Common Sense about

Schrodinger's Cat and


Principles & Interpretations,

New Age Speculations and
Judeo-Christian Theology

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D. 

New Physics and New Age?

What's all the fuss about?  Since 1975, enthusiastic adcovates of "mystical physics" have claimed that the New Physics (especially Quantum Physics) lends scientific support to a pantheistic worldview of New Age beliefs about "creating your own reality." (*)  But these claims, which are not scientifically justifiable, are based on nonscientific interpretations leading to implausible metaphysical speculations that are rejected by most scientists.  By contrast, the views in this page — which examines basic principles of quantum physics in the fascinating context of a "thought experiment" about Schrodinger's Cat — are in the mainstream of conventional quantum physics, which is an excellent theory that I accept.  I'm criticizing mystical physics, not conventional physics.

* mystical physics (quantum mysticism) is advocated in books such as The Tao of Physics (Capra) and The Dancing Wu Li Masters (Zukav), plus Deepak Chopra (who was awarded the satirical Ig Nobel Prize for his quantum foolishness) on PBS television, and What the bleep do we know? with Wikipedia reporting (on 3-25-2007) that "this film has received widespread criticism from the scientific community; physicists, in particular, claim that the film grossly misrepresents the meaning of various principles of quantum mechanics, and is in fact pseudoscience."

note: quantum physics is also called quantum mechanics, quantum theory, and quantum field theory.

    I've written three pages about quantum physics:
      You can see The Joy of Science in letters between two scientists who were pioneers in the history of quantum physics.
      And two pages — a non-mathematical introduction to The Basic Principles of Quantum Theory plus Quantum Physics, New Age Religion, and Schrodinger's Cat (in the revised-and-condensed page you're now reading, or the original full-length version) — will help you combine creativity with critical thinking, so you can be creatively imaginative (which is necessary to understand the reality of what is constantly happening in nature, as described in the unfamiliar ideas of quantum physics) and logically critical (to avoid being silly and illogical), so you can realize that...
      YES, things really are strange, but...
      NO, things are not as strange as some people say they are.  Why not?  Here is a brief introduction to four of the many reasons that are explored later in this page:

      • Authors of books promoting mystical physics mix scientific physics with speculative metaphysics, without telling a reader where the science ends and speculation begins.  They explain the strange (but conventional) physics, then continue into their strange (and unconventional) metaphysics, and imply that the conventional physics leads to their unconventional metaphysics.  This illogical leap, which is based on their philosophical interpretation of the science, is accompanied by an implication that if you reject their metaphysics, you are also rejecting the physics, or you just don't understand the physics.  Their implications, or explicit assertions, that "quantum mysteries lead to quantum mysticism" will mislead a reader who is not scientifically confident, who therefore is not likely to challenge the conclusions of an author that they perceive to be an expert.  It is especially easy to fool readers who want the power to "create their own reality" and are looking for a reason to believe they can do this.
      • Much confusion is caused by a misunderstanding of what "observation" means in quantum physics, since there are four possible meanings: physical interaction, human experimental design, human passive observation, and human consciousness.  All scientists think the first two meanings are important in quantum experiments, while the third is irrelevant, and almost all think that human consciousness does not play any role.  Authors can confuse readers by using the wrong meaning, or shifting from one meaning to another.
      • One evidence for the irrelevance of consciousness is the fact that almost all events in nature, both now and in the past, have occurred and are occurring without being observed by humans.
      • To understand what is happening in nature, we must recognize that quantum common sense is not everyday common sense, and we should avoid unwarranted extrapolations in both directions -- from everyday to quantum, and from quantum to everyday.  There is a connection between the quantum and everyday levels, but the connection is not what advocates of "mystical physics" claim it is.  Strange quantum effects on a small scale (with individual particles) disappear on a large scale (in systems with a large number of wave/particles) due to the decoherence caused by randomization and probabilities.  In fact, the strange small-scale behavior produces the normal large-scale behavior that we experience in everyday life.

What will you find in the rest of this page?
1Principles of Quantum Physics: Wave-Particle Duality, Uncertainty Principle, Two-Slit Experiment
2 — Schrodinger's Cat and Schrodinger's Non-Cat
3 — Why does the weirdness disappear? What does observation mean? Do we create reality? Is everything connected? Quantum Common Sense and Nonsense
4 — Religious Implications for Judaism and Christianity

Here is a brief summary of the main ideas in Sections 1A-1C of my longer page: 

1. Basic Principles of Quantum Physics

1A. Wave-Particle Duality
      The wave/particle dual nature of everything (photons, electrons, protons, neutrons,...) is unfamiliar and seems very strange, but all predictions of quantum physics — which is based on wave/particle duality and quantization — have been confirmed in a wide variety of situations.
      To understand quantum physics, first you must recognize that "yes, quantum behaviors really are strange," and then you must use critical thinking for proper balance, to recognize that "no, things are not as strange as some people claim."

