Quantum Physics

 Principles, Interpretations,  

and New Age Speculations 

(and Christian Theology) 

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D. 

I suggest that you first read
the condensed-and-revised version of this page.

New Physics and New Age?
Why have I written this page?  Since 1975, many popular "mystical physics" 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 — have claimed that the New Physics (especially quantum physics, which is also called quantum mechanics) lends scientific support to a pantheistic worldview of New Age beliefs about "creating your own reality."  These claims are based on implausible speculations that are rejected by most scientists.  The views in this page are in the mainstream of conventional quantum physics.  I'm criticizing mystical physics, not conventional physics.

      I've written three pages about quantum physics:
      One page is about The Joy of Science that we see in letters between two prominent scientists who were pioneers in the history of quantum physics.
      The second page is a non-mathematical introduction to The Basic Principles of Quantum Physics that is intended "to help you combine creativity and critical thinking so you can be freely imaginative (which is necessary for understanding the radical ideas of quantum physics) without getting silly and illogical,... to convince you that things really are strange."
      The third page, which you're now reading — but check the notice above, about the condensed/revised page — shows that "things are not as strange as some people say they are."  Why not?  Here is a brief introduction to a few of the many reasons:

      Authors of books promoting mystical physics mix conventional physics with speculative metaphysics, without telling a reader where the science ends and speculation begins.  These authors imply that a reader who rejects the metaphysics is also rejecting the physics, or just doesn't understand the physics.  This will mislead a reader who is not scientifically confident, who will not challenge the conclusions of an author that is perceived to be an expert in this area.  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: active human intervention (by designing and doing an experiment), physical interaction (as when a quantum wave/particle interacts with an inanimate measuring device, which produces data that can be observed by a human), passive human observation (to take information in through the senses) and human consciousness (to process this incoming information).  All scientists agree that the first two meanings play an important role in quantum experiments, and that passive observation is irrelevant;  almost all scientists think that human consciousness does not play any role in quantum phenomena and experiments.  Authors can confuse readers by 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.

      QUANTUM Common Sense is not EVERYDAY Common Sense
      In order to understand reality, we must recognize that quantum common sense is not everyday common sense.  There is a connection between these levels — quantum and everyday — but the connection is not what the 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.

 In this page, most links (all that are italicized) are inside-the-page
and are very fast;  non-italicized links open a new page in a new window.

 INTRODUCTION  3. Is everything connected?    APPENDIX 
  Properties that Allow Life 
  A. Disappearing Weirdness 
  B. Science and Speculation  
  C. The Views of Niels Bohr 
  D. Realism/Instrumentalism 
  E. Is everything connected?
  1a. Wave-Particle Duality 
 1b. Uncertainty Principle 
 1c. Two-Slit Experiment 
 4a. Passive Observation 
 4b. Unobserved Events 
 4c. So what? (small effects) 
 4d. Levels: Electrons to Cats 
 4e. Quantum Common Sense 
 2a. Schrodinger's Cat #1 
 2b. Schrodinger's Cat #2 
 2c. Comparing the Cats 
 2d. Schrodinger's NonCat 
 5. Implications for Theism 
the large appendix is
35% of the full page

      1A. Wave-Particle Duality
      Here is a quick summary of quantum physics history:  In 1900, Planck proposed that energy is emitted in amounts that are quantized, not continuously variable.  In 1905, Einstein proposed that light (which we previously had considered to be a wave) is composed of photons that have characteristics of both a wave and a particle.  In 1923, DeBroglie generalized this logic and proposed that electrons (which we previously had considered to be particles) also have a dual nature, with both wave and particle characteristics.  In 1925, Schrodinger wrote the wave-equation for an electron.  Within a few years, scientists were using quantum physics for a wide variety of physical phenomena, including the details of atomic spectra, formation of molecules from atoms, structure of the chemistry periodic table, and more.

      The dual wave-and-particle nature of photons and electrons (and protons, neutrons,...) is unfamiliar and seems very strange, but it has been confirmed by many experiments.  And all experimental observations have been consistent with predictions based on the principles and equations of quantum physics.
      To cope with the weirdness of quantum physics:  First you must recognize that, based on the way reality is described by quantum physics, "yes, things really are strange."  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.  In a standard illustration of the Uncertainty Principle, we shine light photons on a moving electron to determine the electron's location, but the interaction between 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 the location, the less precisely we can know the momentum, and vice versa.   { note: The uncertainty principle also applies in other situations and for other combinations of attributes. }
      This limitation is caused by the interaction between photon and electron, which will produce changes of momentum (for electron and photon) whether or not these changes are "observed" by a human and thus become a part of human knowledge.  It is the interaction, not human consciousness, that is important in a cause-effect analysis based on quantum physics.

      But wave/particle duality, and the associated Uncertainty Principle, is always an essential characteristic of nature, even when we're "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, our universe would be boring and lifeless.  But this doesn't happen because clinging would confine the electron to a very small space, so it would have a very precisely determined location but thus would have (as described in the uncertainty principle) a very large momentum, and thus a large velocity, which is incompatible with it clinging to the proton.  Instead, the electron gets "close to a proton, but not too close" in a simple hydrogen atom.
      Small-scale strangeness produces large-scale normality.  Yes, the normal behavior that we see in our everyday level of experience is produced by strange behavior at the quantum level.  Without wave/particle duality you would not be reading this web-page, because you would not be alive.

      1C. A Two-Slit Experiment
      The diagram below is a simplified sketch of an experiment in which electrons pass through two slits in a thin barrier and then hit a wall.


      If the wall is a detector that records where each electron hits, we find that when a large number of electrons have hit the wall their hitting-locations form an interference pattern that is characteristic of waves.  This pattern occurs due to the wavelike nature of electrons.
      Although the equations of quantum physics do not predict where an individual electron will hit the wall, they do predict the probability of an electron hitting at each location on the wall, and thereby predict the pattern that will form when a large number of electrons have hit.  The pattern predicted by quantum physics is the pattern that is observed.
      electron as a wave:  When an electron is traveling through the barrier-slits and toward the wall, it behaves like a wave.  This lets a single electron, somewhat amazingly, "go through both slits" simultaneously, and these two parts of the electron will interact with each other to produce the wave-interference pattern predicted by quantum physics.  But this self-interference (due to the electron's wavelike character) is not accompanied by the self-repulsion (due to the electron's charge) that we would expect if the electron was actually "smeared out" as it "goes through both slits" at the same time.  Yes, it's very strange.
      electron as a particle:  When an electron hits the wall — when it interacts with atoms in the wall — it behaves like a particle, and what hits the wall is always a whole electron.  By contrast, when an electron "goes through both slits" as a wave, it seems to be "split apart" although it isn't really split (in the way that we would visualize this) since there is no self-repulsion.
      Obviously, our concepts of waves and particles — 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.

      For more about the strangeness of quantum physics, check my first page, about The Basic Principles of Wave-Particles and Quantum Physics Theory.


