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Index > Peripheria > Against the quantum gaslighting

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Tomasz Grysztar

Joined: 16 Jun 2003
Posts: 8132
Location: Kraków, Poland
Tomasz Grysztar 15 Feb 2023, 14:44
Inspired by a recent video Coherence & Light from the channel I pay close attention to, I decided to once more write down my thoughts on interpreting the particles as emergent phenomena, to try organizing them better and see if I can make them sound comprehensible.

The way the quantum interactions are usually described has always been making me uneasy. It is often presented as necessarily mysterious, so different from our "classical world" that a human mind is not prepared to properly grasp it, and this really feels like something more religious than scientific. It is alarmingly similar to how a malicious ideology may entrench itself in minds of the people by making them doubt their own abilities and thus preventing them from looking for better alternatives.

I find that incredibly frustrating, especially when it is so blatant as in sayings like "if you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics". On the surface it looks like a call for humility, but it is itself very much not humble. The more I understand the operation of such psychological and sociological tricks, the more I see it as an unhealthy, possibly even hindering the progress of science.

For years I've been falling into this trap, believing that since I'm not a specialist in the field, my doubts and confusion are due to inadequate expertise. But thanks to my mathematical background I'm not easily scared by abstract formalism, so I kept learning, and the more I understood, the more I started to feel that I have been gaslighted. All that is weird lies in the interpretations added on top of theory that really just predicts the statistical results of measurements. And the way these interpretations are usually presented is quite misleading, mainly due to the word choices.

My first crucial realization was that everything is fundamentally a wave phenomena, and this shouldn't even be controversial. In Quantum Field Theory particles are some structures in the fields, akin to multidimensional waves, and there is also an established concept of "virtual particles", meaning any disturbances in the fields that are not as well-formed and complete as regular particles. Even in the vacuum virtual particles are said to pop in and out of existence, and I think a better way to look at it would be to consider them a background noise, random remnants of waves passing through each other, where sometimes a tiny portion of something resembling a "proper" particle may momentarily show up and disappear, like a spontaneous splash on the surface of water when small ripples add up.

This hints why the basics of quantum mechanics are just linear algebra - if all there is are simply patterns in the waves, the systems evolve linearly, because the waves nicely add up, passing through each other, making states of complex systems relatively easy to compute. But more importantly, it means that particles are emergent entities - and this is what, in my opinion, can explain all the supposed mysteries of quantum phenomena. Obviously, a wave-particle duality no longer seems as weird when we realize that a particle is just a pattern in the waves. But I think there is much more to it.

The most crucial thought I want to share is that emergent entities are not necessarily objective. It's like looking at a cloud and interpreting its shape. The only objective thing we have is the interaction between such wave packets - what we can actually observe and measure. When, for example, an electromagnetic wave excites an atom, only a quantized portion of the wave that is in some way "resonant" (or relevant in some other sense) participates in the interaction, and we interpret this portion of a wave as a "particle". We can then imagine an extrapolated evolution of this wave packet back in time and say it was a particle traveling through space, but this is just like tracing shapes appearing in the clouds - our abstract interpretation, influenced by what we know about the interaction that finally takes place. We could potentially look at the exact same electromagnetic wave and interpret it as consisting of a different set of particles, depending on what kind of interactions happen later. This is the "future input dependence" that is one of the hardest to grasp mysteries of quantum world, and which - I believe - may be not so mysterious after all.

Interestingly, even though this idea may appear controversial, it is really nothing new. In QFT it is already accepted that a coherent state may decompose into different sets of particles depending on the process of extracting them. And the Unruh effect is considered to mean that particles might be observer-dependent. Which now would no longer surprise me - if relativistic effects cause things to stretch or even bend in different reference frames, it is quite conceivable that what was a weak background noise to one observer could become a quantifiable impulse to another.

