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5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Misleading, 27 July 2009
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This review is from: Quantum Theory and the Flight From Realism: Philosophical Responses to Quantum Mechanics (Critical Realism: Interventions) (Paperback)
This must be one of the most misleading books on the realism/antirealism
debate in quantum mechanics ever published. The author repeats some of the usual criticisms against the so called copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics and favours David Bohm's allegedly realist interpretation as a counterbalance. He reminds me of Chicken Licken who claims that abandoning a so called realist interpretation of science menas that the sky is going to fall in. Admittedly he is not the only author to make this claim. What Norris refuses to address in his endorsement of Bohm's quantum mechanics is the fact that it implies the existence of a 3N dimensional configuration space, if we take the wavefunction of quantum mechanics literally of which our 3 dimensional world is only one projection. This means that the so called realism of Bohm is committed to something even more bizarre than seeing the wave function as a heuristic device for calculating probabilities associated with quantum events.

Finally his treatment of the Bell inequalities is misleading, the Aspect experiment does not imply that particles send signals to each other faster than the speed of light. It is only if one accepts a realist interpretation that one is forced into such lines of thought. He can't have it both ways if he wants to have a realist interpretation of quantum mechanics he is forced to abandon a realist interpretation of relativity which would undermine the very thesis he wants to defend namely that physics supports a realist interpretation.

It is clear that this book is only written to defend an ideology rather than any serious attempt to engage in the real problems about the relationship between our ideas of the world and the world as it really is that quantum mechanics raises.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 29 Apr 2010 11:13:18 BDT
"Realism" is one of those shifty words but I reckon Bohm's interpretation is "realist" in the sense that it tried to restore determinacy and determinism to the quantum realm, qualities which (it would seem) the Copenhagen Interpretation threatens.
On relativity, realism and the Bell Inequalities, I got a lot out of a book by Tim Maudlin called 'Quantum Non-Locality and Relativity'. (Maudlin's basically a philosopher of science by trade but the treatment his book offers drew praise from physicists as well.)

Posted on 2 Aug 2010 13:32:58 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Dec 2010 15:20:44 GMT
Just a few words in defence of Chris Norris...

I think the problem with an anti-realist interpretation of QM is not so much that the sky will fall down, as that there is no sky there to begin with until someone observes it. Or at least this *seems* to be the implication, and it is difficult to see how an advocate of the orthodox interpretation could avoid this conclusion - as Norris makes clear. (For a state vector only 'collapses', i.e. has definite measurable properties, when it is observed/measured.)

In truth, the majority of practicing physicists seem fairly unconcerned with these interpretative issues in any case. If they side with the orthodox interpretation this is partly because they have been taught the standard arguments for this whilst studying for their degrees, and partly because it sounds reassuringly positivist.

According to orthodox QM, the wavefunction is all that there is - and this is an heuristic device for predicting the outcome of *measurements*. So there is no 'reality' beyond the measurements themselves. Whatever Bohm contends, it is surely a lot *less* bizarre than this Berkeleyan idealism. (Of course, realism hardly commits one to Bohm's specific theory. )

The reviewer here speaks of probabilities 'associated' with quantum events, but this smuggles in realist assumptions. The probabilities are probabilities pertaining to the outcomes of measurements - there aren't any 'quantum events' (according to orthodox QM) 'associated' with these measurements but existing independently of them.

I don't *think* that Norris says that particles 'send signals' to each other faster than light. I think he *does* maintain that there are causal relations of some sort between particles separated by a space-like interval. But then this is quite orthodox - it's called quantum entanglement and for technical reasons it does not violate relativity. (It is not possible to use this kind of lawlike correlation to send information, for example.)

I agree that the book was written to 'defend an ideology', namely realism. I do think Norris is allowed to do this. But it certainly is also a serious attempt to engage in real problems!

Really, I think the orthodox interpretation is quite incredible when you grasp its implications. As Murray Gell-Mann said in 1969, 'Niels Bohr brainwashed a whole generation of theorists into thinking that the job of interpreting quantum theory was done 50 years ago.' This is perhaps unfair to Bohr, who can hardly be blamed for the fact that others chose not to think. Nevertheless, physicists now are increasingly turning away from the Copenhagen orthodoxy. The successor theory seems to be the Many Worlds Interpretation. I think this is a mistake (as does Norris). What we need is to start again from first principles, and this is precisely what Norris' book advocates.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Aug 2010 17:31:14 BDT
Last edited by the author on 16 Aug 2010 13:04:04 BDT
In response to Brian Flange's comment above:

As a matter of fact, I think the question of 'realism' and the question of 'determinism' are quite distinct. One can be a realist - believing that there is an objective world that exists independently of our observations or measurements - whilst at the same time reject determinism. For example, Epicurus was a realist, believing that the universe comprised just solid atoms and empty space, but nevertheless ascribed a certain capricious free will to atoms allowing them to randomly deviate from their downward motion - the 'swerve'.

I think Norris is correct in insisting on realism. Physicists themselves are increasingly seeing this, but they seem to be opting for the Many Worlds Interpretation. This shares with Copenhagen the assumption that the 'state vector' is a *complete* description of the quantum world, which I think is a bad inheritance of positivism that ought to be abandoned along with Copenhagen. Furthermore, the assumption that a quantum event is in a superposition of states prior to being observed is pure metaphysics and wholly unempirical - no object is ever observed in a superposition of states.

Once we abandon the assumption that the state vector is a complete description of reality then there survives no reason to suppose that 'reality' is limited to whatever happens to be knowable to us at any one time.

As for causal determinism, I think this is an entirely open question - it may be true or it may not be. To assert that indeterminism is true in an ultimate *metaphysical* sense on the ground that we can only empirically predict the statistical outcome of sets of measurements but not the outcome of individual measurements is pure dogmatism. The number of suicides in a population each year is roughly constant - but we could not say at the beginning of the year which precise individuals were going to top themselves. It doesn't follow that each individual suicide is uncaused or undetermined when it happens.
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