Mind is moving
March 23, 2013 10:45 AM   Subscribe

Ron Garret, formerly of JPL and Google and "the most referenced computer science researcher in all of NASA", has an interesting take on quantum mechanics he dubs "zero-worlds", which he presents in an hour-long Google Tech Talk (meat starts around 42 minutes) as well as slightly older paper. He also got into a bit of further debate here.

At the core of the interpretation, which is grounded in quantum information theory:
QIT completely explains the "mystery" of spooky action at a distance by describing measurement in terms of entanglement. The quantum-information-theoretical description of a pair of measurements made on an EPR pair is exactly the same as a pair of measurements made on a single particle. “Spooky action at a distance” ought to be no more(and no less) mysterious than the “spooky action across time” which makes the universe consistent with itself from one moment to the next.
posted by crayz (26 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

the "further debate here" link returns "This website is offline/No cached version is available"
posted by facetious at 11:07 AM on March 23, 2013

And it's too bad, because I really like the sound of this analysis, and I wanted to see who would be on the other side of it and why.
posted by scrowdid at 11:10 AM on March 23, 2013

It worked for me, just now— maybe Cloudflare resolved its difficulties.
posted by hattifattener at 11:19 AM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh man this makes my head hurt bad.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:23 AM on March 23, 2013

But in a good way.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:23 AM on March 23, 2013

Ron is an acquaintance and old boss of mine. He's a pioneering roboticist, has a patent on FTL communication, and saved the Galileo Magnetometer experiment by recreating an unavailable programming environment and sending a patch to the spacecraft while it was in flight.
posted by jjwiseman at 11:30 AM on March 23, 2013 [11 favorites]

Ron also had a great post at http://xooglers.blogspot.com/ (since removed) about writing the intial billing code for AdWords at Google. When it first went live, he noticed that most (but not all) of the credit card transactions charging advertisers were being rejected. After digging into it, he discovered that he was essentially charging random values (from uninitialized storage or something) to company's credit cards. Usually the numbers were huge, and were immediately rejected. But the ones that went through...
posted by jjwiseman at 11:33 AM on March 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

What is EPR? I can read all about it here, but it doesn't say what the TLA stands for.
posted by Chorian at 11:42 AM on March 23, 2013

has a patent on FTL communication

I wonder how many people at the patent office are qualified to understand that patent. Also, I had the impression that it was shown not possible to communicate using entangled particles.
posted by DarkForest at 11:51 AM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

What is EPR?

From wikipedia:

The EPR paradox is an early and influential critique leveled against quantum mechanics. Albert Einstein and his colleagues Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen (known collectively as EPR) designed a thought experiment intended to reveal what they believed to be inadequacies of quantum mechanics.
posted by DarkForest at 11:53 AM on March 23, 2013

This is great. Certainly one of the most interesting things I've seen on MeFi in quite awhile (and I think there are a lot of interesting things here).

One quibble: When he says, (starting just before 0:54:00), that all this means that there is not a "real, underlying metaphysical reality out there." That's not true at all. What he seems to mean is that the "real, underlying" reality is non-physical--mathematical or computational or some such thing. One way or other, some metaphysical view is true; we're just asking what that metaphysics should be like.

The implication of this stuff seems to be that perhaps we ought to be something like Pythagoreans. And something in that vicinity seems to be a common theme in contemporary physics.

Plato, of course, would agree that the intelligible part of the universe, rather than the physical part, is the realest part.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 11:55 AM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

DarkForest, I believe that patent was more about demonstrating how the patent system could be gamed.
posted by jjwiseman at 11:58 AM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does he actually think FTL communication is possible or not? Because he patents it on one side, and seemingly says it isn't possible on the other. I suppose I have to treat him as some sort of superposition of crank and possibly sane?
posted by edd at 12:00 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

some sort of superposition of crank and possibly sane?

posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:11 PM on March 23, 2013

God. Reading his bio makes me feel extremely inadequate. As Babycakes said, "Better versions of people are scary!"
posted by JHarris at 12:26 PM on March 23, 2013

It may make one feel inadequate but it doesn't make one think he understands quantum mechanics.
posted by edd at 12:35 PM on March 23, 2013

has a patent on FTL communication...I wonder how many people at the patent office are qualified to understand that patent.

This guy.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:51 PM on March 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

My last semester of college, I took a class called Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics. I barely got a B-, because it was very short on the philosophy, and very long on the QM. Probably impossible to ace unless you'd already taken Linear Algebra. Probably the best class I've ever taken.

As such, I could actually understand this for the most part, and what he's saying sounds like a pretty valid take on QM. The Measurement Problem is a central feature of the philosophy of physics, and the identification of entanglement with measurement is a really tidy way of resolving it. "We are quantum systems, therefore we become entangled with any quantum system we ostensibly 'measure', therefore we see the exact effects predicted by the math for multiple interacting systems."