1B. The Uncertainty Principle
      One result of wave-particle duality is a limit on the precision of measurements.  For example, if we shine light-photons on a moving electron to determine the electron's location, interaction between the photon and electron changes the electron's momentum (which is mass x velocity).  Due to this change, there is a natural limit on how precisely we can measure the combination of location-and-momentum for the electron;  the more precisely we know its location, the less precisely we can know its momentum, and vice versa.
      This limitation — which is caused by wave/particle duality, and described in the Uncertainty Principle — is due to interaction between the photon and electron, and it occurs whether or not the interaction is "observed" by a human and thus become a part of human knowledge.  Because wave/particle duality is an essential characteristic of nature, it always occurs, even when we are "not looking."  For example, without its wavelike nature a negatively charged electron would cling tightly to a positively charged proton, forming a tiny negative-positive clump.  If this happened, there would be no sunshine or biochemistry, and our universe would be boring and lifeless.  But it doesn't happen because "clinging" would confine a motionless electron (with a precise momentum) to a small space (with a precise location) but this would violate the uncertainty relationship, so clinging doesn't occur.  Instead, the electron gets "close to a proton, but not too close" in a simple hydrogen atom, and in other atoms (carbon, oxygen,...) inside your body.  Yes, without the wave/particle duality that prevents "clumps of +- charge" you would not be reading this web-page, because you would not be alive.

1C. An Example (two-slit experiments)
      A series of experiments with two slits and a wall (see the diagram in Section 2A) show the fascinating wave/particle behavior of an electron, which can behave sort of like a wave (when it passes through both slits) or a particle (when it hits the wall) but not really like either.  Amazingly, we see wave/particle duality even when only one electron is passing through the slits.  Yes, one electron-wave can pass through two slits;  an electron has self-interference (like a wave) but (like a particle) it does not have electrical self-repulsion.  Wow.
      This experiment, and many others (done with electrons and the other wave-particles form our bodies and our world) shows us that our ideas about waves and particles — ideas which are useful for describing familiar large-scale behaviors at our everyday level — are not sufficient for describing the unfamiliar small-scale behaviors of wave/particles at the quantum level.
      Due to wave/particle duality, the math of quantum physics must be probabilistic, and even though we cannot use the equations of quantum physics to predict the location where an individual electron will hit the wall, we can predict the probability of this electron hitting at each location on the wall, thereby predicting the pattern (which shows wave-interference!) that forms when a large number of electrons have hit the wall.


2A. Schrodinger's Cat

      We can use a "two slits and a wall" setup, as in 1C, to run a variation of the Schrodinger's Cat Experiment (a famous thought experiment proposed by Erwin Schrodinger in 1935) that produces the Schrödinger's Cat Paradox.  Imagine that we put a cat in a box, and send one electron toward the slits and the wall.  The experiment is set up so the wall detects the location where the electron interacts with the wall, and then sends a signal that executes the cat (with poison gas) if the electron hits the bottom half of the wall, or protects the cat (by not releasing the gas) if the electron hits the top half.
      Our mathematical formulations of Quantum Physics let us calculate a probability for the electron hitting the top half or bottom half, but will not give a definite answer about where the electron will hit and whether the cat will live or die.  If the setup is symmetric, so the electron has an equal chance of hitting top or bottom, the probability of life or death is 50-50. 
      A Time-Delayed Schroedinger's Cat Experiment:  In a time-delay version of the experiment, you provide the cat with plenty of food and water, then wait for two weeks.  When you finally look in the box, you will observe either two weeks of eating or two weeks of rotting.   { We'll assume that if the cat is not killed by the poison, it survives the full two weeks. }

      The Cat Question
      Everyone agrees that for two weeks we don't know if the cat is dead or alive.  The controversial question is whether the cat is either dead or alive during these two weeks.  When is the cat's fate decided, and how?  Let's look at two answers.
      Mystical Physics:  The cat's fate was delayed for two weeks because the quantum event, with electron hitting wall, is not "completed" until the event-result is observed by the consciousness of a human.
      Quantum Common Sense:  Even though our state of knowledge is uncertain during the two weeks of waiting, the cat's fate was determined when the electron interacted with the wall and, based on the location of this interaction, the detector either executed or protected the cat.  What we know about the cat does not determine what the cat is.

note:  Sections 2B-2C in my original full-length page describes another cat-experiment, using dice instead of an electron, and "compares the cats" to show their major similarities (showing why "what we know about the cat" has no effect on the cat) and minor unimportant differences.  Later, I'll work it into this page in a condensed version.

