“Measure for Measure”—a pop-sci video on QM

This post is about a video on QM for the layman. The title of the video is: “Measure for Measure: Quantum Physics and Reality” [^]. It is also available on YouTube, here [^].

I don’t recall precisely where on the ‘net I saw the video being mentioned. Anyway, even though its running time is 01:38:43 (i.e. 1 hour, 38 minutes, making it something like a full-length feature film), I still went ahead, downloaded it and watched it in full. (Yes, I am that interested in QM!)

The video was shot live at an event called “World Science Festival.” I didn’t know about it beforehand, but here is the Wiki on the festival [^], and here is the organizer’s site [^].

The event in the video is something like a panel discussion done on stage, in front of a live audience, by four professors of physics/philosophy. … Actually five, including the moderator.

Brian Greene of Columbia [^] is the moderator. (Apparently, he co-founded the World Science Festival.) The discussion panel itself consists of: (i) David Albert of Columbia [^]. He speaks like a philosopher but seems inclined towards a specific speculative theory of QM, viz. the GRW theory. (He has that peculiar, nasal, New York accent… Reminds you of Dr. Harry Binswanger—I mean, by the accent.) (ii) Sheldon Goldstein of Rutgers [^]. He is a Bohmian, out and out. (iii) Sean Carroll of CalTech [^]. At least in the branch of the infinity of the universes in which this video unfolds, he acts 100% deterministically as an Everettian. (iv) Ruediger Schack of Royal Holloway (the spelling is correct) [^]. I perceive him as a QBist; guess you would, too.

Though the video is something like a panel discussion, it does not begin right away with dudes sitting on chairs and talking to each other. Even before the panel itself assembles on the stage, there is a racy introduction to the quantum riddles, mainly on the wave-particle duality, presented by the moderator himself. (Prof. Greene would easily make for a competent TV evangelist.) This part runs for some 20 minutes or so. Then, even once the panel discussion is in progress, it is sometimes interwoven with a few short visualizations/animations that try to convey the essential ideas of each of the above viewpoints.

I of course don’t agree with any one of these approaches—but then, that is an entirely different story.

Coming back to the video, yes, I do want to recommend it to you. The individual presentations as well as the panel discussions (and comments) are done pretty well, in an engaging and informal way. I did enjoy watching it.

The parts which I perhaps appreciated the most were (i) the comment (near the end) by David Albert, between 01:24:19–01:28:02, esp. near 1:27:20 (“small potatoes”) and, (ii) soon later, another question by Brian Greene and another answer by David Albert, between 01:33:26–01:34:30.

In this second comment, David Albert notes that “the serious discussions of [the foundational issues of QM] … only got started 20 years ago,” even though the questions themselves do go back to about 100 years ago.

That is so true.

The video was recorded recently. About 20 years ago means: from about mid-1990s onwards. Thus, it is only from mid-1990s, Albert observes, that the research atmosphere concerning the foundational issues of QM has changed—he means for the better. I think that is true. Very true.

For instance, when I was in UAB (1990–93), the resistance to attempting even just a small variation to the entrenched mainstream view (which means, the Copenhagen interpretation (CI for short)) was so enormous and all pervading, I mean even in the US/Europe, that I was dead sure that a graduate student like me would never be able to get his nascent ideas on QM published, ever. It therefore came as a big (and a very joyous) surprise to me when my papers on QM actually got accepted (in 2005). … Yes, the attitudes of physicists have changed. Anyway, my point here is, the mainstream view used to be so entrenched back then—just about 20 years ago. The Copenhagen interpretation still was the ruling dogma, those days. Therefore, that remark by Prof. Albert does carry some definite truth.

Prof. Albert’s observation also prompts me to pose a question to you.

What could be the broad social, cultural, technological, economic, or philosophic reasons behind the fact that people (researchers, graduate students) these days don’t feel the same kind of pressure in pursuing new ideas in the field of Foundations of QM? Is the relatively greater ease of publishing papers in foundations of QM, in your opinion, an indication of some negative trends in the culture? Does it show a lowering of the editorial standards? Or is there something positive about this change? Why has it become easier to discuss foundations of QM? What do you think?

I do have my own guess about it, and I would sure like to share it with you. But before I do that, I would very much like to hear from you.

Any guesses? What could be the reason(s) why the serious discussions on foundations of QM might have begun to occur much more freely only after mid-1990s—even though the questions had been raised as early as in 1920s (or earlier)?

Over to you.

Greetings in advance for the Republic Day. I [^] am still jobless.



