6 Physicists Speak on Quantum Quackery

Murray Gell-Mann, CalTech physicist, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics for introducing quarks.

Quantum Mechanics and Flapdoodle: [C]ertain writers have claimed acceptability in quantum mechanics for alleged “paranormal” phenomena like precognition, in which the results of chance processes are supposed to be known in advance to “psychic” individuals. Needless to say, such phenomena would be just as upsetting in quantum mechanics as in classical physics; if genuine, they would require a complete revamping of the laws of nature as we know them.

TED Talk: I won’t go into a lot of stuff about quantum mechanics and what it’s like, and so on.  You’ve heard a lot of wrong things about it anyway. (Laughter)  There are even movies about it with a lot of wrong stuff.

People keep asking that when they read my book, “The Quark and the Jaguar,” and they say, “Isn’t there something more beyond what you have there?”  Presumably, they mean something supernatural.  Anyway, there isn’t. (Laughter)  You don’t need something more to explain something more.

Leonard Mlodinow, CalTech physicist, co-author with Stephen Hawking of The Grand Design.

Q: Dr. Mlodinow, Dr. Chopra as he says, through the years has used the language from quantum physics to support and explain some of his spiritual ideas… that irritates you and other scientists. Can you tell us why?

A: Well, I don’t know if it irritate is the right word… You can understand physics at the level in which we write books like The Grand Design or other popular science books, and then there are deeper levels of understanding, which are more technical but really closer to what physics is really about. And it’s difficult if you’re not trained in physics to use the terminology to make new pronouncements or your own theories… it’s a dangerous turf to go on and advocate those ideas yourself.

Victor Stenger, emeritus professor of physics, University of Hawaii.

In 1989, the eminent Oxford mathematician and cosmologist Roger Penrose published a bestselling tome called The Emperor’s New Mind that was packed with wonderful material on physics, mathematics, and computers. Penrose’s main thesis was that the human brain is not a computer and must operate in some way that cannot be replicated on any computer no matter how powerful. That is, the brain did not follow “algorithms” in solving every problem it dealt with. Fine, so far. But then he went off the deep end with the incredible proposal that the brain’s actual mechanism had something to do with quantum gravity.

Penrose was met with considerable skepticism, especially in the artificial intelligence community, which he was basically attempting to put out of business, and also among physicists who could not see what quantum gravity could possibly have to do with a large, hot structure such as the brain.

Penrose then teamed up with anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff in proposing a model for how quantum mechanics operates in the brain…

Hameroff was one of the subjects interviewed in the 2004 independent documentary film What the Bleep Do We Know? That film, along with the succeeding 2005 film and still-bestselling book The Secret, exploited the notion that quantum mechanics tells us we make our own reality…

In a 1999 paper, physicist max Tegmark looked at the problem of quantum coherence in the brain and determined that the… brain is simply too large and too hot to be a quantum device, coherent or not.

It is safe to say that the Penrose-Hameroff model has not been supported by the evidence to the satisfaction of the great majority of neuroscientists.

The word “quantum” appears frequently in New Age and modern mystical literature. For example, physician Deepak Chopra (1989) has successfully promoted a notion he calls quantum healing, which suggests we can cure all our ills by the application of sufficient mental power…

Since no convincing, reproducible evidence for psychic phenomena has been found, despite 150 years of effort, this is a flimsy basis indeed for quantum consciousness.

…Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics… was an inspiration for the New Age, and “quantum” became a buzzword used to buttress the trendy, pseudoscientific spirituality that characterizes this movement.

David Albert, physicist, director of The Philosophical Foundations of Physics at Columbia University, author of Quantum Mechanics and Experience.

One of the few legitimate academics in the film [What the Bleep Do We Know?], David Albert, a philosopher of physics at Columbia University, is outraged at the final product. He says that he spent four hours patiently explaining to the filmmakers why quantum mechanics has nothing to do with consciousness or spirituality, only to see his statements edited and cut to the point where it appears as though he and the spirit warrior are speaking with one voice.

Stephen Hawking, physicist, CalTech and Cambridge.

Roger Penrose and I… pretty much agree on the classical theory of General Relativity but disagreements began to emerge when we got on to quantum gravity. We now have very different approaches to the world, physical and mental… This difference in approach has led Roger to make three claims… that I strongly disagree with.

The first in that quantum gravity causes what he calls OR, objective reduction of the wavefunction. The second is that this process has an important role in the operation of the brain through its effect on coherent flow through microtubules. And the third is that something like OR is needed to explain self-awareness…

Lawrence Krauss, physicist, Arizona State University, author of Quantum Man, a soon-to-be-published biography of pioneering physicist Richard Feynman.

Worst Abusers of Quantum Mechanics for Fun and Profit (but Mostly Profit) award:  …Deepak Chopra… The Secret… Transcendental Meditation…

[N]o area of physics stimulates more nonsense in the public arena than quantum mechanics…  You should be wary whenever you hear something like, “Quantum mechanics connects you with the universe” … or “quantum mechanics unifies you with everything else.” You can begin to be skeptical that the speaker is somehow trying to use quantum mechanics to argue fundamentally that you can change the world by thinking about it…

All the weirdness of quantum mechanics gets washed out on the scale that we can experience. That’s why we experience a classical world.

The weirdness of quantum mechanics is reserved for either very specially prepared configurations in the laboratory, or scales that are so small that quantum-mechanical effects are significant…

Roger Penrose has given lots of new-age crackpots ammunition by suggesting that at some fundamental scale, quantum mechanics might be relevant for consciousness. When you hear the term “quantum consciousness,” you should be suspicious…  Many people are dubious that Penrose’s suggestions are reasonable…

Quantum mechanics is often quoted as the explanation for many things, because it’s so weird that people latch onto it as a hope, to explain everything that they would like to believe about the universe… Quantum mechanics is a replacement for the phrase “anything goes.” Once anything goes, you can have anything you want. So what better thing to have than something that gives you everything you want? The point is, with quantum mechanics, everything doesn’t go. On certain scales, for certain times, in certain regions, everything goes and strange things happen. But it’s not true for the universe at large.

4 thoughts on “6 Physicists Speak on Quantum Quackery

  1. Pingback: Sei fisici parlano della ciarlataneria quantistica | Fuffologia

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  4. The problem with the rebuttal of Sir Roger Penrose and his theories is the fact he actually knows about quantum physics unlike the majority of people who claim psychic powers or reincarnation or whatnot. The discovery of quantum physics effects in plants as well as birds also undermines most of the criticisms of his theory. Certainly, Hammeroff has taken it farther with concepts like NDE and the soul but the hostility to the idea of quantum physics having a macro-effect isn’t rebutting quackery. It’s more like saying John Wheeler is dumb because physics doesn’t work that way–and we know how that worked out.


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