Tag Archives: Quantum

String Theory Explained

What is The True Nature of Reality?

Get your geek on!

Is String Theory the final solution for all of physic’s questions or an overhyped dead end?

Crazy ideas that could become future truths

New Scientist usually puts out great stuff, but this video? Eh. I was tossed up over whether to post it or not. Check it out for yourself, maybe i’m missing something. 🙂

By New Scientist via YouTube

Full story: http://bit.ly/1IXg7Yu

Every now and then an idea comes along that upends how we see ourselves and our place in the cosmos. The rumblings of the next revolutions in our thinking may already have started. Here are four potential “what ifs” with the potential to change us forever.

Galvanic Skin Response Pseudoscience

steven_novellaby via Science-Based Medicine

Selling snake oil is all about marketing, which means that a good snake oil product needs to have a great angle or a hook. Popular snake oil hooks include being “natural,” the product of ancient wisdom, or “holistic.”
Perhaps my favorite snake oil marketing ploy, however, is claiming the product represents the latest cutting-edge technology. This invariably leads to humorous sciencey technobabble. med_xray_specs_300pxThere are also recurrent themes to this technobabble, which often involve “energy,” vibrations and frequencies, or scientific concepts poorly understood by the public, such as magnetism and (of course) quantum effects. Historically, even radioactivity was marketed as a cure-all.
One category of technical pseudoscientific snake oil measures some physiological property of the body and then claims that this measurement can be used for diagnosis and determining optimal treatment. For example, machines might measure brain waves, heart rate variability, thermal energy or (the subject of today’s article) the galvanic skin response.
These are all noisy systems – they are highly variable and produce a lot of random results that can be used to give the impression that something meaningful is being measured. Systems that rely on these measurements to make highly specific determinations are no different than phrenology or reading tea leaves, but they look scientific.

How_Zyto_works_600px

The galvanic skin response

I was recently asked to look into a product called Zyto technology. This is an electronic device that you place your palm on top of so that it can read your “galvanic skin response” (GSR) to specific stimuli. It then uses your responses to prescribe a specific treatment.

The GSR is actually an older term for what is now called electrodermal activity (EDA), which is simply the electrical conductance of your skin (Harriet Hall has written about such devices before). Skin conductance is primarily affected by sweat, as salty water is an excellent conductor. So essentially the machine is measuring how sweaty your palms are.

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Deepak Chopra tries his hand at a clinical trial. Woo ensues.

Choprawoomed

By Orac via Respectful Insolence

Of all the quacks and cranks and purveyors of woo whom I’ve encountered over the years, Deepak Chopra is, without a doubt, one of the most arrogantly obstinate, if not the most arrogantly obstinate. Sure, a quack like Mike Adams wins on sheer obnoxiousness and for the sheer breadth of crankery to which he ascribes, which includes everything from quackery, to New World Order conspiracy theories, to Scientology-like anti-psychiatry rants, to survivalist and gun nut tendencies, but he’s so obviously unhinged, as well as intermittently entertaining, that he doesn’t quite get under the skin the way Chopra does. CHOPRAThere’s something about that smug, condescending, incredibly arrogant manner of Chopra’s that grates even more in its own way than the clueless arrogance of ignorance of a person like Adams, Vani Hari (a.k.a. the Food Babe), or Joe Mercola (who appears to be far more about the money than actually believing in the quackery he sells). When Chopra tries his hand at science, woo ensues, as we shall soon see.

Perhaps the best recurring example of Chopra’s smarmy condescension coupled with magical thinking comes in his ongoing war with skeptics (most recently illustrated by his hilariously off-base “million dollar” counter-challenge to James Randi) and atheists, in particular Richard Dawkins. Given that this particular war seems to have heated up again, with Chopra having declared that he’s “pissed off by Richard Dawkins’ arrogance and his pretense of being a really good scientist,” it seems the perfect time to bring up a project of Chopra’s in which he pretends to be a scientist. But first, let’s get a flavor of why real scientists like Richard Dawkins (who, regardless of what you think of his ill-advised and offensive Twitter ramblings, is nonetheless a scientist in the way that Chopra will never be):

Boasting is not becoming of a beacon of inner peace, and Chopra knows it. I don’t want to hear him talk trash, and I ask him why he can’t just let Richard Dawkins go.

“With Dawkins, I am just pissed off. I am pissed off by his arrogance and his pretense of being a really good scientist. He is not,” Chopra says. “And he is using his scientific credentials to literally go on a rampage.”

But it’s more than that, I suggest. Chopra sits back and raises his hands, palms upward, smiling.

“I totally agree. It’s my last challenge,” he says. “It may be a very strange psychological issue.”

