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Arguments with non-objectivists about reality and epistemology often boil down to some sort of assertion that "reality is not absolute, and quantum mechanics proves it"! I believe that this arises from popular beliefs about QM, primarily based on the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM.

As Greg Perkins notes, there are facts known about QM and then there are various interpretations of those facts. Which known interpretation, if any, is consistent with the facts of reality as understood by Objectivism?

UPDATE: To clarify the question, note that I am not asking Objectivists to advocate for a particular scientific theory. Obviously, only scientists can and should do that, based on the scientific method. What I am asking for is an identification of an interpretation of QM that is consistent with the philosophical axioms of Objectivism. Interpretations of QM are rightly the domain of philosophers. For example, Wikipedia states:

This question is of special interest to philosophers of physics, as physicists continue to show a strong interest in the subject. They usually consider an interpretation of quantum mechanics as an interpretation of the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics, specifying the physical meaning of the mathematical entities of the theory (emphasis mine).

The main reason for this question is that when an armchair physicist tells me his subjective or intrinsic interpretation of the world is correct, and "QM proves it", it would be nice to point to an interpretation of QM that does nothing of the sort, if indeed any such currently exists. Relevant XKCD comics may be even better :)

asked Jan 16 '14 at 12:14

Raman's gravatar image

Raman ♦
548110

edited Jan 27 '14 at 10:53

In terms of that chart in Wikipedia, I'd say the biggest conflict between the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM and Objectivism would be that there is not a "No" under the heading "Observer role?"

Additionally it's hard to see how Objectivism could be compatible with an interpretation which doesn't say "Yes" under "Unique history?" For example, the "many-worlds interpretation" in my opinion contradicts Objectivism.

(Jan 16 '14 at 13:01) anthony anthony's gravatar image

My own personal interpretation is roughly similar to what Wikipedia has called "objective collapse theory". Again quoting Wikipedia, "In objective theories, there is an ontologically real wave of some sort corresponding to the mathematical wave function, and collapse occurs randomly ('spontaneous localization'), or when some physical threshold is reached, with observers having no special role." This interpretation is, if I understand it correctly, basically the Copenhagen interpretation without the ridiculous philosophy attached to it.

But this is a question of science.

(Jan 16 '14 at 13:05) anthony anthony's gravatar image

"No" under the heading "Observer role?"

Why does that conflict with Objectivism?

"it's hard to see how Objectivism could be compatible with an interpretation which doesn't say "Yes" under "Unique history?"

Why?

"the "many-worlds interpretation" in my opinion contradicts Objectivism."

Why?

(Jan 16 '14 at 17:54) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

Observer role is, if I understand the table correctly, primacy of consciousness. I believe that any interpretation that collapse was caused by the observer through physical interaction, rather than through consciousness, would be classified as "observer role = no" and "objective collapse theory".

As far as unique history vs. many-worlds, existence exists, and existence is identity. There is only one universe and its past doesn't change.

(Jan 17 '14 at 09:01) anthony anthony's gravatar image

FWIW, Andrew's answer suggests that either I'm wrong about what is meant by "observer role" or Wikipedia is wrong in saying that the observer role under the Copenhagen Interpretation is "causal". Neither would be particularly surprising to me.

(Jan 27 '14 at 10:28) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Well, as I understand it, no one is actually certain what Boer and the other proponents of the Copenhagen Interpretation were advocating. I think most modern "interpretation of the interpretation" lean towards Andrew's "measurement" rather than consciousness role, but that may very well be a modern misread.

(Jan 27 '14 at 10:34) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image
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As xkcd points out, most appeals to quantum mechanics (outside the domain of actual physics) are nonsense.

