Sunday, 29 August 2010

How to misuse quantum mechanics

(I should probably not engage in making fun of quackery -- especially quantum mechanical quackery -- but every once in a while I like to indulge. Feel free to keep on walking.)

Look here for a great example.

Step 1. Be an expert in something other than quantum mechanics.
Robert Lanza is considered one of the leading scientists in the world. He is currently Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell Technology, and a professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He has several hundred publications and inventions, and over two dozen scientific books: among them, Principles of Tissue Engineering, which is recognized as the definitive reference in the field.

Step 2. Read about one or two experiments in quantum mechanics. (N.B. It is easier if you read only press releases, but see also Step 7 for ways to misuse the words of QM experts.)

Step 3. Re-describe the experiment, preferably without referencing the paper itself. (That would just be confusing!)
In 2002, scientists carried out an amazing experiment, which showed that particles of light "photons" knew -- in advance −- what their distant twins would do in the future. They tested the communication between pairs of photons -- whether to be either a wave or a particle. Researchers stretched the distance one of the photons had to take to reach its detector, so that the other photon would hit its own detector first. The photons taking this path already finished their journeys -− they either collapse into a particle or don't before their twin encounters a scrambling device. Somehow, the particles acted on this information before it happened, and across distances instantaneously as if there was no space or time between them. They decided not to become particles before their twin ever encountered the scrambler.
Step 4. Go off the rails. The easiest way to do this is to take metaphorical language literally.
It doesn't matter how we set up the experiment. Our mind and its knowledge is the only thing that determines how they behave. Experiments consistently confirm these observer-dependent effects.
Step 5. Generalize liberally from your literalized metaphor.
But what about dinosaur fossils? Fossils are really no different than anything else in nature. For instance, the carbon atoms in your body are "fossils" created in the heart of exploding supernova stars. Bottom line: reality begins and ends with the observer. "We are participators," Wheeler said "in bringing about something of the universe in the distant past." Before his death, he stated that when observing light from a quasar, we set up a quantum observation on an enormously large scale. It means, he said, the measurements made on the light now, determines the path it took billions of years ago.
Congratulations! You've succeeded in founding a new pseudoscience!

Step 6. Be sure to give it a catchy name.
Biocentrism (BenBella Books) lays out Lanza's theory of everything.
Step 7. Use the Lie of Juxtaposition. Quote real experts and then restate your position. Pretend the quote has relevance to your claims.
"We must re-think all that we have ever learned about the past, human evolution and the nature of reality, if we are ever to find our true place in the cosmos," says Constance Hilliard, a historian of science at UNT. Choices you haven't made yet might determine which of your childhood friends are still alive, or whether your dog got hit by a car yesterday. In fact, you might even collapse realities that determine whether Noah's Ark sank. "The universe," said John Haldane, "is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."
Extra points for the errant Biblical reference. Nice job.

(Thanks to Greg for the original pointer.)


delia said...

Ha! I love it!

Anonymous said...

I fondly recall Professor Hubert Farnsworth's statement "But as Deepak Chopra taught us, quantum physics means that anything can happen at anytime and for no reason. Also, eat plenty of oatmeal, and animals never had a war! Who is the real animal?"

Cedric said...