2B. Schrodinger's Non-Cat

      To more clearly illustrate the foolishness of a "mystical physics" interpretation that proposes Consciousness-Created Reality, let's modify the experiment by replacing the cat with an electric typewriter that types either T or B when the electron hits the Top or Bottom half of the wall, and sends a signal that turns on a light bulb (outside the box) for 5 seconds.  Then we unplug the typewriter, and nobody looks inside the box (to see whether the paper has T or B typed on it) for two weeks.  To be analogous to the two weeks of eating or rotting for the cat, we can imagine using time-sensitive ink that will change color during the two weeks.
  Or we can include both Cat and Non-Cat:  with a top-half hit the detector protects the cat, types T, and turns the light on, but with a bottom-half hit it executes the cat, types B, and turns the light on;  and we make a video/audio movie of the event and the following two weeks, showing the cat (eating or rotting) and paper (with a T or B that slowly changes color).  We unplug the typewriter after hearing it type and seeing the light, but we don't observe the cat, paper, or movie until two weeks later. 

      Think about three phases of the experiment:  1) while the electron is moving toward the wall, quantum physics says "it might hit anywhere on the wall" so we can't know where it will hit;  2) a primary event (the physical interaction of "electron hitting wall" which causes the electron's many location-potentialities to become one location-actuality) leads to secondary events involving the detector, typewriter-and-paper, light bulb, and maybe poison-and-cat;  at this time you hear the typewriter and see the light, so you know that the electron hit the wall and has been detected;  3) two weeks later, when you see either cat or paper or movie, you know the cat's fate, paper result, and electron-hitting location.
      Everyone, whether they propose mystical physics or conventional physics, agrees that quantum physics will only make a probabilistic prediction (it will say "the cat has a 50% chance of living) and that until we observe the cat (or paper or movie) we won't know the outcome or the cat's fate.  So in what way do we disagree, and why?
      EVERYDAY COMMON SENSE leads us to intuitively expect a "delayed knowledge" of two weeks.  During this time period the primary event (electron hitting wall) and secondary events (cat killed or protected, and T or B typed on paper) already have occurred, even though we don't know what the outcome is until someone observes the results.
      QUANTUM COMMON SENSE, based on the scientific principles of quantum physics, leads to the same "delayed knowledge" conclusion.
      MYSTICAL PHYSICS disagrees by claiming that the primary event and secondary events don't really "happen" until a human observes the result.  They claim that during the two weeks of delay, before we know the result, the cat is in a "half-dead and half-alive" limbo, and what the cat is really does depend on what we know about the cat.
      Some intelligent people reject Quantum Common Sense, so they can believe the foolishness of Mystical Physics.  But instead you should reject mystical physics, if you understand quantum physics and you are willing to use logic.  Why?  This is explained in Sections 3A-3E.

    3A. Why does the weirdness disappear?
      A typical quantum experiment is small-scale and simple;  by contrast, everyday situations are large-scale and complex.  This difference in scale-and-complexity is important, but is usually ignored in mystical physics, and this is a mistake.  As explained in Sections 1A-1C, we should not insist that concepts from our large-scale everyday experience are adequate for understanding the small-scale quantum realm.  We also should avoid the reverse mistake, of extrapolating from small-scale to large-scale by assuming, as in mystical physics, that quantum descriptions of small-scale events (involving electrons,...) can be applied to other levels.  This section explains why "things are not as strange as some people say they are."

      The first prominent scholar to propose "mystical physics" was John von Neumann, a mathematician who in 1932 analyzed the process of quantum measurement by assuming that — since everything, including a small-scale wave/particle (photon, electron,...) and a large-scale observing device, is governed by quantum principles — the quantum effects do not disappear when moving from small-scale to large-scale levels.  Because he could imagine constructing a continuous chain of interconnected mathematical wave-functions, from observed particle through actively observing device to passively observing human, he concluded that anything composed of quantum-matter cannot "collapse the wave-function" but human consciousness can do this.  Basically his argument was that there is no obvious place to draw a line between small-scale and large-scale behavior, so he wouldn't draw a line, and he challenged others to "prove" where the line was.  But for some strange reason, he considered quantum processes in the human brain to be in a different category (evidently not governed by the quantum principles of wave-particle duality?) so this is where he drew the line.
      The physical process of decoherence is a mathematical analysis — developed with more sophistication since the 1970s, after the era of von Neumann in the 1930s — to explain why "a line is drawn" within real physical systems, so "drawing the line" is not something humans need to do, or can do.  But before we look at deoherence, let's take a few paragraphs to compare the expectations for proof and confidence in mathematics (the mental world of von Neumann and his mystical speculations) and in science (the physical world of quantum physics and systemic decoherence).

