Notes from What is Real by Adam Becker

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What Is Real?

Adam Becker


Page 10 @ 22 December 2022 11:02 PM

Schrödinger’s concerns about his cat weren’t allayed by these arguments. He thought that his colleagues had missed the point: quantum physics lacked an important component, a story about how it lined up with the things in the world. How does a phenomenal number of atoms, governed by quantum physics, give rise to the world we see around us? What is real, at the most fundamental level, and how does it work? Yet Schrödinger’s opponents carried the day, and his concerns about what was actually happening in the quantum world were dismissed. The rest of physics simply moved on.

Page 11 @ 22 December 2022 11:13 PM

Simply dismissing questions about reality as “unscientific,” as some of Schrödinger’s opponents did, is an untenable position based on outdated philosophy. And some dissenters from the majority have developed alternative approaches to quantum physics that clearly explain what is going on in the world without sacrificing any of the theory’s accuracy.

Page 12 @ 22 December 2022 11:15 PM

As Einstein pointed out, “The theory decides what we can observe.”
The history of science bears this out over and over again. Galileo didn’t invent the telescope—but he was the first to think of pointing a good one at Jupiter, because he believed that Jupiter was a planet, like Earth, that went around the Sun. After that, telescopes were used regularly to look at everything from comets to nebulae to star clusters. But nobody bothered to use a telescope to find out whether the Sun’s gravity bent starlight during a solar eclipse—not until Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicted just such an effect, over three centuries after Galileo’s discovery. The practice of science itself depends on the total content of our best scientific theories—not just the math but the story of the world that goes along with the math. That story is a crucial part of the science, and of going beyond the existing science to find the next theory.

1 The Measure of All Things

Page 16 @ 22 December 2022 11:28 PM

Von Neumann published his proof as part of his textbook on quantum physics in 1932. There’s no evidence that Einstein was even aware of this proof, but many other physicists were—and for them, merely the idea of a proof from the mighty von Neumann was enough to settle the debate.

This is an uncritical attitude surprisingly dominant in the world of science even now.

Page 18 @ 22 December 2022 11:36 PM

Bell asked, “Was the world wavefunction waiting to jump for thousands of millions of years until a single-celled living creature appeared? Or did it have to wait a little longer for some more highly qualified measurer—with a Ph.D.?”

4 Copenhagen in Manhattan

Page 49 @ 25 December 2022 06:35 PM

Von Neumann and Wigner were two of a brilliantly gifted group of Hungarian Jewish scientists of their generation. Their astounding mathematical abilities and diverse scientific talents led their colleagues to jokingly suggest that Hungary was merely a cover story obscuring their true origin. “These people were really visitors from Mars,” said their colleague Otto Frisch. “For them… it was difficult to speak without an accent that would give them away and therefore they chose to pretend to be Hungarians whose inability to speak any language without accent is well known; except Hungarian, and [these] brilliant men all lived elsewhere.” Von Neumann in particular seemed almost inhuman in his brilliance. His colleagues at Princeton said that he “was indeed a demigod, but he had made a thorough, detailed study of human beings and could imitate them perfectly.” Von Neumann and the Martians did often think about things differently from their colleagues—including the foundations of quantum physics.


Page 55 @ 25 December 2022 07:54 PM

Heisenberg “had agreed to sup with the devil,” wrote Peierls years later, “and perhaps he found that there was not a long enough spoon.”

Page 60 @ 25 December 2022 08:32 PM

Heisenberg’s lies were, after all, rather minor compared to some. Pascual Jordan maintained that he had never truly supported the Nazi cause, despite his publications extolling the virtues of a National Socialist approach to science. He even had the audacity to send a letter to Max Born, his mentor who had been forced out by Hitler’s racist policies, explaining that he hadn’t really been a Nazi and asking for a character reference for his “de-Nazification.” Born replied with a list of his friends and family members murdered by the Nazis.

8 More Things in Heaven and Earth

Page 111 @ 05 January 2023 11:52 AM

“When I met Einstein for the first time,” Bohr recalled, “I said to him, what is he really after, what is it that he is trying to do? Does he think that, if he could prove [quantum objects] were particles, he could induce the German police to enforce a law to make it illegal to use diffraction gratings or, opposite, if he could maintain the wave picture, would he simply make it illegal to use photo-cells?” Einstein had never denied the importance of both particles and waves to quantum physics—in fact, he had been an early champion of both ideas.

Typical Bohr.

11 Copenhagen Versus the Universe

Page 174 @ 22 January 2023 09:01 PM

H. L. Mencken once said, “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.”

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