Thursday, September 13, 2012

Quantum Realism and Quantum Surrealism

Quantum theory--now almost a century old--is the most powerful predictive tool that humans have ever possessed. Tested in thousands of subtle experiments by hundreds of Nobel-hungry physicists, quantum theory has always been right--its most recent success: the prediction of the existence and properties of the newly-discovered Higgs boson. However this predictive success comes at a high price--the lack of a good conceptual model of how the world actually works. Quantum theory is so strange that it resists any picture we might try to make about "what's really happening" in the world. Use this tool--give up models of reality.

I have described some of the history of the search for pictures of "the way the world really works" in my book Quantum Reality. Recently Marcus Araujo Santos working at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil has published a long review of recent attempts to construct "reasonable ontological models" that reproduce the quantum facts. His work Quantum Realism and Quantum Surrealism is highly technical but interspersed with witty and thoughtful discussions that systematically motivate the various definitions and proofs.

For any physicist seriously interested in quantum foundations, QRQS is a treasure trove--beginning with concise summaries of von Neumann's, Gleason's and Busch's theorems, nested strategies for proving the Kochen-Spechen theorem and then on to the meat of the essay, which provides fresh ways of excluding "non-contextual models of reality" through new restrictions called "Boolean Inequalities" after Irishman George Boole who formalized the laws of classical logic in the 19th century.

The central question Santos asks is "What is the core reason that quantum theory seems so weird? Exactly where lies the 'magic' that separates the quantum world from our classical way of thinking?"

Santos's chosen path to "quantum magic" is to clarify what we mean by "classical reality" by refining the definition of a property called "contextuality". Classical reality is non-contextual. By holding contextuality up to a strong light, and by deriving new means to test its presence in quantum reality, Santos and his colleagues hope to better illuminate the essential strangeness of the most powerful theory of the world we possess.

Few readers of this blog will be able to appreciate the high quality of exposition of Santos's work, but those with eyes to see will find QRQS a tremendously valuable resource that might well inspire their own quests for a fresh glimpse of the "extraordinary quantum magic" that underlies the ordinary world.

On a lighter note, Allan Lundell from the Chakralicious Camp at Burning Man 2012 sent me this short clip of Lisa Woffington reading Does She Do Vulcan Mind Meld on the First Date? from Harlot Nature.

Lisa Woffington at Burning Man 2012


Ruth Kastner said...

Interesting review, Nick. I address what quantum theory might be saying about reality in very specific terms in my forthcoming book on TI:

Preview material available at the accompanying website:

Nano said...

Regarding the Higgs, what are your thoughts on us actually inhabiting a hypersphere?

See theoretical physicist and Kaos magician Peter J Carroll

Wes Hansen said...

I would be interested in your thoughts on the work of your fellow Stanford physicist, William Tiller ( His work seems to line up well with much in your field of inquiry. Also, regarding the comment about the hypersphere, Mr. Tiller's whitepaper, Some Initial Comparisons Between the Russian Research on The Nature of Torsion and the Tiller Model Psychoenergetic Science: Part I, available on his website, addresses the dark energy/dark matter conjecture quite elegantly; although this hypersphere idea certainly captures the imagination. I really enjoy your blog, by the way. Quite by coincidence, I stumbled upon it when researching a coincidence . . .

nick herbert said...

Kastner: what are your thoughts on "the absorber of last resort" question?
Nano: in what "space" does consciousness dwell?
Hansen: I am afraid that, in my opinion, Tiller has gone "over the edge" into solipsistic science.

Wes Hansen said...

Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha … Is there no middle ground? Is one either a materialist or a solipsist? Until “objective” science includes consciousness, human and otherwise, in its theories it will remain grossly incomplete. I would suggest that a grand paradigm shift is approaching like a Tantric Tsunami. Recently, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, working in conjunction with Emory University, introduced a math and science curriculum to the standard fare required of his monks and nuns. Watch the documentary, The Yogis of Tibet, and then imagine these cats turned loose with a comprehensive understanding of formal logic, math, and science. I appreciate your response to my inquiry, although I must admit I find it disappointing.

The Ocean,
The Ocean,
blue, green,
foam generated by
perturbatory thought,
ignorance differentiated from
Infinite Wisdom
only to return

Rest now,
in the stillness of
Absolute Spirit.

You shall become,
you shall become one
a weary traveler,
comfortable with Death,
devoid of fear and desire,
You shall become
Eternally Free . . .

To Thee do I communicate:

Namaste . . .

Wes Hansen said...

I left out the link to the doc:
It's a really great documnentary, by the way . . .

Nano said...


In the space of Mercury and Yesod, which are but mere illusions since all is one.