      2A. Schrodinger's Cat #1 (Electron and Wall)

      We can use a slits-and-wall setup, as described in 1C, to run a variation of the famous thought experiment proposed by Erwin Schrodinger in 1935, which produces the Schrodinger'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 will let us calculate a probability, using the electron's wave-function, for the electron hitting the top half or bottom half, but quantum physics 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. 
      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. }

      A Cat Question
      Everyone agrees that, based on quantum calculations, for two weeks we don't know if the cat is dead or alive.
      Here is the controversial question:  “During these two weeks, is the cat dead, or alive, or neither, or both?”  This strange question is necessary because Mystical Physics challenges a claim that the cat IS either dead or alive.
      And here are two answers:
      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.   /   Those who claim that "knowledge creates reality" don't understand the difference between epistemology (what we can know and how) and ontology (what exists and occurs).
      Quantum Nonsense – Mystical Physics with Consciousness-Created Reality:  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.

      Anyone who avoids common sense and adopts a mystical "mind creating reality" perspective is faced with tough questions:  Will peeking (or just a quick sniff) produce the previous two weeks of eating or rotting?  If so, what is the mechanism?  Does something “go out” from the eyes (or nose or mind) of the human, time-travel back two weeks and cause the observed result?  If B occurs after A, can B cause A?  Or, as in quantum common sense, did the wall-interaction make the electron's probabilistic wave-function "collapse" to a specific location on the wall, thus triggering the detector and determining the cat's fate?

      2B. Schrodinger's Cat #2 (Dice and Table)

      To more clearly illustrate what is and isn't important in this experiment and its interpretation, we can imagine another way to determine whether a cat lives or dies, based on the roll of two standard six-sided dice.  If the sum of the dice is 4, 5, 6, or 7, the cat lives.  But it's equally probable that the sum will be something else (2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12) and the cat dies.  After the dice land on a large flat table, an electronic device detects the numbers on each die, adds them together, and either protects or executes the cat.
      To insure randomization, we let the dice fall from a height of 10 meters, past thousands of closely spaced plastic pegs that cause the dice to continually roll and tumble, thus making it impossible (in practice) to calculate, based on the initial motions of the dice, how they will land.  Thus, our prediction about the dice-sum, which determines the cat's fate, is only probabilistic.

      2C. Comparing the Cats
      When we compare the experiments in 2A and 2B, we find many similarities in each of the two sequential phases.
      Phase 1:  For awhile the electron [or dice] is in a state where it has potentiality:  while it is moving toward the wall [table], the electron [dice] might hit anywhere on the wall [might have any sum from 2 to 12] and the cat has a 50% chance of survival, since it will die if the electron hits the bottom half [if the dice sum is 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12].  During the decisive interaction with the wall [table] the many potentialities of the electron [dice] are converted into one actuality, and this outcome determines which action — execution or protection — is carried out by the detector.
      Phase 2:  In each thought-experiment, the appropriate theory will not predict an outcome for the electron-hitting location [or dice-roll sum] but will calculate only probabilities for the various possible outcomes.  Therefore, until a human observes the primary outcome for the hitting location [dice sum] and its secondary manifestation as a live cat or dead cat, we won't know the outcome or the cat's fate.  There will be a "delayed knowledge" of two weeks — a time period in which the primary outcome and secondary manifestation already have occurred, even though we don't have knowledge of this outcome — until someone observes the overall result, which is a cat that has been eating for two weeks, or rotting for two weeks.

      In a quantum common sense view, in each experiment we distinguish between Phase 1 and Phase 2, between the outcome-event (electron hitting wall, or dice coming to rest on table) and our knowledge of the outcome-event. 
      Basically, there is one difference between the experimental outcomes:  2A occurs at a small-scale "quantum" level, while 2B occurs at a large-scale "everyday" level.  In some ways this difference is significant, but what difference does it make for the cat-question?  A mystical interpretation — which assumes that observation of the electron's wall-hitting location by the detector, which determines the cat's fate, is not caused by interaction (between the electron and detector) but by human consciousness — claims that in 2A we cannot say that Phase 1 precedes Phase 2, although the two phases are sequential in 2B.

2D. Schrodinger's Non-Cat

      In an effort to answer potential objections to a quantum common sense interpretation of the electron-and-wall experiment in 2A — such as claiming that "observation by the cat's consciousness completes the quantum event" — and to illustrate the foolishness of a mystical interpretation, we can make two changes:  1) replace 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  2) have the typewriter, at the same time it types, send a signal that turns on an external light bulb (which is outside the box) for 5 seconds.  But 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. }
      In this experiment, knowledge reaches an external observer in two phases:  immediately there is confirmation that the electron has been detected, when the external light flashes and we hear the typewriter key hit the page;  two weeks later the location of the electron-hit, either Top or Bottom, is observed, when we see T or B on the paper.  Let's look at two interpretations.

      Quantum Common Sense:  As in 2A with the cat, in 2D the paper's fate (will it show a T or B) was determined when the electron and wall-detector interacted.
      Mystical Physics:  I'm not sure what mystics can say, based on scientific logic, about this experiment.  Will they still claim a Consciousness-Created Reality, despite the fact that the typewriter is programmed to type and light at the same time, and they observe the light (and typing sound) two weeks before they observe the paper?  During the two weeks of waiting the quantum outcome is still unknown, as in 2A, and the wave-function for the paper (which is calculated in Quantum Physics and is the basis for statistical prediction) is still in a mixed state of half-T/half-B, since it has not yet been "collapsed" by knowledge.  Does the consciousness of an observer "create the reality" in 2A and 2D, only 2A, only 2D, or neither?

      Experimental Variations
      Will a Mystical Physics interpretation change if, after observers simultaneously see the light and hear the printer strike the paper, they then disconnect the typewriter's power for two weeks?  What if the light is disconnected, but they hear the strike?  What if the light and strike occur, but nobody is there to see or hear, but soon afterward they disconnect the power?  What if they make a video/audio film of the event, but nobody sees-and-hears it until one week later? two weeks later?  What if nobody is there, and they leave the printer's power on for the next two weeks?
      The Return of Schrodinger's Cat:  What if we put both cat and paper in the box, and the detector is programmed to perform three actions:  if there is a top-half hit, it protects the cat, types T, and turns the light on;  with a bottom-half hit, it executes the cat, types B, and turns the light on.  Will the initial presence of an organism that "has consciousness" change the interpretation?  Will the combination of cat-and-paper change the fate of either?

      3. Is everything connected?
      One aspect of mystical physics is a claim, based on the fact that in quantum physics 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 also mean that each part of the universe is physically connected with and affected by every other part?  Maybe.  But even if everything is physically connected, we should just say "so what?" because, if the effects are extremely small, a quantum-connectedness isn't significant.
      Consider 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 — like analogous tiny quantum effects — quickly neutralized by random collisions with other water molecules.  If the grain and splash are extremely small, the effects will vanish in an extremely small distance.  And even if the effects were transmitted without decrease, only a tiny splash would be felt in Hawaii.

