My wife's cousin Haim, who lives in Israel, sends frequent emails to a list of family and friends. Recently we received a message from him with the odd subject of "The Best Explanation for the Quantums". It contained a link to a video posted on YouTube entitled, "Dr Quantum - Double Slit Experiment". Dr. Quantum appears to be the creation of physicyst Dr. Fred Alan Wolf. It an excerpt from a comic book style animation starring the superheroic Dr. Quantum (Dr. Wolf in Aquaman drag), who attempts to explain the classic double-slit experiment to us mortal laymen. The video is a good illustration of the power of animation to convey information or, in this case, misinformation.
The video clip is a decent description of the double-slit experiment and, although you can see it coming, it doesn't deviate into mysticism until the very end. Here, the usual 'power of the observer' claims are made to draw the false conclusion that an observer can affect the state of quantum particles and processes. It's accompanied by the timeless "Your mind is the key to unlocking the power of the cosmos" bullshit. There are several other chunks of Dr. Quantum's excreta posted on YouTube if you care to search.
Wolf is a real physicist. According to his web site biography, Wolf received a Ph.D. in Physics from UCLA in 1963. He has taught at the University of London, the University of Paris, the Hahn-Meitner Institute for Nuclear Physics in Berlin, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and San Diego State University. He has written eleven books and is known for his work relating human consciousness to quantum physics. Apparently, this is where the money is.
And we skeptics all know how mystical and miraculous firewalking is. Strange that he throws that in the same sentence after name-dropping three famous physicists.
Wolf's inquiring mind has delved into the relationship between human consciousness, psychology, physiology, the mystical, and the spiritual. His investigations have taken him from intimate discussions with physicist David Bohm to the magical and mysterious jungles of Peru, from master classes with Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman to the high deserts of Mexico, from a significant meeting with Werner Heisenberg to the hot coals of a firewalk.
Dr. Wolf's published works include such titles as "The Yoga of Time Travel:
How the Mind Can Defeat Time" and "Mind into Matter: A New Alchemy of Science and Spirit."[corrected]
This is the publisher's description of The Yoga of Time Travel:
Buddha said he could move backward through time? Well, that's good enough for me! Time travel must be real! And how does moving to a place where time stands still equate to time travel. Is he sure it's not just a metaphor for a state of mind where time is ignored, and not to be taken literally? Now, time may well be our instinctive macro-viewpoint perception of what, at the quantum level, is just a statistical phenomenon. But this does not mean we can project our minds to different points in time to collect data that we did not previously have, or alter events that occurred in the past, no matter how much we alter our 'ego structure'. The prospects of time travel becoming a practical reality are very slim and, if it does become practical, it will take more than willpower to implement it.
Buddha said he could move backward through time, observes theoretical physicist Fred Alan Wolf. Time travel is not just science fiction; it may actually be possible. Wolf draws on yoga and quantum physics to show that time is a flexible projection of mind. Cheating time, he says, is an ancient metaphysical idea from the Vedas having to do with moving through meditation to a place where time stands still.
In reader-friendly language, Wolf explores how time and thought are bound together and how a change in ego structure could allow freedom from time's limitations. And he elaborates on benefits: Time travel, he asserts, could clarify our purpose; change our sense of self, the future, and death; and provide a hero's journey that might aid the entire community. Fascinatingly, Wolf thinks that, under certain circumstances, we might not only visit but even alter the past, with a ripple effect on the present.
Fred Wolf is apparently quite the socialite in quantum crank circles. He is admired by that pillar of respectability, Deepak Chopra:
Fred Alan Wolf is one of the most eloquent and clear scientists who explains the relationship between the laws of nature and consciousness. His book, THE YOGA OF TIME TRAVEL, will help you break the illusion of linear time and experience a domain that is eternal, timeless, and acausal. This experience helps conquer all fear including the fear of death and gives you a glimpse into the immortal nature of your soul.He has glommed onto the current popular Kabbalah nonsense (maybe to get closer to Madonna?). He even appears in the Ramtha-cult propaganda movie, "What the Bleep Do We Know?" And he's proud of it. He responds to an email inquiry:
Answer: I assure you that I am a very serious researcher in the field of quantum physics although I do have a sense of humor.Here, he returns to the crux of the quantum bullshit theorizing, the all-powerful observer. The term 'observer' has turned out to be an unfortunate choice of terms because it implies consciousness. Consciousness is most certainly not required to cause quantum state changes. The act of observation in this context is purely mechanical. You observe a particle by bouncing another particle, such as a photon, off of it. It's a microscopic game of billiards. The billiard balls need not be self-aware, and no consciousness is required to direct them (but of course, a consciousness could direct them). Observation merely means that a conscious entity is collecting data on these collisions (usually by recording subsequent collisions with detectors). The quantum mystics say that the conscious entity is a requirement for the normal operation of the universe, as if the physical universe waited billions of years for conscious life to arise before kicking into its current mode of operation. Furthermore, somehow a conscious entity can alter the functioning of the quantum universe according to its willpower. They are actually proposing some as-yet-unknown mechanism which translates thought patterns into appropriate changes in the quantum universe to effect one's desires. In other words, magic; your thoughts made real. When they make a Aston Martin DB9 appear before me, then I'll be impressed. Until then, it's "Show me the money, mothafucka."
Now as to the use of quantum physics outside of its usual domain of objective science: If we look at the field of psychology 120 years ago, you will find that many models of human behavior were based on the then current understanding of the physical world. Freud in particular used mechanics as a means to explain motivation and desire. In fact a lot of human behavior was based on the mechanical view so that even today we emphasize the mechanical cause and effect way of thinking about the human body. This has met with a great deal of success, but with the advent of Chinese medical systems and Indian metaphysics something new has been added. This new addition cannot be explained by Newtonian mechanics. It involves the subjective world--a world we each must live in whether or not we like it. This world involves what we call today in quantum physics the observer. According to quantum physics, even though we know that the observer plays a major role in putting together what we observe as reality, we cannot find the observer inside of the body. Hence we find through quantum physics a bridge connecting the subjective universe with the objective universe.Those of us in the Bleep movie see this connection as something very important and worth talking about and doing research on. Many scientists are satisfied with merely doing research on the objective world even though they know full well that a complementarity principle exists in which the observer can change what is observed.
Also, note the irrelevant reference to eastern medicine. Quantum quacks always exalt Asian philosophy as being more 'in touch with inner consciousness' with no apparent justification beyond crude stereotypes.
All of these claims sound (Chopra's claim that you can extend your youth indefinitely by tapping quantum mind-power, for example) eminently testable, so their proponents must resort to the typical 'these claims can't properly be evaluated scientifically because the exceed the boundaries of (conventional, western, reductionist, closed-minded, etc.) science' rationalizations to dodge scrutiny.
This book excerpt is a breath of fresh, rational air from another real (and published) physicist, Victor Stenger. Here's a sample:
The jargon of quantum mechanics has inspired some people to extract mystical messages that were never intended to be there. In particular, deep meaning has been found in the unfortunate way physicists often describe the process of measurement. Sometimes they make it sound as though the conscious act of observation, by itself, creates the quantity that is being measured....The idea that properties are brought into being by the act of their measurement clashes with our intuitive notion that the universe possesses an objective reality independent of the observer. Surely, as Einstein insisted, the moon is still there whenno one is looking. But many authors have construed quantum mechanics, with its strict use of operational terms, to imply a central role for the human mind in affecting the very nature of reality itself.That sounds more like it.
Perhaps I'll send my wife's cousin a link to this post. But religion is religion, and I doubt it will be well received.