Deepak Chopra is an easy target, but the overwhelming urgency of 'least population of least resource/environment
corruption' remains. Democracy has no choice but to evolve, and it will
continue to evolve badly as long as proper
scientists do not themselves inhabit Congress and reconstruct
Last September I wrote my first column for Scientific American, and this
September marks my last one. In writing on science issues relevant to our
culture and society, there is an inevitable tension between sticking just to
science issues and commenting on potentially hot-button social issues. I have
tried during the past 12 months to strike some balance, but without fail those
issues that stir the greatest outrage also stir the greatest interest.
Nothing seems to stir more discussion than pieces about
science and religion, an observation that reminds me of the comment that Henry
Kissinger reputedly made about academic disputes: they are so vicious because
the stakes are so small. After all, science will continue irrespective of
religious opinions, and I expect organized religion will continue to be a part
of the cultural landscape, too, largely unaffected by the ongoing march of
human knowledge, as it has been for centuries.
Probably my greatest surprise came from the column on my
favorite elementary particles, neutrinos. Several notes of thanks came from
scientists who have devoted their lives to studying neutrinos’ properties;
perhaps they feel underappreciated, even by their colleagues, for studying such
Among topics I didn’t get a chance to write about, one stands
out, so I will take advantage of this last opportunity to elicit hate mail (and
to shamelessly plug my new book about the late physicist Richard Feynman, which
is relevant because of its title, Quantum Man).
No area of physics stimulates more nonsense in the public
arena than quantum mechanics—and with good reason. No one intuitively
understands quantum mechanics because all of our experience involves a world of
classical phenomena where, for example, a baseball thrown from pitcher to
catcher seems to take just one path, the one described by Newton’s laws of
motion. Yet at a microscopic level, the universe behaves quite differently.
Electrons traveling from one place to another do not take any single path but
instead, as Feynman first demonstrated, take every possible path at the same
Moreover, although the underlying laws of quantum mechanics
are completely deterministic—I need to repeat this, they are completely
deterministic—the results of measurements can only be described
probabilistically. This inherent uncertainty, enshrined most in the famous
Heisenberg uncertainty principle, implies that various combinations of physical
quantities can never be measured with absolute accuracy at the same time.
Associated with that fact, but in no way equivalent to it, is the dilemma that
when we measure a quantum system, we often change it in the process, so that
the observer may not always be separated from that which is observed.
Transcendental meditation: TMers argue that they can fly by
achieving a “lower quantum-mechanical ground state” and that the more people
who practice TM, the less violent the world will become. This last idea at
least is in accord with quantum mechanics, to the extent that if everyone on
the planet did nothing but meditate there wouldn’t be time for violence (or
acts of kindness, either).
When science becomes this strange, it inevitably generates
possibilities for confusion, and with confusion comes the opportunity for
profit. I hereby wish to bestow my Worst Abusers of Quantum Mechanics for
Fun and Profit (but Mostly Profit) award on the following:
Deepak Chopra: I have read numerous pieces by him on why
quantum mechanics provides rationales for everything from the existence of
God to the possibility of changing the past. Nothing I have ever read,
however, suggests he has enough understanding of quantum mechanics to pass
an undergraduate course I might teach on the subject.
The Secret: This best-selling book, which spawned a
self-help industry, seems to be built in part on the claim that quantum
physics implies a “law of attraction” that suggests good thoughts will make
good things happen. It doesn’t.
Paraphrasing Vaclav Havel here, "Lawrence Krauss thinks his intellectual
duplicities are better than Deepak Chopra's": Krauss prides himself on
his science -"In writing on science issues relevant to our culture and
society, ...", but it is my email experience with him (terminated
February 6, 2010 :-) that he will probably continue to decline any part
in 'the artifactuality of democracy'.
Deepak Chopra is an easy target, but the overwhelming
urgency of 'least population of least
resource/environment corruption' remains. Democracy has no choice but
to evolve, and it will continue to evolve badly as long as proper scientists do not themselves inhabit
Congress and reconstruct government.
For the record: Quantum mechanics does not deny the existence
of objective reality. Nor does it imply that mere thoughts can change external
events. Effects still require causes, so if you want to change the universe,
you need to act on it.
Feynman once said, “Science is imagination in a
straitjacket.” It is ironic that in the case of quantum mechanics, the
people without the straitjackets are generally the nuts.