Sean Carroll is a cosmologist and physics professor specializing in dark energy and general relativity. He is a research professor in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology.His new book "Something Deeply Hidden" is now available and also look for “Sean Carroll’s Mindscape Podcast” on Apple Podcasts.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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technology and he has a new book out right now that hurt my brain he's going to try really hard to explain. It but it's a fascinating conversation. I really enjoyed talking them. I always do it's a pleasure to treat. Please give it up for Sean Carroll. Joe Rogan experience join my day, Joe Rogan podcast by night all day, hey guys, thanks for being here again. I really appreciate it so over the weekend I got in your book. Yes, yes, it's great I mean I really appreciate someone like you: who's, trying to break down quantum mechanics and quantum physics for someone like me, it's very hard to follow and it was a lot of backing up in trying it again. I'm back and I'm trying to Dan and likes going over paragraphs and trying to figure out exactly what it means, but I it's it's a
the excellent and really perplexing at the same time. Well, thank you, and you know there are different styles. When it comes to writing popular books. I think there should be different styles and my particular style is look. It's not going to be a breezy page turner, but if you read it carefully like there's, not prerequisites, you don't have to come into it as an expert would you have to. Come into. It is someone who is willing to sit and think about every paragraph, and then hopefully it will be rewarding and you'll truly understand. What's going on after doing that, well It is rewarding because it is fast, ending in the history of quantum physics is also pretty fast. I I've always wondered like how did anybody even want to come up with this stuff like yes and the fact that it was so long ago with the begin
has ever were in the 19th century? Well, one thousand nine hundred is the typical literally that year, the turn of the century when MAX Planck first ah got the first hints of it and then yeah. It was took another twenty seven years to put into final shape now for regular people that don't have a background in physics or they don't. This is like the whole idea behind, and it is so bizarre. It's like why would anybody try to figure out something in that? One of the things that you said, that's really interesting is that you, quantum physics, is used all the time it's used with exact calculation but yet we don't really understand yeah yeah. I know that's the main message of the book really because this is of course, do quantum mechanics every day, whether it's you know St Ford, one mechanics quantum field. Theory, quantum information going computing, clearly we're pretty good at it. You know like Trent,
Esther's and lasers- depend on quantum mechanics. The sun shining figuring. That out depends on quantum mechanics the Higgs Bos on Etcetera. So to claim that we don't understand, quantum mechanics is a little bit weird, but then we have looks from people like Richard Feynman, saying nobody understands quantum mechanics right, and so if he says that there's some authority behind it- and the reason is what we have is sort of a black box right, You say you know what I think, what I said in a New York Times, article I wrote recently, is understand on mechanics in the same way that someone who owns a smartphone understands the smartphone like they know how to use the apps. They can call people they can make phone calls, they can take pictures, they don't know, what's going on inside and that's physicists with quantum mechanics. They they use it. They can make very, very precise predictions. But if you ask them what is really going on like what is actually happening, what for all the details are like yeah. No, that's not our job. Let's stick to prediction, but to someone like me, that's so terrifying because, like the very
nature reality is being examined by people like if, if it is us off of smartphone, it's being examined by people like me, yeah who don't really understand the smartphone, I have no idea what was going on inside a smartphone of no. I know some words that have to be you. You have to scribe ram and process, so the electrons moving around in there right, yeah yeah, and I think- and it's in some sense- that's fine like most of us, don't need to know what's going on inside the smartphone to use it. But somebody should know yes, and my argument in the book is look the if five hundred years from now, when historians write the history of twentieth century physics, they will say two things. One is
my God, these people were so brilliant and creative to invent quantum mechanics and then they were so afraid to really take it seriously and try to understand it like they said like stop. Asking questions about the meaning of reality and what the world is doing in my mind, what physics is all about, is understanding reality and what the world is doing. It's not just about making predictions making predictions is good, but we do that. You know mostly because we're curious about what the world is doing well for people outside the world of Vaca do yeah. When I read someone like you saying that you were discouraged from pursuing this, and you literally told that you should be pursuing your work and cosmology and gravitation is that's where it's at a serious work yeah. That seems to me to be so crazy, it's like if anybody should be pursuing it, it should be.
People like you, you know I mean I wanna be fair. So of course, twenty century physics was incredibly successful and- and there was part of the attitude was look. We have to understand nuclear physics and particle physics, and you know a lot of it was the centre physics shifted from Europe to the US and, and Europe is much more philosophical and and you're willing to think about the deep ideas. Americans are pretty pragmatic and want to build things right in particular, at the time they wanted to build nuclear weapons, and so the idea of just really putting aside deep philosophical issues and putting stuff to work was attractive and it and the other issue, is you know? Okay, let's say we do demand that we understand quantum mechanics better. How do you do it to like? What experiment is it there that you can do is as far as we know, the cookbook that we had, even though we don't understand it works pretty well like what? What could you type into your smartphone? That would help you understand. What's going
inside it's kind of hard to figure out. So I think those attitudes were wrong, but at least you know they're not completely crazy, it's not just that they were afraid of the truth or anything like that, and I also think that it is finally changing now. I think that there's slowly slowly, slowly more people are appreciating the understanding. One mechanics is important. What what do you attribute that to I'm a couple of things one is, I mean, is good news and bad news that part of the Good NEWS is technology has gotten better, so we're trying to build quantum computers, for example, and guess what you know. Some of the ad hoc rules that we had for doing, one mechanics might not be up to the task. We need to understand the details a little bit better. The other Sattar thing is that, since so much of fundamental physics is kind of stock right now right, we haven't, we literally have not been surprised by a new experimental result. In
under mental physics. Since the nineteen seventies, the one is one exception to that, which is the universe accelerating in one thousand nine hundred and ninety eight, which was the dark energy we've had amazing accomplishments and experimental observational physics. We found the Higgs Bos on. We found the top quark. We found gravitational waves, the microwave background, many many things, but they were all predicted decades ago right. So progress is driven by being surprised and it's been a long time since we've been surprised, so some people, including myself, say well. One of the things to do in that situation is to take a step back and re, examine the foundation's, maybe Maybe we can take a broader look and think that we're walking down the wrong path now for people that don't have any background in physics, there's, ah a bit of an issue with the public perception and one of the things about public perception is films like what the bleep yeah
that sort of throw this sort of cultish monkey wrench into the now. What quantum physics is weird enough, as it is yeah without adding let that movie was literally created by a channel, are right. My friend of mine, David Albert, who is one of the leading philosophers of physics, and I should also give credit to philosophers here, because they've been taken, quantum mechanics seriously longer the physicists have, to be honest, so David is one of many people who got a phd in physics and then switch to philosophy because he cared about the foundations of quantum mechanics
the physics Department would ever hire him right away and yeah. I tell everyone through the back door. Yeah, I tell a story in the book like he wrote a bunch of influential papers as a graduate student in that he went and said. I would like to you know, make these papers my Phd thesis and they said no, that's not really serious physics and they punished him by making him right this incredibly technical mathematical paper on quantum field theory just to prove he could do it and then he's like this. I analytics anyway, I'm switching fields, but anyway he was in that film. He was and what the bleep and they lied to him and they miss represented themselves- is that we're doing a documentary about quantum mechanics? They sat him down for three hours. And asked him all these questions you leading questions like. Doesn't this mean that we're bringing reality into existence by looking at it and he's like? No, that's not what it means. Let me explain to you, but the final film there's like thirty second clips of him going. Yes, that is a really important question right
completely misrepresenting what he said, and so he went public after that and and complained about that and about the film, and he did it a hilarious story. There was a event, some sort of convention put on in Santa Monica by supporters of the film that they thought would be fun to get all of the people who were in the movie what the bleep do we know and get them it. You know, and talk to them and charge people money to listen to them, but these people were not affiliated with the film makers, so they didn't know that David Albert had been completely misrepresented in the film, so they invited him and he goes to this event in San
Monica, and he gave a talk. You know he he decided. He wonder like phase go at all, but, okay, all look. Why not? Let's reach a different audience, and he he gave a talking said, look there's two things you can do when you are faced with fundamental puzzles of reality. One is you can face up to what the world is trying to tell you and you can accept it and take it as what it is. No matter what you like, the other is you can choose to tell a flattering story about yourself and the people who made this movie have decided that the mysteries of quantum mechanics are really stories about how they are powerful and have influence over reality and so forth. But it's all nonsense
and the punch line is the audience loved it. They went nuts because what they wanted was a guru of some sort and like he was just as good a good thank you, bye, bye, all right, so yeah he had a better story to a reality based reality, yeah yeah yeah, so I think you're right I mean. I think that quantum mechanics I said before is of all the theories in the history of science, the most easel the distorted and is represented in the popular mind. You've done an amazing job in this book of trying to boil it down for dummies like mate, but it's hard, it is it is a complicated and insanely nuanced subject, one of those things where, like Many worlds theory do for one example: the the the just the possibility that there is like explain that to us explain for
and people that don't understand what quantum mechanics even means give him just like a little bit of that and then explain many worlds. Theory yeah good. This is what I'm here to do so and electron take an electron. Quantum mechanics should apply to the entire universe, but it becomes unmistakable when you look at little tiny things right, so we always are talking about electrons or atoms and so forth an electron, has a position and well sorry, let me not even say that even that was wrong. It's just so hard to correctly talk about Quantum mechanics right. If you were Isaac Newton before there was quantum mechanics, there was classical mechanics and basically quantum mechanics in classical mechanics are the only two big frameworks that have ever existed in physics. Classical mechanics was so good that everyone thought that was just right and is all better filling in the details. Until quantum mechanics came along and change things in classical mechanics, an electron is a point. It has a position, the location in.
