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FQXi BLOGS
October 23, 2019

CATEGORY: Blog [back]
TOPIC: Our Quantum Reality: A Physics-Art Project [refresh]
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Blogger Paul Knott wrote on Feb. 4, 2019 @ 16:14 GMT
Paul Knott & Joseph Namara Hollis
In my day job, I am a quantum physicist, but I also recently completed a collaborative art-physics project, with award-winning artist Joseph Namara Hollis, to produce a short, illustrated book about the quantum mechanical reality in which we live.

From the start, this was an ambitious project. Our aim was to introduce quite challenging philosophical concepts deeply embedded in quantum mechanics. Our target audience was broad: we hoped that anyone from school science students to academic quantum physicists would both learn something, and be entertained, by the book. And finally, the book is short – only six double page spreads – and contains minimal text, with the intention that the illustrations play a central part in conveying the concepts we introduce. So, have we succeeded? You can find out by reading the book online here.

The seed of this project began when I undertook a short Postdoc, as part of FQXi’s physics of the observer program, at the University of Nottingham, with supervisors Prof Gerardo Adesso, Dr Tommaso Tufarelli, and Dr Marco Piani. The general question I was to dive into was: why does our everyday world look the way it does, despite being made of bizarre quantum mechanical particles? Quantum entities, such as electrons, atoms, and photons, perpetually exist in bizarre states: they can be in two places at the same time, be travelling in multiple directions simultaneously, and can even teleport. But if everyday objects – such as chairs, tables and cats – are made of such things, then why do they look so normal?

The more specific question we hoped to answer related to the concept of objectivity. If two people look at the same object then they invariably agree on the details, such as the size, shape, and orientation, of the object. These properties are said to be objective. But, due to the bizarre quantum world discussed above, it is not clear at first sight why objects that are made of quantum mechanical particles should look objective. To cut a long story short, our work during this project, together with previous quantum physicists’ results, demonstrated that the mathematical structure of quantum mechanics itself implies that everyday objects should indeed have objective properties. As part of this project we collaborated with the same artist, Joseph Namara Hollis, to produce an illustration related to our work, which we were honoured to be selected for the front cover of Physical Review Letters.

But despite the success of this work, I wasn’t quite satisfied with the philosophical backdrop to our findings. Our results were mainly concerned with why we observe the world to be objective. But using the quantum mechanical formalism we can go beyond our mere observations, and ask questions about the whole of reality – the observed and the unobserved – in which we live. And when I plunged into such questions, I emerged with a strong view that the equations of quantum mechanics are really telling us that our universe is only one in an unimaginably large number of parallel universes! This is certainly not the only conclusion that can be drawn from the equations of quantum mechanics, but for reasons that I explain here, I personally find this the most convincing and compelling.

This brings us to the main motivation of creating the FQXi-sponsored illustrated book that this blog pertains to. When we use both philosophy and physics to dive into the question of what quantum physics really tells us about reality, it turns out that there are many possible answers (of which quantum parallel-universes is just one). Other answers include that quantum mechanics must be incorrect or incomplete, and a revised theory is necessary in order to make sense of reality; or that quantum mechanics is really telling us about our knowledge of the world, rather than directly relating to the objects in our surroundings themselves. But when scouring through the literature to try to understand this, I found that the introductions and explanations to the different theories were dense and complicated, and it seemed impossibly hard to form a simple, overarching picture of what quantum mechanics tells us about reality.

This, then, is the purpose of the book: to create a (relatively) straightforward overview of the various theories that quantum physicists use to explain reality; and to introduce the philosophical conundrum at the heart of quantum mechanics that requires such an array of theories to be introduced. And to do all this is an entertaining and intuitive way by using the beautiful and fantastical illustrations of Joseph Namara Hollis.

We invite you to take a look at the book, which is freely available, and let us know what you think!



Paul Knott is a quantum physicist at Nottingham University.

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Robert H McEachern wrote on Feb. 4, 2019 @ 20:08 GMT
"quantum mechanics is really telling us about our knowledge of the world, rather than directly relating to the objects in our surroundings themselves" That is correct. It is telling you how to predict the statistics of detection, and nothing else.

"it seemed impossibly hard to form a simple, overarching picture of what quantum mechanics tells us about reality." Only because you are looking in the wrong places. Try looking here for a start.

