We are still recording the last few episodes of our UK series before we come to America in March. Tomorrow night is a night of Quantum woo. Have the remarkable discoveries of quantum theory also opened the door for a new language of quackery? I have been immersed in the delightful and the grotesque in the last 48 hours, here are a few things that have come to mind.
Whenever I wake up, I know that by the end of the day I’ll be more ignorant than I was that morning. Firstly, there are bound to be things discovered and knowledge expanded in far off places over that 16 or so hours that I know nothing about (and may never know about). Secondly, I will read a book and either discover it is too hard for me as I keep drifting off to unrelated memories of the past or imagined future possibilities, before returning to read the same paragraph for the seventh time, or in the act of reading, I will find a whole new subject area I never knew existed; a new arena of ignorance unearthed.
This weekend, I have been reading cartoon strips on quantum theory, beginner’s guides, obfuscating essays, and philosophies by high priests of alternative thinking.
Some I liked.
Some fractured my mind.
Some confounded me with their gall.
The next Monkey Cage recording is about Quantum Woo. How scientific thought and action from the turn of the twentieth century, spurred on by quandaries about ultraviolet catastrophe and photoelectric effect, has somehow led to mangled yet glossy springboards to new alibis for likely bullshit.
The instant reaction to being told of the behaviour of electrons, the double slit experiment, Schrodinger’s simultaneously alive and dead cat, and other superposition brain jarrers, is an apoplectic confusion. So remarkable and fabulous are these ideas, that once they are on the table, any shady wizard or charlatan apothecary can just jot down a couple of terms , sprinkle them in their sales pitch, and their magic is “justified” by contemporary physics. If you want to argue you against it, maybe it’s because you are just not smart enough.
What has surprised me, is just how cak-tongued many of the pitches are, especially when they are from people who have been pretty successful in the arena of the new age DVD/Lecture/Book circuit.
I am not smart. I find comprehension of ideas of much, if not all, modern physics difficult. I take it step by step, stop, stare, pencil the margin, return, and ponder.
Sometimes when talking to Brian Cox, I think, “he could just be making all this up. How can I tell?”
Partly, I can tell because if I ask him about his words and experiments, there is not just showmanship or chutzpah conning me into a mockery of understanding, there is a plainness and through line in the replies. There is the addition of layers of understanding. The questions do not lead to sleight of hand answers that flit around, dazzle, and then create a further fog of confusion and, when examined further, were nothing to do with what I asked about in the first place. There is not the constant release of doves and glitter to cover the cracks with canyon potential. (this, on the other hand, is probably how I talk a lot of the time. Whenever I do Q&As, the answer starts long before I know what I am talking about, I hope to discover what might mean as I watch myself gabble. This is what this blog post often is).
There is plain speaking, even if it is not plain enough for me to grasp. That is my shortcoming, not his.
I am often surprised by just how useless successful psychic mediums can be. The lack of trickery, just the relentless “is it a name with a B in it or a C in it or a K and they were young…but became old…and a woman…or man who was a bit like a woman…or who knew a woman”, and they still get way with it. The will of the audience to believe is enough to be a pretty shoddy fake. Watching some new age interviews as research for the show, i was surprised by the lack of even an illusion of depth or knowledge.
Here is someone from What the Bleep Do We Know, talking about how quantum theory has influenced their life philosophy. See how much quantum theory you can spot.
“The Copenhagen Interpretation basically means that reality is unset jello, that’s the way I like to put it” – I can’t remember if that was originally a Bohr or Feynman quotation –
“there is just big indeterminate sludge out there that’s our potential life…we are intrinsic to the whole process of reality”.
Meanwhile, Quantum Medicine seems to be vying for the All In, Under 12s Amateur Alan Sokal Award.
Meanwhile, this speech about homeopathy seems to just throw in every science reference point the speaker has come across. In less then two minutes, she has already rewritten Einstein to say E = mc² can really be E = c², now why did Einstein say that in the first place?
I don’t know much. I should be easy prey to these presentations, yet despite all that, there remains something about the mangling and breathless need to throw in glossary terms that makes me suspicious. There is a beauty that is lacking. Just because quantum theory is baffling and counter instinctual, does not mean all baffling and counter instinctual things can be justified by it. It may seem like magic and wizardy, but it doesn’t make all wizards real. Sometimes, even quantum entanglement is not enough to be anymore than a plug in air freshener over your bucket of shit.
Brian and I are recording shows in New York, Chicago, LA and San Francisco in March. You’ll find more information on this very website.
I am off on my own touring the UK and Australia. Information can be found HERE