To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

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YourReality
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To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby YourReality » Sat May 08, 2010 9:48 pm UTC

OK, so I'm a social sciences person. Just putting that out there. As a result, I won't understand almost any of what is discussed in this corner of the forum. Given my little to nil understanding of the intricacies of the hard sciences, physics and chemistry in particular, I am in no position to evaluate the validity of a number of claims made by my Archaeology professor. His writings claim that leading physicists have a mystical view of reality, believe that physical objects are an illusion, and that causality does not exist. Those are my professor's words, not mine. Now, this sounds a little strange to me given what little I know of physicists. I, however, (apparently unlike my Archaeology professor) have the good sense to ask when I know I'm no expert on the matter. You folks shall by my experts for the time being. To what extent would you experts say these claims are true of leading physicists? Do they represent accepted academic standards in the discipline of Physics?

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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby poxic » Sat May 08, 2010 10:02 pm UTC

It sounds like your prof believes a nice-story version of what a couple of physicists have believed (and maybe some do now). Physicists have been known to be somewhat mystic in their worldview, as in "wow what a totally overwhelming and awe-inspiring place we live in". Not as in "there are invisible spirits running around", though there's probably one somewhere that does believe that.

There are interpretations of physics that imply that causality (time) is an illusion. There is a consensus of sorts that what we see with our eyes is a "simplified interface" to the world, in part because we can only see in a narrow range of frequencies. Rolling all of this together and stirring it with an urban legend stick would add up to roughly what your prof said.
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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby doogly » Sat May 08, 2010 10:48 pm UTC

Your prof is nuts. Causality is extremely important.
Quantum mechanics is very surprising when all you have is classical intuition, and it often inspires deep reverence among physicists. But it's deeply inaccurate to equate that with mysticism. Physical objects are certainly not illusions. Even the classical variables like position and momentum which get fuzzy at the quantum scale aren't unreal, they're just really governed by probabilistic laws instead of deterministic ones.
This kind of claim is advanced by people who write books like "The Tao of Physics." It's certainly not mainstream, but if your prof has only read one book on it and it was that one, that'd probably be the impression he'd get.
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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby thc » Sat May 08, 2010 10:59 pm UTC

Human consciousness causes waveform collapse.

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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby Soralin » Sat May 08, 2010 11:23 pm UTC

thc wrote:Human consciousness causes waveform collapse.

Did you mean to post this in the misconceptions thread?

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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby squareroot1 » Sat May 08, 2010 11:57 pm UTC

Human consciousness Interaction with an exterior system causes waveform collapse.

Fixed that for ya.

Some physicists subscribe to the Holographic principle which can be interpreted as saying "physicality is an illusion."

There is some principle of quantum mechanics (or maybe it was relativity) that you can't have causality, simultaneity, and another thing. I wish I could remember it better, but most physicists throw out simultaneity cause the other two are really hard to part with.

Anyway, it sounds like your professor takes his understanding of physics from poorly phrased news reports.

PS, I have a copy of [The] Tao of Physics, though I never finished it.

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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby khanofmongols » Sun May 09, 2010 2:06 am UTC

There is some principle of quantum mechanics (or maybe it was relativity) that you can't have causality, simultaneity, and another thing. I wish I could remember it better, but most physicists throw out simultaneity cause the other two are really hard to part with.


I believe what you are refering to is Bell's Inequality which states that the universe must violate either locality or counterfactual definiteness according to wikipedia.

Locality means that everything is effected only by it's immediate surroundings.

Counterfactual definiteness- I've looked but don't know exactly what it means.

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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby Link » Sun May 09, 2010 10:50 am UTC

Yeah, your professor has inhaled too many toxic pyramid fumes.

The statement in the OP is *possibly* - and that's stretching it - a gross oversimplification of some concepts regarding quantum physics. If you were to give him the benefit of the doubt (which, frankly, you shouldn't), you could interpret it as follows:
-a mystical view of reality: some physicists might look beyond the here and now, and see complex systems in the mundane, e.g. they might feel a breeze and state it is a movement of air from a high-pressure area to a low-pressure one, likely caused by a combination of temperature gradients and the Coriolis effect. To say that all physicists always maintain such views is a fallacy, however.
-believe that physical objects are an illusion: when you get to the scale of atoms, concepts like "solid" and "touch" become a little fuzzier than what we're used to, and a layman might extrapolate that to mean nothing physical exists. That, however, is wrong. Describing reality "accurately" requires a bit more than what a layperson might be used to, but that does not imply physical objects are illusions.
-causality does not exist: causality would break down if faster-than-light transfer of information were possible. The the best of our understanding, that isn't the case. Even if it were, we would still observe causality where and when FTL isn't used. As per above, the possibility that something breaks down in extreme scenarios does not mean that that something does not exist. That's like saying "humans can die, ergo, humans don't exist" - in other words, absolute bollocks.

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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby doogly » Sun May 09, 2010 3:21 pm UTC

khanofmongols wrote:Counterfactual definiteness- I've looked but don't know exactly what it means.

The ability to say that after I do a measurement, if I had not done the measurement it still would have had that value.
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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby BlackSails » Sun May 09, 2010 5:02 pm UTC

Its worth noting that you can experimentally test counterfactual definitiveness via the elitzur vaidman interferometer.

YourReality
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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby YourReality » Mon May 10, 2010 6:48 pm UTC

Interesting. I appreciate the input folks! I think I now feel comfortable telling my professor he needs to do more reading before he goes spouting opinions.:D Especially those which are not relevant to the course. I'm still scratching my head on how we got onto the 'physicists believe objects are an illusion' topic in the first place considering the course is called Prehistory of Religion.....

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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby doogly » Mon May 10, 2010 9:13 pm UTC

Maybe he thinks modern science validates religious mystical nonsense.
LE4dGOLEM: What's a Doug?
Noc: A larval Doogly. They grow the tail and stinger upon reaching adulthood.

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Or; Is that your eye butthairs?

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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby PM 2Ring » Tue May 11, 2010 1:32 pm UTC

doogly wrote:Maybe he thinks modern science validates religious mystical nonsense.

Or that science is "just another religion". Some people really don't understand the difference between how science operates and Appeal to Authority. But I guess we covered that topic in the recent Scientific Method thread.

Hopefully, this archaeology professor isn't like that, and that he just misread things into some pop physics. Confirmation bias can cause people to twist things around that they don't properly understand, and that can be easy to do when your only reading in QM comes from such pop science books. And then there's all the New Age waffle that tries to justify itself via QM. No wonder non-physicists have a few misconceptions in regards to QM. :)

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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby Adacore » Tue May 11, 2010 2:15 pm UTC

You could develop a view similar to this if you based your opinions of scientists on Anathem, I suppose. It sounds like your professor is putting forward a relatively accurate description of Fraa Jad, from that book...

Saying that, I think it's possible to put an interpretation of the observed world into place in which causality per se, does not exist. But it's not, in my opinion, a terribly sensible view.

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Re: To what extent is my Archaeology professor on crack?

Postby You, sir, name? » Tue May 11, 2010 8:14 pm UTC

He is correct in the sense that there exists a great deal of quantum mysticism and various other hokum derived from an extremely superficial understanding of quantum mechanics.

But if you bring your book on quantum mysticism to a physicist, he will burn the book and shoot you in the face (not necessarily in that order.)
I edit my posts a lot and sometimes the words wrong order words appear in sentences get messed up.


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