A sin has a velocity is moving somewhere and from that you can predict. What's going to happen, okay, Quantum Mechanics says no. No, no! The electron has a wave function, so it is a wave. You know. Sometimes you hear this debate about are barred things like electrons and protons particles or waves. The answer is that there are waves and the wave function has this weird property that when you're not looking at it, it's a wave, it's all spread outdoor, it's localized somewhere, but it obeys an equation. The shorting are equation so far, so good. Just like regular physics, there's a thing. The wavefunction it'll Bazan equation the Schroedinger equation. You can predict what's going to happen next, but the weird thing about quantum mechanics is that there's a whole separate set of rules for what happens when you look at the thing when you observe it, when you measure it, that's where things go, squirrel, eat with people, describing it right yeah and that's where they want to go woo woo on it's an opening to be woo right when you say like
you mean observed something like does have to be a conscious being can be, camera. You know, that's just right right. Is it the act of measuring that changes things well, this is the puzzle. Okay, this is what is called the measurement problem of quantum mechanics, that the rules we teach our students at Cal, tech or anywhere else. We teach them quantum mechanics and their sophomore year of college. The rules say when a system is observed when it is measured, it state it's a function, changes dramatically suddenly and unpredictably. Now, let me ask you this: how do we know this based on if, if you're measuring it and it changes How do we know because we didn't measure it before like what? What observations are we making that we uh stand the state of it before it's measured?
without measuring it good there's a couple of ways, so let me make things even simpler, forget about where the electron is located and think about. The electron is spinning right. Electron is spinning. Just like the earth spins. It's really exactly like that. It's like a little spinning top, except When you measure the spin, you can sort of send the electron through magnetic field and it will get deflect either up or down. Depending on whether it's spinning spin up or spin down you only ever get one or two answers it's either going up or going down, is nowhere in between this is an empirical measured fact. Okay, so that's a part of quantum mechanics that that's the quantum fact that there's discrete set of possible answers to this question. Is it's spinning, clockwise or counter clockwise, yes, or no? It's just those two possibilities. Nowhere in between? So, if you're, if have a magnetic field that is oriented vertically, send your electron through it, it gets deflected up. You say: oh it's been up so now I've measured it spin. Now I know what it's state is, if I send it through,
another magnetic field oriented vertically. It will always be deflected up. Every single time We know what it is, we're going to measure it measuring it in this case doesn't change it. It's in exactly that state. We know it Now, let's send it through a magnetic field that is oriented horizontally. So it's going to be deflected either right or left. We know exactly what state it's in it's spinning this way, but when you say if that magnetic field that's oriented horizontally, it gets deflected left or right. Five thousand and fifty unpredictably there's no way we can predict. And then once it is so ok now it's been spinning up you measured, it's pinned left, let's say, send it through another magnet that is going vertically and now it's five thousand and fifty again it could be spin up or spin down. So somehow, even though we knew exactly what state it was in, we couldn't predict what would happen next. That is part of quantum mechanics, so
the act of sending it through these things where it makes it vertical or horizontal in it. What is what is happening to it when it's going through these things so in quantum mechanics, what we say is that it's not that we don't know whether the electron is spending clockwise or counterclockwise. It can be in a superposition of both that's just the spin version of the position of the electron can be spread out in a in a way right. It's it's truly, not just that we are lacking. Some knowledge is that the knowledge really isn't there and again. This is how we teach quantum mechanics and text books and I'm going to correct it, because many world is much better. This is the standard textbook version. There's a wave funk, and the wave function for a spin. Is it it's either up or down or some combination, and then there's a rule that says when you measure the spin, you only get up or down. You don't see the wave function just like in the cloud and that you have for the electrons position. When you look at it, you see it at a
location so another way to get to make the same argument is take a little piece, of. I have a nice little image of this when I give talks little piece of uranium, so it's a radioactive uh, little chunk of metal and you put it in a bubble chamber, so it is emitting radioactive particles and you detect the particles. You can see little streak of ah of motion when the particle leaves the uranium okay. Well, like I said when you're not looking at it. This electron is supposed to obey an equation, the Schrodinger equation, and you can ask what the prediction is when, when a radioactive nucleus decays and gives off an electron, what is its wave function, good to what is is wave function, electron going to be in the answer, is it goes off in a spherical wave? It goes off in all directions at once, evenly yeah all directions evenly
but you never see that is that right, the shape of the piece of uranium? Does it very? No because the electron gets from one individual nucleus of an atom right, so that that what the let let the he was doing doesn't matter, it's just one atom matters and the easiest thing for the electron to do it was just to go out in a sphere doesn't have to. We can go out and hire Enerji states. But the point is it's not going out in a straight line, but when you look at it, you see a straight line. That's the fundamental mystery of quantum mechanics that how we describe the thing when we're not looking at it is different than what we see when we look at it. So when you're, in pursuit of an understanding, a deeper understanding, Quantum mechanics, what you do when you're you're thinking about people from the nineteen hundreds that are just sort of basically getting the first steps going to understand this stuff, when, when you're talking about this lack of funding and the lack of encouragement for people to pursue quantum, mechanics, you
strongly feel like. There are answers to these questions. Yeah! That's right! We just need better tools and- better understanding, better equations, more time, yeah me and Einstein think this right. So Einstein is one of the secret heroes of the book, because he has this reputation as someone who just couldn't quite accept quantum mechanics. The title something deeply hidden is a quote from Einstein when he was talking about when he was a kid and he had a compass right and he was given his first magnetic compass and he could rotate it this way in that way and it always I need more than you would. I would go huh, that's cool, but he was Einstein he's like wow. This is amazing. What how does it know where north this right- and he said there must be something deeply hidden. That explains why it's doing this mysterious thing and he felt the same way about quantum mechanics that it we have. We gave the set of rules or trickled the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum mechanics, one set of rules for when you're looking at it one set of rules for when you're, not
and Einstein was like, oh, come on. Clearly this is not the final answer to the nature of reality right. He wanted to know God's thoughts. He's like I want to know everything we're not done yet there must be more going on and so many worlds- is one of the proposed answers to what could be going on. It's not the only one, there's alternatives, but it's definitely my favorite is definitely the easiest one to ah right down. Let's put it that way. Okay, so hit us with this many worlds. Theory, okay, so think about this electron, you're gonna you! You say that it could be either spin up spin down it's a combination of both that's its way function. You measure it. You only ever see spin up spin down so Copenhagen says that's because the wave function suddenly changed snapped into place. When you observed it, don't ask me what it means to observe something: that's not what Copenhagen lets. You ask. Okay, many world says what you're missing is too
things number one, your a quantum system, you were obeying the rules of quantum mechanics, you're made of atoms and electrons and so forth. You have a wave function to okay, so York, secretly treating yourself as a classical thing when you make that measurement that you really should be treating yourself quantum mechanically right, that's one thing and the other thing, is something that Einstein invented, namely called entanglement. When Quantum Mechanics says, there's a wave function for a system, it doesn't say, there's a separate wave function for every particle right. It says that there's only one way functions for the whole universe. So the way I like to say it is imagine two particles come in and bounce off of each other. Either one has a wave function at the unpredictable. Exactly what angle it's gonna go off that so both of those both of the particles that go off. You don't know where they're going, but because momentum is conserved, if they came in at equal,
velocities will go out of equal velocities and opposite directions. If you measure one, then you know where the other one is going right, that's entanglement. The observed state of one system can be related to the observed state of another system, so those are the two ingredients. You're, a quantum system in quantum systems could be entangled with each other, so Hugh Everett, who is a graduate student when he invented this idea in the Eighteen fifties said: look when you measure that electron. What happens physically, like forget about your a person, you're conscious all that b s like you're, a physic system. You will be the turning equation: New York, one of mechanical system, you obey the laws of physics. So you look at the electron. Your wave function changes it used to be you're, just the person doing whatever you do. Then after you look at the electron, you become entangled with it and it splits. So there is one part of the wave function that says the electron was running clockwise, and you measured it spinning, clockwise and there's another part of the wavefunction.
