What Is Real?

The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics

[Amazon Link]

When I was a mere lad, I was a physics major, which involved taking a few quantum mechanics courses. And from them I learned that at the quantum level, things get weird. It's difficult to pin things down; the mere act of trying to pin things down causes those things to behave differently than they would otherwise.

But (somehow) things remain sane at the macroscopic level. Why is that? Shouldn't they be weird all the way? At what point, precisely, do they stop being weird?

What I learned was the standard "Copenhagen Interpretation" (CI), cooked up at the very beginning of the quantum era by folks like Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. Which has had great success in explaining things and allowing the design of multiple goodies in our technological wonderland. But over the years, a (relative) few people have had problems with the CI, even starting with Einstein.

Briefly, the CI says: solve Schrödinger's equation, get a probability distribution, and that's about the best you can do. For example, instead of little ball-like electrons orbiting around an atomic nucleus like beads on wires (as seen in The Big Bang Theory), all you get is a probability cloud: chances are good the electon's here, not very good over there, nearly zero over here.

But the naysayers say: wait a minute. What's really going on? The CI says that's, essentially, a meaningless question; there's no way to know. And yet, there have been efforts over the years to "do better". This book champions the naysayers, essentially arguing that (despite its successes) the CI is the Danish Emperor With No Clothes. The author, Adam Becker, deftly outlines the history, biographies of the various characters involved, and some experiments that folks do that favor alternate interpretations over CI.

So, interesting book. Could have done without the authorial cheerleading. Wherever possible, the motives and psyches of the CI adherents are impugned. (Example: within the space of four pages, Becker tells us three times that Heisenberg was concerned that his theoretical efforts would be "eclipsed" by those of Schrödinger. OK, Adam, we get it. Maybe buy a thesaurus for your next book.)

The main objection to the CI seems to be aesthetic; those of an anti-CI bent really don't want to think like that, preferring to think in terms of electrons really being shiny little balls. Becker argues forcefully that way, but has a hard time getting over the plain fact that the CI works just fine: it comports with experiment, sets the basis for fruitful research. Yes, the future could unseat it, but it will have to be on stronger grounds than provided here.

Blood of Amber

[Amazon Link]

Number 7 of 10 in my attempt to read Roger Zelazny's Amber series. I think this may have been new ground for me—I know I petered out at some point when the books were originally published. Spoilers follow:

Anyway, Merlin has been imprisoned in a crystalline cavern by Luke, a longtime friend on Shadow Earth, only recently revealed to have ulterior motives, and hostile knowledge of Amber. Many adventures unfold, as Merlin manages to escape, thanks to a dimwitted duo happening by his jail. Things get complicated as Merlin travels through Shadow: old familiar places like Amber and Earth, but also new sites like the Keep of the Four Worlds, a handy crossroards that (unfortunately) is under siege, and controlled by unfriendly forces anyway.

A number of new characters (or are they new?), shifting alliances, and a usual display of spectacular magic. The climax finds Merlin (once again) seemingly trapped, but in a world that will be familiar to Lewis Carroll fans.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Proverbs 11:26 demonstrates that the Proverbialist was far from a laissez-faire capitalist:

    26 People curse the one who hoards grain,
        but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell.

    A "hoarder" is someone who is guessing about the economic future differently than you.

  • Wired magazine is part of the Condé Nast family, and often makes me grit my teeth at its dogged leftism. But every so often an article comes along…

    Daniel Duane has an article in the current issue: How the Startup Mentality Failed Kids in San Francisco. That's not entirely accurate; you can read the article yourself to find out what the actual "mentaility" involved was.

    Duane is one of the classic examples of a "liberal mugged by reality" when it came time for his own daughter to enroll in middle school, and one of her options was:

    Willie Brown Middle School was the most expensive new public school in San Francisco history. It cost $54 million to build and equip, and opened less than two years earlier. It was located less than a mile from my house, in the city’s Bayview district, where a lot of the city’s public housing sits and 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level. This new school was to be focused on science, technology, engineering, and math—STEM, for short. There were laboratories for robotics and digital media, Apple TVs for every classroom, and Google Chromebooks for students. A “cafetorium” offered sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay, flatscreen menu displays, and free breakfast and lunch. An on-campus wellness center was to provide free dentistry, optometry, and medical care to all students. Publicity materials promised that “every student will begin the sixth grade enrolled in a STEM lab that will teach him or her coding, robotics, graphic/website design, and foundations of mechanical engineering.” The district had created a rigorous new curriculum around what it called “design thinking” and a “one-to-one tech model,” with 80-minute class periods that would allow for immersion in complex subjects.

