Soufflé Subjects

Contemporary physics is home to many Soufflé Subjects. These are subjects born in ignorance, grown on enthusiasm and destined to die on insight.

Quantum Information Theory is one such subject. It is born of a misunderstanding, based on ignorance, which led to the enthusiasm, it is new and great, which will ultimately lead to the insight, a widespread understanding of a simpler unifying stance.

Let us start at the beginning, the misunderstanding.

Physicists believe they understand what a wave function is – it describes the probability of finding a point particle here or there. That is the essence of the Born Interpretation and the surrounding philosophy of Niels Bohr comprising the Copenhagen Interpretation.

It seems fair to say, most physicists continue to believe in the Born Interpretation of wave functions. However, it seems they no longer believe in the Copenhagen Interpretation, as it describes Quantum Measurement. In their view, that bit must be wrong somehow while the other bit, the Born interpretation, must be right. This thought process is natural. In the common view, it is best to change one thing at at time. Why change two things at once?

Of course, there is a fairly elementary problem with that attitude. Scientific theories tend to involve a series of assumptions which collectively are necessary to ensure consistency. The careless thinker assumes that it is perfectly okay to negate one of these without changing any of the others. Er, good luck with that Eugene!

So, where in this soup do we find clear evidence of a misunderstanding?

On my reading, physicists have already abandoned the idea that wave functions describe the probability of finding a point like particle here or there. They are busy constructing theories to say how accurately particles are found. Very clearly they do not believe in the Copenhagen Interpretation but they still believe in the Born Interpretation.

Curious, huh? How is that logical?

Clearly, they are mighty confused. On the one hand, they think a wave function describes the probability of a particle popping up somewhere. On the other hand, they want to describe the explicit dynamics of measurement to avoid this.

It is a perfectly confused amalgam of what Schrödinger said versus what Bohr and Heisenberg said. Terribly safe to pass the exam, but perfectly crap as a theory.

How does this relate to Quantum Information Theory?

Well, in that theory we suppose there are two kinds of information. We are supposed to believe that there is Classical Information and Quantum Information. However, nobody ever really defines what this means.


Answer: It is a Soufflé Subject.

When you prick Quantum Information Theory the subject deflates instantly leaving a ton of hot air. The reason is simple. The wave function itself is actually an unknown parameter, and you cannot determine it directly. Thus the probability densities we define on unknown wave functions are only known indirectly through inference of observations at the classical level. The information theory continues to be couched in probability terms, but there is absolutely no need for some special quantum probability or quantum information.

Sadly, this has eluded most workers. They continue to suppose that some “special” theory for probability and information is required. This is where the enthusiasm comes from:

Wow! Maybe we (physicists) get to re-invent everything!

Heroic physicists can replace: probability theory; information theory; control theory etc etc.

The jury will be out for some time, but I think the outcome for physics is just embarrassing.

Physicists simply lack insight. They are struggling to reconcile their view of Probability as Intrinsic (the Copenhagen Interpretation) with that of Probability as a State of Knowledge (Statistical Inference and Information Theory). This is a tension between two incompatible views, with the second one in the ascendant.

In short, the physics community is just taking the long way around. Physics is essentially the very last science to comprehend statistical inference in any level of depth. This is an uncomfortable position for physicists, since they like to think they are first to everything.

However, in this case Physics is definitely last with a bullet.

When you consider the possibility that probability is a state of knowledge, then many of the conundrums of Quantum Theory simply melt away. In particular, one can then view the wave function as an important latent variable, or to use the more common physical parlance, a hidden variable.

Let’s see: Engineers, Economists, Computer Scientists, Sociologists and even, the God Particle Forbid, Parapsychologists know what a latent variable is. Latent variables are the things you can only indirectly observe which you posit influence those variables that you can directly observe. In short, their values are inferred, a statistical concept.

Physicists, as a community, have the most immense problem with this concept. The idea of a latent variable, a thing which cannot be directly observed, is acid to their very soul. How could anything be hidden to the all seeing and all knowing God-Like eye of the Physicist? That is pure sacrilege! It cannot, it must not be. Resist to the bitter end!

This is such a soul destroying idea to one in the grip of the Mind Projection Fallacy, that it is a genuinely unthinkable thought. The simplest possible explanation, that the wave function is the hidden variable, is the one no practicing physicist can think.

Hence they do not, to their very great cost.

This idea, although simple and productive, is beyond their ken.

When you take this line of thought, things look very very different.