Does the electron was spinning counterclockwise and you saw it spinning counterclockwise now everybody knows this like that far it's not controversial at all. That's clearly the prediction of the equations of quantum mechanics, but everyone else said well That means that I'm some weird combination of I saw it spinning one way and I saw it spinning the other way, but I've never felt that way. When I look at the electrons, I see them one way or the other. That can't be right. That can't be the final answer. The way function must somehow collapse, and Everett said know what you're missing is there's now two separate worlds. Both of those part of the wave function are Riel but they're different worlds. They will never interact with each other again. What happens in one part of the wave function will not affect what happens in the other part. So now there's a version of you. That's all the electrons, spinning, clockwise and there's another verb
interview. That's all it's been counter clockwise and that's just taking seriously the prediction of Quantum mechanics: it's not adding any extra stuff any extra world. Anything like that. That is the part when my brain broke all right, the the idea that there's a you that observes it going clockwise in the you that observes it going in a different direction like that is so hard. Hard to understand. Do you would you apply this in your reg your life, like do you think like when you go home when you say hi to your wife and you open up the fridge erator think of yourself as this quantum being that existing in this super state? So I mean there's a couple of dance. So that one is, you know sure if I think about it, like, I really do believe it. You know I have a chapter in the book which my editor resisted at first, but then he let me get away with it, which is a dialogue between. A young philosopher and her father, who is a physicist and the father, is skeptical about all this philosophical nonsense and she tried
explain how many worlds works to him and at the end of the last question is, do you really believe this? I know you feel like taking this seriously and look. That's a perfectly at a good question. It's a very respectable question, because it is many worlds? It's not crazier, weird or bizarre, but it's certainly very very far away from our everyday experience right. So what it's asking you to do is to say I have these equations they are really really good at fitting. What I do observe in the world and making predictions you know, I can build the large hadron, collider, etc. Um. I will take them seriously, even for things that I can't directly observe because of the best equations. I have right until a better set of equations come along. That will believe these equations, and the implication of that is. Yeah there's a whole bunch of world like a huge number like a real. You know
obviously unimagined Lee big number. Maybe an infinite number may be finite. We don't know of different copies of you and they're being created all the time. The good news is that it doesn't really back. Tell you go through life. It doesn't really imply that you should behave any differently than you would if you just lived in one world, but do you think of each choice that you make possibly changing everything about the world that you exist in the are? Are you? How are you looking at it? If you don't know saying, because you you are a guy who will probably I understand that as good as anybody that's alive. So is weird This stuff sounds to me. It sounds like a mean, it's almost impossible for me to comprehend, so I'm trying to filter it through your understanding of it. Well, I
think that his jacket off you know it's getting hot in here physics is eating us up. Um yeah, I'm not exactly sure how to say it. The best you know um it. Doesn't it doesn't change who you are. It is certainly not true that you making a decision is what branch is the wave function of the universe? I guess that's the right thing to say, because I want to stop all woo yeah, What happens? Everyone you know believe the brakes, the joke about how certain political choices imply that we're living in the wrong branch of the wave function has been made many many times, but you the it's, not that your choices create different universes, different universes, get created and maybe you're different in them by a little bit in, in fact, you know I'd like to point out. There is an app you can download if you have an Iphone called universe, splitter which will branch the wave function of the universe for you and then, if you agree ahead of time to do one thing in one branch in another thing: another branch, then there will be multiple copies of you or living different law.
Then you can deal with that in your therapist. I love you like, but what is the application exactly doing? What it's doing is a basically a version of Measuring the spin of the physical universe for later universe, splitters only for iphones Nomogram, this ramp, sorry and your people- yeah. Sorry, it's not even a web page- is only a only an app there's, a quick one web pages. But okay, pulling it up right now, yeah and what's so, would you can do it? Basically, it sends a signal to a lab that, coincidentally, is located in Geneva, Switzerland, but it's nothing to do with the Higgs boson or anything like that. They send a single photons down a pipe to what's called a beam splitter. So the wave function of the photons goes, fifty fifty it gets sent left it gets sent right and if you agree, and so that it sends back whether you ended up in branch of the wave function where went left or where it went there, you go one. Ninety nine come on yeah, that's worse of changing the universe is at your end. I downloaded it on it paid for it. I got it right here, yeah right, so if you have a tough choices,
you can type in, like you know, I want to have pizza or I want to have chinese food. It is nine! Well Susan, one universe. I will take a chance in the other one. I will place so yeah, but you can use you can correct those you can fill in whatever you want really yeah, that's the good part, but what what is happening when I will ask her to marry me, I will not ask her to marry is missing. I will accept this job. I will go somewhere else equivalent of a quantum fortune cookie yeah, but except that all possible fortune in different universes. The bad news you can't ever find out how things went in the other universe. Cox is a different universe. That's the problem. As a problem will be paralyzed by analysis. That's why it's! You should act to the same as it is. You just live in one universe, because you can never talk to the people in the other ones mmhm. So, but now, let's hit hit the brakes on the world again. Yeah because would like to believe that there are,
I mean. Are there an infinite number of use? Existing eight to get a letter is the exact same. Time making very choices would send you off in a different directions. So number and we don't know if it's infinite number or just really big, but there's a really really big number. That's big enough to be. You know big enough for whatever you want, but it's not everything. It's not. The theory does not say everything happens somewhere right. The theory says they're shorting. Our equation is obeyed. There's an equation that is obeyed, so electrons will never convert into protons, because electrons are negatively charged. Protons are positively charged and nowhere in the Schrodinger equation. Can you violate the conservation of charge right so there's plenty of things that don't happen, but then there are plenty of things that do happen
Some things are more likely than others for you to experience. So again it's it's sort of a you know. It's a mind body thing, but it's a straightforward prediction of the equations and it doesn't affect our lives. It there's no rule that says you know to be a moral person to be good utilitarian and make the world happy knowing that the world the way function is branching into multiple copies. I should act differently somehow it's it's exactly the same that would be in the ordinary world. So and you are the ordinary world, no matter how copies how many copies of you there are or how many versions of there are nothing so when all these copies are being made. There's no essence of you that is traveling through one of the copies right, like all. These people are separate people, so it I I use the analogy. It's like identical twins. They were the same zygote whatever and now they're different people. So that's the same.