I think your book does of good job of describing the nature of the problems. But I strongly disagree with the idea that there are no simple explanations for these problems. But it is impossible to find the answers when, as Feynman noted

everyone stopped looking generations ago

Rob McEachern

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Robert H McEachern replied on Feb. 5, 2019 @ 02:39 GMT
Is quantum mechanics incomplete? Is a statistical description the only one possible?

The problem was created, when Schrödinger switched from using one, single wavefunction to describe the motion of one, single particle, to using one wavefunction to describe all particles simultaneously - AKA everything. He should have used a separate wavefunction to characterize each particle, individually, and then solved the equations simultaneously (easier said than done), as is done in classical mechanics.

That single "wrong turn" threw the baby out with the bath-water, by removing every and all constraints upon particles either following any actual trajectory, or even continuing to exist as a detectable entity; hence we have probabilities and quantum fluctuations etc., that are all nothing more than the properties of the equations per se (Fourier transform based wavefunctions), such as, their response to noise and modeling errors in the potentials, but with no corresponding phenomenon in the real world, that the equations are supposed to be representing.

In other words, we have ended-up with a mathematical "map" of the "landscape", that has numerous properties not shared with the actual landscape itself, but which have been consistently misinterpreted as being real (albeit unobserved) phenomenon, because the equations do correctly model the statistics - but not the underlying reality responsible for those statistics.

Rob McEachern

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Blogger Paul Knott replied on Feb. 8, 2019 @ 18:05 GMT
Hi Rob,

Thanks for your comment. When you say "I strongly disagree with the idea that there are no simple explanations for these problems", I think you misunderstand what I was trying to say. My view is that I found it hard to find a simple overview of the different interpretations of quantum mechanics. I can see from your reply that you have strong opinions about what is right and what is wrong in terms of understanding what quantum mechanics is telling us. But the point of my book isn't to say that any one interpretation is right or wrong, it's to try to summarise the interpretations in a concise but hopefully clear way.

So I hoped that this blog wouldn't turn into an argument about the different interpretations! I seem to have failed there! I invite you to read this: http://quantarei.wordpress.com/2018/05/18/why-the-many-world
s-interpretation-of-quantum-mechanics-is-fantastic/ and comment if you would like to debate many worlds!

Cheers,

Paul

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Feb. 4, 2019 @ 23:17 GMT
I like that it is freely available to see. I like that it is short and that it keeps things simple. But it is also too simple ? I like the 'States of knowledge' spread. "Perhaps reality doesn't exist or is vastly different when the observer is removed from the picture" Paul Knott. Of course, but that begs the question what do you mean by reality in the first place - and why are you calling the book 'Our quantum reality'. It isn't reality but an interpretation of physics experiments. Schrodinger's cat is a bad analogy. It is not revealing a mysterious truth. Many worlds is also a mistake and IMHO dangerous too. We have one life and one World to live it on. Not one of many. Choices matter. Other possibilities are aborted when a single outcome is selected. A few of the illustrations are quite cute.

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Georgina Woodward replied on Feb. 6, 2019 @ 02:50 GMT
Making the Schrodinger cat thought experiment just about states of knowledge looses something important about the states of objects without an applied context. The cat experiment is a bad analogy because it involves different objects before and after the radioactive decay. The atom has something missing, shards of glass are not a bottle and the dead and alive cat, one is an alive being the other a corpse. But there are many other examples of objects that can have different states. Anything with different faces and a method that selects one. What about a box that contains an object but the observer doesn't know what except it fits and will be visible when the box is opened. with different objects allowed to be in superposition every object of suitable size would be involved. In an unfamiliar setting not knowing what is not in view is normal.

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Georgina Woodward replied on Feb. 6, 2019 @ 02:57 GMT
For example there could be a set of drawers. In an unfamiliar setting no one would know what they contain. They could guess but that's not the same as knowing. So the superposition of all possibilities would be infeasible.

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Georgina Woodward replied on Feb. 7, 2019 @ 02:04 GMT
Re. superposition of states: There is a mental constraint or context that is limiting what will be considered as an outcome, placed on the idea of the object under consideration before the actual limiting context/constraints are applied. Coin thrown into semi set jelly outcomes are different to coin on table outcomes. Making the superposition not just about prior knowledge but how the thing under consideration will be known, i.e.possibilities allowed by the method.