QM: The physical view it takes—1

So, what exactly is quantum physics like? What is the QM theory all about?

You can approach this question at many levels and from many angles. However, if an engineer were to ask me this question (i.e., an engineer with sufficiently good grasp of mathematics such as differential equations and linear algebra), today, I would answer it in the following way. (I mean only the non-relativistic QM here; relativistic QM is totally beyond me, at least as of today):

Each physics theory takes a certain physical view of the universe, and unless that view can be spelt out in a brief and illuminating manner, anything else that you talk about it (e.g. the maths of the theory) tends to become floating, even meaningless.

So, when we speak of QM, we have to look for a physical view that is at once both sufficiently accurate and highly meaningful intuitively.

But what do I mean by a physical view? Let me spell it out first in the context of classical mechanics so that you get a sense of that term.

Personally, I like to think of separate stages even within classical mechanics.

Consider first the Newtonian mechanics. We can say that the Newtonian mechanics is all about matter and motion. (Maxwell it was, I think, who characterized it in this beautifully illuminating a way.) Newton’s original mechanics was all about the classical bodies. These were primarily discrete—not quite point particles, but finite ones, with each body confined to a finite and isolated region of space. They had no electrical attributes or features (such as charge, current, or magnetic field strength). But they did possess certain dynamical properties, e.g., location, size, density, mass, speed, and most importantly, momentum—which was, using modern terminology, a vector quantity. The continuum (e.g. a fluid) was seen as an extension of the idea of the discrete bodies, and could be studied by regarding an infinitesimal part of the continuum as if it were a discrete body. The freshly invented tools of calculus allowed Newton to take the transition from the discrete bodies (billiard balls) to both: the point-particles (via the shells-argument) as well as to the continuum (e.g. the drag force on a submerged body.)

The next stage was the Euler-Lagrange mechanics. This stage represents no new physics—only a new physical view. The E-L mechanics essentially was about the same kind of physical bodies, but now a number (often somewhat wrongly called a scalar) called energy being taken as the truly fundamental dynamical attribute. The maths involved the so-called variations in a global integral expression involving an energy-function (or other expressions similar to energy), but the crucial dynamic variable in the end would be a mere number; the number would be the outcome of evaluating a definite integral. (Historically, the formalism was developed and applied decades before the term energy could be rigorously isolated, and so, the original writings don’t use the expression “energy-function.” In fact, even today, the general practice is to put the theory using only the mathematical and abstract terms of the “Lagrangian” or the “Hamiltonian.”) While Newton’s own mechanics was necessarily about two (or more) discrete bodies locally interacting with each other (think collisions, friction), the Euler-Lagrange mechanics now was about one discrete body interacting with a global field. This global field could be taken to be mass-less. The idea of a global something (it only later on came to be called a field) was already a sharp departure from the original Newtonian mechanics. The motion of the massive body could be predicted using this kind of a formalism—a formalism that probed certain hypothetical variations in the global field (or, more accurately, in the interactions that the global field had with the given body). The body itself was, however, exactly as in the original Newtonian mechanics: discrete (or spread over definite and delimited region of space), massive, and without any electrical attributes or features.

The next stage, that of the classical electrodynamics, was about the Newtonian massive bodies but now these were also seen as endowed with the electrical attributes in addition to the older dynamical attributes of momentum or energy. The global field now became more complicated than the older gravitational field. The magnetic features, initially regarded as attributes primarily different from the electrical ones, later on came to be understood as a mere consequence of the electrical ones. The field concept was now firmly entrenched in physics, even though not always very well understood for what it actually was: as a mathematical abstraction. Hence the proliferation in the number of physical aethers. People rightly sought the physical referents for the mathematical abstraction of the field, but they wrongly made hasty concretizations, and that’s how there was a number of aethers: an aether of light, an aether of heat, an aether of EM, and so on. Eventually, when the contradictions inherent in the hasty concretizations became apparent, people threw the baby with the water, and it was not long before Einstein (and perhaps Poincare before him) would wrongly declare the universe to be devoid of any form of aether.

