Armchair physicist and anti-quantum zealot Matt Leifer
In recent years noted string theorist and blogger Lubos Motl has increasingly turned his attention to the foundations of quantum theory. Those of us who study quantum foundations for a living have tended to find his commentary mildly annoying, as he consistently calls those of us who disagree with his views “anti-quantum zealots”, crackpots, and worse.
I have recently come to the realization that Lubos’ views on this subject are completely correct. Specifically, I now believe the following:
- The Copenhagen founders of quantum theory—Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli, Born et. al.—had things essentially right. They were only missing the details of decoherence theory in order to properly understand the classical limit.
- The decoherent histories formalism as proposed by Gell-Mann and Hartle, gives a completely consistent account of these minor details and is the correct way to understand physical properties and probabilities in quantum theory.
- People who work on high energy physics, and especially string theory, are the ultimate arbiters of truth about the nature of quantum theory. Only they have the background needed to make meaningful statements on the subject. This is especially true of theorists who are or ever have been employed at Harvard. Any idea that has not been discussed by these physicists is probably wrong. No insight is to be gained by actually studying the foundations of quantum theory for several years, rather than working on proper fundamental physics.
- And finally, in the face of any other views on quantum theory, the correct response is always, “It’s quantum stupid!”
Having adopted this new credo, I now realize that my previous view that quantum theory should be founded on a realist ontology that gives a clear picture of what is going on in reality independently of the observer was wrong-headed. Lubos’ blog posts on the subject make a compelling argument that my view was guided more by religious zealotry and communist ideology than by empirical data and rational argument. It therefore seems appropriate that I should enter into a period of repentance by adopting a garb of sackcloth and ashes for a while before emerging cleansed of my previous religious views.
Given the impracticality of wearing sackcloth and ashes in modern life, I have instead decided to wear a t-shirt that identifies me as the anti-quantum zealot that I am. You can see a picture of me wearing this t-shirt at the top of this post. Before embarking on a career in string theory, or more likely quitting academia to become an accountant because I do not have the intelligence to understand real physics, I still have several engagements where I shall have to speak about my previous bigoted research. I therefore promise that I will wear my anti-quantum zealot t-shirt at all such speaking engagements for the next year.
At this point, I would like to urge my colleagues who have also been denounced by Lubos’, and those who hold similar views but have so far flown under Lubos’ radar, to reconsider their views and join me in repentance. If each of us wears an anti-quantum zealot t-shirt publicly then we may be able to prevent others from following us down the path of ideologically motivated nonsense.
Fortunately, I have made it easy for you to purchase your own anti-quantum zealot apparel and merchandise, from the Spreadshirt shop at this link. It is available in any colour, so long as it is communist red. I receive a commission of 2CAD for every purchase from this shop (the rest goes to Spreadshirt, so complain to them about their overpriced t-shirts rather than me). I would dearly love to keep that commission money because I will be short of income for a while as I retrain as a string theorist or accountant. However, that would greatly complicate my tax situation, so I have decided to donate it to a charity that will protect future generations of physicists from adopting anti-quantum ideas. For this purpose, my commission will be donated to the Next Einstein Initiative of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), which seeks to establish centres of excellence in mathematical science across Africa. AIMS does cover fundamental physics, but I note with approval that they do not currently have programmes in quantum foundations, so they will not be teaching wrong-headed ideas to the next generation of African physicists.
You might be tempted to consider your purchase of anti-quantum zealot merchandise as a charitable contribution, but if you really want to support AIMS you should forget about the t-shirt and just donate all of the money your would have spent to them directly. Anti-quantum zealot merchandise is only intended for those who want to seriously repent for their anti-quantum beliefs.
In order to encourage donations, either through merchandise purchases or direct contributions to AIMS, I will be offering a special prize to whoever makes the largest donation in response to this post by the end of this month (April). You simply have to let me know how much you have donated, either by email, or by leaving a comment if you want to boast about how generous you are (I will be asking the winner to verify their donation by sending copies of their receipts).
What is this special prize you ask? Well, it is a collection of schwag that I stole from my absolute favourite academic publisher—Elsevier—at the recent APS March meeting.
As you can see, it consists of two pens advertising the exciting new journal “Reviews in Physics”, which I assume will soon surpass Reviews in Modern Physics as the premier physics review journal. I believe this because of the extremely rigorous editorial oversight that Elsevier applies to all of its journals.
In addition to this, you get a luggage tag advertising Elsevier’s offerings in Optics, which is filled with some mysterious blue liquid, because everything is better with blue stuff in it. If your luggage accidentally ends up at the Elsevier offices because the baggage handlers read the side of the label displayed in the photo rather than the address written on the back, I am assured that Elsevier will apply their open access policy to your bags and charge you $80 for their return.