      Near the end of Section 2A, I ask "if B occurs after A, can B cause A?"  Some advocates of mystical physics will say YES.  They point to the possibility of nonlocality and faster-than-light transmission of information (which may be implied by the experiments inspired by EPR and Bell) and the possibility of influencing the past (as in experiments involving delayed quantum-experiment choices).  Although these possibilities are interesting, they don't provide any evidence for the effects of human consciousness.  In these experiments the effects are very small and are caused by physical interactions (like changing a dial-setting on a machine), not human consciousness.  By contrast, mystical physics interpretations claim that the effects are large and are due to human consciousness.
      Sections 4A-4E describe scientific reasons for thinking that human consciousness is irrelevant in quantum physics, and 4D explains why a shift from very small to very large is important.

note:  Half of the original section — about the strangeness of EPR & nonlocality, and asking whether "no man is an island" because of social relationships or quantum connections — has been moved into the appendix.

    4A. Passive Observation
      If you look at a tree, does your "act of observation" affect the tree?  No.  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 button on a flashlight, which could be done by a trained dog or mechanical robot) has affected the tree.  Or if you walk up to the tree and use your fingers to touch its surface, this is directly interactive observation-probing and the tree will be affected by the contact with your fingers, but this has nothing to do with human consciousness.
      passive visual observation:  When you see, you do not "send something out" from your eyes.  Instead, you see an object because photons that come from the object, either by emanation or reflection, enter into your eyes.  Of course, your mind is actively involved with processing and interpreting what you see, but the flow of information is in one direction, from the external world into your eyes and mind;  during your visual processing of an event, the event is not affected.
      an application:  In each cat experiment (2A, 2B, and 2D) everyone agrees about the irrelevance of passive visual observation, in which photons and information enter the human in a one-way flow.  When we ask another question — During a "time-delayed Schrodinger's Cat experiment" is the role of human consciousness passive or active? — advocates of a mystical interpretation, claiming an active reality-producing consciousness, must explain how something "goes out" from the mind of a human, time-travels back two weeks and causes the observed result.  { Is this possible? What causes the "direction" of time? }   /   The cat experiment is a minor variation, with one extra step added, of the typical situation in which a person observes a large-scale measuring device (which produces data in the form of a meter reading, printed report, photograph,...) instead of a small-scale quantum particle, so a person does not really observe the quantum event, even with passive observation.  Instead, an unconscious device "observes" the event, then a human observes the large-scale device, so a human is not really involved at the quantum level.

      What does "observation" mean?
      During the 1920s, scientists constructed the language of quantum physics.  Unfortunately, they chose a term that has encouraged nonscientific speculation about the role of human consciousness in nature.  Instead of saying observation (which implies a conscious human observer) they should have called it observation-allowing interaction — i.e., a physical interaction (usually with a large-scale unconscious measuring device that may or may not then be observed by a human) — because this more accurately describes what is happening.
      As emphasized in Section 1B, a photon-electron interaction causes the momentum changes that are described in the Uncertainty Principle.  These changes, which are caused by the interaction, are independent of human consciousness;  yes, they will occur when there is observation by a human, but they also occur when there is no human consciousness and no increase in human knowledge.  And the wave-particle duality that is the essence of quantum behavior will cause a proton and electron to form a hydrogen atom, not a simple +- clump, whether or not there is an observer.  Similarly, in Section 1C an electron changes from traveling (as a wave) to hitting the wall (as a particle) due to interaction between itself and electrons in the wall.  Again, this physical interaction can happen with or without a human observer, so calling it "interaction" rather than "observation" is more accurate.
      Calling it interaction would also be less confusing, since observation is a term overpopulated with meanings:  it can be interpreted to mean active human intervention (in designing an experiment), observation-allowing interaction, passive human observation, or conscious human knowledge.  In an effort to communicate more clearly, with precision and accuracy, we should always distinguish between these four potential meanings.  In Quantum Physics, what is the meaning of observation?  All scientists agree that the first two meanings play an important role in quantum experiments, although there is some debate about the nature of this role — for example, when we ask "Does an electron have intrinsic values for its attributes, independent of observation?" — as explained in Section 4C.  The third meaning, passive observation, is based on misunderstanding and is incorrect;  and almost all scientists think that human consciousness does not play any role in quantum phenomena and experiments.

    4B. Unobserved Events
      The focus of Sections 2A-2D is a question:  Is the cat's fate determined when an electron interacts with the wall-detector or when a human looks into the box?  When we're thinking about this, we should ponder the similarities between The Fate of Schrodinger's Cat and The History of the Universe, and the fact that almost all events in the history of nature (99.99999...%) have not been observed.
      Anyone who advocates a mystical interpretation of the cat-experiments faces a tough question:  If nothing really happens until a human observes it, then how did a wide variety of important processes (involving galaxies, stars, organisms,...) occur for billions of years before the existence of intelligent life capable of making quantum observations?  Human observation of non-photonic subatomic "quantum events" began in the late 1800s, so it has been occurring for only about a hundred years, for 1/100,000,000 of the history of the universe.  Without human observation, how did nature operate smoothly for billions of years?  How did billions of galaxies form?  In each galaxy, how did nuclear reactions occur in billions of stars?  How did biochemical processes occur in trillions of organisms?  And even during the short time in which humans have been observing quantum events, almost all quantum processes — occurring in distant galaxies and stars, on earth, and in our own bodies — have been unobserved.
      We should be appropriately humble about the importance of humans, since the universe does not need us to "observe things and make them happen."   { Amazingly, the evangelists of mystical physics do arrogantly claim — in the Participatory Anthropic Principle — that the universe could not exist without us. Wow. }

    4C. So what? (re: attributes and small effects)
      In experiments, scientists can measure some attributes of an electron: its location, momentum, spin,...  Despite the claims of mystical physics, however, scientists do not "create the reality" of an electron during experiments.  In quantum physics, a wave/particle has wave characteristics and particle characteristics, and both are important.  In a two-slit experiment, for example, 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 its behavior is best represented as a particle or a collapsed-wave).
      While an electron is moving toward the wall, does it have the attribute of a "future location" where it will hit the wall?  Probably not.  Although hidden variable interpretations (proposing that quantum physics theory is incomplete, that some attributes of an electron are specified by variables which aren't included in the theory) say yes, most scientists say no.  According to conventional interpretations, not only are we unable to know exactly where a moving electron will hit the wall, the electron does not even have a definite value for this attribute until there is an interaction (when the electron hits the wall) that causes one outcome to manifest;  before this interaction, the attribute (re: future location) has only potential probabilities — which can be calculated in quantum physics by using the mathematical wave-function that is appropriate for the particular experimental context — instead of a definite value.  But even in the absence of a specific value for this attribute, the moving electron is a real electron.