I recently listened to this episode of In Our Time where Nicola Wilkin explains superconductivity by saying that when you remove enough energy from a classical system, it begins behaving exactly like a quantum system (i.e. no resistance to electric charge) because the particles stop jostling around messing things up. This profoundly effected my ability to think about the relationship between quantum and classical mechanics. If you think about how Boltzman describes entropy, using probability, it suddenly becomes tenable to think of energetic quantum systems as having enough "resources", if you will, to organize themselves into higher-order classical-looking systems — systems like electrical resistors, or electrons, or time. IMverydefinitelyNAphysicist, but I'm just enough of a philosopher to keep all this in my head simultaneously and think that it sticks. YMMV.
posted by cthuljew at 1:31 PM on March 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

Garret's idea of a "zero-worlds" interpretation of QM sounds a lot like Bernard d'Espagnat's concept of "veiled reality." Although unlike Garret, if i understand the argument correctly, d'Espagnat is trying to say that there is an underlying physical reality, but that we have no access to it. Garret, on the other hand, seems to be arguing for some type of neo-platonism where d'Espagnat's "veil" is concealing a sea of quantum information rather than a physical reality.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:02 PM on March 23, 2013

So, if I'm understanding this correctly:

The popular view of QM states that matter does not have defined physical properties until it is measured.

The QIT view states that matter does not have defined physical properties, period. Rather, the act of measurement alters the system such that it appears to have defined physical properties.

Think of a six-sided die. While you're holding it in your hand, it has no defined value. Roll it and it "collapses" to a single value. The traditional QM interpretation would argue that the die is in a superposition of six values until it is rolled, whereupon it attains a single, defined value. QIT would argue that the apparently defined value is not an actual property of the die that has manifested itself, but rather an artifact of "measurement". We have not caused the die to become one-sided; we have simply limited our view of it such that this appears to be the case. In reality, the die is and will always be six-sided. It can only be described in terms of the probability of various values occurring, not as any single value.

Similarly, there are no particles (concrete entities with defined position and spin, analogous to a single side of the die). There are only wave functions which, as a result of interactions with other wave functions, appear to take on defined, particle-like properties. In more technical terms, locality is preserved but realism is discarded, which sidesteps Bell's inequality. That's my amateur take on it, anyway.
posted by dephlogisticated at 2:38 PM on March 23, 2013 [14 favorites]

The 'popular' interpretation is the Copenhagen interpretation. It's popular for historical reasons and because it is insufficiently laughed at. It involves 'magic happening' at measurement and I know of no serious quantum physicist or philosopher that likes it. It's nutty, but perversely and inexplicably acceptably nutty.
There are better options, although maybe no standout great options.

mildly tipsy and exaggerating as a result
posted by edd at 3:13 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

A physics paper from a (non-physicist, non-QIT) guy that used to work at JPL and Google, but that is not written in LaTeX, uses > (greater-than) for the angle braket in a ket, and has pixelated and aliased graphics, just screams HACK!
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 3:59 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm really hoping that some of our physics heavyweights will come in and point out any flaws in this. If it's as obvious as he seems to say it is, then why haven't we heard more about it by now? Why hasn't his experiment been performed to see if it conforms to his math?
posted by DarkForest at 7:15 PM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

If it's as obvious as he seems to say it is, then why haven't we heard more about it by now? Why hasn't his experiment been performed to see if it conforms to his math?

IANAP, but my sense reading things here and elsewhere is the following: the experiment he suggested was not intended to be carried out because everyone including Garret agree FTL communication wouldn't be possible.

He's making an argument for a specific interpretation of quantum mechanics, and it's not clear this interpretation actually can make a testable hypothesis that would differentiate it from other interpretations (at least some - Copenhagen does not seem to be taken seriously by serious people).

What this really is, is a way of looking at what we know to be the (very very weird) underlying reality, where in traditional accounts we talk about a bizarre change that occurs because of this hand-wavey idea of "measurement", but when we try to pin down what exactly we mean by "measurement", we end up back at entanglement.

This seems(?) to be accepted as true among physicists but then insufficiently emphasized as the core of what is going on - that maybe we really should start conceiving of classical reality as literally being very large-scale knots (through and creating time and space) of entanglement.
posted by crayz at 2:01 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not an actual physicist, but there's nothing in this talk that wasn't also in this recent Sean Carroll talk, who is an Actual Physicist.

Physicists are increasingly becoming comfortable with considering waves in fields as the ultimate reality and any particle like behavior as being less real and more of an artifact of limitations of human perception and our ability to measure.
posted by empath at 8:40 PM on March 25, 2013

Man I was hoping for physicsmatt or one of the other resident physicists to chime in. Thanks for that link empath, it was a very interesting talk.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:17 PM on March 29, 2013

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