3.201 uncertainty, cont. (166)

Mon, 3 Jul 89 22:19:23 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 201. Monday, 3 Jul 1989.

(1) Date: Mon, 3 Jul 89 03:24 EDT (83 lines)
From: John McDaid <MCDAID@NYUACF>
Subject: Ed & Univ

(2) Date: Mon, 3 Jul 89 08:16:00 EDT (37 lines)
From: Tom Thomson <tom@prg.oxford.ac.uk>
Subject: Philosophy of Uncertainty (was Universities & Education)

(3) Date: Mon, 3 Jul 89 11:20:00 EDT (21 lines)
From: DEL2@phoenix.cambridge.ac.uk
Subject: Re: [3.195 Heisenberg and anti-intellectualism (109)]

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Mon, 3 Jul 89 03:24 EDT
From: John McDaid <MCDAID@NYUACF>
Subject: Ed & Univ

In 3.17, Sheldon Richmond writes:

>that like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, observers and teachers of
>human values cannot do so in a disinterested or value-free manner, stems
>from an interpretation of a mathematical formalism that is firstly a
>misinterpretation of the one Heisenberg provided, and secondly, a dogmatic
>belief that Heisenberg's own interpretation is no mere interpretation but
>some 'law' of physics.

He goes on to explain his disssatisfaction with our popular notion of the

>The mathematical formalism in words is: the product of momentum and
>position of micro-particles is more or less equivalent to Planck's quantum
>constant. Bohr, in his popular writings, interpreted this mathematical
>formalism to mean that the physicst is like the psychologist in that when
>he observes nature, he interferes in nature. Humanists, immediately jump
>in and say, 'even so-called objective physicts must be subjective, just like

What Richmond is leaving out, in this biased rendition, is the REASON this
uncertainty is originally observed. That is, that the process of observation,
on the quantum level, (Which, I would like to point out, could also be done by
_women_...) always involves the exchange of at least one quantum of energy
with the system being measured; that the process of measurement itself
will always and forever disturb the system so measured, and hence, erect
the momentum x position >= Planck's constant limit.

Therefore, when he says,

>To explain the Uncertainty in terms of human interfernce in nature, is a
>gloss that goes above and beyond the exact statement of Uncertainty.

I must confess that unless we are using the word "interference" in different
ways, I cannot make sense of this sentence. Even in its most "limited,"
quantum-level, bare-bones interpretation, the Indeterminacy Principle is
inextricably bound up with the notion of measurement necessitating
disturbance. As such, contra Richmond, this is indeed a "law" of physics, as
we currently understand it, there being no magic way to penetrate the
Noumenal system without bouncing some kind of quanta off it.

On the question of the Einstein v. Quantum Mechanics debate, I urge
Richmond to be more circumspect about the "long debate, beginning with
Einstein." Quantum theories have a body of experimental support. In point of
fact, the objection which Einstein (along with Podolsky and Rosen) proposed
to quantum mechanics is what prompted Bohr to postulate indeterminacy as
a "law of nature," in that the macroworld (us) could only make probabilistic
assertions about the quantum. According to this interpretation, there is no
"disturbance," rather, until the point of measurement, there is only a wave
function. We have, finally, to give up our anthropocentric notion that reality
on the quantum level must be just like the world we grew up in so we can
understand it. In response to Einstein's "Der Herrgott Wurfelt Nicht,"
Stephen Hawkings has said, "Not only does God play at dice, but sometimes
He throws them where you can't see them."

I am most at a loss, I must confess, when to answer his question of why
humanists jump on the "bandwagon" of quantum mechanics, Richmond finds
that we are, at bottom, victims of a weak-minded subjectivist self
deception. The logical extension of Indeterminacy is not a Panglossian "best
of all possible worlds," but rather a tough-minded intellectual honesty
which -- like Popper -- is constantly attempting refine its approximations.
Teachers are not scientists, poking quanta of information into the heads of
students. I would hope that by now, the model of the college classroom
would be one of a holistic system in which the "students" and "professor"
are cooperating in the enterprise of discovery.

The spectre of meaninglessness which Richmond attributes to Humanists'
"Self-congratulatory philosophies of physics" is a mere spectre. The true
message of quantum mechanics is that we need fundamentally new ways of
understanding the universe, ways which are unlike the ones learned from
experience in the macroscopic world. The desire to deny quantum reality, is,
at base, a desire to erect the human as the measure of reality, and to re-
enshrine the accidents of evolution as fundamental truth. I think that this
attitude, rather than an honest investigation into the implications of
quantum mechanics and introspective pedagogical enactment, which can
rightly be called anti-intellectualism.

John G. McDaid
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------44----
Date: Mon, 3 Jul 89 08:16:00 EDT
From: Tom Thomson <tom@prg.oxford.ac.uk>
Subject: Philosophy of Uncertainty (was Universities & Education)

When arguing about interpretations of some "law" of physics, it's best to get
the law right first; so I can't let Sheldon Richmonds remarks go unchallenged.
The uncertainty principle says nothing about the value of the product of the
quantities he mentions; what it says is that the product of the margins of error
within which we know these quantities has a lower bound. The "mathemetical" form
proposed is wrong.
One can deduce from that statement that if one measures one of the quantities
very accurately, it becomes impossible to know much about the other. So this
act of measurement has, empirically, an effect on our capacity to discover
the other quantity.
The principal appears not to be about the properties of an isolated system, but
about how accurately those properties can be known.
The formulation SR attributes to Bohr (correctly, I think) is very close to the
remark above - it differs only in whether what is affected by observation is
our ability to make further observations or to the thing being observed. From
a verificationist point of view, there could be no difference - statements
about the state of the system could only be verified by observation, and would
have no meaning apart from that possibility of verification.
Similarly, the "limited interpretation" attributed to Heisenberg is accurate,
and bears no relation to the "mathematical" form proposed.
The objection to quantum mechanics formulated by Einstein was, I believe,
precisely opposite to that proposed by SR. The uncertainty does not lie in the
underlying system - God does not play dice - but in our failure to measure or
understand it correctly; maybe this failure is not inherent in nature either,
but Einstein's point was that he didn't believe the uncertainty was.
A good, and fairly recent, book is Boehm's The Infinite and the Applicative
Order (I think that's the right title) which puts forward one of the many
"hidden variable" philosophies to counter the excessively physical
interpretation of the uncertainty principle that SR seems simeoultaneously to
advocate and deprecate.

Tom Thomson

(3) --------------------------------------------------------------29----
Date: Mon, 3 Jul 89 11:20:00 EDT
From: DEL2@phoenix.cambridge.ac.uk
Subject: Re: [3.195 Heisenberg and anti-intellectualism (109)]

I'm a bit behind with my e-mail but I cannot resist re-joining the
fray on this one (as another ex-physicist). In my previous
comment I was not thinking so much of Heisenberg's Uncertainty
Principle as of Maxwell's Demon.

But I am surprised that Sheldon Richmond sees this sort of approach as
'neo-Hegelian'. My own model would be that of Popper, who has
written much that is to the point here, and who can hardly be accused
of having much love for Hegel...

The Copenhagen interpretation is, ultimately, counsel of despair.
It says, in effect, we *cannot* interpret the conflicting sets
of data; they are irreconcilable. But how can we *know* that?
How indeed can we know objective truth? I don't believe we can --
hence my rejection of the possibility of objectivity.

Douglas de Lacey.