Thing like your you now and if you hit the button and branch of the wavefunction they'll, be two different people, both of whom used to be you, but not the same person anymore. 'cause different things happen to them now when people think about the concept of Quantum mechanics and with the way you're talking about describing things in the micro and the macro, you think of your existence. It's self, very similar in a very similar manner. The way you think of electrons the way you think of things being quantum that you are a combination of all these quantum things. So you don't operate Some sort of static state, that's very like here and now and and and carbon and put on a scale and will never change. There's constant versions of you yeah, it's kind of
Well wishing where you're more more versions of you are being created all the time and it's it's an interesting thing, because even the best trained, physicists sort of think intuitively classically like look, here's a table, there's right on all right hand to the yeah you had like comes at the brakes, and this is how we evolved as our brains, work right and the like. I said you many worlds as one respectable version of quantum mechanics. There are other respectable versions, more respect. Will the textbook presentation, but they all all the other ones. Somehow Lee on our classical experience and the textbook version. Certainly does it says, like your classical person, observing a quantum mechanical system and so forth, and ever it when he was a graduate student, you know he was had arguments across. Ah, the ocean with people in Copenhagen, you know who tried to push
their way forward and he's like well, why do you get to be classical in the electron has to be quantum like? Why aren't you quantum like wise and everything? What's so special about you really right and he was trying to think of the quantum mechanics of the whole universe right where he is not a separate observer outside right because he's doing the whole universe all at once, and so everything had to be quantum, and I think that that's another thing that is pushing us to appreciate the foundations of quantum mechanics a little bit more. Is that we're trying to understand quantum gravity, trying to understand quantum cosmology, the universe all at once, obeying the rule. Quantum mechanics and the conventional Copenhagen theory is just not up to it when I was reading it. I was thinking. I thought came across my mind that it's almost like the human brain is a radio, that's picking up a distant signal, but getting better and better at tuning into it all the time and that we are thinking of ourselves in the
very limited, primitive biological way, because that's how we evolved, but slowly but surely through people like you and through work on this stuff, where gay meaning. This more comprehensive view of what real, he is itself in that were experiencing the stages of comprehension, and that that's why I mean you know again going off what you're saying about your being potentially discouraged from pursuing these things. That's why this is so in there's like for most people like myself. We don't have a background in this at all. The signal is so distant, but it's seems like the more you folks study it in the the more the large hadron collider and turn and more these experiments get done. The closer we get to is a better signal, just a little bit better signal, and we might be talking about generations from that right.
Yeah, but no, I, like the analogy, very much, be cause. The human brain did not evolve to understand. Quantum mechanics right, didn't understand, involved to understand. Science at all like we're in some. My best friends are human beings, but we are wonderful, bundles of impulses and heuristics and shortcuts and ways to rationalize our behavior and stuff, like that, and the idea that we can aspire to be logical and to develop theories and reject them and to Velop theories that are very very far away from our everyday experience is a relative latecomer on the evolutionary scene and we're still not really good at it, we're getting better at it, and this is part of it. You know, Quantum mechanics is the biggest challenge that we have in physics to our intuitive understanding of the world and so there's a question
how should we try to understand it? How much of it should be lean on our intuitive understanding and how much we just accept that the world is fundamentally super duper different. I don't think that's a perfectly good question: I'm not trying to prejudice the answer one way or the other. Our experience is limited, but it's all we have radio. We have that we have to be based on that, and so some people, wonder is quantum mechanics just impossible to understand. Like is the human brain not up to the task, the current human brain the current human brain short, but I think that no, I think that that's totally wrong. I think that number one quantum mechanics certainly is very understandable and number two. I don't think that anything about nature is impossible to understand. For the current human brain I mean. Maybe it is there's no way of knowing for sure, but there's zero evidence that we will fail in our ambition to try to understand.
Universe, it's just hard and it takes time look ah one hundred years ago we didn't have one of mechanics at all. Like we've made enormous progress, and one hundred years is nothing even in a human life human history, much less cosmological history, so don't be impatient. I think time, but just seems to me that The the human understanding of the world we live in is obviously radically changed over the last five hundred years and if we continue to exist in this current state or ah slightly better state, as things move on, it's going to get better, but quantum mechanics and quantum theory to me almost seems like an ant, trying to understand the choices on Netflix. It's like those voices exist, but the am really lacks all to being without people like you, especially especially describing the computations and what's been done, and what we currently understand for a regular person with no back
ground or even know no knowledge of it. No, no no one's ever explain them at all. It's almost outside the realm of our capacity for reasoning. Nope, I gotta disagree. I think it's just hard, I think, there's a difference. I think that- and I could be wrong about this, but I think that you know There was a phase transition. There was some. You know how we talking computer science about um, ah certain kind of computational machine being touring complete. Maybe don't maybe don't know that this is something we we say. So a turing machine, Alan Turing, the great computer scientist who pro codes and things like that. He also thought a lot about like what computation was and he invented the turing test for car
Business and stuff like that, for a I and for a I yeah and but the turing complete is basically there's a certain kind of computational device that can essentially do any computation. The can be done like anything that you can. You can ask if you can do this problem, and you can also do that problem in this sort of a maximal hardness to problems, and so it Bring machine can do that problem if you give it enough time and there's some problems that are undoable, so no machine can do those, but the doable ones can be done on a turing complete machine, so in some sense. This is not a rigorous fact by any stretch, but I think there's an analogy with human reasoning like at some point we're a little bit smarter than dogs and cats um. But it's not just where a little bit smarter we're a different kind of smart like we did pass a threshold, we can use language, we can reason symbolically and Abstract Lee. We can write things down and passed.
I'm down through generations. We can imagine futures in ways that they can't. So, even though you know the number of neurons or the number of connections in our brain might not be that different between the human being in a chimpanzee. It's a different kind of reasoning that has been opened up. We've become capable of this kind of thought, and I think that's enough. My idea is that we are smart enough to understand the laws of physics, whatever they turn out to be quantum mechanics or something beyond quantum mechanics and to the person on the street. Who's never learned any think about quantum mechanics. You know it is so different from how you experience the world that it seems bizarre and you do have to like read the same paragraph over and over again sometimes, but I think it is absolutely understandable if people make the effort, I don't think there's any person who you know can balance our checkbook but not understand quantum mechanics. They just need to put the time and put the time and and take your time and go back open yeah like don't us that the the real thing that holds people back, I think it's a sit in
assisting ahead of time that they know how things work right. That reality should work in a certain way and you have to lease be open to the possibility, the way reality works is way different than what you had in mind. If you're, open and you're willing to put in the work, you can understand, that's why I was curious as to how you apply it in your actual physical life. Your knock on wood ring the doorbell. Do you know, drive a car physical life yeah? If I was the email Quantum mechanics was driving. My car things would be much worse than they are, and that's because cause the classical world is a really good approximation, and this is something I'm also interested in yes, you know that that's! This is ah important emergence right. I talked about this in the last book in the big picture thing about this, when we, when we talk about the earth going around the sun forget about quantum scans just to just to classical mechanics Isaac. Newton earth orbiting the sun, okay um,
we can predict that we can write down the equations. We can tell you where the earth was a million years ago or million years in the future right, but but how amazing that is. The earth is made of something like ten to the 50th Adams, okay, in principle, to tell you what the with is doing. I should tell you what everyone of those atoms is doing right yeah. I have no idea what everyone of those atoms is doing. All I actually in the real world need to tell you to predict what the earth is doing is to tell you the Center of Mass of the earth where it is and where it's moving, so only using an incredibly tiny amount of information. I can make Incre doubly precise and accurate predictions. I had this enormous handle over what the world's doing, ignoring most all the data that there is about this. About the specific state of the world, so that's emergence when you do
don't need to know almost anything about a system. You have certain very, very special, high leverage pieces of information that you can use to make accurate predictions. So really, now that we know quantum mechanics all of classical physics is like at the fact that you can throw a baseball and know where it's going to land and stuff, like that, the fact you can get a rocket to the moon or drive a car is Becaus without knowing quantum mechanics is because Newton's laws of physics are a really really good approximation that let you make predictions without knowing the quantum wave function of the car you're driving right and if you needed to know the quantum wave function of the car you are driving will be helpless. It's just computationally intractable, so the world appears to us in a way that is very convenient in some ways, We need to know so little about the world to yet understand quite a bit of it. Otherwise we couldn't get through the day. Z that everything is in motion is also very difficult for people to wrap the brain around.