      Technical Proof (in math) and Rationally Justified Confidence (in Science)
Part of the quantum debate is about the standards we should use for evaluation.  In the scholarly world of theoretical mathematicians, proof is possible and is expected.  But proof is impossible in science, so scientists are more practical;  instead of demanding certainty, we aim for a rationally justified confidence in a "good way to bet."
      For example, the Second Law of Thermodynamics is based on probabilities, not certainty.  If you place a drop of food color in a glass of water, the color will spread throughout the water.  Can you be totally certain that this process will not reverse itself, with an un-spreading in which all of the color moves back into the drop?  No, this reversed process is not impossible, it's just extremely improbable.  The statistics of large numbers is the scientific basis for the Second Law, which claims that some types of events (such as an un-spreading of color) will be extremely improbable, even though not impossible.
      PROBABILITY is why large-scale events have thermodynamic irreversibility, and is the basis for the directionality of time that is accepted by scientists and nonscientists, with time running "forward" when events occur in ways that are more probable.  If we made a molecular movie of the color-spreading process and ran it backward, every individual collision between molecules would obey the laws of physics, but the overall process would disobey the Second Law and it would appear to be running backward in time, in a strange un-natural way.  Why?  Most actual processes occur in the way we expect because a time-reversed process, violating the Second Law, would be extremely improbable so time-reversal does not occur naturally.  Things that are possible (and reasonably probable) on a small scale become practically impossible (i.e., super-extremely improbable) on a large scale.  Scientists cannot prove that a reversal of color spreading is impossible, but they can show that betting against it is an extremely good way to bet, and you will (almost) always be correct.
      Using similar principles of probability, scientists can show that unfamiliar small-scale behaviors (at the level of quantum wave/particles) produce familiar medium-scale behaviors (at the level of biochemistry) and familiar large-scale behaviors (at the level of everyday experience).  Scientists cannot prove this, but can show that it's an extremely good way to bet.

    An excellent explanation of quantum mysteries — of why the weirdness "goes away" so small-scale quantum weirdness produces large-scale normal behavior — is in Where does the weirdness go? by David Lindley (1996), who explains the book's title: "If it's true that the weirdness of the quantum mechanical world seems to disappear when we look at 'big' objects, then where, precisely, does that weirdness go? ...  Why should an assembly of a trillion weird little quantum objects behave any less mysteriously than its components?"  To answer, Lindley describes the results and the reason: 
      Schrodinger's cat...therefore has some probability of being alive, some probability of being dead, and no probability at all of being both alive and dead at the same time.  This vanishing of the probability for the superposed state [half-dead/half-alive] is known as "decoherence" ...
      Decoherence inevitably happens in a large system built of quantum components:  its individual quantum states rattle around at random, disposing of all the strange quantum superpositions that depend on almost impossibly precise coherence between all the constituent quantum states. ...  [decoherence] is a property of large systems in general, not of some specific "act of measurement" that has to be distinguished in some mysterious way from other straightforward physical processes.  There's no need of human intervention, still less of human consciousness. ...
      In quantum mechanics nature is, at the most fundamental level, genuinely unknowable, but despite that, the world at large, the world of which quantum mechanics is the foundation, can be known and understood.

      Lindley explains why weird quantum behaviors decohere and disappear, why in Schrodinger's Cat the strange wave/particle behavior of a single electron becomes normal large-scale behavior when this electron interacts with a large number of wave/particles in the wall-detector, and also in the wire carrying an electrical signal to a device that executes or protects the cat, in the spread of the poison gas (if it's released) and in the cat's body.  And all of this occurs before a human is involved in any way, before any of us passively observes the cat.
      At each stage of a cat experiment, scientific analysis (using principles of statistical probabilities) shows what happens when interactions between wave/particles combine to produce thermodynamic irreversibility and a decoherence of the mathematical wave-functions calculated in quantum physics.  If an advocate of mystical physics asks, "Can you prove it?", the answer is "No, we can't prove it (and you can't disprove it) but we can show you why it's an extremely good way to bet!"