      In carefully controlled situations, such as a two-slit experiment, scientists can make an electron attain values for attributes (location, spin,...) that previously it didn't have.  But the human action is indirect, since it is limited to arranging a situation in which an interaction will directly cause the attribute to manifest.  Almost all scientists think the "collapse" of an electron's probabilistic wave-function, which produces a specific value for an attribute, occurs due to physical interaction, not consciousness.  A scientist just arranges the experimental situation where a particular interaction occurs.
      In experimental design, the main function of humans is to make decisions — to design an experiment, set up the equipment, and push a button that makes it run.  These are ordinary decisions, with an impact that is not necessarily greater than in other decisions:  for example, a physicist decides to measure an electron's location, not a photon's energy;  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 (or E and F, or...);  an astronomer who gets drunk at a departmental 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 decision, because it results in an experiment at the level of quantum phenomena, than for the other decisions?
      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 mechanism of action is biochemical (due to hormones,...) rather than quantum.

      a summary:  In quantum experiments, the effects are extremely small and the role of humans is even smaller.

    4D. Quantum Normality in Large Systems
      As explained in Sections 1A-1C, we should not insist that concepts from our large-scale everyday experience will be 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."

      In a carefully controlled quantum experiment, the context is small-scale and simple.  In everyday situations, the context is large-scale and complex.  Although this difference in context is important, it is usually ignored in mystical physics.
      In the context of biochemical reactions in a living cell, for example, 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.  In the uncontrolled environment of an everyday biochemical context (in a "wild state") an electron experiences frequent interactions that produce attributes, in the same way that scientists make an electron attain an attribute in a simplified experimental context.  An absence of observation does not hinder the effective practical functioning of electrons in a biochemical context.

      In terms of quantum physics, there is a significant difference between small-scale (electrons) and medium-scale (biomolecules) or large-scale (cats).  But this difference is blurred in mystical physics.  The first scholar to propose a mystical view was John von Neumann, a highly respected mathematician who in 1932 wrote a book in which he analyzed the process of quantum measurement by assuming that — since everything, including the small-scale wave/particle (photon, electron,...) and the large-scale observing device, is governed by quantum principles — the quantum effects do not disappear when moving from the small-scale to large-scale levels.  Because he could imagine constructing a continuous chain of interconnected mathematical wave-functions, from observed particle through observing device to observing human, he concluded that anything composed of mere quantum-matter cannot "collapse the wave-function" but human consciousness can do this.  Basically his argument was that, since there is no obvious place to draw a line between small-scale and large-scale behavior, 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 brain (which produce "mind") to be in a different category, not governed by quantum principles, so this is where he drew the line.
      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 events (such as an un-spreading of color) will be extremely improbable, although not impossible.
      Probability is also the basis for the directionality of time that is accepted by scientists and nonscientists, with time moving "forward" because events occur in the direction that is most 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 are thermodynamically irreversible because a time-reversed process, violating the Second Law, would be extremely improbable.  Things that are possible (and probable) on a small scale become practically impossible (i.e., extremely improbable) on a large scale.  Scientists cannot prove that a reversal of the color spreading is impossible, but they can show that betting against it is an extremely good way to bet.
      Using similar logic, based on similar principles of probability, scientists can show that strange small-scale behaviors (at the level of quantum wave/particles) produce normal medium-scale behaviors (at the level of biochemistry) and normal large-scale behaviors (at the level of everyday experience).  They cannot prove this, but can show that it's an extremely good way to bet.
      For example, strange behavior (perhaps with information traveling faster than light, or time-reversed causation, or...?) might occur in EPR experiments involving a single pair of particles, but not in normal situations involving large numbers of particles.

      An experiment with Schrodinger's Cat (or a Non-Cat) illustrates "the statistics of large numbers" with the strange wave/particle behavior of a single electron becoming 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 randomness, probabilities, statistics,...) shows what happens when a huge number of interactions 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!"

      How and why do weird quantum behaviors decohere and disappear?  In my opinion, the best 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.
   {more about where the weirdness goes}

    A brief review of Sections 4A-4D will put human powers in perspective:  Almost everything in the history of nature has occurred (and is occurring) without human observation.  In quantum experiments, observation effects occur due to physical interaction, not human consciousness.  The strange effects that do occur in quantum experiments are extremely small, disappear for systems with a large number of particles, and seem irrelevant in everyday situations — except, of course, for the fact that strange quantum behaviors are the cause of normal everyday behaviors.
      Other useful ideas are Schrodinger's Cat (in 2A-2D) — because what we know about the cat does not determine what the cat is — and four meanings of observation:  experimental design (this produces real effects but occurs at the everyday non-quantum level), observation-allowing interaction (this is the key to quantum behavior, and it occurs with or without humans), passive observation (with a one-way flow of information into a person, so this doesn't do anything), and human consciousness (in quantum physics this is not the meaning of "observation" and it seems irrelevant).

    4E. Quantum Common Sense
      Section 2A includes a quantum common sense interpretation of Schrodinger's Cat.  To minimize misunderstanding, this section explains what "common sense" does and doesn't mean, beginning with a review of ideas from earlier in the page:
      As explained in the review of 4A-4D above, in conventional quantum physics (which isn't mystical physics) the power of humans is very limited.
      At the small scale of wave/particles, quantum common sense is not everyday common sense.  As explained in the introduction, quantum behavior is strange and unfamiliar, so "being freely imaginative is necessary for understanding the radical ideas of quantum physics."  Because "things really are strange" we must drop our preconceived ideas about the way we think nature should be, and use our imaginations to understand the way it really is.
      At a medium scale, quantum behaviors (of electrons,...) produce the atoms (H, C, N, O, P,...) and molecules (water, proteins, DNA, ATP,...) involved in the biochemical reactions of life.  Although observation may affect quantum behaviors in a simplified experimental context, "an absence of observation does not hinder the effective practical functioning of electrons in a non-simplified biochemical context."
      And at a large scale, "the normal behavior that we see in our everyday world is produced by strange behavior in the quantum world."  {quotes are from Sections 4D and 1B}

      When applying quantum concepts to everyday life, we should be cautious and humble.  For most scientific theories, my view is critical realism:  I think the goal of scientists is to construct a theory that is true (that corresponds with reality), and we should use critical thinking to logically evaluate a theory's claims for truth.  But for Quantum Physics, my view is semi-instrumentalist:  although the math of Quantum Physics seems correct (since all of its predictions have been correct!) and is useful, it is difficult to know for certain which aspects of various "pictures of the world" based on interpretations of Quantum Physics" are true, which is why we have so many different interpretations;  therefore we should be cautious in making QP-based claims for truth, although non-mysical interpretations seem more justifiable (for medium-scale and large-scale situations) because they more closely correspond to (are more consistent with) the science of QP when we move from small-scale to medium-scale and large-scale situations;  but certainly QP is useful for letting us make "instrumentalist" predictions that agree with observations.  {definitions of realism and instrumentalism}
      In the introduction, I said that my views are approximately those of conventional physics, that I'm criticizing only mystical physics.  Regarding correspondence and realism, for example, my views are similar to those of Niels Bohr (who was influential in shaping the interpretations of scientists in conventional quantum physics) but his views are very different from those proposed in extreme mystical physics.  {Bohr's views}

      My general view of "common sense for living" includes a desire for clear communication by everyone, for ideas being carefully expressed in ways that lead to an accurate understanding of the ideas, for avoiding fuzzy language that can be misinterpreted.  For example, in a claim that "observation creates reality," the precise meaning should be clarified.  Does "observation" refer to experimental design, physical interaction, passive observation, or human consciousness?  Is a claim about "creating reality" limited to small effects (as in a quantum experiment in which an attribute is converted from potentiality into actuality due to a physical interaction) or does it extend to major effects in large-scale everyday situations?  Unless ideas are expressed clearly and accurately, we won't be able to logically evaluate their plausibility.