You see a stationary rock on the ground, you you think that rock is still, but it is not. Nothing is still. You know it's pretty still, but it's a part of the earth Spinning sure the earth is spinning that relatively in terms of the universe, everything is in motion in some way shape or form well yeah. This is very this, is you know, ah a lot, going on here, actually because on the one hand, Einstein teaches us, you know when you say something is moving, you have to say with respect to what right right right. So, if the, if you're standing next to the rock, is not moving with these back to you, just stationary there there's also what I try to squelch in the book. One of the misunderstandings about quantum mechanics is the idea of quantum fluctuations. The idea that an electron sitting in the the orbit of an atom is really jiggling around there and you don't know exactly where it is. That's not what Quantum Mechanics says if you're good ever ready in anyway good many worlds person, there's a wave function
The electron and the wave function is sitting there not moving. It's really not changing appreciably over time. If you were to observe the electron, you would see it somewhere and if you to observe it, multiple times would be in different places. So it looks to you like it's jiggling around, but when you're not looking at it, it's not jiggling. It's just sitting there quietly according to quantum mechanics. So is it's confusing description based on our limited ability to perceive it's actually based on the fact that we, inevitably patch, a notion of reality to what we do perceive right. So in quantum mechanics, what we perceive is different than what really is and that really bug people, because I just saw it- I mean how much more real. Could it be right, um, the way that we describe you know I liked it go on a rant in a whole chapter. The book, like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that there's uncertainty to either your position or your velocity. You can't know both of them at the same time it
not that you can't know both of them at the same time is that neither one of them exists and velocity are things you measure they're, not the elements of reality that Quantum mechanics uses and there's a difference there and people don't like that. But by the way I wanted it. Bring up in a whole another aspect of the not moving thing, which I think is fascinating and it's nothing to do with quantum mechanics, but it is a future frontier for physics. I think we can look at the bottle of water and say, like it, looks pretty stationery. It's not really changing um, because look at you and you're sitting there pretty quietly you're, not really changing, but there's a tremendous difference, because this is stationary not moving, because all of its pieces are stationary and not moving I'm. This is liquid. So it's not the best example. The table would be a better example, but you and I are sort of macroscopically stationary trying to sit
there are more or less quietly, but inside there's a lot of churn going on right. There's. You know a lot of cellular biology, there's ATP is being created and destroyed, and you know signals are going from our brain and back and forth, and someone like only damacio. The nuro scientist emphasizes this idea of homeostasis that there is stuff going on beneath the surface, but it regulates our particular configuration so that we are more or less macroscopically table and an amazing lead. You know human beings last for centuries. You were born and we are bodily integrity lasts for a hundred years, which is which is kind of crazy, but it doesn't do that by in having its individual parts remain quiet and stationery it does that
through the arrow of time in the growth of entropy and the fact that we eat food and get sunlight and we use up enormous resource is for the purpose of apparently maintaining our integrity, and I think it have that whole story works and fits together. There's something in physics doesn't understand very well, but will the important going forward the idea that there's an enormous number of you making very various choices yeah and that these various choices will ultimately affect how long you exist. In some branches, so there is a weird thing called quantum immortality, which I think is a bad idea, and I don't like to talk about it, but people hear about it. I sometimes need to mention MAX Tegmark, who is a friend of mine, a very smart guy popularized. This idea he said, look what it and it's a little bit macabre sorry about this little bit. You know weird the experiment, but the mansion doing you're playing quantum Russian
Let so you have your universe, splitter, okay, you have your app on your Iphone and you split the universe, and if it goes one way you don't do anything if it goes the other way, ah faster than you can react, a machine is activated that kills you instantly. Okay, so you don't even know it. You don't even perceive you don't have any pain. You just instantly dead um and you do this over and over and over and over and over again, so in most branch of the wave function you're dead, but in those you're dead, you don't know anything you don't you don't feel like you're dead. You know, there's no regret. After the fact. The only version of you that survives is the one that was lucky enough to be in the branch where you didn't die. Every single time so take marks argument was that if you do this over and over again and you survive. You should take. That is good evidence that the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, because in other versions you probably just died right um, I don't think that's quite right. I don't think
is a good way to go through your life. I think that the reason why we don't want to die is not just that we will experience pain, but that's sort of right now the idea of being dead in the future bothers me right like. If so once said, you know, you're going to die in this in that date might be useful. Information, oh, be sad hated. That date was soon, and I think the same thing is true, so in the quantum immortality experiment, I don't buy the moves that says well in all the branches where you're dead it doesn't matter, 'cause you're dead. You don't feel anything like. I think that, right now, it's ok for me to be bothered by the prospect that in many future worlds I will not be there. So I think that at the end of the day, once again, you should act in Quantum it's just like you act in the regular world. Are there competing theories to this that this many worlds, theory that you've embraced and then discarded, yeah yeah yeah there after there's two big ones, that
but they're. Quite popular um one is more or less what Einstein had in mind, which are called hidden variable theories. So basically, you know if you have ah an electron and you say, look when I'm not looking at it. It's wave like when I look at it. It's like particle like maybe it's both. Maybe there is a wave and there is a particle so in a hidden variable theory, there's a wave function just like there is in many worlds also another set of variables, saying there's really a location of the electron right, maybe I don't know where it is, but there really is an electron located somewhere and that location in the electron is pushed around by the wave function, but it's a whole new part of reality. So there's not so their separate branching of the way functional that stuff, but that none of that is reality where reality is is where the particles are, and this is now called Bomi and Mechanics David Bohm in the nineteen fifties developed the most ah respectable version of this um. It's sort of.