      The fact of quantum decoherence also limits quantum effects in neurochemistry, and it forms the scientific foundation for logical critiques of Quantum Mind, as explained in a reality check by Victor Stenger, and in a book review (by Amanda Gefter for New Scientist) of Quantum Gods written by Stenger.

And there are many other scientific reasons for betting against mystical physics, as explained below in Sections 3B-3E.


3B. What does observation mean?

      oops, they used a bad word:  During the late-1920s, scientists made a bad decision when they were constructing the language of quantum physics.  They used the word observation (which implies a conscious human observer, and leads to unscientific speculation about the role of human consciousness) even though calling it interaction that allows observation (which is almost always done with a large-scale unconscious measuring device that may or may not then be observed by a human) is a more accurate description of what is happening.

      visual observation is passive:  Some people think that seeing involves emissions from the eye, but this is a false belief.  When you see, you do not "send something out" from your eyes.  Instead, you see an object because light-photons move away from the object and into your eyes.  Your mind is actively involved with processing and interpreting what you see, but the physical flow of matter/energy (and associated information) is in one direction, from an external event into your eyes and mind, so an event is not affected when you observe it.   Here are three examples:
      • When you look at a tree, does your "act of observation" affect the tree?  No.  You see the tree because light-photons move from the tree to your eyes, but nothing moves from your eyes to the tree.  Your passive observation is not the active interaction described in the uncertainty principle.  If you shine a flashlight on the tree so you can see it more clearly, the light-photons will affect electrons in the tree's atoms, but nothing you have done as a person (except pressing the flashlight button, which could be done by a trained dog or mechanical robot) has affected the tree.
      • When you look at a cat, does your "act of observation" affect the cat?  No.  During a time-delayed Schrodinger's Cat experiment, the "observation" by a human is passive, in contrast with the active interaction that is important in quantum physics.  Advocates of mystical quantum nonsense must explain what happens when a human sees (or smells) the result two weeks later.  Does something "go out" from the eyes (or nose or mind) of a human, time-travel back two weeks and cause the observed result?  If so, what is the mechanism?  Or, as in quantum common sense, did the wall-interaction cause the electron's probabilistic wave-function (which may exist only in our mathematics as a way to describe our knowledge) to "collapse" at a specific location on the wall, thus triggering the detector and determining the cat's fate?
      • In a typical science experiment, or in a cat experiment, a large-scale measuring device interacts with a wave/particle as a part of the quantum event that is being observed, and this physical interaction produces the data (such as a meter reading or photograph) that we observe, so a human is not directly involved at the quantum level, even with passive observation.  Instead, an unconscious device "observes" the event, then a human passively receives information from the device in a one-way flow of information.

      Loose language causes confusion.  Unfortunately, confusion is common in quantum physics interpretations because "observation" is a term overpopulated with meanings, since it can mean:  physical interaction (when wave/particles interact), human active intervention (by designing and doing an experiment), human passive observation (to take information in through the senses) and human consciousness (to process this incoming information).  All scientists agree that (as explained in Section 3C) the first two meanings play an important role in quantum experiments, and (as explained above) that passive observation is irrelevant;  almost all scientists think that human consciousness does not play any role in quantum phenomena and experiments.
      Unfortunately, authors can confuse readers by shifting from one meaning to another, and by taking advantage of the common misconception (which the author may also believe?) that the process of human vision produces an interaction with the object being observed.  This mistaken belief in an extramission theory of vision is surprisingly common, and in recent studies "at least one-third of college students — and maybe more — wrongly believe that something such as rays or waves go out of the eyes during the act of seeing."  But this misconception about vision is raised to a new level of error in a Mystical Physics claim that when rays "go out of the eyes" they can time-travel back two weeks, as in a Time-Delayed Schrodinger's Cat Experiment.

