Update: Stenger’s book has been reviewed by Steve Esser.
I interrupt the current hiatus of this blog for news of what I think is an important new quantum foundational book.
One of the ways that I follow the latest hot topics in Quantum Schmantum is via a carefully crafted Google Alerts feed, which is quite good at throwing up articles that are getting attention in the mainstream science press. It does need to be carefully crafted though, because a basic search on the word “quantum” is dominated by a James Bond movie, a video game, a 1990’s television series and, worst of all, a whole lot of quantum mystical mumbo jumbo influenced by things like What the Bleep Do We Know, The Secret, Deepak Chopra, etc. Unfortunately, this sort of stuff seems to be more popular than ever and is even getting celebrity endorsment from the likes of Carmen Elektra
Unfortunately, however carefully crafted your search is, quite a lot of quantum nonsense will always make it through, so I usually just ignore links with suspect titles. Recently though, the feed has been turning up a lot of links with titles like “Quantum Physics and God”, so much so that I was eventually tempted to click through to see what all the fuss was about. It turns out that these articles were all referring to a new book Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness by Victor Stenger who is perhaps best known for his nu athieism book God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Amongst other things, the new book is aimed at debunking the claims of the quantum mystics.
For a long time, I have thought that a book that clearly sets out the case against the quantum mystics is a good idea. I don’t imagine that many people who actually believe in this stuff will read the book, although some may get drawn in by the fact that the title does not suggest that the ideas are going to be debunked. More importantly, however, this is ammunition for scientifically literate people, who may not be well versed in quantum theory, to use when they come up against quantum nonsense.
I have not read the book yet, and I am unlikely to do so in the near future due to my current illness. I would like to add it to my carefully curated Amazon Store of books about quantum theory, but I have a policy of not including any books that I haven’t read, since there are a lot of bad expositions of quantum theory in the popular literature. My main concern is whether Stenger manages to clearly separate the argument against quantum mysticism from his more general concerns about whether or not science is compatible with new age mystical beliefs. In my view, it is one thing to hold a set of new age mumbo jumbo beliefs and quite another thing to believe they are supported by quantum theory. The latter is clearly false, independently of the general debate about new age ideas. For one thing, a large part of the message of things like The Secret and What The Bleep… seems to be that you can make good things happen by the power of positive thinking. I can certainly imagine that this is true to an extent in the realm of human affairs, but that is a matter of psychology and sociology rather than quantum physics. I am encouraged by the fact that Stenger is also the author of a 1997 article from the Skeptical Inquirer, which was my previous go to link for people in need of some quantum debunking. Since I think this is likely to be an important book, I may decide to relax my policy and add the book anyway, provided enough of my trusted colleagues and commenters tell me that the book is accurate. So go out and read!
I’ll leave you with a confrontation between Richard Dawkins and Deepak Chopra, which I couldn’t resist adding to this post.