Therapeutic. If you don't like all the other worlds, it's basically you know the equations are the same as many worlds, except there's new equations and new stuff. So it complicates the theory by adding new variables. Now the Good NEWS is, it says: only one of the branches of the wave function is real. I don't need to worry about the other ones. The problem is, it's very hard, the my my particular problems. It's very hard to reconcile these ideas with modern physics like if you thought the world is made of individual particles. It would be do okay, but these days he's quantum field, theory and quantum gravity, and things like that in those more modern. I is are harder to attach hidden variables to so hidden variables. Are you know an old idea, but I think that the hard to make work, other idea, which is more dramatic. A little bit more fun is,
every single electron has a wave function and it seems to you that when you observe it, it collapses, but but maybe what's really going on is the following- that there's a random probability every second, that every electron will just spontaneously collapse. So it's all spread out, but it's way function just randomly local, the license to some particular region of space. Very very rarely like. If you have one electron and you wait for it to happen, it will happen like once every five hundred million years, okay. But if I have lots of electrons in a table, there's way more than one hundred million electrons in this table. There's there's. You know a billion billions billions of electrons so somewhere in the table all the time an electron is localising at one particular position and because that electron is end tangled with all the other electrons. The cable maintains the location in space and this
is called spontaneous collapse where G R, W theory after the initials of the people who invented the theory and the great thing about J R, W theory- is that it's experimentally distinguishable from many worlds, because it says that if I have a collection of atoms, even if I'm not observing at you for not entangling it, one of the wave function should spontaneously localize occasionally and that will heat it up. Energy is not conserved in this theory, so people are doing experiments to test this. So it's really, you know legit experimental science, Adams. The current perception by the general public of Adams is that it's mostly empty space. This is not idea. This is not true, well or not correct, or not? It's certainly not with many world says so this is you know. There are two enormous problems with our current way of presenting quantum mechanics. One is the measurement problem, which is this question like? What do you mean? Look at it? What do you mean observe? What actually happens when does that happen? That's the measurement problem,
but the other problem is what I unhelpful the cold. The ontology problem is ontology is the philosophy of being of what is real, what is actually existing, so we just talked about hidden variable theories, so in Everett, what's real is the wave function, the wave function of the universe describes the universe exactly and completely in many world in a hidden variable theories, there's a wave function and there's also particles, so there's extra ontology extra pieces of reality so the question of is the atom, mostly empty space, depends on what you think is real, so the wave function of the electron fills the um. So if your many worlds person like me, you think what Israel is the wave function. It fills up the Adam and the Adam is not mostly empty space. The Adam is the way function it has that sign.
That's right. You get the feeling that that atoms are mostly empty space, because you think that really the electron is a point. Wave functions, just telling you where you might see it when you measure it well, yes, so many worlds says There's no such thing is where it is, there's only a probability of seeing it everyone knows that, but people kind of diet they talk as if there really is a location of the electron, even if they should know better so people who generally people who say that atoms are mostly empty space, are just being sloppy they're. Just really thinking of the electron is a little tiny dot rather than a wavefunction. There is an exception to that, because there is one slash four version of quantum mechanics that is somewhat popular. I said three I said many were hidden variables and spontaneous collapse. There's another version that just says: look: the function has nothing to do with reality.
In many worlds. It's all of reality in spontaneous collapse, it's all of reality, but it obeys different equations and hidden variables. The way function is part of reality, but there's also particles in the other approach, which is called an epistemological approach to quantum mechanics. The wave function is just a way of talking about your personal knowledge of the world, you're. No, knowledge or lack of knowledge, your ignorance of the world, so your way function, just a tool you use to make a prediction for what the experimental outcome is going to be right and that's more or less what we teach our students and this approach says: don't bother about reality. What we should concern ourselves with is the experiences of agents who make predictions and update their probability expectations of the world and so
One like that. If you ask them, you know hello, it is an electron located in an atom or how is it and at a mostly empty space. I think, if they're honest, they would say dullness that those questions those at no. We, we don't ask reality, questions. We just ask what he gonna see kinds of questions. I think that some of the less honest ones will say sure and Adams was the empty space, because Electron has location somewhere. We just don't know what it is. Why do the approach it in this? What you the way you're describing us poppy way, what why do you think that is so common? Well, you know it is part of the attitude that physics physicist physicists have adopted, that we use quantum mechanics, but we don't try very hard to understand it. So You can talk to plenty of physicists on the street and they will tell you to your face that
understanding. Reality is not their job and I think that's terrible, but it there and they will say it, and so when you press them too much on questions, like you know, is the at a mostly empty space you what happens. We make an observation. They just kind of getting comfortable and say no you're asking the wrong questions. Let's ask questions about what will we see at the large hadron collider if we smash protons together right and those are perfectly questions too, but I think that the what's really going on questions are also interesting. So because they don't care about these questions, they will often be sloppy and answering them right. They don't know it is hard like like, like you said it's it's hard when you read the book it's hard when you write the book it's hard when you think about these things as a professional physicist, it's it's not natural. It's not easy Easy, it's not intuitive. So, even if you're, a super duper expert at solving the equations and making predictions understand sing. What's going on is a whole nother activity that a lot of physicists don't try very hard to do
now. How was all the stuff verified or argued like, say it here, you're sitting down you're having a conversation with someone who spouse is a competing theory? How are you guys working this out good? I think that if everything were going along really really well, we would be making experimental predictions and testing them, but I think the theorists have sort of dropped. The ball here in the sense that the theoretical physicists should have since the 1930s been developing these alternatives, like many worlds, hidden variables what her and make using them to make predictions, but we really haven't, they were neglected, they were backwaters. There were a few people, a few plucky souls who really put their efforts into understanding these many of them got pushed out in the philosophy department, um, but that's what we need to do
we need to like catch up on the last seventy years of lost time and work out what the implications are of these ideas. So it's in the ball, I think, is in that the scored the experimenters are working hard Experimentar is are doing amazing things with Lasers and Adams and and learning about how to manipulate quantum systems at a delicate level. But the theorists have not given them sharp it. Spare mental questions that they would really illuminate the foundations of quantum mechanics. So, honestly, what it is is a bunch of people get around a table and talk to each other. You know like all right. I think that what happens when the wave function branches is this, so a typical question will try to address. Is in ordinary quantum mechanics. We say if I send the electron through one way, or I said if you elect the other way, there's a fifty fifty chance that I will see it go left or go right and someone says, would you
mean five thousand and fifty chance, especially in many worlds, where there's a one hundred percent chance they'll be a world where it goes left in a world where it goes right. What is the meaning of the phrase? There's a five thousand and fifty chance it's. What is the nature of probability in this game where everything's purposely deterministic crying, and so that's not the kind of question that you ask answer very easily by doing an experiment. You have to think about it right. So that's what the kind of thing that we are you about the whole. You guys get together, um yeah, you know it happens. Ah, there's conferences. It's a small community. Someone asked me just the other day that you know the book came out something deeply hidden. Last week of him been on book tour, so I was on ah being interviewed, and someone said how many people do you think in the world are, would classify themselves as working on the foundations of quantum mechanics um. Maybe one hundred something like that. Not a very large number like if you say how many people would classify themselves as particle physicist
tens of house. I remember, there's a woman who came to the comedy store the after the last podcast that we did and she apparently is also working on it and she was trying to explain it to me her version of it. You know, after hearing you version of it was very similar, but I believe she was from Romania. She was struggling little bit with English, she was so excited to discuss it itself. Asin nating. When you see someone who's like for the limited number of how many of you guys there are and gals there are out there I mean whatever the number is when that spark gets ignited and of- People start tuning into it. She was so excited. This is being discussed on a podcast and she wanted to talk to me about yet to say you know, please have more people on. Please talk about this more. You know we need support, we need you know it's it. It is it's. It does baffle me a little bit how difficult it is firming up hill