I need to check the original writings by Newton, but from whatever I gather (or compile, perhaps erroneously), I think that Newton had no idea of the field. He did originate the idea of the universal gravitation, but not that of the field of gravity. I think he would have always taken gravity to be a force that was directly operating between two discrete massive bodies, in isolation to anything else—i.e., without anything intervening between them (including any kind of a field). Gravity, a force (instantaneously) operating at a distance, would be regarded as a mere extension of the idea of the force by the direct physical contact. Gravity thus would be an effect of some sort of a stretched spring to Newton, a linear element that existed and operated between only two bodies at its two ends. (The idea of a linear element would become explicit in the lines of force in Faraday’s theorization.) It was just that with gravity, the line-like spring was to be taken as invisible. I don’t know, but that seems like a reasonable implicit view that Newton must have adopted. Thus, the idea of the field, even in its most rudimentary form, probably began only with the advent of the Euler-Lagrange mechanics. It anyway reached its full development in Maxwell’s synthesis of electricity and magnetism into electromagnetism. Remove the notion of the field from Maxwell’s theory, and it is impossible for the theory to even get going. Maxwellian EM cannot at all operate without having a field as an intermediate agency transmitting forces between the interacting massive bodies. On the other hand, Newtonian gravity (at least in its original form and at least for simpler problems) can. In Maxwellian EM, if two bodies suddenly change their relative positions, the rest of the universe comes to feel the change because the field which connects them all has changed. In Newtonian gravity, if two bodies suddenly change their relative positions, each of the other bodies in the universe comes to feel it only because its distances from the two bodies have changed—not because there is a field to mediate that change. Thus, there occurs a very definite change in the underlying physical view in this progression from Newton’s mechanics to Euler-Lagrange-Hamilton’s to Maxwell’s.

So, that’s what I mean by the term: a physical view. It is a view of what kind of objects and interactions are first assumed to exist in the universe, before a physics theory can even begin to describe them—i.e., before any postulates can even begin to be formulated. Let me hasten to add that it is a physical view, and not a philosophical view, even though physicists, and worse, mathematicians, often do confuse the issue and call it a (mere) philosophical discussion (if not a digression). (What better can you expect from mathematicians anyway? Or even from physicists?)

Now, what about quantum mechanics? What kind of objects does it deal with, and what kind of a physical view is required in order to appreciate the theory best?

What kind of objects does QM deal with?

QM once again deals with bodies that do have electromagnetic attributes or features—not just the dynamical ones. However, it now seeks to understand and explain how these features come to operate so that certain experimentally observed phenomena such as the cavity radiation and the gas spectra (i.e., the atomic absorption- and emission-spectra) can be predicted with a quantitative accuracy. In the process, QM keeps the idea of the field more or less intact. (No, strictly speaking it doesn’t, but that’s what physicists think anyway). However, the development of the theory was such that it had to bring the idea of the spatially delimited massive body, occupying a definite place and traveling via definite paths, into question. (In fact, quantum physicists went overboard and threw it out quite gleefully, without a thought.) So, that is the kind of “objects” it must assume before its theorization can at all begin. Physicists didn’t exactly understand what they were dealing with, and that’s how arose all its mysteries.

Now, how about its physical view?

In my (by now revised) opinion, quantum mechanics basically is all about the electronic orbitals and their evolutions (i.e., changes in the orbitals, with time).

(I am deliberately using the term “electronic” orbital, and not “atomic” orbital. When you say “atom,” you must mean something that is localized—else, you couldn’t possibly distinguish this object from that at the gross scale. But not so when it is the electronic orbitals. The atomic nucleus, at least in the non-relativistic QM, can be taken to be a localized and discrete “particle,” but the orbitals cannot be. Since the orbitals are necessarily global, since they are necessarily spread everywhere, there is no point in associating something local with them, something like the atom. Hence the usage: electronic orbitals, not atomic orbitals.)

The electronic orbital is a field whose governing equation is the second-order linear PDE that is Schrodinger’s equation, and the problems in the theory involve the usual kind of IVBV problems. But a further complexity arises in QM, because the real-valued orbital density isn’t the primary unknown in Schrodinger’s equation; the primary unknown is the complex-valued wavefunction.

The Schrodinger equation itself is basically like the diffusion equation, but since the primary unknown is complex-valued, it ends up showing some of the features of the wave equation. (That’s one reason. The other reason is, the presence of the potential term. But then, the potential here is the electric potential, and so, once again, indirectly, it has got to do with the complex nature of the wavefunction.) Hence the name “wave equation,” and the term “wavefunction.” (The “wavefunction” could very well have been called the “diffusionfunction,” but Schrodinger chose to call it the wavefunction, anyway.) Check it out:

Here is the diffusion equation:

\dfrac{\partial}{\partial t} \phi = D \nabla^2 \phi
Here is the Schrodinger equation:
\dfrac{\partial}{\partial t} \Psi = \dfrac{i\hbar}{2\mu} \nabla^2 \Psi + V \Psi