3C. Do we create reality?
      According to conventional quantum physics (*), in a two-slit experiment we cannot know where a moving electron will hit the wall, and — more amazingly! — the electron does not even have a definite value for the attribute of "future location" until an interaction (when electron hits wall) causes one outcome to manifest;  before the wall-interaction this attribute has only potential probabilities, which can be calculated, instead of a definite value.   {* Proponents of hidden variables quantum physics — who propose that some attributes (such as an electron's current location, momentum, future location, and spin) are specified by variables which aren't included in the conventional quantum physics advocated by most scientists — think the wall-hitting location is determined before the electron hits the wall, even though we cannot know (before it is manifested) what this attribute is. } 
      But despite the claims of mystical physics, scientists do not "create the reality" of an electron during experiments.  In quantum physics, a wave/particle has wave characteristics and particle characteristics, and an electron is equally "real" when it is traveling toward the wall (when in quantum theory its behavior is best represented as a wave) and when it hits the wall (when it is best represented as a particle or a collapsed-wave).  Even if a moving electron does not have an attribute for "where it will hit the wall," this moving electron is a real electron.
      When this real electron hits the wall, it attains a specific hitting-location because it interacts with wave/particles in the wall.  This physical interaction, between electron and wall, occurs whether or not there is a one-way flow of information that occurs during passive observation by a human, so our "observation" is irrelevant for the interaction.
      Observation is also irrelevant for most biochemical reactions, because the electrons inside your body always behave in a "real" way, even when they're not being observed.  In a living cell, an electron is constantly interacting with other electrons inside an atom that is interacting with other atoms in a molecule that is interacting with other molecules, and so on.  In this complex biochemical context (in a "wild state") each electron has frequent interactions, similar to the ways that scientists can make an electron interact in a simplified experimental context.  An absence of observation does not hinder the effective practical functioning of electrons in biochemical reactions.
      Observation is also irrelevant inside our sun (and in other stars in galaxies throughout the universe) where hydrogen atoms interact with each other to produce nuclear reactions and the life-allowing energy of sunshine.
      And with or without human observation, hydrogen atoms form because wave/particle duality prevents "clumps of +- charge," as explained in Section 1B.
      Almost all events in the history of nature (99.99999...%) have not been observed by humans.  If nothing really happens until a human observes it, how did nature operate — with nuclear reactions in stars, biochemistry in organisms, and more — for billions of years before we began making quantum observations?  And even now, almost all quantum processes — occurring in distant galaxies, on earth, and in our own bodies — are unobserved.

      Arrogance conquers Humility — The Participatory Anthropic Principle
      In the reality of quantum common sense, this fact (the recognition almost all events, now and in the past, occur without being observed by humans) should be seen as evidence for the irrelevance of "consciousness" and a logical reason to abandon claims that we "create reality."  It should be seen as a logical reason to be humble about the importance of humans, because the universe does not need us to "observe things and make them happen."
      In the delusion of quantum mysticism, this obvious reason for humility is rejected.  Instead, the evangelists of mystical physics arrogantly claim — in their Participatory Anthropic Principle — that the universe could not exist without us because "the eventual emergence of observers is necessary to bring our universe into existence."  Wow.  The claims for "humans creating reality" are similar in The Fate of Schrodinger's Cat and The History of the Universe, but why mess around with mere cats when you can go for The Big One?

      Does quantum physics say "we are powerful"?  No.  In carefully controlled situations, scientists can make wave-particles (electrons,...) attain specific values for attributes (location, spin,...) that previously they didn't have.  But here are some reasons to reject a claim that we are powerful:
      • The human action is limited to arranging a situation in which a physical interaction causes the attribute to manifest, and this occurs due to physical interaction of wave/particles, not human passive perception (which is not the interactive "observation" involved in the Uncertainty Principle) or human consciousness.
      • A scientist can make decisions when designing an experiment, setting up the equipment, and pushing a button to make it run.  But these are ordinary human decisions (and many could be made by a trained pig or a random number generator) with an impact that is no greater than in other decisions:  consider, for example, a physicist deciding to measure an electron's location, not a photon's energy;  or in a study of photosynthesis a biologist pushes a button that shines blue light on a plant, instead of green light;  a chemist runs an experiment by mixing chemicals B and C instead of B and D;  the physicist gets drunk at a party, decides to drive home instead of taking a taxi, and crashes headlong into another car;  and so on.  Is the human effect greater for the physicist's first decision, because it occurs at the level of individual wave/particles, than for the other "reality creating" decisions?
      • In small-scale quantum experiments the effects are extremely small, and (as explained in Sections 3A, 3C, and 3D) they are neutralized at higher levels, in medium-scale biochemistry or large-scale everyday events.  But what about effects within your own body?  Yes, there is a "mind-body interaction" because your mind (your thoughts, emotions, attitudes,...) can affect what happens inside your own body.  But the level of action is medium-scale biochemistry and physiology (due to neurochemicals, hormones,...) rather than small-scale quantum physics, and quantum decoherence eliminates practical quantum effects at the level of neurochemistry and neurophysiology.

