Realist interpretations of QM…

One of the readers of this blog asked me what I thought of the following site: Rational Science (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_I_L6pPCwxTgAH7yutyxqA). I watched it – for a brief while – and I must admit I am thoroughly disappointed by it. I think it’s important enough to re-post what I posted on this YouTube channel itself:

“I do believe there is an element of irrationality in modern physics: a realist interpretation of quantum electrodynamics is possible but may not gain acceptance because religion and other factors may make scientists somewhat hesitant to accept a common-sense explanation of things. The mystery needs to be there, and it needs to be protected – somehow. Quantum mechanics may well be the only place where God can hide – in science, that is.

But – in his attempt to do away with the notion of God – Bill Gaede takes things way too far – and so I think he errs on the other side of the spectrum. Mass, energy and spacetime are essential categories of the mind (or concepts if you want) to explain the world. Mass is a measure of inertia to a change in the state of motion of an object, kinetic energy is the energy of motion, potential energy is energy because of an object’s position in spacetime, etcetera. So, yes, these are concepts – and we need these concepts to explain what we human beings refer to as ‘the World’. Space and time are categories of the mind as well – philosophical or mathematical concepts, in other words – but they are related and well-defined.

In fact, space and time define each other also because the primordial idea of motion implies both: the idea of motion implies we imagine something moving in space and in time. So that’s space-time, and it’s a useful idea. That also explains why time goes in one direction only. If we’d allow time to reverse, then we’d also an object to be in two places at the same time (if an object can go back in time, then it can also go back to some other place – and so then it’s in two places at the same time). This is just one example where math makes sense of physical realities – or where our mind meets ‘the World’.

When Bill Gaede quotes Wheeler and other physicists in an attempt to make you feel he’s on the right side of history, he quotes him very selectively. John Wheeler, for example, believed in the idea of ‘mass’ – but it was ‘mass without mass’ for him: the mass of an object was the equivalent mass of the object’s energy. The ideas of Wheeler have been taken forward by a minority of physicists, such as David Hestenes and Alexander Burinskii. They’ve developed a fully-fledged electron model that combines wave and particle characteristics. It effectively does away with all of the hocus-pocus in QED – which Bill Gaede criticizes, and rightly so.

In short, while it’s useful to criticize mainstream physics as hocus-pocus, Bill Gaede is taking it much too far and, unfortunately, gives too much ammunition to critics to think of people like us – amateur physicists or scientists who try to make sense of it all – as wackos or crackpots. Math is, effectively, descriptive but, just like anything else, we need a language to describe stuff, and math is the language in which we describe actual physics. Trying to discredit the mathematical approach to science is at least as bad – much worse, actually – than attaching too much importance to it. Yes, we need to remind ourselves constantly that we are describing something physical, but we need concepts for that – and these concepts are mathematical.

PS: Bill Gaede also has very poor credentials, but you may want to judge these for yourself: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gaede. These poor credentials do not imply that his views are automatically wrong, but it does introduce an element of insincerity. :-/ In short, watch what you’re watching and always check sources and backgrounds when googling for answers to questions, especially when you’re googling for answers to fundamental questions ! 🙂