3.212 uncertainty, cont. (128)
Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@VM.EPAS.UTORONTO.CA)
Wed, 5 Jul 89 20:02:41 EDT
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 212. Wednesday, 5 Jul 1989.
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 89 16:20 EDT
Subject: Uncertainty and anti-intellectualism
REPLIES concerning Uncertainty:
I thank the various recent commmentators (i.e. Tom Thomson) on my remarks about
the verbal statement of Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle for their
corrections and completions. I agree that we must be careful and complete in
our verbalizations of Heisenberg's formalism; and my statement was neither.
My over-all point is that intellectual honesty involves opening apparently
uncontested practices and theories to critical examination. It seems that to
mention that quantum mechanics, the Uncertainty Principle, and Bohr's
Copenhagen Intepretation have been questioned and debated by philosophers of
physics and philosophically minded physicists, has resulted in various ad
hominem remarks that those who question quantum mechanics must be
'anthropocentric', and by implication, reactionary.
1. John G. McDaid
"The desire to deny quantum reality, is, at base, a desire to erect the human
as the measure of reality, and to re-enshrine the accidents of evolution as
fundamental truth. I think that this attitude, rather than an honest
investigation into the implications of quantum mechanics and introspective
pedagogical enactment, which can rightly be called anti-intellectualism."
This statement presumes that quantum physics is the measure of "quantum
reality", as opposed to being the best current theory of fundamental
micro-particles. All that we humanists can do is to submissively state the
implications of the current physics which is the positive measure of reality.
This remark documents my point about current hyper-rationalism and its
anti-intellectualism: 'What physicists of the day say about reality, must be
true, or close to the truth, either because they have evidence for it, or
because they are in a position to know. Whatever the current state of physics
is, physics must be rational; so all that intellectuals can do, is to submit
to the dictates of physicts.'
Intellectuals have a responsibility to examine alternative viewpoints, not
merely to document and elaborate what the current majority in physics, or in
any other discipline, happen to hold as unquestionable. The teacher, whether
we like it, or not is given a place of intellectual authority in our
universities as a person who has come to her conclusions after much thought.
When a teacher says that anyone who questions quantum mechanics is being
'anthropocentric', she is enshrining the current view of physics as a dogma.
This person is doing no favour to physics and no favour to intellectual
culture. However, it would be ant-intellectual to insist on rejecting quantum
mechanics simply because it does not conform to a particular world-view. The
intellectually honest attitude is to admit that quantum mechanics is a
fallible, first stab in the dark into a very elusive domain of reality.
Newtonian mechanics had much more evidence in its favour, and had been around
much longer than quantum mechanics before Einstein had definitively refuted
Newton's giant achievement.
2. There is some confusion, by those who defend quantum mechanics, about the
nature of the criticisms of quantum mechanics.
Einstein's arguments: 1. The EPR paradox reveals that either there is
non-local action, or current physics is incomplete.
2. Even a realist interpretation of current quantum
phenomena is unacceptable because it is incomplete in treating the fundamental
laws of physics as probabilistic, or statistical.
Bohm's argument: the variables of quantum mechanics, though they appear to be
absolutes given the current state of quantum mechanics, could, like the
variables of space and time which were once held to be absolutes, be found to
be variables relative to specific frameworks. There may be a hidden layer of
invariables, such as the relativistic laws for mass and energy, which will
provide a deterministic explanation of quantum mechanics.
Popper's argument: the Copenhagen Intepretation treats the laws of physics as
subjective, and final. Rather, we should interpret quantum mechanics as
hypotheses about the indeterministic nature of physical reality.
In short, there are two layers of comments. Bohm's and Einstein's are more on
the physical as opposed to philosophical layer--they prefer us to look for an
alternative physical theory to explain the variables of quantum reality.
Popper's comment is more methodological and metaphysical: treat quantum
mechanics as a set of falsifiable hypotheses about an indeterministic layer of
I am not speaking for myself when reporting the objections to quantum
mechanics. Rather, I report those objections, and the largely silent reaction
of the majority, as a fact of intellectual culture that requires explanation.
The problem raised by this fact is, why do so many in our intellectual culture
endorse the Copenhagen Interpretation, and ignore not only the criticisms to
it, but also treat it as an inevitable state of affairs as opposed to an
interpretation open to argument?
I propose the cultural historical hypothesis that Bohr's Interpretation is so
widely accepted because it fits in with the general world view of
anti-intellectualism and hyper-rationalism in the culture of intellectuals;
and, moreover, Bohr's Interpretation not only fits in with this world view, but
also gives it a seeming exclusivity and invevitability.
Douglas de Lacey sums up in positive terms what I argue is a negative feature
of our intellectual culture--its treatment of an interpretation (of one
interpretation among others) of a set of problems, a set of inconsistencies, as
the inevitable outcome of the rational minds of intellectuals:
"The Copenhagen interpretation is, ultimately, counsel of despair.
It says, in effect, we *cannot* interpret the conflicting sets
of data; they are irreconcilable. But how can we *know* that?
How indeed can we know objective truth? I don't believe we can --
hence my rejection of the possibility of objectivity."
This anti-intellectual world view ( that the mind creates fictional worlds
of its own making which are the only reality we can know; and all the products
of mind, however apparently inconsistent and irrational, have a deeper layer of
motivation and intellegibility) is responsible for a general malaise among
intellectuals, and, in part, responsible for the general undervaluing, both
economically and morally, of our educational institutions.
The general malaise is that our intellects cannot expect to gain any hold on
the real world; and that the products of our mind are chimerical, and have no
real value beyond giving a few people tenure in universities.