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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  May 2004

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE May 2004

Subject:

Re: Value of the Science-for-the-People discussion list

From:

Louis Proyect <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 10 May 2004 12:26:50 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (178 lines)

George Salzman wrote:

>Keeping the value of the Science for the People discussion list
>
>
>
>
I am not sure exactly why this list is so moribund. I have a feeling
that the preponderance of academics undermines its stated goals since
they see print journals, conferences, etc. as their primary outlet.
Listservs require a commitment from all participants to make
contributions *geared* to the medium. I think that there is an interest
in the intersection between radical politics and science as documented
in this exchange on Marxmail:

Louis' post mentioned the issue of quantum physics in his note about Alan
Sokal.

I need some help on this issue.

There is a film playing to big crowds in the northwest called "What the
bleep do we know?"  It is a well crafted film filled with alot of talking
heads discussing quantum physics, the brain, and mysticism.  The central
message is that quantum physics proves there is no objective reality.  It is
all the effect of the observer.  Therefor reality is all your own
projection.  You get to project it anyway you want.  You are free if you
only would realize it.  Go forth and be your own god.  People walk out on
cloud nine, how exciting to be free from the constraints of objective
reality!

Of course this is warmed over Horatio Alger, "think and grow rich",Werner
Erhard, Anthony Robbins, right wing republican take responsibility for
yourself stop blaming capitalist reality bull.

The film was made by three followers of JZ Knight aka Ramtha a 30,000 year
old warrior.  She is a major new age charlatan trying to give herself some
scientific cover.

I am organizing a forum on the film at Portland State University where I
teach psychology.
What I need is good writings that take up the specifics of the issue of
observer effects in quantum physics and the existence of objective reality.
If a tree falls in the forest..............etc.

If people know of any good writings please let me know.

===

John Olmsted wrote:




> There is a film playing to big crowds in the northwest called "What the
> bleep do we know?"  It is a well crafted film filled with alot of talking
> heads discussing quantum physics, the brain, and mysticism.


unfortunately, even quantum physicists have not been all that helpful in
preventing this kind of thing in their popular writings and in their
philosophizing. this goes right back to the founders of the theory in
the early 1900's, particularly Bohr and his wunderkids Heisenberg et al.
Mary Beller, "Quantum Dialogue: The Making of a Revolution" has an
interesting analysis of the early years of quantum philosophy:


http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0226041824/102-1142964-8687336


she is interesting to read because the actually advance, made primarily
by Heisenberg, was brilliant. but after the fact, he and Bohr tried to
interpret what they had wrought. Beller looks at their shenanigans
particularly in this time period. as one physicist proclaimed years later:

"Niels Bohr brainwashed a whole generation of physicists into believing
that the problem (of the interpretation of quantum mechanics) had been
solved fifty years ago." ( Murray Gell-Mann, Noble Prize acceptance
speech, 1976)

> The central message is that quantum physics proves there is no
> objective reality.
>

the short answer is that this statement is meaningless in quantum physics.

John Bell, a physicist at CERN, has come closest to this statement: "...
it is not now easy to believe, with Einstein, that quantum mechanical
predictions are reconcilable with the notion of a Lorentz invarant
objectively real microphysical world" [Bertlmann's socks and the nature
of reality, J. de Physique, March 1981]. This paper is one of the best
at laying out the issues, but is fairly technical. It should be noted
that Bell was at the forefront of critiques of the standard quantum
interpretations (read philosophizing). Thus his statement on objective
reality should indicate that SOME rethinking of our mechanical notions
of reality is advisable at the micro level. but this is a far cry from
saying there is no objective reality.

I will check around to see if Bell has a more lay version of his
principle arguments.

one of the great advances of quantum theory is the movement away from
what was called "naive visualizations" of microscopic reality. this is a
definite advance that could be taken in the same spirit as people look
at chaos theory as way out of naive visualizations of the universe as a
great clockworks.

> It is all the effect of the observer.  Therefor reality is all your own
> projection.  You get to project it anyway you want.  You are free if you
> only would realize it.  Go forth and be your own god.  People walk out on
> cloud nine, how exciting to be free from the constraints of objective
> reality!
>
>

if you search the popular literature with an electron microscope, you
will find that the notion of "observer" is in quantum mechanics is more
refined than used in the silly viewpoint above. In particular, it was
not really meant to simply indicate a human observer, but rather
experiments set up by humans to interact with microparticles, the
results of which we interpret as measurements of properties.

> The film was made by three followers of JZ Knight aka Ramtha a 30,000
> year
> old warrior.  She is a major new age charlatan trying to give herself
> some
> scientific cover.
>
>

do you have more information on her stuff? i'd like to take look before
recommending further antidotes.

> I am organizing a forum on the film at Portland State University where I
> teach psychology.
>
>

i'd be happy to correspond with you off-list to help you out with this.

> What I need is good writings that take up the specifics of the issue of
> observer effects in quantum physics and the existence of objective
> reality.
> If a tree falls in the forest..............etc.
>
>

Feynmann, Lectures on physics, actually has some non-technical
treatments ot this stuff. Polkinghorne has a slim lay-readable book on
quantum physics


http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0691023883/102-1142964-8687336


interestingly, this author left a position as physicist at Cambridge to
become an ordained priest.

The best person i can think of on quantum mechanics is David Bohm, but
all his good stuff is rather technical.

I've been writing in my mind a historical overview of the quantum
"revolution" of Heisenberg, putting his initial breaththough into
historical perspective. such viewpoint goes a long way towards
dispelling the fuzziness of quantum philosphy that came afterwards.
Donal and I will probably discuss this on-list ... see his remarks from
several weeks ago. stay tuned.


les schaffer

John Olmsted




--
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org

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