On a more serious note, a proper understanding of Objectivism does not warrant dictating specific scientific theories. That would require specialized experimental and theoretical knowledge that philosophy cannot provide. The only thing that Objectivism can do is to rule out a few particularly egregious ideas that contradict the philosophical axioms. These bad ideas include any of the following:

  • Denial of reality as such. (This contradicts the axiom of existence.)
  • Denial that reality has a specific nature. (This contradicts the axiom of identity; namely, that to be is to be something in particular, with a specific nature.)
  • Assertion that the mind creates the existence or the identity of things. (This contradicts the primacy of existence, which is a corollary of the axiom that consciousness is a faculty that perceives reality, rather than creating it.)

For example, the von Neumann-Wigner interpretation would be rejected by Objectivism because this interpretation claims a role for human consciousness in determining reality.

Other interpretations may also violate the axioms, but in a more subtle way. A detailed study of these other interpretations would be needed before making a judgment.

By the way, the most popular interpretation among physicists, the Copenhagen interpretation, is often misunderstood as giving a role for the observer's mind. It actually gives a special role to the act of measurement, which involves a macroscopic measuring device which is assumed to be classical. This interpretation has been criticized for reasons that are not unique to Objectivist thinking. Specifically, the Copenhagen interpretation makes an ad hoc division between the classical and quantum worlds, whereas we should expect a consistent theory to explain measuring devices as quantum entities, too.

answered Jan 26 '14 at 13:39

Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦
10009447

edited Jan 26 '14 at 22:29

Useful information but you only partially answered the question. You gave a couple of examples of interpretations that contradict philosophical axioms accepted by Objectivism. But you didn't state which, if any, do not contradict the philosophical axioms of Objectivism, which is what the question is asking.

(Jan 26 '14 at 15:54) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image
1

PS loved the xkcd link :)

(Jan 26 '14 at 15:57) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image
1

You're right. That was on purpose. As I said in my answer, it isn't the job of philosophy to dictate that scientific theories X, Y, and Z are acceptable. Philosophy can only lay some ground rules to keep people from going astray on fundamental issues.

(Jan 26 '14 at 16:00) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

I updated my question slightly, which may clarify what I'm after. Thanks Andrew!

(Jan 27 '14 at 10:54) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image

What I am asking for is an identification of an interpretation of QM that is consistent with the philosophical axioms of Objectivism.

I'm not aware that such a thing has ever been written. If you find it, please let me know. Perhaps let the Nobel Prize Committee know too. :)

Interpretations of QM are rightly the domain of philosophers.

Specialist philosophers, maybe. It wasn't within the domain of Ayn Rand's work, though.

I assume you're aware of what David Harriman has said about quantum mechanics?

(Jan 27 '14 at 11:22) anthony anthony's gravatar image

What I am asking for is an identification of an interpretation of QM that is consistent with the philosophical axioms of Objectivism.

I'm not aware that such a thing has ever been written. If you find it, please let me know. Perhaps let the Nobel Prize Committee know too. :)

Interpretations of QM are rightly the domain of philosophers.

Specialist philosophers, maybe. It wasn't within the domain of Ayn Rand's work, though.


I assume you're aware of what David Harriman has said about quantum mechanics?

(Jan 27 '14 at 11:26) anthony anthony's gravatar image
1

I haven't read Harriman's logical leap yet. He posted this recently: http://www.thelogicalleap.com/?p=239, in which he clarifies his position and explicitly rejects Bohr's interpretation of QM.

(Feb 10 '14 at 10:39) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image

I'm glad to see that. I wonder if he still stands by his assertion that "nearly every physics professor in the country believes that fairy tale [presumably referring to Bohr's interpretation of QM]". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aow8hVpdSHQ

(Feb 10 '14 at 17:26) anthony anthony's gravatar image

http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=reg_ls_physics is another (much longer) lecture of Harriman. It was interesting to view after reading that post. There was one section where I thought he referred to "quantum theory" as "absurd", but upon relistening I think by "quantum theory" he actually meant "Bohr's interpretation of quantum theory".

(Feb 10 '14 at 18:05) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Asked: Jan 16 '14 at 12:14

Seen: 1,747 times

Last updated: Feb 10 '14 at 18:05