Modern Quantum Mechanics

( the science is worldview-neutral )

Quantum Mechanics:

Basic Scientific Principles,

Philosophy and Interpretations,

Speculations about New Age Religion

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

This page has overviews of 5 pages about science, philosophy, religion, and history: 
A Non-Mathematical Introduction to the Strangeness of Quantum Mechanics 
Quantum Mechanics — Common Sense, Schrodinger's Cat, New Age Religion 
Modern Quantum Physics — The Speculative Nonsense of New Age Interpretations 
The Joy of Science & Scientists — Problem Solving in the History of Quantum Mechanics 
Reality 101 — Theory, Truth, Reality, and Postmodernism (do scientists really create reality?) 

My page about Science influencing Worldviews (and vice versa) describes the page you're now reading:
      Since 1975, many popular "mystical physics" books have claimed that the New Physics (especially Quantum Physics, also called Quantum Mechanics) lends scientific support to a pantheistic worldview of New Age beliefs about "creating your own reality."  But these claims are based on speculations that are rejected by most scientists.
      Here are two pages I've written about this topic:  A Non-Mathematical Introduction to Quantum Mechanics will help you understand how — at the level of quantum effects — YES, things are very strange.  But in Common Sense Quantum Mechanics my scientific arguments against "mystical physics" explain why — at the level of everyday life — NO, things are not as strange as some people say they are.  Excerpts from these pages (and others) are in a page [this one!] about The Worldview-Neutrality of Modern Quantum Mechanics.

      A Non-Mathematical Introduction to the basics of Quantum Physics Theory

      the page begins:  This chapter introduces basic concepts that show the strangeness of wave-particle duality and the mysteries of quantum mechanics.  The purpose is to help you become comfortable with the radical ideas of quantum mechanics, to help you combine creativity and critical thinking so you can be freely imaginative without being silly and illogical.  It explains wave-particle duality, and tries to convince you that "yes, things really are strange."  It describes what quantum mechanics is and isn't, and why things are stable and dependable.  Then it shows that "no, things are not as strange as some people say they are."
      and the page ends:  The introduction states that to understand quantum mechanics you must be freely imaginative without being silly.  Later, I encourage you to drop preconceived ideas about the way nature "should be" and use your imagination to understand the way it "really is."  Now it's time to establish boundaries, to avoid being silly.  Yes, wave-particle duality is strange, and so is the quantum mechanics used to describe it, but there are limits to the strangeness.  Some popular books about quantum mechanics..... have gone far beyond the boundaries of scientific validity.  These books contain many logical errors, including..... [that are carefully examined in the next page].  {note: in quoted excerpts, "....." indicates an omission}

      Common Sense Quantum Physics — New Age Religion & Schrodinger's Cat

      Since 1975, many popular "mystical physics" books..... have claimed that Quantum Mechanics lends scientific support to a pantheistic worldview of New Age beliefs about "creating your own reality."  These claims are based on speculations that are highly implausible and are rejected by most scientists. .....
      Authors of books promoting mystical physics mix conventional physics with speculative metaphysics, without telling a reader where the science ends and speculation begins. .....  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 desire the power to "create their own reality" and are looking for a reason to believe they can do this.
      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 particles) due to randomization and probabilities.  In fact, the strange small-scale behavior produces the normal large-scale behavior that we experience in everyday life.

      New Age Speculations about Modern Quantum Mechanics

      This page links to five other pages, including the two above.  Here are excerpts:
      The difficulty really is psychological, and exists in the perpetual torment that results from your saying to yourself, "But how can it be like that?"  (Richard Feynman, winner of Nobel Prize)
      • David Lindley — author of the excellent book, Where does the weirdness go? — explains why the weirdness "disappears" and why we don't see strange quantum effects in everyday life.
      • Victor Stenger, an atheist, says "the seemingly profound connection between quantum and mind is an artifact, the consequence of unfortunate language..... [which] inadvertently left the impression that human consciousness entered the picture..... [even though] nothing in quantum mechanics requires human involvement."
      •• And my two pages explain why "YES, things are very strange" but "NO, things are not as strange as some people say they are."

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

      Science can help us fulfill a deep human need, because it is one way to search for answers when, inspired by our curiosity, we ask questions about what, how, and why.  Most of us want to know the truth, so an intrinsically appealing goal is the design of scientific theories that are true, that correctly describe what is happening now and what has happened in the past.
      And the process of science is fun.
      In our search for truth in nature, we are motivated by curiosity about how things work, a desire to solve mysteries.  One fascinating mystery story is the discovery of quantum mechanics, an elegantly simple theory that is strange, beautiful, and successful.  A brief summary will help you understand why, after decades of uncertainty and mental struggle, a pioneer who began the adventure "rejoices over the beauties that his eye discovers."
      The history of quantum ideas began in 1900 when Max Planck proposed a new idea. .....  Because a wave can vibrate only in certain ways, a sound-wave in a bugle can have only certain quantized musical pitches, and an electron-wave in an atom can have only certain quantized energy levels, as proposed by Max Planck in 1900.  The mathematical wave equation for an electron-wave in an atom was written in 1926 by Erwin Schrodinger.
      You can see the joy of scientific discovery in letters between two scientists who played key roles at the beginning and end of this grand adventure.  Max Planck, who found the first piece of the puzzle, describes his pleasure in seeing the elegantly simple wave equation: "I am reading your paper in the way a curious child eagerly listens to the solution of a riddle with which he has struggled for a long time, and I rejoice over the beauties that my eye discovers."  Erwin Schrodinger replies by agreeing that "everything resolves itself with unbelievable simplicity and unbelievable beauty, everything turns out exactly as one would wish, in a perfectly straightforward manner, all by itself and without forcing."  They struggled with a problem, solved it, and were thrilled.  It's fun to think and learn!