     An extremely speculative interpretation of quantum physics is the Many Worlds Interpretation which claims that during every observation — i.e. during every interaction that collapses a quantum wave function, which happens many times per second all across the universe — the universe splits into ALL quantum possibilities, and every possibility actually occurs in a different physical universe. 
      The many worlds interpretation was introduced to avoid the "problem" of wave-function collapse, but why is this a problem?  Let's look at physics and psychology:
  Regarding physics, there is no problem because the process of decoherence explains why "things are not as strange as some people say they are" during the process of quantum interaction that is usually called "observation" even though, unfortunately, this term can lead people into confusion and error as in claims about "creating your own reality."
  Regarding psychology, there should be no problem.  Just because it's difficult for humans to understand a concept, or because we cannot calculate exact results and make precise predictions using the mathematics of quantum physics, this is not a problem (except in our ego-driven lack of humility) that should be solved by extravagantly proposing, without any evidence, the physical existence of an immense number of universes.
      Although a many-worlds interpretation might be impossible to disprove, it seems excessive and imaginary, the stuff of science fiction rather than science.

      3D. Is everything connected?
      In quantum theory, the entire universe can be mathematically represented (in principle but not in practice) as a single interconnected quantum wave, spanning all space and time.  Does this mathematical formalism mean that each part of the universe is physically connected with and affected by every other part?  Maybe.
      And the appropriate response is "so what?" because the effects are extremely small, and a quantum-connectedness wouldn't be significant.  Think about this analogy: If a tiny grain of sand drops into the Pacific Ocean in California, in principle this will cause a change on the shores of Hawaii, but no practical effect is transmitted to Hawaii because the sand's tiny wave splash is quickly neutralized by random collisions with other water molecules;  this also happens with analogous quantum effects (which were tiny and insignificant even before their effects were further reduced by the process of decoherence) as explained in Section 3A.
      In other web-pages (eventually links will be available here) you can learn about a variety of experiments and discussions, regarding EPR, Bell, Aspect, Scully, Afshar, delayed choice, quantum erasers, quantum entanglement, nonlocality, superluminal signaling or causation, no-communication theorem,... and interesting effects at the quantum level.  But what scientists have learned does not provide any evidence for "the power of human minds" because the quantum effects are extremely small and they occur with artificially produced pairs of wave-particles in unconscious experimental systems, and human consciousness is not involved in any of the interactions.

      3E. Quantum Common Sense (and nonsense)
      In an effort to minimize the misunderstandings that are encouraged by quantum nonsense, a brief review of Sections 3A-3D will summarize the scientific foundations for quantum common sense, and show how the basic principles of quantum physics can help us put human powers in proper perspective:
      some effects in quantum experiments seem strange because they are unfamiliar, but these effects are extremely small, and due to decoherence [3A] they disappear for large-scale systems, except for the fact that strange small-scale quantum behaviors produce normal medium-scale behaviors (as in biochemistry) and large-scale behaviors (in everyday experience);
      quantum effects occur due to observation-allowing physical interaction, and in "observation" by a human the passive one-way flow of information is irrelevant [3B];
      when scientists "create reality" in small-scale quantum experiments [3C] their power is limited to setting up a situation in which wave/particles interact, and the resulting effects are extremely small;
      almost everything in the history of nature has occurred, and is occurring, without human observation [3C] so humans are not necessary for the functioning of nature;
      even if everything in the universe is interconnected at the quantum level, the appropriate response [3D] is "so what?" because the unfamiliar quantum-level effects are extremely small and do not involve human consciousness.

note to reader, about the mis-education used by quantum mystics:  Eventually this section will continue the analysis begun in the introduction by looking at the surprisingly effective teaching methods used by advocates of quantum mysticism, to make their views seem "scientific" and logical (for their readers) instead of pseudo-scientific and illogical (like they seem to me and most other scientists).

      4. Religious Implications for Judaism and Christianity
      Nothing in the science of quantum physics — including its probabilistic abandonment of natural determinism — is a problem for Judeo-Christian believers, and all of its scientific principles can be easily integrated into a Bible-based monotheistic worldview.
      But quantum physics can be expanded, using nonscientific speculation, into mystical physics and a pantheistic worldview claiming that "the quantum-connected whole universe is god" and a New Age belief that "each of us is part of the unified whole so each of us is god" and "we create our own reality."  This pantheistic new-age worldview is not compatible with a monotheistic worldview based on the Bible.   { In pantheism, the universe creates god.  In theism, God created the universe. }
      Unfortunately, some Christians have been persuaded by the claims of mystical physics.  For example, Allen Emerson — in what I think is the worst article every published by Christianity Today (February 1, 1985) — described "A Disorienting View of God's Creation."  He began his 7-page paper by explaining how "a theologian remarked... that he considered quantum mechanics the greatest contemporary threat to Christianity.  In fact, he said, if some of the results of this theory were really true, his own personal faith would be shattered."  But careful thinking about scientific principles, as explained in this page, shows that there is no "threat" from the actual science, only from its mis-interpretations.