      5. Implications for Theism
      For a Judeo-Christian believer, the religious implications of quantum physics are minimal, since all basic quantum interpretations can be integrated into a Bible-based monotheistic worldview.
      But a Quantum Physics interpretation can be expanded, using nonscientific speculation, into a worldview that is not consistent with Bible-based theism.  And this is happening.  For example, mystical interpretations of quantum physics — claiming that everything is quantum-connected (this is probably true, but the appropriate response is "so what?") and that human consciousness influences quantum behavior outside our bodies (we can conclude, based on science, that this almost certainly is not true) — can be extended into a pantheistic worldview claiming that "everything is a single unified whole and this is god" and a New Age belief that "each of us is part of the whole so each of us is god" and "we can create our own reality that is independent from God."  This pantheistic worldview is not compatible with theism.  But without speculative nonscientific expansion, all interpretations of quantum physics are compatible with theism.

      In pantheism, the universe creates god. (and the universe is god)  /  In theism, God creates the universe. (and God designed the universe with quantum behaviors)

      Divine Design of Nature?
      It seems clear that wave/particle duality, which is the foundation of quantum physics, is one of the many properties of nature that are necessary for life-allowing solar energy and the biochemistry of carbon-based life.  The unfamiliar strangeness of quantum physics — with quantum behaviors differing from everyday behaviors — is probably just a byproduct of a universe that has been designed to support our existence.   {but design cannot be proved: Three Explanations for a Just-Right Universe}
      In my Non-Mathematical Introduction to Quantum Physics I say:  The strange wave-nature of electrons... produces things that we consider normal, that allow life.  Victor Guillemin says "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 without history, plan or purpose."  This is a good description of why quantization is necessary for life.  But to make a non-quantum universe seem even less desirable, think about what would happen to protons (with positive electric charge) and electrons (with negative charge) if there was no wave-particle duality and quantization:  these charged particles would attract each other until they came into contact and formed +– clumps that would be useless as building blocks for life.
      It seems that quantum strangeness, which causes everyday normality, is necessary for a universe that allows intelligent life.

      The strange quantum behaviors of wave/particles produces the normal behaviors we observe in everyday life.  But perhaps our everyday reality isn't as normal as it usually seems, and most of us (including theists) usually assume.  According to the Bible, there are supernatural beings (God, loyal angels, and rebel angels) who can interact with humans and with other parts of the natural realm.  Maybe the quantum structure of nature plays some role in the interactive relationship between the natural and supernatural.  Or maybe not.

      Divine Knowledge of Natural Process:  By definition, the knowledge capabilities of an omniscient being would not be constrained by the quantum limitations on human knowledge, as in the Uncertainty Principle.  For humans, there are natural limitations in observing (due to quantum uncertainties) and predicting (due to quantum uncertainties plus the "amplifications of small initial differences to produce divergent histories" that are described in chaos theory).  But imagine that a natural event is being observed by an all-knowing God who is not constrained by these limits on observation and prediction, who therefore can predict what will occur if natural process continues in an unguided "random roll of the dice" mode.
      Divine Guidance of Natural Process:  Or, instead of remaining a passive observer, God might influence natural process and thereby convert one natural-appearing result (the one that would have occurred without any divine guidance) into another normal-appearing result (that actually occurs).  Although this is only speculation, it seems that one possible mechanism for natural-appearing theistic action 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, God could influence (or determine) natural events by controlling some (or all) uncertainty at the quantum level, which could be done in a way such that events appear normal and statistically random during this theistically guided natural process.   /   Since quantum interactions occur constantly, not just during "observations" by humans, God could control everything that occurs.  God can control everything, but does God control everything?  This difficult theological question — regarding the frequency of 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) — is examined, but without reaching any "answers", in pages about Theistic Action (with my views) and (looking at the views of others) Theistic Guidance of Natural Process.

      a summary:  Nothing in quantum physics, including its probabilistic foundation and lack of physical determinism, is a problem for God or for theists.

      • Properties that Allow Life
      A. Where does the weirdness go?
      B. Science and Speculation (Physics and Metaphysics, Pantheistic Evangelism, Speculation and Relativism, Einstein's Theory of Constancy, Correspondence Principle and Metaphysics, A Mathematician and Mystical Physics, Physicists and Biologists, Communal Semi-Solipsism, Positivism and Interpretation, Epistemology and Ontology)
      C. Niels Bohr (his views on Correspondence, Realism, and Measurement)
      D. Realism and Instrumentalism
      E. Is everything connected?

      Properties that Allow Life: Characteristics, Constants, and Conditions
      When thinking about what might happen (and not happen) if the universe was slightly different, we can think about three types of properties: characteristics, constants, and conditions.  The basic characteristics of our universe include matter/energy in a variety of "elementary particle" forms, + and - charge, wave/particle duality (which prevents matter from forming inert clumps of +- charge) and the resulting quantizations, Pauli Exclusion Principle, 3-dimensional physical space, four basic forces (gravitational, electromagnetic, weak nuclear, strong nuclear), causal relationships like those formulated by Newton and Einstein, and more.  Some important features of these characteristics depend on physical constants such as the force constants that help determine the strength for each type of force, Planck's Constant for the quantization of energy, the charge and mass for each particle, masses and mass-ratios (between neutrons, protons, electrons,...).  The current state of the universe also depends on initial conditions such as the amounts of matter and antimatter (and the excess of matter over antimatter), and the initial rate of expansion in the Big Bang.  /  For more information about the many ways in which our universe is "just right" for life, visit the links-page for DESIGN OF THE UNIVERSE.   {back to main body}