to get more support for this kind of thing, because it is just an enormous privilege to be able to call your job think think about the fundamental nature of reality. Right, like you know, I gave my first book talk. Was last Tuesday an I had dinner the night before with several philosophers of physics in the New York area. If you know from Columbia, Nyu and ever and you know, we're all friends- and we could talk about. You- know our cats in our cars, but every single word discussed at the table. All night long was about the philosophy physics, is it because you guys work in isolation essentially and then, when you get together, you just you're so pumped up to be discussing Yeah minded souls you know in in part yeah. I I mean I there's no one else that in the physics Department, at Cal tech who cares about these issues, I mean some of them care in the sense that they are happy that I'm doing it. But no one does it relate since his elves yeah. Well, there's a couple other people, the fluffy depart,
who care about these and a lot of small folks, you're saying get pushed into philosophy in it. Why? Why is that? I mean? Is it just because it's so complex that it's so esoteric to so many people that just they don't? Is that the support for its not there yet? But the support for philosophy is more common in mainstream yeah. You know it. It's different kinds of support. One kind of support in academia is: who do you hire right? Will what what areas do you want? Like a physics department will generally say yeah? We should have some people doing particle physics, some people doing astrophysics, some people doing condensed matter installed, state physics and and then, and then it becomes hard to. We need people doing biophysics do we need people doing this and by the time they get to the foundations of quantum mechanics, there's there's usually very little support philosophers, there'd their job is being patient and clarifying difficult conceptual questions, and so they get that quantum mechanics is fertile territory for philosophy like it. You know one,
of the big problems in philosophy compared to science. Is that many of the questions that they were asking cannot be tested, experimentally. What is infinity? Well, you know. Ok, it's hard to do an experiment there, but it's an important question, and so you need patients, but also it's harder to make progress. Becaus, it's easy to be trapped by your intuition right, like when it's just you thinking and trying to think hard and be rational and so forth. It's easy to fall into a trap. Well, this looks reasonable to me and Quantum mechanics doesn't look reasonable to anybody. So it's a wonderful corrective, it's a wonderful reality check when you think well, reality has to be this way and then someone can say well. Look at quantum mechanics, that's different than what you said so philosophy. And quantum mechanics they sort of the they share some sort of a border yeah. Oh absolutely I mean the things so I was always a big fan of philosophy. Ever since I was an undergraduate and I discuss
it for the first time, but when I was an undergraduate and my favorite philosophy classes were like the philosophy of morality or political philosophy right, I took philosophy of science classes, but they seem to be kind of try to me because they were all about how scientific theories are constructed and chosen. You know the structure of scientific revolutions is the famous book that everyone reads: people like Thomas Kuhn and Paul fire, often and so forth, and okay, that's interesting, but it's sort of meta science right. It's like how science is done, how the world works, and it wasn't until you know circa, two thousand, that I discovered that there are philosophers of physics who are kind of really doing physics. You know that they're not asking how physics works there asking how the world works, but they're asking a way that is comfortably located in philosophy, departments and right now, not so much in physics departments. There was a part of the book
that shocked me because I had a ridiculous idea once and this idea was not my idea. Apparently La Paz had a very similar idea as a thought experiment. I had an idea once that, if one day there was a computer that was so powerful that it could accurately, He described every single object on earth that we would be able to figure out the past and Lapaz was saying that not only that that he proposed for the entire universe. Like every single object, electron everything in the atom in the entire universe that you would know. Only be able to show the pass, but also predict the future. That's right. So this is called the pluses demon, although he never called that appears on the plus. It was a brilliant guy. He he deserves to be much more well known to a base. I think I'd mentioned him his name in every book. I've ever written for totally different reasons. He helped invent public,
as we currently understand it, for example. But yes, so Isaac Newton came up with the rules of classical mechanics in the sixteen hundreds, but it wasn't until uh, boss around the year. One thousand, eight hundred that this implication of classical mechanics was realized. It's a clockwork universe that the way classical mechanics works is, if you tell me the state of a system right now at one moment by which in classical mechanics, you would mean the position and the velocity of every part, and you knew the laws of physics and you had arbitrarily large computational capacity. Laplace said of vast intelligence. Okay then, to that vast intelligence, the past and future would be as determined and known as the present was be cause. That's the clockwork universe is deterministic. Everything is fixed once you know the present moment now. Quantum mechanics comes along and throws up
spanner into the works a little bit if you're a many worlds person the Plaza's demon is still possible. So if you know the wave function of the universe exactly and you have infinite calculation, all capacity you could predict the past and the future with perfect accuracy but what you're predicting is all of the branches of the wave function. So any individual person inside the wave function still experiences, apparently random events right, so you can't predict what will happen to you. Even if you can predict what will happen to the entire una. Hours who Shawn Kerr, my goodness, there's a lot of people pause in this podcast right now shaking their head. Like you know, I wrote a little article that just appeared in Quanta magazine which, by the way, if any,
here's a as a science fair in Quantum magazine, is the best online magazine for science. These days they have really really good high level or articles, but all sorts of things, and so I wrote an article called what is probability because you know again, this is a philosopher- is kind of cool, question like you know, businesses will just put it to use and get on with their lives. Philosophers say well what do you really mean by probability? Traditional answer is: if you're flipping a coin- and you say it's five thousand and fifty what you mean by that is that if you flipped it an infinite number of times half the time, it would be heads half the time. It would be tales. That's what you mean. It's called the freak test idea probability. But then what do you say like? Well? What is the probability that Donald Trump wins? Reelection? That's not gonna happen in the number of times you know could do the experiment or even better what,
was the probability that Lee Harvey Oswald actually was the lone shooter of JFK. That already happened, that's in the past right, but we can easily say well. I think it was an eighty percent chance that that's true right, so this is called beige in probability where, rather than thinking of an infinite number of things going on you're assigning a degree of confidence to your lack of perfect knowledge right, like I don't know, exact, there's really describe something: yeah, that's something going on. I don't know what it is, so I signed a probability and and that just like the frequency that you know there is the the credence, as we say that you assigned to these different id
is is a positive number than all the credence. Is that upto one, because something happened um so in quantum mechanics is probability more like frequent is probability or is it more like Beijing probability answer? Is it depends on what your favorite version of quantum mechanics is in one of these spontaneous collapse theories. It's very much like a frequency like you know you just things happen randomly and it's purely objective in something like many world. Well, sorry, I should say in something like hidden variables: it's La Paz is demon all over again, so the plaza's demon doesn't work in a spontaneous collapse. Theory because you laws of physics are not deterministic. You don't know when things are going to collapse, I'll buy them selves, um in a hidden variable theory, the hidden variables and the wave function of all deterministic Lee. But you don't know what the hidden variables are, so you can assign some probability to having them be different things. So there's some ignorance involved. Many worlds is the coolest idea, because it's it's kind of than this is
what is kind of hard to wrap your mind around the one hand there is only the wavefunction. It describes the universe, exactly but imagine that I measure the spin of an electron. So I actually do know what the wavefunction is going to evolve into it's going to evolve into a five thousand and fifty split of observed that spinning up and I observed it- spinning down. And then, but I only ever find myself in one side or the other, so. There is always a moment in between when the wave function, splits and when Know about it, it splits much faster than I can know about it. The the rate, the speed of the wave function. Branching is some incredibly tiny number ten to minus twenty seconds or something like that. In the time scale of things happening in my brain is like ten to the minus three seconds at best. Okay, so there will always be a time when there are two copies of the one on the branch with the spin was up. One of the branch with Bin was down
they're both identical. They don't know which branch there on yet, so they need to be good Bayesian, since I will what probability shy assigned that I'm on one branch or the other, and it turns out that the probabilities work exactly like a text book, one mechanics tells you probability, should work out now, isn't the wave function. Squared is the probabilities, so they leave for square this is a rule called the born rule after MAX born who was a physicist who invented it. So I mean read the book of course, but, like you said it to the very start, the history of quantum mechanics is just so fascinating.
