that does the waving but is just a wave, all by itself?


…So, if you think it through, people seem to be mixing up two separate issues here:

  1. One issue is whether it will at all be possible for any real physical experiment done up with the bouncing droplets to be able to reproduce the predictions of QM or not.
  2. An entirely different issue is whether, in Bohr’s dividing-wall thought-experiment, the de Broglie-Bohm approach actually predicts something that is at a variance from what QM predicts or not.

These two indeed are separate issues, and I think that the critics are right on the first count, but not necessarily on the second.

Just to clarify: The interference pattern as predicted by the mainstream QM itself would undergo a change, a minor but a very definite change, once you introduce the middle dividing wall; it would be different from the pattern obtained for the “plain-vanilla” version of the interference chamber. And if what I understand about the Bohmian mechanics is correct, then it too would proceed to  produce exactly the same patterns in both these cases.


With that said, I would still like to remind you that my own understanding of the pilot-wave theory is only minimal, mostly at the level of browsing of the Wiki and a few home pages, and going through a few pop-sci level explanations by a few Bohmians. I have never actually sat down to actually go through even one paper on it fully (let alone systematically study an entire book or a whole series of articles on this topic).

For this reason, I would rather leave it to the “real” Bohmians to respond to this fresh argument by Prof. Tomas Bohr.

But yes, a new argument—or at least, an old argument but in a remarkably new settings—it sure seems to be.


How would the Bohmians respond?

If you ask me, from whatever I have gathered about the Bohmians and their approach, I think that they are simply going to be nonchalant about this new objection, too. I don’t think that you could possibly hope to pin them down with this argument either. They are simply going to bounce back, just like those drops. And the reason for that, in turn, is what I mentioned already here in this post: their pilot-wave is both ethereal and nonlocal in the first place.


So, yes, even if Wolchover’s report does seem to be misguided a bit, I still liked it, mainly because it was informative on both the sides: experimental as well as theoretical (viz., as related to the new thought-experiment).

In conclusion, even if the famous experiment does not doom this (Bohmian) alternative to the quantum weirdness, the basic reason for its unsinkability is this:

The Bohmian mechanics is just as weird as the mainstream QM is—even if the Bohmians habitually and routinely tell you otherwise.

When a Bohmian tells you that his theory is “sensible”/“realistic”/etc/, what he is talking about is: the nature of his original ambition—but not the actual nature of his actual theory.


To write anything further about QM is to begin dropping hints to my new approach. So let me stop right here.

[But yes, I am fully ready willing from my side to disclose all details about it at any time to a suitable audience. … Let physics professors in India respond to my requests to let me conduct an informal (but officially acknowledged) seminar on my new approach, and see if I get ready to deliver it right within a week’s time, or not!

[Keep waiting!]]


Regarding other things, as you know, the machine I am using right now is (very) slow. Even then, I have managed to run a couple of 10-line Python scripts, using VSCode.

I have immediately taken to liking this IDE “code-editor.” (Never had tried it before.) I like it a lot. … Just how much?

I think I can safely say that VSCode is the best thing to have happened to the programming world since VC++ 6 about two decades ago.

Yes, I have already stopped using PyCharm (which, IMHO, is now the second-best alternative, not the best).


No songs section this time, because I have already run a neat and beautiful song just yesterday. (Check out my previous post.) … OK, if some song strikes me in a day or two, I will return here to add it. Else, wait until the next time around. … Until then, take care and bye for now…


[Originally published on 16 October 2018 22:09 hrs IST. Minor editing (including to the title line) done by 17 October 2018 08:09 hrs IST.]

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