I don’t think there’s anything particularly strange about it. It’s incredibly obvious. Chopra, who started out as a real physician (an endocrinologist, actually) somehow got into quantum quackery and turned into a pseudoscientist and quack. Dawkins is a prominent real scientist who reminds Chopra that his blather  .  .  .

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Stop Using Quantum Mechanics as Evidence for Magic

Esther Inglis-Arkell_90pxBy Esther Inglis-Arkell via io9

Quantum mechanics is a beautiful and still-controversial idea. It is rightly popular. What’s not right is the way people use it to justify any reality-bending idea in their novels, their TV shows, or their personal philosophies. “Quantum” does not mean anything you want.

USS Enterprise_300px“Captain? I’m afraid we’re getting quantum disruptions in the quantum energy field. Should I ready the quantum torpedoes and relay a quantum message to the quantum base?”

I’m not a savvy dissector of movies. All the physics mistakes in Gravity flew right past me, but when you see something done a certain amount of times, it works even the most unresponsive of nerves. The word “quantum” is regularly dropped into science fiction in a way that basically amounts to the storyteller thinking, “I bet this is the way smart people in the future talk.” It might be the way smart people talk, but as we see in the next section, it’s also the way people talk when they’re being really stupid. What’s more, it won’t be the way the educated people of the future talk about anything.

Science can move forward in sweeping generalities, or it can move forward by becoming more and more specific. Either way, you probably shouldn’t use “quantum” to describe future science. If you’ve got a universe where starships can move at above light speed, or people can teleport, or the brain can be uploaded into a computer, the term “quantum” may be as antiquated as the term “natural philosophy.”

weeping angels doctor who_250pxIf the term “quantum” is still around, it won’t be applicable in any specific situation. Let’s put it this way, there are five different major types of light scattering – Rayleigh Scattering, Mie Scattering, Tyndall Scattering, Brillouin Scattering, and Raman Scattering. If you’re an expert and working with scattered light in any meaningful way, saying, “light is being scattered,” isn’t specific enough to get anything done. You have to know what kind of scattering you’re dealing with. Having characters in a space craft worry about a “quantum energy field” near them makes about as much sense as having characters in a war say that the enemy is shooting “matter” at them. They’ll need to use specifics to make any progress.

A fun note: the types of light scattering are all named after scientists. Instead of saying “a quantum energy field,” have your characters run into “a Bass-Van-der-Woodsen field,” because in your universe the team of Bass and Van der Woodsen made the discovery, and an educated expert would name the field instead of just saying “it’s quantum.”

It Doesn’t Mean That We Are Psychic

Okay, here’s the big one. Quantum mechanics shows that the world works in unintuitive ways, and, yes, experiments done in quantum mechanics provide results that can be interpreted in ways that lead us to odd conclusions. What quantum mechanics doesn’t do is provide evidence for whatever whack-a-doodle theory any crackpot has at the moment. These theories come in several different flavors.

quantum-entanglement_600px
First there’s quantum entanglement. I have to admit, I have a soft spot for quantum entanglement. Entanglement involves two particles having opposite spins. As long as the spins aren’t measured, they’re undetermined. This doesn’t mean that we don’t know the spins. This means that they are literally  .  .  .

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Deepak Chopra and the attractiveness of nonsense

Via Skeptophilia

There are a variety of reasons to learn some science.  First is, it’s cool, and is the only game in town when it comes to understanding what’s actually going on around you in the natural world.  science 824_200pxSecond, there are some issues we’re facing (climate change and genetic modification come to mind) that you can only evaluate properly if you understand the science behind them.  These issues are having an increasing impact on humanity, and most of us are coming around to the idea that handling them properly will require some deep thought — deep thought that requires you to understand what the research actually says.

The third reason is that some knowledge of science will keep you from falling prey to purveyors of bullshit.

Take, for example, this article from Huffington Post entitled “Deepak Chopra On How to Modify Your Own Genes.”  The article begins thusly:

Physician and best-selling author Deepak Chopra has an empowering message: You can actually modify your own genes through your actions and behaviors.

deepak chopra 840

Purveyor of bullshit

Well, Dr. Chopra, it may be “empowering,” but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s wrong.  Modifying your gene expression is not the same thing as modifying your genes.  Your body responds to changes in environmental conditions all the time — but that is altering the expression of the genes you already have, not making any sort of permanent changes to the genes themselves.

Alteration of gene expression happens continuously, throughout our lives.  If you hadn’t altered gene expression as you developed from a single-celled fertilized egg, for example, you would right now be an amorphous blob of undifferentiated cells, and you would be unable to read this post, because you wouldn’t have a brain.