      Opposition to Quantum Mysticism in Many Worldviews
      The people opposing quantum mysticism are not limited to those with a Christian worldview.  If you web-search for [quantum mysticism] or [quantum physics religion] or [quantum mysticism myth] or [quantum flapdoodle] or related variations of search-terms, in addition to pages by those promoting mystical physics you'll see critiques from a wide range of viewpoints, including atheists (e.g. Victor Stenger) and agnostics, Jews and Christians.
      Our shared motivation is to improve the integrity of science education by decreasing the popularity and power of science mis-education.  We share a common concern, because we are amazed that a surprising large number of seemingly intelligent people are believing the silly quantum flapdoodle being peddled by the evangelists of quantum mysticism.  These popularizers of flapdoodle-psychobabble become rich and famous by misleading readers and listeners who are motivated to believe the alluring quantum-based claims about the personal power of "creating their own reality," who want to be persuaded that there are scientific reasons for believing mystical ideas that, for their own personal psychological reasons, they really do want to believe.

      Divine Design of Nature?
      Most scientists agree that wave/particle duality, which is the foundation of quantum physics, is one of the many properties of nature that seem necessary to allow intelligent life.  Victor Guillemin explains: "It is quantization that accounts for the existence of stability and organization in the atomic substratum of the universe. ...  Without quantization...there would be no well-defined organization of atoms into molecules or of molecules into large structures.  The universe would be a formless and meaningless blob [as in the "clumps of +- charge" I've described?] without history, plan or purpose."  Maybe quantum strangeness, which produces everyday normality, is just a byproduct of a universe that has been designed so we can exist.  But design cannot be proved or disproved, since we have THREE EXPLANATIONS for a Just-Right Universe and humility is logically appropriate, as explained in Anthropic Principle & Fine Tuning: Multiverse and/or Intelligent Design.

      Divine Knowledge of Natural Process:  For humans, nature imposes limitations on observing (due to quantum uncertainties) and predicting (due to quantum uncertainties plus the amplification of small initial uncertainties to produce divergent histories that is described in chaos theory).  But an all-knowing God, whose observing and predicting are not constrained by these human limitations, could predict and therefore know what will occur.
      Divine Guidance of Natural Process:  Or, instead of remaining a passive observer, as proposed in deism, God could influence natural process by converting one natural-appearing result (the one that would have occurred without any divine guidance) into another natural-appearing result (that actually occurs), as explained in Divine Guidance of Natural Process.  One possible mechanism for natural-appearing guidance is for God to convert potentialities into actualities:  from the multitude of quantum possibilities that might occur, God chooses to make one of these actually occur.  In this way, and in other ways, God could influence (or determine) natural events by controlling some (or all) uncertainty at the quantum level, which could be done in a way that makes the guided events appear to be natural and statistically random.

      Scientific Humility about Theological Questions:  Because quantum interactions occur constantly, God could control everything that happens.  God can control everything, but does God control everything?  Throughout history, people have wondered about the frequency of divine guidance (does it happen always, usually, seldom, or never) and the degree of control (is it partial or total, for situations, thoughts, and/or actions).  These questions, and many others, cannot be answered using quantum physics.

This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
an ITALICIZED LINK keeps you inside a page, moving you to another part of it, and
 a NON-ITALICIZED LINK opens another page.  Both keep everything inside this window, 
so your browser's BACK-button will always take you back to where you were.
Here are some related pages:

(with additional ideas and a comprehensive appendix)

Quantum Mechanics — Philosophy & New Age Religion, History & Joy
(a "sampler page" with condensed ideas from five related pages,
including the one you've been reading and the four pages below)

A Non-Mathematical Introduction to Quantum Physics (by Craig Rusbult)

New Age Speculations about Quantum Physics (by four authors)

The Joy of Science (illustrated in the history of Quantum Mechanics)

Reality 101 — Truth, Theory, and Postmodern Relativism

Christian Apologetics & Postmodern Relativism

This page is

Copyright © 2007 by Craig Rusbult
all rights reserved