1. Would it happen to me, too?
“My Grandfather Thought He Solved a Cosmic Mystery,”
reports Veronique Greenwood for The Atlantic [^] [h/t the CalTech physicist Sean Carroll’s twitter feed]. The story has the subtitle:
“His career as an eminent physicist was derailed by an obsession. Was he a genius or a crackpot?”
If you visit the URL for this story, the actual HTML page which loads into your browser has another title, similar to the one above:
“Science Is Full of Mavericks Like My Grandfather. But Was His Physics Theory Right?”
Hmmm…. I immediately got interested. After all, I do work also on foundations of quantum mechanics. … “Will it happpen to me, too?” I thought.
At this point, you should really go through Greenwood’s article, and continue reading here only after you have finished reading it.
Any one who has worked on any conceptually new approach would find something in Greenwood’s article that resonates with him.
As to me, well, right at the time that attempts were being made to find examiners for my PhD, my guide (and even I) had heard a lot of people say very similar things as Greenwood now reports: “I don’t understand what you are saying, so please excuse me.” This, when I thought that my argument should be accessible even to an undergraduate in engineering!
And now that I continue working on the foundations of QM, having developed a further, completely new (and more comprehensive) approach, naturally, Greenwood’s article got me thinking: “Would it happen to me, too? Once again? What if it does?”
…Naah, it wouldn’t happen to me—that was my conclusion. Not even if I continue talking about, you know, QM!
But why wouldn’t something similar happen to me? Especially given the fact that a good part of it has already happened to me in the past?
The reason, in essence, is simple.
I am not just a physicist—not primarily, anyway. I am primarily an engineer, a computational modeller. That’s why, things are going to work out in a different way for me.
As to my past experience: Well, I still earned my PhD degree. And with it, the most critical part of the battle is already behind me. There is a lot of resistance to your acceptance before you have a PhD. Things do become a lot easier once you have gone successfully past it. That’s another reason why things are going to work out in a different way now. … Let me explain in detail.
I mean to say, suppose that I have a brand-new approach for resolving all the essential quantum mechanical riddles. [I think I actually do!]
Suppose that I try to arrange for a seminar to be delivered by me to a few physics professors and students, say at an IIT, IISER, or so. [I actually did!]
Suppose that they don’t respond very favorably or very enthusiastically. Suppose they are outright skeptical when I say that in principle, it is possible to think of a classical mechanically functioning analog simulator which essentially exhibits all the essential quantum mechanical features. Suppose that they get stuck right at that point—may be because they honestly and sincerely believe that no classical system can ever simulate the very quantum-ness of QM. And so, short of calling me a crack-pot or so, they just directly (almost sternly) issue the warning that there are a lot of arguments against a classical system reproducing the quantum features. [That’s what has actually happened; that’s what one of the physics professors I contacted wrote back to me.]
Suppose, then, that I send an abstract to an international conference or so. [This too has actually happend, too, recently.]
Suppose that, in the near future, the conference organizers too decline my submission. [In actual reality, I still don’t know anything about the status of my submission. It was in my routine searches that I came across this conference, and noticed that I did have about 4–5 hours’ time to meet the abstracts submissions deadline. I managed to submit my abstract within time. But since then, the conference Web site has not got updated. There is no indication from the organizers as to when the acceptance or rejection of the submitted abstracts would be communicated to the authors. An enquiry email I wrote to the organizers has gone unanswered for more than a week by now. Thus, the matter is still open. But, just for the sake of the argument, suppose that they end up rejecting my abstract. Suppose that’s what actually happens.]
Since I am not a physicist “proper”, it wouldn’t affect me the way it might have, if I were to be one.
… And, that way, I could even say that I am far too smart to let something like that (I mean some deep disappointment or something like that) happen to me! … No, seriously! Let me show you how.
Suppose that the abstract I sent to an upcoming conference was written in theoretical/conceptual terms. [In actual reality, it was.]
Suppose now that it therefore gets rejected.
I would simply build a computational model based on my ideas. … Here, remember, I have already begun “talking things” about it [^]. No one has come up with a strong objection so far. (May be because they know the sort of a guy I am.)
So, if my proposed abstract gets rejected, what I would do is to simply go ahead and perform a computer simulation of a classical system of this sort (one which, in turn, simulates the QM phenomena). I might even publish a paper or two about it—putting the whole thing in purely classical terms, so that I manage to get it published. (Before doing that, I might even discuss the technical issues involved on blogs, possibly even at iMechanica!)