You can always work with two coupled real-valued equations instead of the single, complex-valued, Schrodinger’s equation, but it is mathematically more convenient to deal with it in the complex-valued form. If you were instead to work with the two coupled real-valued  equations, they would still end up giving you exactly the same results as the Schrodinger equation. You will still get the Maxwellian EM after conducting suitable grossing out processes. Yes, Schrodinger’s equation must give rise to the Maxwell’s equations. The two coupled real-valued equations would give you that (and also everything else that the complex-valued Schrodinger’s equation does). Now, Maxwell’s equations do have an inherent  coupling between the electric and magnetic fields. This, incidentally, is the simplest way to understand why the wavefunction must be complex-valued. [From now on, don’t entertain the descriptions like: “Why do the amplitudes have to be complex? I don’t know. No one knows. No one can know.” etc.]

But yes, speaking in overall terms, QM is, basically, all about the electronic orbitals and the changes in them. That is the physical view QM takes.

Hold that line in your mind any time you hit QM, and it will save you a lot of trouble.

When it comes to the basics or the core (or the “heart”) of QM, physicists will never give you the above answer. They will give you a lot many other answers, but never this one. For instance, Richard Feynman thought that the wave-particle duality (as illustrated by the single-particle double-slit interference arrangement) was the real key to understanding the QM theory. Bohr and Heisenberg instead believed that the primacy of the observables and the principle of the uncertainty formed the necessary key. Einstein believed that entanglement was the key—and therefore spent his time using this feature of the QM to deny completeness to the QM theory. (He was right; QM is not complete. He was not on the target, however; entanglement is merely an outcome, not a primary feature of the QM theory.)

They were all (at least partly) correct, but none of their approaches is truly illuminating—not to an engineer anyway.

They were correct in the sense, these indeed are valid features of QM—and they do form some of the most mystifying aspects of the theory. But they are mystifying only to an intuition that is developed in the classical mechanical mould. In any case, don’t mistake these mystifying features for the basic nature of the core of the theory. Discussions couched in terms of the more mysterious-appearing features in fact have come to complicate the quantum story unnecessarily; not helped simplify it. The actual nature of the theory is much more simple than what physicists have told you.

Just the way the field in the EM theory is not exactly the same kind of a continuum as in the original Newtonian mechanics (e.g., in EM it is mass-less, unlike water), similarly, neither the field nor the massive object of the QM is exactly as in their classical EM descriptions. It can’t be expected to be.

QM is about some new kinds of the ultimate theoretical objects (or building blocks) that especially (but not exclusively) make their peculiarities felt at the microscopic (or atomic) scale. These theoretical objects carry certain properties such that the theoretical objects go on to constitute the observed classical bodies, and their interactions go on to produce the observed classical EM phenomena. However, the new theoretical objects are such that they themselves do not (and cannot be expected to) possess all the features of the classical objects. These new theoretical objects are to be taken as more fundamental than the objects theorized in the classical mechanics. (The physical entities in the classical mechanics are: the classical massive objects and the classical EM field).

Now, this description is quite handful; it’s not easy to keep in mind. One needs a simpler view so that it can be held and recalled easily. And that simpler view is what I’ve told you already:

To repeat: QM is all about the electronic orbital and the changes it undergoes over time.

Today, most any physics professor would find this view objectionable. He would feel that it is not even a physics-based view, it is a chemistry-based one, even if the unsteady or the transient aspect is present in the formulation. He would feel that the unsteady aspect in the formulation is artificial; it is more or less slapped externally on to the picture of the steady-state orbitals given in the chemistry textbooks, almost as an afterthought of sorts. In any case, it is not physics—that’s what he would be sure of. By that, he would also be sure to mean that this view is not sufficiently mathematical. He might even find it amusing that a physical view of QM can be this intuitively understandable. And then, if you ask him for a sufficiently physics-like view of QM, he would tell you that a certain set of postulates is what constitutes the real core of the QM theory.

Well, the QM postulates indeed are the starting points of QM theory. But they are too abstract to give you an overall feel for what the theory is about. I assert that keeping the orbitals always at the back of your mind helps give you that necessary physical feel.

OK, so, keeping orbitals at the back of the mind, how do we now explain the wave-particle duality in the single-photon double-slit interference experiment?

Let me stop here for this post; I will open my next post on this topic precisely with that question.