You are entitled to introduce probability densities on wave functions to describe your knowledge of them. You can sharpen your statement of physical theories by stating priors: such as de-coherent systems prefer to be in eigenstates of the pointer basis selected by the environment.

In short, the confusion simply melts away. The physics community cannot conceive of a probability density over a wave function, since that would be a probability of a probability. This is very confusing if you only ever learned that probabilities were frequencies.

However, if the wave function is simply a hidden parameter:

1) there is no problem with a probability density over its value

2) the hidden nature of the variable leads to an explanation for in-determinism

3) we do not need any new Quantum Information Theory or Quantum Probability

In short, the wave function is a dynamical parameter, an initial condition, so a probability density of that makes perfect sense. Further, the wave function is the natural non-local hidden variable underpinning observed stochastic behavior at the classical level.

That is the insight that deflates the soufflé.

The Mind Projection Fallacy

What got me really fired up with my last post was some of the recent literature I have read announcing ever more elaborate philosophical interpretations of the wave-function. It is my opinion that these attempts (too many to cite here) are afflicted with what E.T. Jaynes called the Mind Projection Fallacy.

The essence of this idea is the common affliction to mistake models for reality. There is a popular and equivalent concept of distinguishing carefully between Map and Territory. For those who like big words, the difference between Ontology (what is real) and Epistemology (what is known). It is my contention that contemporary physics is in a deep bind precisely because it has ignored this distinction.

The Shut up and Calculate crowd are complacent about what they think they know, while the philosophers obsessively change the words without changing the content of the theory. Each of these extremes leads to trouble.

So let me now make a bold assertion. I now firmly believe that important sections of the new quantum theory have already been published. Yes, you heard me right. Accepted for publication and in print.

This statement ought to shock people.

If there is a new theory of quantum mechanics already out there, then: How come nobody has ever heard of it? Surely with all these hyper-smart people running around in physics they could not be blind to the existence of a new quantum theory right under their noses?

In the journals they know and read? Surely not!

Let me explain why I think this to be the case and exactly why nobody has noticed.

Firstly, if the assertion is correct then how could people not notice?

Answer: Jaynes was absolutely correct. Physicists as a community suffer from the Mind Projection Fallacy. They fervently believe that their theory is correct and therefore they have stopped noticing difficulties. Now we are in the terminal phase of this illness. People not only do not notice difficulties, they do not notice solutions. How can you notice a solution to a difficulty you do not believe exists? Of course, you won’t.

It all started with a few small issues being swept under the rug. However, as time goes on little problems build up. I will state only two of direct relevance to this post:

1) the ongoing perplexing problems of infinities in treatment of self-energy; and

2) the apparent existence of a non-zero cosmological constant.

Of course, there are answers to both conundrums. The first is dealt with in the Standard Model through the program of renormalization, while the second was catered for early on by Einstein’s “great blunder” – his modification of general relativity to achieve a stationary universe by including a cosmological constant.

What if these two pat answers hide something deeper? Perhaps renormalization is simply a stop-gap. Perhaps the presence of the cosmological constant signals something else completely like a self-energy of geometry?

Secondly, if the assertion is correct, then: Where is the evidence of a new theory?

The best example I know is the Self-Field Quantum Electrodynamics of the late Asim Barut and co-workers. There is a lot more than that, but we are simply establishing prime-facie evidence for the logical possibility of my thesis.

Thirdly, if there already is a new theory: Why don’t people pay attention to it?

Here is an old conundrum: Why does mankind oftentimes fail to take heed of warnings?

A host of very distinguished physicists: Einstein, de Broglie, Schrödinger, Bohm and Bell, foremost amongst many, have been critical of the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics. They thought it was missing something: that is was incomplete.

Niels Bohr persuaded physicists that these problems either: 1) had deeply philosophical answers; OR 2) were not to be considered part of the practical program of calculation.

In other words, Bohr persuaded folks that it was okay to blur ontology and epistemology. When one did not work, simply slip effortlessly into the other mode until your audience is mentally exhausted and simply gives up.

Whenever something did not make sense you should either: change the words employed, or try not to think about calculating anything. With this device you could happily sweep any problem under the rug.

However, over time this ruse has caught up with physics. There are now so many different words used to say what a wavefunction means that nobody knows anymore. Further, the different tricks and devices have turned fundamental physics into one giant hairball. It is next to impossible to know what to say, or what to do.