After such a paper (ostensibly only on the classical mechanics) gets accepted and published, I will simply write a blog post, either here or at iMechanica, noting how that system actually simulates the so-and-so quantum mechanical feature. … Then, I would perform another simulation—say using DFT. (And it is mainly for DFT that I would need help from iMechanicians or so.) After it too gets accepted and published, I will write yet another blog post, explaining how it does show some quantum mechanical-ness. … Who knows such a sequence could continue…
But such a series (of the simulations) wouldn’t be very long, either! The thing is this.
If your idea does indeed simplify certain matters, then you don’t have to argue a lot about it—people can see its truth real fast. Especially if it has to do with “hard” sciences like engineering—even physics!
If your basic idea itself isn’t so good, then, putting it in the engineering terms makes it more likely that even if you fail to get the weakness of your theory, someone else would. All in all, well and good for you.
As to the other possibility, namely, if your idea is good, but, despite putting it in the simpler terms (say in engineering or simulation terms), people still fail to see it, then, well, so long as your job (or money-making potential) itself is not endangered, then I think that it is a good policy to leave the mankind to its own follies. It is not your job to save the world, said Ayn Rand. Here, I believe her. (In fact, I believed in this insight even before I had ever run into Ayn Rand.)
As to the philosophic issues such as those involved in the foundations of QM—well, these are best tackled philosophically, not physics-wise. I wouldn’t use a physics-based argument to take a philosophic argument forward. Neither would I use a philosophical argument to take a physics-argument forward. The concerns and the methods of each are distinctly different, I have come to learn over a period of years.
Yes, you can use a physics situation as being illustrative of a philosophic point. But an illustration is not an argument; it is merely a device to make understanding easier. Similarly, you could try to invoke a philosophic point (say an epistemological point) to win a physics-based argument. But your effort would be futile. Philosophic ideas are so abstract that they can often be made to fit several different, competing, physics-related arguments. I would try to avoid both these errors.
But yes, as a matter of fact, certain issues that can only be described as philosophic ones, do happen to get involved when it comes to the area of the foundations of QM.
Now, here, given the nature of philosophy, and of its typical practitioners today (including those physicists who do dabble in philosophy), even if I become satisfied that I have resolved all the essential QM riddles, I still wouldn’t expect these philosophers to accept my ideas—not immediately anyway. In fact, as I anticipate things, philosophers, taken as a group, would never come to accept my position, I think. Such an happenstance is not necessarily to be ascribed to the personal failings of the individual philosophers (even if a lot of them actually do happen to be world-class stupid). That’s just how philosophy (as a discipline of studies) itself is like. A philosophy is a comprehensive view of existence—whether realistic or otherwise. That’s why it’s futile to expect that all of the philosophers would come to agree with you!
But yes, I would expect them to get the essence of my argument. And, many of them would, actually, get my argument, its logic—this part, I am quite sure of. But just the fact that they do understand my argument would not necessarily lead them to accept my positions, especially the idea that all the QM riddles are thereby resolved. That’s what I think.
Similarly, there also are a lot of mathematicians who dabble in the area of foundations of QM. What I said for philosophers also applies more or less equally well to them. They too would get my ideas immediately. But they too wouldn’t, therefore, come to accept my positions. Not immediately anyway. And in all probability, never ever in my lifetime or theirs.
So, there. Since I don’t expect an overwhelming acceptance of my ideas in the first place, there isn’t going to be any great disappointment either. The very expectations do differ.
Further, I must say this: I would never ever be able to rely on a purely abstract argument. That would feel like too dicey or flimsy to me. I would have to offer my arguments in terms of physically existing things, even if of a brand new kind. And, machines built out of them. At least, some working simulations. I would have to have these. I would not be able to rest on an abstract argument alone. To be satisfactory to me, I would have to actually build a machine—a soft machine—that works. And, doing just this part itself is going to be far more than enough to keep me happy. They don’t have to accept the conceptual arguments or the theory that goes with the design of such (soft) machines. It is enough that I play with my toys. And that’s another reason why I am not likely to derive a very deep sense of disenchantment or disappointment.
But if you ask me, the way I really, really like think about it is this:
If they decline my submission to the conference, I will write a paper about it, and send it, may be, to Sean Carroll or Sabine Hosenfelder or so. … The way I imagine things, he is then going to immediately translate my paper into German, add his own name to ensure its timely publication, and … . OK, you get the idea.
[In the interests of making this post completely idiot-proof, let me add: Here, in this sub-section, I was just kidding.]
2. The problem with the Many Worlds:
“Why the Many Worlds interpretation has many problems.”
Philip Ball argues in an article for the Quanta Mag [^] to the effect that many worlds means no world at all.
