Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ron Garret - The Quantum Conspiracy: What Popularizers of QM Don't Want You to Know

Excellent lecture - there is so much nonsense about quantum mechanics, especially in the spirituality worlds, but even in psychology. Ron Garret debunks some of the nonsense in this video presentation at Google.

Garret is primarily debunking the Copenhagen interpretation, which fewer and fewer physicists believe in anymore, but which non-physicists (think Deepak Chopra) continue to proclaim as the way the universe works (while misunderstanding the theory in profound ways).

Here is a brief explanation of the model (the link in the video description offers a more comprehensive explanation of the model).
Copenhagen Interpretation:

  • wave-particle duality is a manifestaion of quantum entities
Wave-particle duality does not mean that a photon or subatomic particle is both a wave and particle simultaneously, but that it could manifest either a wave or a particle aspect depending on circumstances.

Complementarity, uncertainty, and the statistical interpretation of Schrdinger's wave function were all related. Together they formed a logical interpretation of the physical meaning of quantum mechanics known as the "Copenhagen interpretation.

The Copenhagen Interpretation has three primary parts:

  • The wave function is a complete description of a wave/particle. Any information that cannot be derived from the wave function does not exist. For example, a wave is spread over a broad region, therefore does not have a specific location.

  • When a measurement of the wave/particle is made, its wave function collapses. In the case of momentum, a wave packet is made of many waves each with its own momentum value. Measurement reduced the wave packet to a single wave and a single momentum.

  • If two properties are related by an uncertainty relation, no measurement can simultaneously determine both properties to a precision greater than the uncertainty relation allows. So, if we measure a wave/particles position, its momentum becomes uncertain.
One of the unfortunate results of misunderstanding this model, which fell out of favor in the 1980s (despite being in common usage), is the false belief that nothing exists without a consciousness to observe it. This is the anthropic principle (and is actually a partial misinterpretation of Cophenhagen) and it is incredibly widespread in New Age beliefs, various integral spirituality groups, and in some variations of Buddhist doctrine (B Alan Wallace being a prime example).

And now, on with the show.
The Quantum Conspiracy: What Popularizers of QM Don't Want You to Know
Google Tech Talk
January 6, 2011

Presented by Ron Garret.


Richard Feynman once famously quipped that no one understands quantum mechanics, and popular accounts continue to promulgate the view that QM is an intractable mystery (probably because that helps to sell books). QM is certainly unintuitive, but the idea that no one understands it is far from the truth. In fact, QM is no more difficult to understand than relativity. The problem is that the vast majority of popular accounts of QM are simply flat-out wrong. They are based on the so-called Copenhagen interpretation of QM, which has been thoroughly discredited for decades. It turns out that if Copenhagen were true then it would be possible to communicate faster than light, and hence send signals backwards in time. This talk describes an alternative interpretation based on quantum information theory (QIT) which is consistent with current scientific knowledge. It turns out that there is a simple intuition that makes almost all quantum mysteries simply evaporate, and replaces them with an easily understood (albeit strange) insight: measurement and entanglement are the same physical phenomenon, and you don't really exist.

Slides are available here:

Link to the paper:

About the speaker:

Dr. Ron Garret was an AI and robotics researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab for fifteen years before taking a year off to work at Google in June of 2000. He was the lead engineer on the first release of AdWords, and the original author of the Google Translation Console. Since leaving Google he has started a new career as an entrepreneur, angel investor and filmmaker. He has co-founded three startups, invested in a dozen others, and made a feature-length documentary about homelessness.

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