A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “ik ajeeb udaasi hai, meraa man_ banawaasi hai…”
Music: Salil Chowdhury
Singer: Sayontoni Mazumdar
Lyrics: (??)

[No, you (very probably) never heard this song before. It comes not from a regular film, but supposedly from a tele-film that goes by the name “Vijaya,” which was produced/directed by one Krishna Raaghav. (I haven’t seen it, but gather that it was based on a novel of the same name by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya. (Bongs, I think, over-estimate this novelist. His other novel is Devadaas. Yes, Devadaas. … Now you know. About the Chattopadhyaya.)) Anyway, as to this song itself, well, Salil-daa’s stamp is absolutely unmistakable. (If the Marathi listener feels that the flute piece appearing at the very beginning somehow sounds familiar, and then recalls the flute in Hridayanath Mangeshkar’s “mogaraa phulalaa,” then I want to point out that it was Hridayanath who once assisted Salil-daa, not the other way around.) IMO, this song is just great. The tune may perhaps sound like the usual ghazal-like tune, but the orchestration—it’s just extraordinary, sensitive, and overall, absolutely superb. This song in fact is one of Salil-daa’s all-time bests, IMO. … I don’t know who penned the lyrics, but they too are great. … Hint: Listen to this song on high-quality head-phones, not on the loud-speakers, and only when you are all alone, all by yourself—and especially as you are nursing your favorite Sundowner—and especially during the times when you are going jobless. … Try it, some such a time…. Take care, and bye for now]


In QM, local action does make sense

We have been too busy with our accreditation-related work, but I still had to squeeze in a comment at Scott Aaronson’s blog.

In case you don’t know, Scott Aarsonson is a tenured Associate Professor in CS at MIT (I mean the one in Cambridge, MA, USA). Scott’s opinions count—at least, they are very widely read (and often, also very extensively commented on and discussed).

This year, Scott was invited to respond to the Edge’s annual question [^]. In the latest post on his blog covering his and others’ responses to the question [^], Scott singled out three answers by others (at the Edge forum) which he thought were heading in the wrong direction. In Scott’s own words:

Then there were three answers for which the “progress” being celebrated, seemed to me to be progress racing faster into WrongVille

In particular, the following residents of the so-called “WrongVille” were of immediate interest to me; let me continue quoting Scott’s words:

Ross Anderson on an exciting conference whose participants aim to replace quantum mechanics with local realistic theories.  (Anderson, in particular, is totally wrong that you can get Bell inequality violation from “a combination of local action and global correlation,” unless the global correlation goes as far as a ‘t-Hooft-like superdeterministic conspiracy.) [Emphasis in bold is mine.]

The minimum implications here are these two: (i) quantum mechanics—not this interpretation or that interpretation of its existing mathematics, but the entire mechanics of the quanta itself—cannot ever be local, and (ii) therefore, any attempts to build a local theory to explain the quantum phenomena must be seen as a replacement for QM [a lock, stock and barrel replacement, I suppose].

One further implicit idea here seems to be that any local theory, if it yields the necessary global correlation, must also imply superdeterminism. In case you don’t know, “superdeterminism” here is primarily a technical term, not philosophical; it is about a certain idea put forth by the Nobel laureate ‘t Hooft.

As you know, my theorization has been, and will always remain, local in nature. Naturally, I had to intervene! As fast as I could!!

So I wrote a comment at Scott’s blog, right on the fly. (Literally. By the time I finished typing it and hit the Submit Comment button, I was already in the middle of some informal discussions in my cabin with my colleagues, regarding arrangements to be made for the accreditation-related work.)

Naturally, my comment isn’t as clear as it should be.

It so happens that our accreditation-related activities would be over on the upcoming Sunday, and so, I should be able to find the time to come back and post an expanded and edited version early next week. Until then, please make do with my original reply at Scott’s blog [^]; I am copy-pasting the relevant portion “as is” below:

Anderson’s (or others’) particular theory (or theories) might not be right, but the very idea that there can be this combination of a local action + a global correlation, isn’t. It is in fact easy to show how:

The system evolution in QM is governed by the TDSE, and it involves a first derivative in time and a second in space. TDSE thus has a remarkable formal similarity to the (linear) diffusion equation (DE for short).

It is easy to show that a local solution to the DE can be constructed. Indeed, any random walks-based solution involves only a local action. More broadly, starting with any sub-domain method and using a limiting argument, a deterministic solution that is local, can always be constructed.