    A. Between the quantum and everyday levels,
    the weirdness disappears: Why does it go away?
    In my opinion, the best book for explaining the mysteries of quantum physics — and why the weirdness "goes away" so small-scale quantum weirdness produces large-scale normal behavior — is Where does the weirdness go? Why Quantum Mechanics Is Strange, but Not As Strange As You Think by David Lindley, 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?"
      Here are some excerpts from the book's introduction:  The computer I've been using to write these words has been satisfactorily reliable. ...  But if electrons are really sloshing about [inside the computer], if the uncertainty principle tells me an electron cannot be altogether in this place but has to be also a little bit in that place at the same time,... if in dealing with individual electrons or the magnetic alignment of individual atoms [in the hard disk] I must think not in certainties but in probabilities,... how can my computer perform the same tasks over and over again with such reliability? ... A standard answer to this riddle is that... the quantum mechanical strangeness that besets individual electrons and atoms... becomes negligible when we think about the trillions of electrons and atoms on whose collective behavior my computer depends.  But what sort of an answer is this?  Why should an assembly of a trillion weird little quantum objects behave any less mysteriously than its components? ...  The answer derives, in part, from theoretical insights into the behavior of complex systems, which have made it possible to understand how assemblies of many interconnected quantum objects can behave in collective ways that are by no means obvious, or easily deduced, from the behavior of those single objects in isolation.  The purpose of this book is to explain this new understanding.  {from the foreword, pages ix-xiii}
      He describes quantum decoherence:  The quantum state of a cat... means a specification of the exact disposition of every single atom in the cat, along with a specification of the state of every electron associated with every atom. ...  [This] is not a constant thing at all; random motion and interaction of the atoms with each other...make the quantum state of a cat an endlessly changing thing, flickering from one possible quantum state to another. ...  To figure out the probability that the cat is macroscopically both dead and alive (whatever that means), you have to do a mixed average over all the live and dead states.  And because the live states and the dead states are moving around incoherently — that is, independently of each other — the mixed average consists of a lot of bits from all the individual wavefunctions, which end up canceling each other out because they take on all possible values, completely at random.  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." ... The measurement problem seems to have gone away.  As with the appearance of irreversibility in classical systems, what happens here is essentially a consequence of the large numbers of states involved.  {pages 193, 198, 199}   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.  Making those superpositions go away is what makes measurements happen, and it all happens without human intervention.  It's 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. ...  Decoherence sifts out from the random buzzing of quantum states a few overall properties that we use to recognize and define physics,... making them reliable and deterministic in a way that individual quantum states are not.  {page 216}
      And a conclusion:  Looking for ways to disguise quantum mechanics, to dress it up in classical styles, is never going to work: ... It will never conform to our empirical view of what the world should look like, but it constitutes a legitimate world of its own, and we must respect that.  Perhaps that's the most profound lesson of all: 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.  {pages 225-226}
      This book is the best popular-level explanation I've seen about quantum physics.  I highly recommend it, and so does Phi Beta Kappa which awarded it Science Book of the Year in 1996.  It explains the strange ideas of conventional quantum mechanics clearly, in a way non-physicists can understand, without being overly simplistic.
      Here are more resources:  Dead or Alive is a good page about Schrodinger's Cat and I think it was written by David Lindley while he was editor at The New Scientist.  {reviews of his book "Where does the weirdness go?"}  In his book, Lindley explains why "the quantum cat... does not exist, or rather it has an immeasurably short lifetime... before it evolves spontaneously into a regular, everyday, classical, Newtonian cat."

      B. Science and Speculation
      note for the reader:  Eventually, some of these ideas may be integrated into the main body, in existing sections or additional sections.

      Scientific Physics and Speculative Metaphysics
      As explained in the Introduction, this page is criticizing "mystical physics" authors who mix conventional physics with speculative metaphysics, without letting a reader know where science ends and speculation begins.  An author can explain strange scientific concepts, then continue into strange metaphysical concepts, and imply that the strange physics leads to the strange metaphysics.  This illogical shift is often accompanied by an implication that if you (the reader) reject the metaphysics, you are also rejecting the physics, or you just don't understand the physics.  There is an implication that using "common sense" is an intellectual weakness when we're thinking about the strangeness of quantum physics, without distinguishing between behaviors on a small scale (strange) and large scale (normal).
      These speculations and implications will mislead a reader who is not scientifically confident, who is not likely to challenge the conclusions of an author that is perceived to be an "expert" in this subject area.  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.
      For example, in a popular mystical physics book "The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics," Gary Zukav says, "According to classical mechanics, we get to know something by observing it.  According to quantum mechanics, it isn't there until we do observe it!  Therefore, the fate of the cat is not determined until we look inside the box."  It would be more accurate if he said, "According to a very unconventional interpretation of quantum mechanics that is rejected by most physicists,..."  Instead, he claims the authority of science for his non-scientific speculations.  Of course, Zukav and other authors are free to make claims about the power of the human mind, but when they state that these claims are supported by science, this is not justified and it should not be done.  But it is done, so "let the reader beware."  For accurate understanding, critical thinking is necessary.

      Pantheistic New Age Evangelism
      For authors of Mystical Physics books, a major motivation seems to be a desire to promote a pantheistic worldview with New Age religious beliefs.
      For readers, one appeal of these books, and a strong reason for wanting to believe what they are reading, is the human desire for power (independent of God's control) that is exemplified in the New Age concept of mind-over-matter and "creating your own reality."
      This lure to power can be seen in popular media — in Saturday morning "wizardry" cartoons, Star Wars (using The Force), Harry Potter (using witchcraft),... — that propose a "power of the universe" inherent in the natural world, a power which can be used for either good or evil, depending on the character and desires of the user.  By contrast, Christians believe that humans have access to power which is mediated by supernatural beings — primarily by God, and to a lesser extent by angels who are loyal to God or by rebel angels (devils) who are opposing the work of God — and that humans should seek to use the power supplied by God and should avoid the power supplied by devils.  In a Christian worldview, perhaps there could be some nature-based power (this would ultimately be under the control of God) but this is very small compared with the mediated supernatural power.

      Speculation and Relativism (mutual support)
      One basic approach seems to be, "No matter how wild my claim is, if you can't disprove it then I can claim it."  If a speculation is not forbidden by quantum physics, some people (especially non-scientists) will "run with it" as far as they can, proposing outrageous ideas and pushing the limits of what is allowed by the science.  Of course, this is compatible with relativism, which (in a relationship of mutual support) encourages it and is promoted by it.
      Also, there are attitude-relationships between “creating your own reality” (in quantum mysticism) and “creating your own theories” (in postmodern relativism), with decreased constraints — from objective reality, or from the evidence-and-logic of modernism — for both, with a tendency toward “don't bother me with the facts” in each.

      Einstein's Theory of Constancy
      When Einstein saw the wild speculations of relativists, who were claiming that his scientific Theory of Relativity supported their philosophical relativism, he was sorry that he hadn't called chosen a different name.  If he had done this, we would be talking about Einstein's Theory of Constancy or Theory of Invariance.     { more about Einstein's Theory of Constancy (Invariance) - not Relativity }
      Yes, the foundation of Special Relativity is an assumption that two things are constant:  the laws of physics in uniformly moving (non-accelerated) reference frames, and the speed of light as measured by any observer and coming from any source (which is more amazing than it seems, since this behavior doesn't occur for anything in nature except light).  When these two things are constant, other things (like time, length, velocity, and mass) will be relative, since they change when the motion changes.  { General Relativity has a similar foundation, except that it also works for reference frames which are being accelerated, so (as stated in its name) it's more general. }
      Maybe the current level of postmodern philosophical speculation would be lower if Einstein had named his theories after the constancy (or invariance) instead of the relativity, and (in another area with different speculations) if the pioneers of quantum physics had used the term interaction instead of observation.

