Tonight’s Monkey Cage recording was about Quantum woo.
What is woo?
When does woo get quantum?
When does quantum get woo?
In the afternoon, we sat in the office being frivolous and facetious and and acting tomfools.
As sometimes happens in those situations, with much of the tomfool out of our system, the show was quite a serious recording. Ben Goldacre became the mast of the Pinteresque pause, creating layer upon layer of epidemiological suspense. Sara Pascoe was empathetic and thorough in her thoughts. Jeff Forshaw occasionally susprised his co-author, Prof Cox, with his answers, even though they have written books together on quantum theory.
A couple of hours before the recording began, with a spark of devilment below his fringe, Brian tweeted my woo blog post to Deepak Chopra.
And thus the arguments began, though not with Dr C.
Chopra asked if Brian believed that Henry Stapp was a wooer. This name had not been mentioned in my post or by Brian, and we lacked the spare time to investigate him and his work. Another fellow jumped in and declared it “dogmatic arrogance and ignorance on Cox’s part, labeling Henry Stapp a wooer”.
But he hadn’t.
So I asked the tweeter where he had read that.
He took umbrage.
He felt it was a terrible insult that he should back up his fiction, and then launched into numerous ad hominem attacks that complained at ad hom attacks by science on the more, errr, pseudy side of it.
Apparently, it was arrogant of me to repeatedly ask if he could back up his accusation, but not arrogant of him to make up an unfounded accusation. Interestingly, it turned out it was me that was the hypocrite. Then various others joined in to declare that the quantum physicists didn’t understand quantum physics in the clever and refined way they did. It was the usual invite and insult about how they are not open minded enough to open their minds and then stuff it full of a new brand of dogma and quantum healing guff that did not require testable hypotheses as the definitions of it kept making quantum jumps every time anyone scrutinised it to the point of absurdity.
And on we flailed.
It appears that some open minds are closed to evidence that refutes or testable hypotheses (I better check my own cognitive dissonance tonight, I know I am not immune)
and then the recording began…
The Professor asked Jeff if he believed that Richard Feynman’s statement that “anyone who says they understand quantum theory doesn’t understand quantum theory” was still true, now the idea had been in the minds of humans for twice as long since that pronouncement. Possibly surprised, Jeff said it still held true, and went on to eloquently explain why.
We attempted to pragmatically work out where the fuzzy line between benign woo and malignant woo lay, the utilitarian boundary between benefit and death.
Ben talked of the bloodshed and tumble when research work in progresses are opened up to the floor, describing it as a consensual academic S&M exercise, but failing to tell us the safe word.
And what of those who read scant quantum theory and then tell us that as all matter contains electrons, objects of flesh and fur behave as electrons too. Place me on an elephant in a room with two wide slits and leave us unobserved, will the elephant and I behave as a wave and a particle? Will we pass through both slits, neither slit and each slit individually, simultaneously. The BBC wouldn’t let me have an elephant or a room, so we’ll leave that as a thought experiment, and moldy cheese dream, for now.
Sara warm-heartedly considered that most of the purveyors of mystical hoopla and magic beans really believed in their frequently expensive product. Dr Ben said he was less generous in his opinion of some of the sleight of hand dazzle merchants due to the number of legal actions and legal threats he has dealt with.
The “swallow this writ and vomit your lawyer cash, you’re meddling with our sales projections” technique.
We skirted over Roger Penrose’s thoughts on quantum behaviour and the rise of consciousness, which was a pity, as there is a very interesting conversation to be had, but as so often, we were already 30 minutes over time.
For the fuller, much, much fuller version of what occurred, you’ll have to hear it when Brian and I return to Radio later this month. Frequency may very depending on what world you are in.
Brian and I, and fabulous guests including Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Seth Shostak, are bringing Monkey Cage to USA. Check this website for details of Chicago, LA, New York and San Francisco.
I will also be touring on my own across the UK and Australia, check at http://www.robinince.com