Quantum Physics: A Survivor’s Guide

A few days ago, I mentioned I felt like writing a new book: a sort of guidebook for amateur physicists like me. I realized that is actually fairly easy to do. I have three very basic papers – one on particles (both light and matter), one on fields, and one on the quantum-mechanical toolbox (amplitude math and all of that). But then there is a lot of nitty-gritty to be written about the technical stuff, of course: self-interference, superconductors, the behavior of semiconductors (as used in transistors), lasers, and so many other things – and all of the math that comes with it. However, for that, I can refer you to Feynman’s three volumes of lectures, of course. In fact, I should: it’s all there. So… Well… That’s it, then. I am done with the QED sector. Here is my summary of it all (links to the papers on Phil Gibbs’ site):

Paper I: Quantum behavior (the abstract should enrage the dark forces)

Paper II: Probability amplitudes (quantum math)

Paper III: The concept of a field (why you should not bother about QFT)

Paper IV: Survivor’s guide to all of the rest (keep smiling)

Paper V: Uncertainty and the meaning of the wavefunction (the final!)

Jean Louis Van Belle, 21 October 2020

Note: As for the QCD sector, that is a mess. We might have to wait another hundred years or so to see the smoke clear up there. Or, who knows, perhaps some visiting alien(s) will come and give us a decent alternative for the quark hypothesis and quantum field theories. One of my friends thinks so. Perhaps I should trust him more. 🙂

As for Phil Gibbs, I should really thank him for being one of the smartest people on Earth – and for his site, of course. Brilliant forum. Does what Feynman wanted everyone to do: look at the facts, and think for yourself. 🙂

A new book?

I don’t know where I would start a new story on physics. I am also not quite sure for whom I would be writing it – although it would be for people like me, obviously: most of what we do, we do for ourselves, right? So I should probably describe myself in order to describe the audience: amateur physicists who are interested in the epistemology of modern physics – or its ontology, or its metaphysics. I also talk about the genealogy or archaeology of ideas on my ResearchGate site. All these words have (slightly) different meanings but the distinctions do not matter all that much. The point is this: I write for people who want to understand physics in pretty much the same way as the great classical physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz who, just a few months before his demise, at the occasion of the (in)famous 1927 Solvay Conference, wanted to understand the ‘new theories’:

“We are representing phenomena. We try to form an image of them in our mind. Till now, we always tried to do using the ordinary notions of space and time. These notions may be innate; they result, in any case, from our personal experience, from our daily observations. To me, these notions are clear, and I admit I am not able to have any idea about physics without those notions. The image I want to have when thinking physical phenomena has to be clear and well defined, and it seems to me that cannot be done without these notions of a system defined in space and in time.”

Note that H.A. Lorentz understood electromagnetism and relativity theory as few others did. In fact, judging from some of the crap out there, I can safely say he understood stuff as few others do today still. Hence, he should surely not be thought of as a classical physicist who, somehow, was stuck. On the contrary: he understood the ‘new theories’ better than many of the new theorists themselves. In fact, as far as I am concerned, I think his comments or conclusions on the epistemological status of the Uncertainty Principle – which he made in the same intervention – still stand. Let me quote the original French:

“Je pense que cette notion de probabilitĂ© [in the new theories] serait Ă  mettre Ă  la fin, et comme conclusion, des considĂ©rations thĂ©oriques, et non pas comme axiome a priori, quoique je veuille bien admettre que cette indĂ©termination correspond aux possibilitĂ©s expĂ©rimentales. Je pourrais toujours garder ma foi dĂ©terministe pour les phĂ©nomĂšnes fondamentaux, dont je n’ai pas parlĂ©. Est-ce qu’un esprit plus profond ne pourrait pas se rendre compte des mouvements de ces Ă©lectrons. Ne pourrait-on pas garder le dĂ©terminisme en en faisant l’objet d’une croyance? Faut-il nĂ©cessairement Ă©riger l’ indĂ©terminisme en principe?”