      Correspondence Principle for Physics (and Metaphysics?)
      In everyday situations, for slow speeds (below a million miles/hour) and large masses (above a trillionth of a gram), predictions based on Relativistic Physics and Quantum Physics correspond (approximately) with the predictions of Newtonian Physics, which are (approximately) correct in this wide range of familiar speeds and masses.  Modern scientific method uses, as one criterion for evaluating a theory, a correspondence principle which says that a new theory should predict results that correspond (approximately) to the results predicted by a theory that is well tested in this domain, which for classical physics is slow speed and large mass.  Maybe we can also use this principle for interpretations of quantum physics at small-scale, medium-scale, and large-scale levels of experience:
      Many interpretations of quantum physics (QP), spanning a wide range of metaphysics, are consistent with QP on a small-scale level.  When evaluating these options, which are consistent with QP theory and small-scale empirical data, it seems rational to prefer interpretations that are also consistent with what we know about the medium-scale and large-scale levels, based on abundant empirical data about the chemistry of life, history of nature, and experience of everyday life.

      A Mathematician and Mystical Physics
      an example of speculation:  In 1932, John von Neumann, based on his desire for mathematical proof and certainty, became the first prominent advocate of mystical physics, as described in Section 4D.  Mathematicians (who require proof) and scientists (who are satisfied with a rationally justified confidence) think in different ways, so it makes sense that a mathematician would construct an argument based on the logic that "you can't prove your theory (of wave collapse by randomizing decoherence and thermodynamic irreversibility) is correct, so my theory is just as good."  But could von Neumann prove his own theory about human consciousness?

      Physicists and Biologists
      A physicist may wonder, "Do electrons (and their essential characteristics) really exist when we are not observing them?"  But this question would seem silly to a biochemist or physiologist, who knows that electrons "doing their thing as electrons" is what makes molecules "do their thing as molecules" in biochemical reactions.
      Maybe biologists and chemists who work at the medium-scale level of molecules are inherently more attuned to the Correspondence Principle discussed in Section 4E.  By contrast, a few physicists (but not the majority) try to impose principles from the small-scale realm onto the large-scale realm.  /  But it was a mathematician who made the first "microscopic to macroscopic" transfer, as explained above, which was probably easier because he didn't work with "ordinary molecules" made from "the strange quantum-stuff" on a daily basis.

      Communal Semi-Solipsism
      Interpretations of quantum physics which claim that "observation creates reality" can have a wide range of meanings.  A mild claim, justified by science, is that the location where a moving electron will hit the wall is not caused by an intrinsic characteristic of the particular electron being measured, but is determined (due to physical interaction) only when it hits the wall.  An extreme claim, not justified by science, is that the entire universe exists due to human consciousness, because we are observing it. *  Or anything between mild and extreme.  {* This is similar to "creating a cat's reality by observing it," but why mess around with cats when you can go for The Big One? }
      Unfortunately, popular "mystical physics" books tend toward the extreme end of the range, and tend to pull their readers in this direction.  They don't promote individualistic solipsism, the view that "nothing is real except me and my experience," or (on a smaller scale) that "a forest doesn't exist unless I am observing it and thinking it into existence."  They are more likely to promote a communal semi-solipsism, a view that since everything is interconnected, each of us can strongly influence (but not completely determine) our shared whole.  Because most readers won't accept an argument based on solipsism and New Age religious philosophy, the solipsism and religion are camouflaged with assertions about quantum physics.  But these assertions ignore tough questions about the small size of quantum effects, and the lack of evidence that human consciousness has any role in producing these effects.
      Of course, human thinking does play an important role in our personal and social worlds, especially when it affects our decisions and actions.  But the direct influence of human thought on quantum phenomena seems to occur only in speculations about mystical physics.  { Do scientists create reality?  This question is discussed, in terms of postmodern relativism rather than quantum physics, in Reality 101: Theory, Truth, and Postmodern Relativism. }

      Positivism (in terms and interpretations)
      A philosophy of positivism claims that scientific theories should not postulate the existence of unobservable entities, actions, or interactions.  By contrast, the empirically based hypothetico-deductive logic of modern scientific method allows "unobservables" in a theory, if this theory makes predictions (or retroductions) about observable outcomes.  /  A radical positivist would claim that, when we throw a ball westward and it temporarily disappears behind a tree, we should not assume that "the ball exists and is moving westward" during the time when we cannot see the ball.
      Positivism is rare among scientists, who bristle at the constraints, who cherish their intellectual freedom and welcome a wide variety of ways to describe and explain.  Many modern theories include unobservable actions and entities — such as thinking (in psychology) or electrons and electrical force (in chemistry) — among their essential components, even though a positivist will disapprove because "thoughts" and "electrons" cannot be directly observed.
      But despite its general lack of popularity among scientists, the philosophical system of logical positivism was popular among philosophers in the 1920s, and it may have influenced the poor choice of language (choosing observation instead of interaction) during the late-1920s.  Positivism did influence early interpretations of quantum physics, which strongly affect the views of current scientists and philosophers, although the effects of positivism were (and are) moderated by other influences.

      Epistemology and Ontology
      Authors and readers who are not scientifically/philosophically sophisticated may not recognize the difference between epistemology (what we know and how we can know) and ontology (the reality of what exists) and — especially when this is combined with the imprecise multiple definitions of "observation" described in Section 4 — this makes it easier to adopt mystical physics.  For example, consider Schrodinger's Cat.  Or maybe it's just a desire for power plus a lack of appropriate humility, in thinking that "what we know" determines "what exists."

Mysticism — Generic and Judeo-Chrisitan
      In a Judeo-Christian worldview, a generic “mysticism” is ambiguous, because mysticism can be spiritually beneficial or spiritually harmful.  An authentic Christian mysticism (defined by Wikipedia as "the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight") is based on the Bible, not on wild speculations that illogically extrapolate from quantum mysteries to a quantum mysticism involving “quantum mind” and an unbiblical pantheistic worldview.  If you want to seek enlightenment through Christian mysticism with spiritual discipline, focus your efforts on believing the Bible and seeking an improved relationship with Jesus Christ through intimate communion with the Holy Spirit — as explained in John 14-17 and Abide in Christ — for the purpose of obediently living by faith.