    And then… it all fell apart. Nearly from Day One.

  • At Cato, Colin Grabow rebuts a recent opinion piece from Trump economic adviser Peter Navarro: Navarro Misses the Boat on the Jones Act.

    In a recent Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece White House economic advisor Peter Navarro hailed the christening of a new transport ship in the nearby Philly Shipyard as evidence of the “United States commercial shipbuilding industry’s rebirth.” As is typical of Navarro’s pronouncements, the reality is almost the exact opposite. In fact, a closer examination of the ship’s construction reveals it to be symptomatic not of a rebirth, but of the industry’s long downward slide.

    Named after the late Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, Navarro describes the 850-foot Aloha-class vessel as “massive” and notes that it is “the largest container ship ever built in the United States.” This, however, is somewhat akin to the tallest Liliputian. Although perhaps remarkble in a domestic context, by international standards the ship is a relative pipsqueak. Triple-E class ships produced by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering for Maersk Line, for example, are over 1,300 feet in length. While the Inouye’s cargo capacity is listed at 3,600 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units, roughly equivalent to a standardized shipping container), the Triple-E class can handle 18,000.

    "Misses the boat", heh! See what he did there? Also at Cato: The Jones Act: A Burden America Can No Longer Bear, by Grabow and two co-authors.

  • Matt Welch is dissatisfied with the behavior of a member of the House Freedom Caucus, Jim Jordan: 'Constitutional Conservatives' Lose Interest in Holding Trump Accountable. While Jordan has had a record of calling out executive misbehavior pre-January 2017…

    So how did Jordan react to the May 2017 appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the FBI's ongoing investigation into the Russia-related activities of President Donald Trump? "Well, I'm—you know, look, I guess I'll keep an open mind," were the congressman's first recorded public words. That mind has been closing ever since.

    Five weeks later, Jordan and Meadows were already co-authoring op-eds saying it was "time to investigate the investigators" because Mueller's team leaned too Democratic. One month after that, Jordan signed onto an official request for a second special counsel, this one focusing on potential crimes by Hillary Clinton. The congressman is a permanent fixture on cable news, hyping the latest soon-to-be-forgotten Mueller-probe controversy and issuing grave condemnations against any official seemingly caught in a lie.

    Except Donald Trump.

    For the recond, I think it's pretty clear that the recent allegations about Jordan about his decades-ago Ohio State wrestling coach era are politically-motivated slime-throwing. But Matt's correct that the real scandal is hypocrisy.

  • Jonah Goldberg writes at NRO: Business Insider Surrenders to the Social-Justice Warriors

    Business Insider ran a column defending actress Scarlett Johansson from fierce criticism for her decision to play a transgender man in a forthcoming film called Rub and Tug. The writer, Daniella Greenbaum, took the apparently outrageous position that actors can pretend to be people they are not. Or, as Greenbaum put it, “Scarlett Johansson is the latest target of the social-justice warrior mob. The actress is being chastised for, well, acting.”

    Ironically, Greenbaum’s column rendered this claim outdated, because by writing that, Greenbaum herself became an even more recent victim of the social-justice-warrior mob. In response to complaints, internal and external, Business Insider pulled the column from its website and invented some new editorial standards to justify the decision.

    Ms. Greenbaum has since quit the publication. Readers should be on notice that anything they read from Business Insider has been sent through the SJW filter. Ironically, as CNN reports, the term "social justice warrior" is now also banned at Business Insider.

  • But that's not the only trouble brewing for Miss Scarlett, as the Babylon Bee reports: Scarlett Johansson Under Fire For Agreeing To Play Giant Sandworm In Upcoming ‘Dune’ Adaptation

    Scarlett Johansson has come under withering criticism after agreeing to play the giant sandworm, Shai-hulud, in Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

    Johansson is signed on to provide the motion-capture footage and guttural roars for artists to generate CGI of the legendary desert worm. Critics claim that by agreeing to portray a character other than a white, cisgendered female, Johansson is ignoring the life experiences and struggles of other genders, races, and species of colossal desert-dwelling worm creatures living on the planet Arrakis.

    Not that it matters, but how come they remake Dune over and over, but not The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, ever?

    Amazon Product du Jour is Sandworms of Dune which Amazon claims is Book Number—whoa!—Nineteen in the "Dune Universe". I gave up decades ago, partway into number three.