What a beautiful statement, isn’t it? Why should we elevate indeterminism to a philosophical principle? Indeed, now that I’ve inserted some French, I may as well inject some German. The idea of a particle includes the idea of a more or less well-known position. Let us be specific and think of uncertainty in the context of position. We may not fully know the position of a particle for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. The precision of our measurements may be limited: this is what Heisenberg referred to as an Ungenauigkeit.
  2. Our measurement might disturb the position and, as such, cause the information to get lost and, as a result, introduce an uncertainty: this is what we may translate as an Unbestimmtheit.
  3. The uncertainty may be inherent to Nature, in which case we should probably refer to it as an Ungewissheit.

So what is the case? Lorentz claims it is either the first or the second – or a combination of both – and that the third proposition is a philosophical statement which we can neither prove nor disprove. I cannot see anything logical (theory) or practical (experiment) that would invalidate this point. I, therefore, intend to write a basic book on quantum physics from what I hope would be Lorentz’ or Einstein’s point of view.

My detractors will immediately cry wolf: Einstein lost the discussions with Bohr, didn’t he? I do not think so: he just got tired of them. I want to try to pick up the story where he left it. Let’s see where I get. 🙂

Dismantling myths

I just published a paper in which I show we do not need the machinery of state vectors and probability amplitudes to describe quantum-mechanical systems (think of a laser here, for example). We can describe these systems just as well in terms of a classical oscillation: the Planck-Einstein relation determines frequencies, which can then be used to determine the probabilities of the system being in this or that state.

The paper was quite an effort. The subject-matter is very abstract and the ruse and deceit in the quantum-mechanical argument (that basically assumes we do need all that humbug) is very subtle. It is, therefore, difficult to pinpoint exactly where the argument goes wrong. We managed to find and highlight the main deus ex machina moment, however, which is the substitution of real-valued coefficients by complex-valued functions.

That substitution is not innocent: it smuggles the Planck-Einstein relation in – through the backdoor, so to speak – and makes sure the amplitudes come out alright! The whole argument is, therefore, typical of other mainstream arguments in modern quantum mechanics: one only gets out what was already implicit or explicit in the assumptions, and those are rather random. In other contexts, this would be referred to as garbage in, garbage out.

The paper complements earlier logical deconstructions of some of these arguments, most notably those on the anomalous magnetic moment, the Lamb shift, 720-degree symmetries, the boson-fermion dichotomy and others (for an overview, see the full list of my papers). In fact, we have done so many now that we think we should stop: this last paper should conclude our classical or realist interpretation of quantum mechanics!

It has all been rather exhausting because we feel we had to cover pretty much everything from scratch. We did—and convincingly so, I think. Still, critics – I am quoting from one of the messages I got on ResearchGate here – still tell me that I should continue to “strengthen my arguments/proofs” so to “convince readers.” To those, I usually reply that I will never be able to convince them: if 60+ papers (with thousands of downloads) and a blog on physics (which also gets thousands of hits every month) is not sufficient, then what is? I should probably also refer them to a public comment on one of my papers—written by someone with (a lot) more credentials than me:

“The paper presents sound and solid reasoning. It is sobering and refreshing. The author is not only providing insight into central conceptual problems of modern physics but also recognizing the troubles that indoctrination causes in digesting this insight.”

Let us see how it all goes. I know I am an outsider and, therefore, totally insignificant. I should just stop writing and wait a bit now. This mysterious hyped-up Copenhagen interpretation should become irrelevant by itself: people will realize it is just hocus-pocus or, worse, A Bright Shining Lie.

That may take a long time, however, and I may not last long enough to see it happen. Mainstream physicists will soon be celebrating 100 years of what Paul Ehrenfest referred to as the ‘unendlicher Heisenberg-Born-Dirac-Schrödinger Wurstmachinen-Physik-Betrieb.’

On the other hand, it is not because the indoctrination has, obviously, been very successful, that we should give up. An engineer, alumnus of the University of California, also encouraged me by sending me this quote:

“Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions
which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most
people are even incapable of forming such opinions.” (Einstein: A Portrait, Pomegranate Artbooks, Petaluma, CA, 1984, p. 102).

That is as good as it gets, I guess. And if you read these words, it probably means you are part of that group of few people. We will not celebrate 100 years of metaphysical nonsense. We will keep thinking things through for ourselves and, thereby, find truth—even if only for ourselves.

That is enough as a reward for me. 🙂