      C. The Views of Niels Bohr
      The scientist who has most strongly influenced interpretations of quantum physics, in the past and present, is Niels Bohr.  He was a major intellectual architect in constructing the Copenhagen Interpretation (named after the city where the Bohr Institute is located) that is adopted by most physicists.
      Bohr's views on correspondence and realism are described by Jan Faye, writing about the Copenhagen Interpretation for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
      Correspondence:  "Hence in the search for a theory of quantum mechanics it became a methodological requirement to Bohr that any further theory of the atom should predict values in domains of large quantum numbers that should be a close approximation to the values of classical physics.  The correspondence rule was a heuristic principle meant to make sure that in areas where the influence of Planck's constant could be neglected the numerical values predicted by such a theory should be the same as if they were predicted by classical radiation theory.  / ... The correspondence rule was based on the metaphysical idea that classical concepts were indispensable for our understanding of physical reality, and it is only when classical phenomena and quantum phenomena are described in terms of the same classical concepts that we can compare different physical experiences."
      Realism:  "Bohr thought of the atom as real.  Atoms are neither heuristic nor logical constructions. ... What he did not believe was that the quantum mechanical formalism was true in the sense that it gave us a literal ('pictorial') rather than a symbolic representation of the quantum world.  It makes much sense to characterize Bohr in modern terms as an entity realist who opposes theory realism. ...  [In his view] instead these theories can only be used symbolically to predict observations under well-defined conditions.  Thus Bohr was an antirealist or an instrumentalist when it comes to theories."

      In another Stanford-page (re: the "problem" of quantum measurement) Henry Krips says,
      Most physicists bypass these philosophical resolutions [of the problem]... and revert instead to some version of the Bohr interpretation. ...;  the Bohr interpretation in its more pragmatic, less metaphysical forms remains the "working philosophy" for the average physicist.
      In Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics (pages 143 and 163), Nick Herbert explains how quantum measurement is viewed in the Copenhagen Interpretation and by Bohr:
      The Copenhagenists consider ordinary experience the primary unanalyzable reality in terms of which they explain the atomic realm.  For Bohr and Heisenberg the world is forever divided into two types of reality: quantum reality which we can never experience, and classical reality which is all that we can ever experience. ...  /  Bohr treats M [measuring] devices in a special way.  He does not represent an M device as a possibility wave but considers it a solid actuality.  By objectifying the M device, he can account for the "ordinariness" of quantum fact and avoid such monstrosities as Schrodinger's live/dead cat which arise if you believe that the same quantum rules hold for cats and electrons.  Throughout his career Bohr continued to emphasize the "classical style" of existence enjoyed by ordinary objects. ...  Bohr recognizes that the form of every quantum fact is identical to the form of every prequantum fact — that is, nothing special.  It's an unchangeable fact of life that our direct experience of an electron (flash-on-a-screen) is no more mysterious than our direct experience of cats and rainbows. ...  The Copenhagen view assigns a privileged role to measuring devices, describing them in terms of definite actualities, while every other entity is represented by superpositions of possibilities.

      D. Realism and Instrumentalism
      The following excerpts (with deletions noted by ...'s) are from my page asking, Should Scientific Method be EKS-Rated?

      from the Introduction to Section 4:
      Instrumentalism and realism differ in their answer to the question, "Does science try to find truth?"  Realism says yes, but instrumentalism says no. ...

      from Section 4A:
      It is difficult to define either realism or instrumentalism with precision, because in real life there is a range of realist views, and a range of instrumentalist views. ...
      When thinking about critical realism, two concepts are crucial.  First, a realist can place a high value on both plausibility (an estimate of whether a theory is likely to be true) and utility (an estimate of whether a theory seems to be useful). ...  Second, a critical realist (CR) distinguishes between goals and claims.  A CR is a realist about goals, and a critic about claims.  A CR combines realist goals (wanting to find the truth) with critical evaluation (willing to be skeptical about claims for the truth-status of a particular theory).

      from Section 4D:
      2. Each theory [or each sub-theory and implication within a general theory such as Quantum Physics] can be viewed with a realist interpretation (in which scientists think this theory is intended to have two types of function: to be useful and to describe what really occurs in nature) or an instrumentalist interpretation (that this theory is intended only to be useful, and does not claim to describe reality).  This interpretation can vary along a continuum from pure realist to pure instrumentalist.  A "degree of realism" interpretation is independent from estimates of plausibility and utility.  For example, a scientist may think that a particular theory is intended to portray reality (so there is a realist interpretation) but does not do this very well (so it has a low plausibility). ...


      E. Is everything connected? (leftovers from Section 3)
    Here are some "leftovers" that were cut from Section 3 in the main body:

      EPR (a thought-experiment proposed by Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen in 1935) and Bell's Theorem (in 1964) and subsequent experiments (by Aspect in 1982,...) have raised questions about connectedness and nonlocality that are scientifically and philosophically interesting. *  But these questions are probably not significant for everyday life, since the experiments involve simplified special situations (in technically complex experiments with tiny particles that have been produced in pairs) and the effects are extremely small.
      * David Snoke has a powerpoint about Quantum Mechanics and New Age Philosophy that begins by saying "what is not strange about QM (wave-particle duality, quantum jumps, randomness)" and "what is strange about QM ('nonlocality')" even after you're comfortable with basic QM. *  Then he describes the strangeness of nonlocality, as illustrated in the EPR Paradox (in the Bell experiments) plus seven interpretations of QM (trying to explain the observations) and what is strange (and incorrect?) with each.   { Sometime I'll examine this more closely and will look for other EPR-pages, but not now, so in this page I won't go into the details, but I don't think the "extra layer of EPR strangeness" affects the validity of the "basic QM" ideas in this page. }
      * These quantum ideas are not strange after you have accepted the basic ideas of quantum physics and wave/particles, such as those in my page that explains why "things really are strange" where I quote Nobel winner Richard Feynman who says "our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there."

      No Man is an Island? (a human application)
      Some parts of a universal quantum wave, such as those associated with the electrons inside an atom inside your own body, would have very strong quantum interactions with other electrons in the same atom, or in neighboring atoms, especially during collision-interactions between atoms.  But interactions between these quantum waves (inside your body) and quantum waves in other parts of the universe (such as another person's body) are MUCH weaker, so weak that they're insignificant.
      Yes, it is theoretically possible to think of everything as a single interconnected quantum wave.  But it is more scientifically justifiable — due to the extreme differences in the strength of quantum interactions, which are strong in one tiny part of each human body (between neighboring atoms and molecules *) but are very weak (or non-existent?) between different human bodies — to think of each person as a separate entity.  Whatever is true in a claim that "no man is an island" is due to interpersonal social interactions, not quantum interconnections.
      * And yes, there is a "mind-body interaction" within our bodies, because our minds (our thoughts, emotions, attitudes,...) can affect what happens inside our own bodies.  But the mechanism of action is biochemical (due to hormones,...) rather than quantum.

      Critical Thinking about Quantum Mysticism   ( obviously we need better Scientific Literacy )

Why have books about Quantum Mysticism been so popular, selling so many books? (+ tv shows, pbs features during fundraising, etc)  
{more about ...Bleep...}  but responses from audiences & critics, new agers & scientists)[but not from new agers, from movie critics but not paying audiences] [can sort by: best, hated it, loved it, chronological, frequent reviewers]

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:


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

New Age Speculations about Quantum Physics (by four authors)

Reality 101 — Theory, Truth, and Postmodern Relativism

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

Quantum Mechanics — Philosophy & New Age Religion, History & Joy
(a "sampler page" with condensed ideas from five quantum-pages)

Christian Apologetics & Postmodern Relativism

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