Now, lest you think that it’s just the writer at HuffPost who got it wrong, and that the passage above was taking something that Dr. Chopra said out of context and making it sound like he believes that experience alters your genes, here’s an actual quote that proves otherwise:

“We are literally metabolizing something as ephemeral as experience or even meaning,” Chopra said in an interview this week at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California. “If somebody says to me, ‘I love you,’ and I’m in love with them, I suddenly feel great, and I make things like oxytocin and dopamine, serotonin, opiates. And if someone says to me, ‘I love you,’ and I’m really thinking they’re manipulating me, I don’t make the same thing. I make cortisol and adrenaline.”

First off, what does “literally metabolizing… experience” even mean?  Metabolism is one of those words that’s used in common parlance in a variety of ways, but for which scientists have a precise definition.  You can metabolize the protein in your dinner, but “metabolizing experience”CHOPRA is a meaningless phrase — and it’s almost funny that he put the word “literally” in front of it.

Chopra, of course, has become notorious for this kind of thing.  He once said, in a talk, “We are each a localized field of energy and information with cybernetic feedback loops interacting within a nonlocal field,” a phrase that is kind of admirable in how tightly it packs meaningless buzzwords together.  He specializes in a style of speech and writing that I call “sort of science-y or something” — using words like frequency and quantum and resonance in vague, handwaving ways that have great appeal to people who aren’t trained in science, and who don’t realize that each of those words has a precise definition that honestly has nothing to do with the way he’s using them.  In fact, he’s so well-known for deep-sounding bullshit that there is an online Deepak Chopra Quote Generator, that strings together words to create an authentic-sounding Chopra Quote.  (Here’s the one I just got: “The secret of the universe arises and subsides in descriptions of truth.”)

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Quantum Jumping, or Bullshit Overload

Story H/T: @ Skeptic Wars


QJ-624x282
Via Enduring Beta

I stumbled upon the website Quantum Jumping from an ad for wooey pseudoscience that just seemed… too out there. But oh how I underestimate scammers! I was struck by the techniques used to trick readers into buying into the product and story, and then felt like tearing down some of the nonsense I was reading. Come join me for a hearty laugh, a face palm, and a clenched fist.

Here’s an opening quote from the site to get an idea of what they’re saying:

I would like to share with you a technique that has completely changed who I am. It has brought me everything I could have ever asked for in life – success, talent, wealth, wellbeing, happiness – you name it.

It stems from the aforementioned idea of ‘another you’ living in ‘another reality’. Whether or not this is possible will be debated for some time, and the answer may never be known, but it creates the mindset of what’s called…

The Most Advanced Creative Visualization Technique Ever Created

Now just imagine for a moment you could find a way to ‘jump’ into these alternate universes. That you could meet an infinite number of alternate versions of ‘you’…

Imagine that you could examine their ways and learn their methods, draw upon their skills, experience and wisdom, find out how they become so happy, talented or successful.

caption

This quantum disclaimer is from the quantumjumping.com customer reviews page.

Emphasis mine. This is a hallmark of pseudoscience to rope people in with a sensational claim like the title “Quantum Jumping” and buttress against criticism with a nod to the fact that it’s “still debated”. Or, in other words, “We’ll sell you on the idea without regard for if it’s real at all.” Legitimate self-help techniques and medicine should wait for the justification through evidence before making claims like this site does!

Burt Goldman says he developed the skills of painting, photography, writing, and business through, effectively, simply visualizing himself with those skills over time. I won’t deny that this mental technique might help with motivation, perseverance, clarity, and focus. But if you don’t have the skills to paint in your head and hands already, they’re not going to be revealed to you just by meditating. There are limits that the tone and language of this site refuse to address.

What’s further agonizing about this site is the dancing they do around whether or not they claim to Actually Contact Other Universes. For example:

[A]t its core, Quantum Jumping is simply an advanced visualization exercise. You’re tapping into your subconscious mind, where are infinite number of realities and possibilities are waiting to be discovered. Anything that can be, is.

“If a universe can be imagined, it exists.” Professor M. R. Franks

“There are vibrations of many different universes right here, right now. We’re just not in tune with them. There are probably other parallel universes in our living room–this is modern physics. This is the modern interpretation of quantum theory, that many worlds represents reality.” Dr. Michio Kaku

They tap Michio Kaku, Einstein, Planck, and more for fake science credibility. The site has moments of near-honesty, but they are sandwiched by the same vague language that can be interpreted in different ways and hollow appeals to unrelated experts and testimony:

Now I hate having to burst anyone’s bubble of having adventures through space – and Quantum Jumping was made to be an out of this world experience – but no, you wont actually leave this planet.

But what does one make of the first block? Are they claiming it or not? The real answer, of course, it that they are being intentionally vague to let the reader come to the most charitable conclusion. They are mentioning science related only in “theme” to give the quick reader, the casual glancer, the illusion of . . .