No, this is not exactly what he says. But what he says is clear enough that it is this conclusion which becomes inescapable.
As to what he actually says: Well, here is a passage, for instance:
“My own view is that the problems with the MWI are overwhelming—not because they show it must be wrong, but because they render it incoherent. It simply cannot be articulated meaningfully.”
In other words, Ball’s actual position is on the epistemic side, not on the ontic. However, his arguments are clear enough (and they often enough touch on issues that are fundamental enough) that the ontological implications of what he actually says, also become inescapable. OK, sometimes, the article unnecessarily takes detours into non-essentials, even into something like polemics. Still, overall, the write up is very good. Recommended very strongly.
Homework for you: If the Many Worlds idea is that bad, then explain why it might be that many otherwise reasonable people (for instance, Sean Carroll) do find the Many Worlds approach attractive. [No cheating. Think on your own and write. But if cheating is what you must do, then check out my past comment at some blog—I no longer remember where I wrote it, but probably it was on Roger Schlafly’s blog. My comment had tackled precisely this latter issue, in essential terms. Hints for your search: My comment had spoken about data structures like call-stacks and trees, and their unfolding.]
3. QM as an embarrassment to science:
“Why quantum mechanics is an “embarrassment” to science”
Brad Plumer in his brief note at the Washington Post [^] provides a link to a video by Sean Carroll.
Carroll is an effective communicator.
[Yes, he is the same one who I imagine is going to translate my article into German and… [Once again, to make this post idiot-proof: I was just kidding.]]
4. Growing younger…
I happened to take up a re-reading of David Ruelle’s book: “Chance and Chaos”. The last time I read it was in the early 1990s.
I felt younger! … May be if something strikes me while I am going through it after a gap of decades, I will come back and note it here.
5. Good introductory resources on nonlinear dynamics, catastrophe theory, and chaos theory:
If you are interested in the area of nonlinear dynamics, catastrophe theory and chaos theory, here are a few great resources:
- For a long time, the best introduction to the topic was a brief write-up by Prof. Harrison of UToronto; it still remains one of the best [^].
- Prof. Zeeman’s 1976 article for SciAm on the catastrophe theory is a classic. Prof. Zhigang Suo (of Harvard) has written a blog post of title “Recipe for catastrophe”at iMechanica [^], in which he helpfully provides a copy of Zeeman’s article. I have strongly recommended Zeeman’s write-up before, and I strongly recommend it once again. Go through it even if only to learn how to write for the layman and still not lose precision or quality.
- As to a more recent introductory expositions, do see Prof. Geoff Boeing’s blog post: “Chaos theory and the logistic map” [^]. Boeing is a professor of urban planning, and not of engineering, physics, CS, or maths. But it is he who gives the clearest idea about the distinction between randomness and chaos that I have ever run into. (However, I only later gathered that he does have a UG in CS, and a PG in Information Management.) Easy to understand. Well ordered. Overall, very highly recommended.
Apart from it all:
A song I like:
(Hindi) “tere humsafar geet hai tere…”
Music: R. D. Burman
Singers: Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Asha Bhosale
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
[Has this song been lifted from some Western song? At least inspired from one?
Here are the reasons for this suspicion: (1) It has a Western-sounding tune. It doesn’t sound Indian. There is no obvious basis either in the “raag-daari,” or in the Indian folk music. (ii) There are (beautiful) changes in the chords here. But there is no concept of chords in the traditional Indian music—basically, there is no concept of harmony in it, only of melody. (iii) Presence of “yoddling” (if that’s the right word for it). That too, by a female singer. That too, in the early 1970’s! Despite all the “taan”s and “firat”s and all that, this sort of a thing (let’s call it yoddling) has never been a part of the traditional Indian music.
Chances are good that some of the notes were (perhaps very subconsciously) inspired from a Western tune. For instance, I can faintly hear “jingle bells” in the refrain. … But the question is: is there a more direct correspondence to a Western tune, or not.
And, if it was not lifted or inspired from a Western song, then it’s nothing but a work of an absolute genius. RD anyway was one—whether this particular song was inspired from some other song, or not.
But yes, I liked this song a great deal as a school-boy. It happened to strike me once again only recently (within the last couple of weeks or so). I found that I still love it just as much, if not more.]
As usual, may be I will come back tomorrow or so, and edit/streamline this post a bit. One update done on 2018.11.04 08:26 IST. A second update done on 2018.11.04 21:01 IST. I will now leave this post in whatever shape it is in. Got to move on to trying out a few things in Python and all. Will keep you informed, probably after Diwali. In the meanwhile, take care and bye for now…]