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Joe William Fisher wrote on Feb. 5, 2019 @ 16:57 GMT
Our everyday world looks the way it does because it was designed by NATURE to eternally look the way it does to all living creatures at all times in all places. There has only ever been, and there will only ever be one real visible Universe. Please remember that: Cogito, ergo sum is (sic) a Latin philosophical proposition by René Descartes usually translated into English as "I think, therefore I...

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Blogger Paul Knott replied on Feb. 8, 2019 @ 18:10 GMT
Hi Joe,

I think you've missed the point of our book, so I'll try to explain here: The idea is to summarise the different interpretations, and give people who've never heard of/thought about these things before a brief encounter with the different ways that physicists and philosophers think of the theory.

The point of the book is not to argue about what is right and what is wrong!

Cheers,

Paul

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Joe William Fisher replied on Feb. 12, 2019 @ 16:27 GMT
Dear Paul,

I think you do not understand what natural VISIBLE reality am.

Jeers,

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Joe William Fisher wrote on Feb. 6, 2019 @ 16:07 GMT
Dear Dr. Kuhn,

Today’s Closer To Truth Facebook page contained this peculiar announcement:

“Robert J. Spitzer, SJ, is a Jesuit priest, philosopher, physicist, educator, author, speaker, and retired President of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. In this interview, Robert discusses what it is like to be God.”

I have posted this sensible comment at the website and...

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Feb. 7, 2019 @ 04:55 GMT
It has just struck me that there is something inspirational about this book. Its simplicity. Paul Knott mentions, [it] "contains minimal text, with the intention that the illustrations play a central part in conveying the concepts we introduce." This kind of approach is probably what i need as I'm forever finding connections and wanting to be thorough in my explanations. Succeeding in over-complicating things by putting too many ideas into one discussion or illustration. I have been asked why I make things so complicated; and have felt like saying 'that's how things are'. Keeping it simple is an art in itself which I could benefit from cultivating. Rather than saying the same thing in half a dozed ways to try to get through perhaps 'the really simple illustrated guide to reality in physics' would do the trick. I think author and illustrator succeeded.

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Blogger Paul Knott replied on Feb. 8, 2019 @ 18:11 GMT
Thank you for these kind comments Georgina! The simplicity was something we worked hard on, so it is great to hear that you appreciated this!

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Joe William Fisher wrote on Feb. 9, 2019 @ 15:45 GMT
Dear Paul Knott,

Natural VISIBLE reality am eternal. Pretentious unnatural caricatures of invisible imaginary phenomena are quite fleeting and soon forgotten.

Any sensible person should know that reality could only have been provided by nature. The only irrefutable fact the physicists have been able to prove am that the real Earth had a real VISIBLE surface for millions of years before Paul Knott and Erwin Schrödinger ever appeared on that real VISIBLE surface and began publishing their utterly unnatural guesswork concerning imaginary cats and invisible finite quantum particles. Reality was designed by NATURE to be fully understood by all living creatures in all places at all times. The only nature, that has provided us with real VISIBLE mountains, and real VISIBLE oceans, and real VISIBLE deserts, and real VISIBLE jungles, and real VISIBLE ice caps, and our real VISIBLE selves must have given to us the only VISIBLE reality allowed. There has only ever been, and there will only ever be one unified VISIBLE infinite surface ETERNALLY occurring in one infinite dimension that am always mostly illuminated by finite non-surface light.

Joe Fisher, Modest Realist

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Joe William Fisher wrote on Feb. 11, 2019 @ 16:11 GMT
Dear Dr. Kuhn,

Today’s Closer To Truth Facebook page contained this peculiar announcement:

“Ask the most fundamental questions; make the most penetrating inquires; probe the deep essence of existence. Push boundaries. Search the foundations of reality. Imagine all that may exist in physics and cosmology, even beyond current understanding. Then ask how such ultimate questions may...

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Kuyukov Vitaly wrote on May. 1, 2019 @ 12:51 GMT
Holography the time

attachments: 5_Quantum_tunneling_approach_of_noncommutative_geometry.docx

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