What was an especially important realization to me, is how this kind of reasoning applies to Bell's experiments. In the past I had spent many days analyzing the Bell's inequalities and what they prove, from a purely mathematical perspective. The experiments show that the properties of entangles particles are somehow correlated with the detector settings. And once we realize that particles in the past are just our extrapolation of wave patterns that finally took part in the detection process, this (again!) becomes not mysterious at all. It's not that by changing the detector setting we affected anything in the past - but we influenced the result of the measurement and this in turn affected what patterns we "notice" in the wave at the origin, from where the two particles came. In reality there is just one total wave, a sum of all waves passing through each other and the background noise. The emergent shapes that we infer to be present within it are to some extent our subjective interpretation, influenced by the knowledge of future interaction - and that's why they are not statistically independent from that knowledge. The particles are not objectively existing entities, only the underlying wave is. And in this sense there truly is no local reality for particles, as must be concluded from violation of Bell's inequalities - but there is really nothing mysterious about it!

It is normally thought that the "observer effect" means we cannot gather information about the state of the wave without disturbing it at the same time - which is true, but completely unrelated to the "observer effect" I now have in mind, a subtle and tricky one. The interpretation of patterns in the waves as particles is the abstraction that we make as the observers, and even though it appears as something objective, it may not always be. Our choice of language, when we speak of particles travelling through space, constructs a partially subjective abstract reality, and treating it as universally objective is what leads to confusion.

Since I started thinking about particles this way, I find that nothing from the supposedly weird world of quantum interactions is surprising anymore. Things like particles being in many places at once, detecting something without interacting with it, or a delayed choice experiments, are natural consequences of the emergent behavior of waves - all the bricks fall into place. I try to keep questioning myself, as it feels strange that so simple but so profound realization would not be widely known - but the more I investigate it, the more capable it seems.

To be clear: I'm not thinking I have any new theory. All I have is at most yet another interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, of which there are plenty already (and which are irrelevant to the computations anyway). But it's the only interpretation that actually makes sense to me. And it also gives me hope that it might be possible to have a more fundamental theory after all, waiting to be discovered. A theory of the underlying waves, which are deterministic but full of noise, and of their interactions, which are quantized due to some complex mechanisms (perhaps having something to do with resonances). The quantum mechanics only deals with the latter (it is in the name!), since we have no way to directly measure the former. But I remain optimistic that new discoveries await. And even if there are none, we may still be able to find a better language to describe what we have.
Post 15 Feb 2023, 14:44
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sylware 16 Feb 2023, 14:19
The problem is that probing our realm needs massive amount of momentum energy, or the super cold. In other words, we are going into extreme energy regimes we can probe to get data. And usually, the aparatus required is getting somewhat kind of a pain to build and operate.

But a lot of physisits seem to do a bad job: see the last video of Sabine H. on the matter.

It is time to be humble: get more data, try to fix the model on this data, don't go any further... well, you know, we always believe in that guy who will do a thought experiment that will fix the current inconsistencies and give amazing predictions to save humanity from its chronic impending doom.

(Do we have a model to train an "AI" on all this data to help fix the standard model?)
Post 16 Feb 2023, 14:19
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Tomasz Grysztar

Joined: 16 Jun 2003
Posts: 8132
Location: Kraków, Poland
Tomasz Grysztar 18 Feb 2023, 18:04
As I said in the other thread, I suspect the research on condensed matter theories may be the one that moves us further, the one that truly attempts to comprehend complex emergent phenomena. While the particle physics remains so intermixed with fantasies that it feels really confounded.

Much of the confusion, as in many other disciplines, boils down to the use of language, with some of the commonly used words gaining new meanings in the specialized fields. For a physicist it's likely obvious that we can only know something about a particle at the moment of interaction and that imagining this set of detected properties as something that existed all along would be a stretch. But then we speak to someone to whom a "particle" is something solid, like a bullet, that keeps its identity at all times, and suddenly we have a misunderstanding when describing the behavior of such particle, because the other person tries to apply quantum features to the object they imagined and it seems to behave very weirdly then. But I'm pretty sure that if we demonstrated the same processes by visualizing them as patterns in the fields, there would be much less confusion.