Of course, there *are* differences between DE and TDSE. TDSE has the imaginary $i$ multiplying the time derivative term (I here assume TDSE in exactly that form as given on the first page of Griffith’s text), an imaginary “diffusion coefficient,” and a complex-valued \Psi. The last two differences are relatively insignificant; they only make the equation consistent with the requirement that the measurements-related eigenvalues be real. The “real” difference arises due to the first factor, i.e. the existence of the i multiplying the $\partial \Psi/\partial t$ term. Its presence makes the solution oscillatory in time (in TDSE) rather than exponentially decaying (as in DE).

However, notice, in the classical DE too, a similar situation exists. “Waves” do exist in the space part of the solution to DE; they arise due to the separation hypothesis and the nature of the Fourier method. OTOH, a sub domain-based or random walks-based solution (see Einstein’s 1905 derivation of the diffusion equation) remains local even if eigenwaves exist in the Fourier modeling of the problem.

Therefore, as far as the local vs. global debate is concerned, the oscillatory nature of the time-dependence in TDSE is of no fundamental relevance.

The Fourier-theoretical solution isn’t unique in DE; hence local solutions to TDSE are possible. Local and propagating processes can “derive” diffusion, and therefore, must be capable of producing the TDSE.

Note, my point is very broad. Here, I am not endorsing any particular local-action + global-correlation theory. In fact, I don’t have to.

All that I am saying is (and it is enough to say only this much) that (i) the mathematics involved is such that it allows building of a local theory (primarily because Fourier theoretical solutions can be shown not to be unique), and (ii) the best experiments done so far are still so “gross” that existence of such fine differences in the time-evolution cannot be ruled out.

One final point. I don’t know how the attendees of that conference think like, but at least as far as I am concerned, I am (also) informally convinced that it will be impossible to give a thoroughly classical mechanics-based mechanism for the quantum phenomena. The QM is supposed to give rise to CM (Classical Mechanics) in the “grossing out” limit, not the other way around. Here, by CM, I mean: Newton’s postulates (and subsequent reformulations of his mechanics by Lagrange and Hamilton). If there are folks who think that they could preserve all the laws of Newton’s, and still work out a QM as an end product, I think, they are likely to fail. (I use “likely” simply because I cannot prove it. However, I *have* thought about building a local theory for QM, and also do have some definite ideas for a local theory of QM. One aspect of this theory is that it can’t preserve a certain aspect of Newton’s postulates, even if my theorization remains local and propagational in nature (with a compact support throughout).)

OK. So think about it in the meanwhile, and bye for now.

[BTW, though I believe that QM theory must be local, I don’t agree that something such as superdeterminism is really necessary.]

A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “aaj un se pehli mulaaqaat hogi…”
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: R. D. Burman
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi





The 2015 Physics Nobel, the neutrino, and the quantum entanglement

Okey dokey, so…. Quite a few important things have happened since I wrote my last post. Let me jot them down here, in the order of the decreasing importance:

  1. The teaching part of our UG term has (finally) ended.
  2. The QM papers mentioning Alice, Bob, entanglement or Bell’s inequalities did not get the Nobel recognition, not even this year—and if you ask me, for a very, very good set of reasons, but more on it later; I am not done with my list yet.
  3. Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald did get the Physics Nobel for this year, “for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass.” The official popular explanation is here [(.PDF) ^]
  4. Youyou Tu got half of the Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine this year, “for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria.” The press release is here [^]. … Is it just me or you too failed to notice any “China-tva-vadi” thumping his chest in “pride” of the ancient Chinese medical system?

OK. Now, a few personal comments, in the reverse order of the list.

Given my interests, the list could have ended at point no. 3 above. It’s just that, given the emphasis that the supposedly ancient “vimaanashaastra” happened to receive in India over the last year, I was compelled me to add the fourth point too.

I don’t understand Kajita and McDonald’s work really well. That’s why the link I have provided above goes only to the popular explanation, not to the advanced information.

However, that doesn’t mean that I knew nothing about it. For instance, I could appreciate the importance of the phrase “mass eigenstates.” … It’s just that I don’t “get” this theory to the same extent that I get, say, Dan Schechtman’s work for his 2011 Chemistry Nobel.

That way, I have known about neutrinos for quite some time, may be for some 25 years or more. In fact, there also is a small personal story about this word that I could share here.