      Do scientists create reality?
This page begins with a silly question — Do scientists study nature, or create nature? — and a challenge: "Anyone who really thinks that "beliefs create reality" should be eager to explain how the real motions of all planets in the solar system changed from earth-centered orbits in 1500 (when this was believed by almost everyone) to sun-centered orbits in 1700 (when this was believed by almost all scientists).  Did the change in beliefs (from theories of 1500 to theories of 1700) cause a change in reality (with planets beginning to orbit the sun at some time between 1500 and 1700)?"
      The page then transitions into Reality 101.  Here are section-titles and excerpts:

REALITY 101: Reality, Truth, and Theory

Part 1: Basic Concepts (for easy questions)
Reality and Theory — A theory is a humanly constructed attempt to describe and/or explain reality.  When a theory makes claims about truth (about what is happening, or did happen) it is making truth-claims.  And what is truth?  In a correspondence definition of truth (*), the truth is what actually is happening in reality, or what actually did happen in reality.  * I think is the only definition we should use. }
      The Solar System QuestionBetween 1500 (when almost everyone believed that the sun and planets revolved around the earth) and 1700 (when almost every educated person believed that the earth and planets revolved around the sun) what changed and what did not change?
      Two Types of Reality — There is an important difference between humanly-constructed reality and human-independent reality. .....  Our thoughts and actions do cause consequences when "what we think and do" is converted into constructed reality.  But for independent reality, we can believe that something is true because of the consequences of its being true (if the consequences of its existence-and-operation include the production of evidence that persuades us of its existence-and-operation), but our believing that something is true does not cause it to be true.
      Confidence and Truth — In science, proof is impossible, but scientists can develop a rationally justified confidence in the truth or falsity of a theory. ..... But even when our confidence in current theories is low, truth does exist even though we don't know what is true.
      Confidence and Faith — Can we have faith without proof?  Yes. .....  A strong faith is consistent with a humble recognition that other people, thinking rationally, can reach different conclusions about the worldview they have chosen to "live by faith."

      SUMMARY of Part 1
      When there is a question or discussion about truth, ask yourself:
      Are we thinking about reality or a theory about reality (a belief, a truth-claim,...)?
      Is the reality analogous to movements in the solar system (human-independent reality) or is it like driving on a specified side of the road (humanly-constructed reality)?  These two types of reality have different characteristics, and claims that are rational for one type are silly for the other type.
      For either type of reality, the certainty of logically rigorous proof is impossible, but logically justifiable confidence is possible.
      For human-independent reality, a high level of confidence in a theory cannot make it true, because beliefs don't produce reality.  But even though we cannot control the independent reality of our solar system, we (individually and in groups) do "construct our reality" when we construct our worldviews and partially construct our situations.  { I say "partially" because some aspects of our situations are beyond our control. }  But even though the truth of a theory is not affected by our confidence that the theory is true (or is false), if our confidence is "based on a solid foundation" this may be an indication that the theory is true (or is false).
      The questions, "does God exist?" and "does God set standards for our behavior?", are about independent realities.  But another question — should we use the standards of God (as described in the Bible) as the basis for our individual and societal behavior? — is about humanly constructed reality.

Part 2: Personal Commentary
Using Precise Language
      Defining Truth
      Absolute Truth: What is the meaning?
      Where's the proof?
Reflections on Modernism and Postmodernism
      Postmodernism and Language
      Modernism and Confidence
      Modern versus Postmodern?  (Coexistence and Partial Agreement)
      Pluralism is not Relativism
      A Postmodern View of Truth  (Do we create truth?)
      Is relativism self-refuting? — According to many of its critics, postmodern relativism is internally inconsistent [if it claims that "all theories are false"] in a way that makes it logically self-refuting.  This claim deserves careful consideration, but there are reasons to doubt its general validity.  To see why, consider four statements, ranging from extreme to moderate, that could be made by a relativist: ..... 1) ..... 2) ..... 3) ..... 4) .......  Unfortunately, the fallacies of apparent self-refutation (involving statements #2 or #3) are often committed by Christians in a well-intentioned but futile attempt to find a simple flaw in postmodern relativism.  I think flaws do exist, but they are not simple and obvious, so they require careful thought.
      Is it rational to reject relativism? — ..... Let's compare two views of tolerance: postmodern and conventional.  In a strange twist of language, a postmodern new tolerance can produce intolerance;  this occurs when the new tolerance — which claims that tolerating other views (and choices, actions,...) requires an absence of criticism — prevents some views from being expressed and considered.  By contrast, conventional tolerance — which encourages open communication, a respectful acknowledgment of disagreements, a mutual commitment to courteous thoughtfulness, and listening with an intention to understand — promotes attitudes and actions that usually are beneficial for individuals and society.

Part 3: Reality 909 (What about the tough questions?)
Hopefully, the logical foundation in Reality 101will help us avoid much of the silly dialogue (with each side misunderstanding the other) that occurs between proponents and opponents of postmodernism.  But questions remain, and they are the focus in the following post-101 sections. .....  { This 909-section is currently underdeveloped. }

Einstein — Was he a proponent of relativism?
I've also written a page explaining why Einstein wanted his theory of "relativity" to be called the Theory of Invariance because its scientific foundation is constancy rather than relativity.


If you like this page, you may also like the following related pages.

The relevant links are above.

Worldviews: Education & Living

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Copyright © 2005 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved

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