The same goes with saying that we live in a "classical" world that somehow follows very different rules from the quantum one. In physics the "classical" has a quite specific meaning, that mostly reduces to obeying a specific class of equations, and in the quantum physics the equations are different, so obviously, from the physicist point of view, they describe a model that is not "classical". But then an outsider hears it and interprets as meaning that the quantum reality is alien to us, following completely different rules than the world we live in. But the world we live in is quantum at its core! We experience various quantum phenomena every day, especially in how the light behaves, and we may have a pretty good intuition built for some of them already. On the other hand, not every behavior that follows from the classical equations of motion may be intuitive to us, as proven by riddles that go viral on the web from time to time. And some macroscopic processes that we very much observe first-hand could also be modeled with other kinds of equations. Understanding the "classical" as meaning our natural experience is another case of being misled by words having multiple meanings - a menace that's unavoidable feature of human communication.

Nonetheless, in the recent years I've been noticing how we are collectively finding new better ways of visualizing scientific concepts, like more accessible proofs of even quite advanced theorems of modern mathematics, and this certainly applies to all disciplines, not just the ones I follow the most. This gives me hope that in the end we may be able to work through the confusions.

So how would I try to visualize the quantum behavior to make it more intuitive? I'm certainly not the right person to try, but it is a collective endeavor anyway - so let me put my attempts in the pool. I keep trying to find better words, if only for myself to gain deeper understanding.

We have limited knowledge of everything that happens, because we can only observe results of interactions. We model what we know as a wave equation, which describes a pattern spreading through space and time, and from that mathematical structure we can derive at any point of space-time the probability that something of with such and such set of features could be detected at that position (as long as there was something to interact with). Every such interaction happens in a predictable way, there is a set amount of energy that can participate, and this discrete amount is what the "quantum" is.

When such interaction happens, we may update our model with the new knowledge, say that our previous model "collapsed" and keep computing the patterns using the modified wave function. It's better to keep having an up-to-date knowledge, otherwise what we model is going to diverge from reality because of how little we really know.

The set of properties that we detect at the point of interaction is usually called a particle, and it relates to a structure in the fields that resembles a tiny harmonic oscillator - but I believe this is just our "best fit" to the actual pattern in the fields that was present at the time of detection. And such pattern may proceed to spread out in various funny ways - from your experiences with light, sound, and even ripples on the surface of water, you should know how complex the behavior of wave patterns might be even in fewer dimensions. And to make things even more interesting, there are also countless less pronounced patterns constantly moving around, the "quantum noise", the "virtual particles", whichever term you prefer.

So we have some waves in the fields at the point of detection (approximated by the harmonic oscillators of QFT), and also we have wave functions, which model a probability of such event (with additional information about phase, encoded with help of complex numbers, but that's not really important here). Perhaps the former are the real ones and the latter are just derived information, a model of our knowledge? I wouldn't go as far as predicting one to be more real than the other. They could both be abstractions derived from something even more fundamental, and we have no way of knowing, because we have no ability to directly look at any of them. All we have are the interactions, it's the only thing we really know about - this is what makes it all so hard. We can have various models visualising what happens in the time between the interactions - and there is no point in asking which one is more real, when we have no way of testing it experimentally. We can simply choose one that is the most comfortable to use.

And yet, the choice of interpretation may not be inconsequential. Even among the physicists the concept of "particle" seems to not be ultimately sorted out, and if we design and interpret all the experiments through the lens of particles being objective indivisible entities, we may not find anything that contradicts it, because we already assumed the conclusion. Even though the experiments with entangled pairs of measurements that do not conform to Bell's inequalities could be viewed as already disproving the local realism of particles, they also rely on setup which on every step assumes the existence of particles that can be detected in nicely synchronized pairs. This assumption influences how the data is collected, and it may be the very thing that introduces a statistical bias into the results. And all that the violation of Bell's inequality says is: what we assumed was statistically independent, was not in fact statistically independent (this is pretty straightforward, yet another detail that is frequently misrepresented). It may be unwise to argue with research that has only recently been awarded a Nobel prize, but I really think it may be not as conclusive as it is perceived to be.
Post 18 Feb 2023, 18:04
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