If you are an Indian of my generation, you would know that it would be impossible for you to ever forget the very first radio which your family had got (it probably was the one on which you listened to your Binaca Geetmaalaa every Wednesday evening), the first (and probably the only) bicycle your father bought for you (the one which you were riding in your bell-bottoms, when the thoughts of somehow having to impress that first crush of yours passed you by), the first PC that you bought…

Oh well, I am jumping ahead of myself. Correction. It should be: The first PC whose OS you installed. …

Chances are high that you got to install—nay, you had to re-install—DOS or Windows on your office or lab machine quite a few times, and chances are even higher that you therefore had become an expert of Windows installation way before you could save enough money to buy your first PC…. You can’t forget things like these.

So, in my case, while the first time I ever touched a PC was way back right in 1983 (I was in the EDP department at Mukand back then—a trainee engineer), the first time I got the opportunity to format a HDD and install a fresh OS on it was as late as in the late-July of 1996. (I happened to buy my first PC just a few months later on.) I was already a software engineer back then. The company I then worked with (Frontier Software) was a startup, and so, there were no policies or manuals concerning what names were to be given to an office PC. So, I was free to choose any which name I liked. While some others had chosen names like “koala” or “viper,” or “bramha” or “shiva,” when it came my turn, as the VGA-resolution screen on a small (13”) CRT monitor kept staring at me, the name I ended up choosing in the heat of the moment was: “neutrino.”

“`Neutrino’? Why `neutrino’? What is `neutrino’?”—the colleague who was watching over my shoulder spontaneously wondered aloud. He had been to California on company work some time earlier, and therefore, my guess at that time was that he perhaps could be guessing that “neutrino” could be some Mexican/Spanish/Italian name or expression. I, therefore, hastened to clarify what neutrino really meant (already wondering aloud why this guy had never heard of the term (even if he would maintain that he was into reading popular science books)). … No, he wasn’t thinking Mexican/Spanish/Italian; he was just wondering if I had made up that name. Alright, following my clarification that some billions of these neutrinos were passing through his body every second—even right at that moment, sitting in the comfort of a office, and right while our conversation was going on… Hearing this left him, say, dazed, sort of.

This instance conclusively proves that I have always known about neutrinos.

My “knowledge” about them hasn’t changed much over the past two decades.

… Anyway, my knowledge of QM has…  Two things, and let me end this section about neutrinos.

(i) If they could hunt for just a few (like just tens of) neutrinos out of billions of billions of them, why can’t they build a relatively much less costly equipment to test the hypothesis that the transient dynamics of the far simpler quantum particles—photons and electrons—isn’t quite the same as that put forth by the mainstream QM? [I have made a prediction about photons, and even if my particular published theory turns out to be wrong, any new theory that I replace it with will always have this tiny difference from the mainstream QM, because my theorization is local, whereas the mainstream QM is global.]

(ii) Can photon have mass? … Think about it. It’s not so stupid a suggestion as it may initially sound. (Of course, this point is nowhere as important as the first one concerning the transient dynamics).

Many, many people have been at least anticipating (if not also “predicting,” or “supporting”) a physics Nobel to something related to quantum entanglement. By “quantum entanglement,” I mean things like: Bell’s inequalities, or Clauser/Aspect/ Zeilinger, or Alice and Bob, … you get the idea.

I am happy that none of these ideas/experiments got to get a Nobel, also this time round. [Even if a lot of Americans were rooting for such an outcome!]

No, I have no enmity towards any of them, not even Bob; I never did. In fact, I carry a ton of a respect for them.

My point is: their work (or at least the work they have done so far) doesn’t merit a physics Nobel. Why?

Because, Nobels for the same theoretical framework have been given to many people already, say, to Planck, Einstein, Compton, Bohr, de Broglie, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Pauli, Dirac, Born, et al. The theoretical framework of QM (and unfortunately, even today, it still remains only a framework, not a theory) as built by these pioneers—and as systematized by John von Neumann—already fully contains the same physics that Bell highlighted.

In other words, Bell’s principle is only a sort of a “corollary” (rather, an implication of the already known physics)—it’s not an independent “theorem” (rather, a discovery of new fact, phenomenon, or principle of physics).

As to the experimentalists working on entanglement, if you take the sum-totality of what they have reported, there is not a single surprise. Forget surprise, there isn’t even an unproved hunch here. For a contrasting example, see what Lubos Motl describes in case of neutrinos, here [^]. Unlike neutrinos, when it comes to quantum entanglement, there literally is nothing new. There has been nothing new, over all these decades—except for the addition of a lot of “press,” esp. in the USA, and esp. in the recent times. [Incidentally, you may want to note that Motl supports string theory—which, IMO, basically has always been, and remains, a post ex facto theory.]

