Ralph D, particle physics, and BS

Rahul Mahajan rahul at hagar.ph.utexas.edu
Sat Jun 17 19:43:46 MDT 1995


Well, Jim, I knew if I posted anything about science, I would have to
respond to a lot of turbulent crap. Here goes:

>        How can you be so categorical?  Especially if you are a marxist??

I wouldn't call myself a Marxist because I wouldn't call myself an
anybody-ist, but I think most people I know would call me one -- at least,
I'm somewhere on the spectrum between anarchist socialism and Leninism, but
I don't think there's any particular reason to refer everything back to
Marx. Dialectical materialism is just a couple of words, and very ambiguous
ones at that, not some system given by God for arriving at Truth. The
universe existed before dialectical materialism, and DM is not either a
testable idea or a coherent philosophy which can be applied to everything
under the sun. Nature does not have to conform to DM, certainly not to any
one person's idea of DM. To say DM leads one to the conclusion that there
are infinite layers of reality (a very non-testable idea) means no more
than to say Buddhism does.

>        For one thing, it seems to me a non-sequitur to compare Lysenko to
>the prediction I mentioned (actually, Lamarck's idea of evolution isn't as
>much of a dead letter as you may think...).

I thought the connection was obvious -- to say the DM mandates one view of
reality, rather than another. By saying Lamarckian evolution is not dead, I
think you mean the idea that the environment can have an effect on
heredity, which is obvious. I've never heard of any evidence of the other
crucial component of Lamarckianism -- that the changes in genetic material
due to the environment lead to directional changes in the phenotype (i.e.,
the organism will always change so as to be better adapted, rather than
worse).


>        I am unclear on something here.  Are you a marxist? Or is this
>knee-jerk reaction to using the dialectical method -- instead of the
>'empirical' 'logical' (the actual term escapes me) status quo beloved of
>bourgeois scientists -- simply a conditioned reflex developed from
>spending so many years in a bourgeois university environment??  :)
>
Marxism is not a religion, goddammit. And there's no conceivable
application it can have to particle physics. For you to question my
political credentials because of remarks about particle physics is inane.
And, no, I don't have any knee-jerk reaction to the phrase -- I'm quite
happy with it and I think it's a useful heuristic tool. Even in physics,
one can make dialectical analogies -- it may be very nice to think about,
but it doesn't really mean anything.

>> Many scientists have arrived at important results by the use of heuristic
>> ideas that we now recognize as absurd -- viz. Heisenberg's creation of
>> quantum mechanics by using the idea that a theory must refer only to
>> observable quantities. We know now that we are unable to formulate quantum
>> mechanics entirely in terms of observables.
>
>        What are you saying? That you fall for that metaphysical crap
>called the 'Copenhagen' interpretation??

If you understood what I was saying, there's no way you could ask that
question. No, I not only don't believe in the CI, I don't think it's very
meaningful. What I am talking about is the real thing, not the
interpretation -- the mathematical formulation of QM requires the use of
unobservable quantities.

>        Einstein didn't, and frankly, I'll go along with HIM. As a matter
>of fact, I was reading in Scientific American (5/94) about a 'suppressed'
>interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (the theory was developed by David
>Bohm -- who was forced to leave the U.S. on account of being branded a
>communist by "Oppie" (or is that 'Opie'?) Oppenheimer. He was fired from
>Princeton and blacklisted, etc.), which dispenses with all the mumbo-jumbo
>about uncertainty.

I agree with Einstein about the CI, but his own ideas about the subject
were dealt a serious blow many years later by the experiments which
validated Bell's inequality, showing that no local hidden-variable theory
of QM is valid. Physics is not like political economy, where you can always
go back to Marx -- there was so much Einstein simply could not know, that
his ideas on such subjects are essentially irrelevant today.  You seem to
be implying that David Bohm's views were blacklisted as well. In fact, he
is one of the best-known physicists, is given credit by all physicists for
a very important piece of work in the '50's (the Bohm-Aharononv effect) and
has always had an audience for anything he said.

>        You take the wave function as something REAL, as a FIELD -- NOT as
>a mere statistical spread -- and VOILA': all the 'uncertainty' goes away!
>(within reason.) No need to throw bones or study chicken entrails...

This is meaningless. Nobody ever said the wavefunction is a mere
statistical spread. Furthermore the so-called "undertainty" (very bad name)
is not a matter of interpretation, but a mathematical consequence of the
formal structure of quantum mechanics. You can use different _words_, but
the facts will remain the same.
>        And certainly no need to dream up 'alternate' metaphysical
>universes... Leave that for the scriptwriters on Star Trek...


>        I remain PROFOUNDLY unimpressed by the superficiality and
>dogmatism of bourgeois scientists...

I'm really not sure what you mean by the phrase "bourgeois scientist," but,
notwithstanding their superficiality and dogmatism, they've accomplished
hundreds of times as much as the Marxist scientists.

I'm amazed that you think it makes sense to apply dialectical materialism
to nature (as more than a very vague heuristic principle) and you call
other people dogmatic.
            Doing my best to squash the worldwide proletarian revolution
under the heavy weight of dogmatic, superficial, undialectical,
empirico-logical, reactionary bourgeois-scientism,
                                    Rahul




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