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Can Thinking Change Reality

Story H/T: @ Skeptic Wars


steven_novellaby via NeuroLogica Blog

I love the documentary series, The Day the Universe Changed, by James Burke. It’s a follow up to his equally good, Connections (I know, they have their criticisms, but overall they are very good). The former title is a metaphor – when our collective model of reality changes, for us the universe does change. When we believed the earth was motionless at the center of the universe, that was our reality.

James Burke The Day the Universe Changed

James Burke
The Day the Universe Changed

But Burke was not arguing that the nature of the universe actually changed, just our conception of it. Thinking alone cannot directly change external reality. That is magical thinking.

Such thinking, however, lies at the center of much new age spiritual claims. The secret of The Secret is that you can change your world by wishing. Proponents of such ideas are desperate for scientific validation of their basic premise. Such evidence does not exist. In fact over a century of such research shows rather conclusively that there is no such effect in operation in our world to any significant degree.

A recent article claiming that there is such evidence has been making the social media rounds – 10 Scientific Studies That Prove Consciousness Can Alter Our Physical Material World. After some flowery Eastern mysticism, and rather gratuitously abusing the memory of Nikola Tesla, the author gives a quick summary of what they believe to be ten lines of evidence supporting the notion that consciousness can alter physical reality. It would take a full-length post to debunk each of these ten claims adequately. I am only going to give an equally quick summary here, but will link to longer articles when possible.

1 – Quantum Double Slit Experiment

Double-slit experiment, artworkYou knew this had to be on the list. The claim is that the classic double slit experiments prove that consciousness affects reality at a fundamental level. Light (or other elementary particles, and even small atoms) traveling through one slit will shine as a blob on the other side, as if the particles of light were all piling up after the slit. If two adjacent thin slits are open, however, then we don’t see two blobs but rather an interference pattern, as if the light were traveling like water waves and interfering with each other as they traveled through the slits. This is the core experiment that demonstrates the wave-particle duality of light – it travels like a wave but then interacts like a particle.

These experiments are often distorted into the claim that the experimenter has to be watching, that their consciousness affects the outcome. This is simply not true, however. All that is required is a detector, which physically interacts with the particles. “Detecting” forces the wave function to collapse into a particle. I discuss this further here.

2. Government Sponsored Psychokinesis Experiments

The claim is that government experiments demonstrated the ability to bend spoons and forks with the mind. The links provided as references, however, do not establish such claims. This, of course, is a theme of the article, providing links that give the appearance of evidence, even though they do not establish the claims being referenced.

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ALSO SEE: NeuroLogica Blog » Can Thinking Change Reality Part II.

Quantum Quackery

quantum-physics-lecture_600pxQuantum physics is claimed to support the mystical notion that the mind creates reality. However, an objective reality, with no special role for consciousness, human or cosmic, is consistent with all observations.

By Victor Stenger (1997) via Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

quantum_physicsCertain interpretations of quantum mechanics, the revolutionary theory developed early in the century to account for the anomalous behavior of light and atoms, are being misconstrued so as to imply that only thoughts are real and that the physical universe is the product of a cosmic mind to which the human mind is linked throughout space and time. This interpretation has provided an ostensibly scientific basis for various mind-over-matter claims, from ESP to alternative medicine. “Quantum mysticism” also forms part of the intellectual backdrop for the postmodern assertion that science has no claim on objective reality.

The word “quantum” appears frequently in New Age and modern mystical literature. For example, physician Deepak Chopra (1989) has successfully promoted a notion he calls quantum healing, which suggests we can cure all our ills by the application of sufficient mental power.

Photo courtesy Daniel Johansson

Photo courtesy Daniel Johansson

According to Chopra, this profound conclusion can be drawn from quantum physics, which he says has demonstrated that “the physical world, including our bodies, is a response of the observer. We create our bodies as we create the experience of our world” (Chopra 1993, 5). Chopra also asserts that “beliefs, thoughts, and emotions create the chemical reactions that uphold life in every cell,” and “the world you live in, including the experience of your body, is completely dictated by how you learn to perceive it” (Chopra 1993, 6). Thus illness and aging are an illusion and we can achieve what Chopra calls “ageless body, timeless mind” by the sheer force of consciousness.1

Amit Goswami, in The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World, argues that the existence of paranormal phenomena is supported by quantum mechanics:

. . . psychic phenomena, such as distant viewing and out-of-body experiences, are examples of the nonlocal operation of consciousness . . . . Quantum mechanics undergirds such a theory by providing crucial support for the case of nonlocality of consciousness.

(Goswami 1993, 136)

Since no convincing, reproducible evidence for psychic phenomena has been found, despite 150 years of effort, this is a flimsy basis indeed for quantum consciousness.

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