The Nobel committee has once again demonstrated that it has a very solid grasp of what an advance of physics means.

An advance of/in physics is to be contrasted from “mere” deductions of corollaries, no matter how brilliant these may be.

About a century ago, they (the Nobel committee members back then) had shown a very robust sense regarding what the terms like “discovery” and “physics” mean, when they had skipped over the relativity theory even in the act of honoring Einstein—they had instead picked up his work on the photoelectric effect.

The parallels are unmistakable. Relativity theory was “sexy” those days; quantum entanglement is “sexy” today. Relativity theory was only a corollary of James Clerk Maxwell’s synthesis (at least the special relativity certainly was just that); quantum entanglement is just a corollary of the mainstream QM. And, while Maxwell had not pointed out relativity, entanglement indeed was pointed out by Schrodinger himself, and that too as early as before EPR had even thought of writing down their paper. So, the parallels—and the degradation in the American and European cultural standards over time—are quite obvious.

Still, what is to be noted here is the fact that the respective Nobel committees, separated by about a century, in both cases chose not to be taken in by the hype of the day. Congratulations are due to them!

And of course, as far as I am concerned, congratulations are also due to Kajita and McDonald.

BTW, Einstein does not become a lesser physicist because he never got a Nobel for the relativity theory. [And people do argue that he didn’t invent the relativity theory either; cf. Roger Schlafly.] So what? Even if relativity couldn’t possibly have qualified for a Nobel, Einstein sure did. He did a lot of work in quantum mechanics. He explained the photoelectric effect; he explained the temperature dependence of the heat capacity of solids using the quantum hypothesis; he didn’t merely explain but predicted the LASER using the QM decades before they were built (1917, vs. 1947–52). If you ask me, any single one of these achievements would have amply qualified him for a physics Nobel. I don’t say it out of deference to the general physics community. You can see it independently. Just put any of these advances in juxtaposition to some of the other undisputed Nobels, e.g., Jean Perrin’s demonstration of the molecular nature of matter (a work which itself was motivated by Einstein’s analysis of the Brownian motion); or de Broglie’s assertion that matter had a wave character; or Bohr’s “construction” of a model that still went missing on two very obvious and very crucial features: stability of orbits and the nature of quantum transitions. (Come to think of it, Einstein also was the first to assert a spatially finite nature for the photon, a point on which all physicists don’t necessarily agree with Einstein, but I, anyway, do.)

So, to conclude, (i) much of Einstein’s best work wasn’t as “sexy” as E = mc^2 or  the “relativity” theory; (ii) the physics Nobel committee showed enormously good judgment in picking up the photoelectric effect and leaving out relativity theory.

Just the way relativity didn’t deserve a Nobel then, similarly, nothing related to quantum entanglement deserves it now.

It doesn’t mean that Bell wasn’t a genius. It doesn’t mean that the experimental work that Clauser, Aspect, Zeilinger, or others have done wasn’t ingenious or challenging.

What it means is simply this: they have been either (very good/brilliant) engineers or mathematicians, but they have not been discoverers of new physics. Whenever they have been physicists, their work has happened to have remained within the limits of testing a known theory, and finding it to be valid (within the experimental error), again and again. And again. But, somehow, they have not been discoverers of new physics. That’s the bottom line!

To conclude this post, think of the “photogenic” apparatus that helped nail down the issue of the neutrino oscillation (e.g. see here [^]). Then, go back to the point I have made concerning accurately measuring the transient dynamics of QM phenomena (whether involving photons or electrons). Then, think a bit about how relatively modest apparatus could still easily settle that issue. And, how it happens to be a very foundational issue, an issue that takes the decades of mystification of QM head-on.

If someone told you that all local theories of QM are BS, or that all theories of QM lead to the same quantitative predictions, he was wrong, basically wrong. The choice isn’t limited to confirmation of the mainstream QM in experiments on the one hand, and creative affirmations or denials of QM via arm-chair philosophic interpretations (such as MWI) on the other hand. There is a third choice: Verification of quantitative predictions that are different (even if only by a very tiny bit) from those of the mainstream QM. The wrong guy should have told you the right thing. Too bad he didn’t—bad for you, that is.

A Song I Like:
(Marathi) “saavaLe sundara, roopa manohara”
Lyrics: Sant Tukaram
Singer: Pt. Bhimsen Joshi
Music: Shrinivas Khale

[May be one (more) editing pass is due for this post (and also the last post). Done with editing of this post. Will let the last post remain as it is; have to move on. ]