I believe this situation is now self-evident. However, the very many professional academic physicists out there will doubtless dismiss this appraisal as betraying a lack of familiarity with the wondrous advances of recent years.

I say: Hooey to that!

Let me close with a simple observation.

Some years ago I conjectured something I called the hypothesis of restricted observables. For now, I will give the one sentence, just go with the flow, formulation:

The hypothesis of restricted observables posits that matter waves are real, but that reality, as we perceive it and experience it, constitutes only the reduced one-body fields projected from the total entangled multi-body matter wave in configuration space.

In short, Schrödinger was right, with one small proviso of restriction, and Bohr and the rest of the team were dead wrong. And no, Dorothy, this ain’t philosophy. You missed your stop in Kansas. This is physics with a big P. The surf is up and the waves are huge today.

As a corollary to that statement, I would go further and state:

If I am correct then 99.999% of the Academic Physics community are dead wrong and we need a new theory. Since they do not believe a new theory is needed, and supposing I am right, they will simply read about it one day. They are not even in the race.

Let us close with a simple general challenge to the Academic physics community.

Here is a “picture” of the Electron Localization Function (charge density) as used daily by Chemical Physicists. The image is form a recent Nanotechnology article on experimental imaging of the electron density. That is (essentially) a one-body density.

I started out in experimental Chemical Physics so I have awesome respect for these people. They solve truly hard problems and do not have Particle Physics Big Head Syndrome. In short, they are good old-fashioned scientists.

Here is my challenge to academic physicists:

According to the hypothesis of restricted observables the above picture is a description of laboratory reality. Yeah, you read that right. That is it. Done and dusted.

The challenge is to prove this statement incorrect through experiment.

In return, I accept my own challenge – one of theory.

Can I build a self-consistent field theory based on the hypothesis of restricted observables?

I believe yes. The physics community (I warrant) believes no. One challenge speaks to ontology (decisive experiment) the other to epistemology (constructive theory).

People who do not understand why this challenge is real are welcome to simply have their heads explode on the spot. There is no shame in saying:

I won’t play, this physics game is just too perverse for words!

First you say: particle; then wave; then both; then what, exactly?

As a final icing on this cake, let us reprise the de la Vega Confusión de Confusiones theme and an old advertisement from the South Sea Bubble days. In that time, there were many prospectus offerings to raise money for dodgy ventures.

I am a financial guy, so here is the prospectus for my part of this here challenge:

…a challenge for carrying out an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know if it has been done already

Let the fun begin!

Confusión de Confusiones

Lately I have been reading some of the recent literature on Quantum Information Theory.

I thought I might just catch up with references and then write out a few of my old scribblings from the bottom drawer.

You have to remember, it is twenty-six years since I first started work in this field and fully eighteen years since I last published anything on it of any substance.

With that introduction, there has clearly been a lot to catch up on.

Well, I have been diligently catching up…

My conclusion thus far: Boy, is this subject confused!

People in Quantum Information Theory do not seem to know if they are Arthur or Martha.

Hence the title: an homage to the classic 1688 work Confusión de Confusiones by stockbroker Joseph de la Vega on the pure madness of crowds in pursuit of fame, notoriety and profit.

The lesson of Quantum Mechanics to the modern scribbler has been received and perfectly misunderstood. Go forth and multiply!

Take every well-founded subject known to man and turn it into pure mush.

There are interminable papers that claim to have re-invented pretty much everything.

We have, let’s count ’em:

Quantum Logic
Quantum Computing
Quantum Probability
Quantum Inference (guilty as charged)
Quantum Information Theory
Quantum Control Theory
Quantum Geometry

and the list just keeps getting longer by the day.

It seems that the lesson of Quantum mechanics to physicists has been this:

Everybody else who ever thought about anything is wrong – let’s go raid their larder, eat their food and then present them with our “new improved” version of their subject.

I have some serious difficulty with this notion.

On reading the level of confusion expressed by physicists about their own subject I doubt they are competent to write about anything much at all.

Furthermore, it seems probable to me that the condition of “fixing up other subjects” merely betrays a psychological projection of pure animal fear. I think the physics community have a scent: something is wrong with our subject.

Indeed, there is something wrong with physics. It has abandoned the scientific method.

The late (and great) Edwin T. Jaynes put it very well.

Physics suffers from the Mind Projection Fallacy.

The way out of this mess is to start by cleaning up Quantum Information Theory.

This is a soufflé subject in need of singular encounter with reality.

There is a mess out there, believe me.

Time to take out the trash.