Hilarious, Schrodinger or winter of furniture's cat fame, invented the idea of the wave function and wrote down the equation that it obeys: okay, but what he hoped was that if you had the wave function of electron all by itself, if you solved his equation, it would sort of show that the wave function becomes localized peaked at one location, the electron kind of acts like a point particle, and that's why we see particles. That was his hope. What actually happens when you solve the equation is that the electrons spreads out all throughout the universe, so he was his hope was dashed and then he's like all right. I have this equation. What is it like? What is the wave function do and it was MAX born a whole another guy who said what the wave function does this is you square it and that's the probability of seeing something somewhere like if the wavefunction looks like this at some spread out thing, there's very small probability over here. In large probability over there 'cause the probability is the wavefunction squared and Schroedinger
they said like? Oh my god, that's awful, I'm sad. I had anything to do with it. He regretted being involved with this whole idea of probabilities and collapses, and all that stuff. Do you see an increased interest in this subject? Among students is this This seems like I do very little yeah. I do, but you know with things like that, it's always hard to you note that protect against my own biases right, like you, have the people who are interested come to me because I keep talking about it right and maybe I'm you know ruining their lives by getting them interested in it. You know when I have real graduate students. I I try not to let them work on topics like this too much like a little bit and get their foot wet, but they got to work on respectable stuff will get them a job. Also, That's interesting so you're protecting them, oh yeah! No! I I really try mixed success, of course, but I try very hard to.
Be a good adviser in the sense that you know uh, you challenge them, intellectually, and get them through interesting things, but in a way that will lead to a productive career and part of that is get a job right, like you know it it, I'm not a believer in you being such an idealist that you stop doing physics by the time you're at a graduate school yeah keep going. Do you think it's possible to a boil this down to a documentary that isn't filled with WU like a just a response to something like what the bleep some sort of entertaining yet clear version of what you're saying I think so yeah. No, that is any producers out there who won a option. My book champion, you know, I think it's especially these days when computer graphics are really good. Writing. We can visualize thing yeah, I'm convinced I would help yeah that, and that was in fact I think that you got
copy, my book, they didn't have any figures in it right, then you get the leaves so yeah. That makes it much harder. The real the real book has pictures okay and when they did, it was ours out out or is yeah I'm sorry, I should have bought a copy. It is out today last week, okay, so it is out now we'll send you a copy little good that'll be better But honestly, all of the pictures in the book were made by me using Adobe illustrator, and this is not really my area of expert So it's not like high level graphics, it's just barely functional yeah, especially you know, there's so much history, and there I had the idea before I actually wrote this book. I was seriously contemplating writing, a novel about the Bohr Einstein Debates, because they were nominally about the nature of quantum mechanics, but they were really about the nature of reality. Right and there's all sorts of history is interesting. You know there were nazis. We talk about the 1930s right. You Einstein fled German
The personalities are very different, Bohr Niels Bohr is this amazing figure I had David Albert on my podcast on Mindscape and ah the same David Albert who appeared in what the bleep and we talked about quantum mechanics in the measurement problem, and you know he said he put it really well. He said like if there's a figure from history who I would like to have dinner with, would be Niels Bohr. And because, like he was certainly an amazingly good physicist, very, very influential, but- over and over again super duper. Smart people would get together and talk to Niels Bohr and come away spouting nonsense about the stations of quantum mechanics. Somehow he had this magic charisma that worked in a bad direction to like make people just become crazy about quantum mechanics in a bad
right and that's part of the reason why we haven't dug dug into the foundations of quantum theory. Why? What was it about him? He was just incredibly charismatic in a in a weird way because he was a terrible writer. You know there's a story, where he Einstein, wrote this paper about entanglement and spooky action at a distance and Bohr responded to it, and everyone said because by this time one thousand nine hundred and thirty five people were already bored with the foundations of quantum mechanics and they didn't want to think about it. So if anyone said well, what about Einstein's worries, they would just say: L Bore, wrote a paper, don't worry about it, and boars paper was reprinted in this book. You could buy then you could read it and the pages were printing, the wrong order and no unnoticed and it is like it's just hard to make sense of what he said so it seems like a bird. And understand. What I was saying even, though, is in the wrong order. It sets a weird it is as yet that's and that's how bad it
communicator he was, but in person everyone loved him, like John Wheeler, who was whoever it's adviser, was ah sort of an acolyte of board he their sentences. He said like I never knew what people meant when they talked about people like Jesus or Socrates or Buddha. Until I met Niels Bohr. So. He had some magnetism here. That's why that's why David Albert wanted to like me and he's like what did that guy have like what was it like to talk to him that people loved him so much, even though he's kind of wrong about the foundations of quantum mechanic but it's at least someone who's charismatic. Who has that sort of enigmatic personality? At least it could spark interest yeah, that's right, so you know part of the reason I wanted to write this book is
It's very much like you know. Another thing I do is go around and talk about science and religion and I'm an atheist myself. So I say that you know science leads us to not believe in God, and I talk about this to very different audiences churches and things like that. Sometimes um how's. Well, it depends very much on the age of the person in the audience is the thing older people like they made up their minds: they're, not they're, not going to change, but young people, even if very, very, very religious young people are fascinated by what I have to say: it's not that they change their mind right away, but
thing. I've never heard someone put it that way before right, um and maybe they do change their mind later, maybe not, but at least they've heard a perspective that they were not exposed to earlier. I think the same thing is true, with quantum mechanics like there's: a butt load of books about quantum mechanics on the market, there's no shortage of books about quantum mechanics but they're, mostly with this spirit of isn't this bazaars, and this weird will never understand it, and I think that that many many people who grew up to be physicists. This is what they're doing when they're twelve years old, the reading these books right, and so I wanted to write a book which said like. Actually, we could maybe understand is if we just truck right, it's not enough of the mysterious. Let's, let's you know be embarrassed that the field of physics has not put its effort into it and make an effort here, and so maybe that will so that's. What might you know most ambitious hope for a book like this is that twenty years from now will be a flood a young physicist who think this is really interesting, yeah! Well, the number would you estimate it would be currently like how many people do you
Yes, sir, on the of order, a hundred- that's it, I think so. Yeah, like you know, went with him. Him conferences often pull people there. For twenty people holy shit? Maybe there's more because I haven't met them all, but it always depends on how you draw the boundaries, also where there's thousands or 10s of thousands of people in most subfields of physics. So I mean why we go into the subfield where there's no money or promotion chance. Since it's yeah gas. But still that's a stunning when you hear that it's somewhere around one hundred I mean we have here in California, we have sequence, the California Quantum interpretation Network, which is a group of us. You know the people we know in California who care about these issues and and we talk about them and it's like fifteen people wow and we keep it kind of depends on where you draw the boundaries and so forth,
When you guys kicks the bucket. I know that's why we're gonna bring get new blood in there huh. It's like. I say I do think it's it's growing. It's expanding and um. I'm optimistic! I tend to be optimistic. You know there is this yeah I alluded to it before, but let's emphasize it um. We turned on the large hadron collider in two thousand and nine. We turned it on in two thousand and eight and then it exploded way. We fixed it and turn it on again in two thousand and nine, and it found the Higgs Bos on in two thousand and twelve and it didn't find anything else and that's bad. That's bad for fish. Six in a big way, because it's great that we had a theory that was the king. True with the Higgs Bos on, but in some sense we learned from the large hadron collider the smallest mount. It was possible for us to learn, there's a Higgs Bos on and that's it about cork glue on plasma yeah, that's great, but we knew it was there.
I mean we will learn details about it, but the fundamental underlying laws that give rise to that we've known since the 70s. So there's million things we learn about. You know like for the gravitational waves for measuring the Higgs bows on we pin down numbers. We measure the cosmic microwave background. The leftover radiation from the big bang, but you would like nothing more that you could bring to people saying that this is very, very valuable, intangible stuff. Well, not just that. I want to make progress right, so we had good reason to think that there should be a bunch of other particles that you discuss. At the large hadron collider and they weren't there. Meanwhile, we have very good reason to think that twenty five percent of the matter in the universe is dark matter. Twenty five percent of the energy in the universe and we had very good reason to hope that we could detect it by now in an underground laboratory and we haven't and it's there, but it's beyond our reach, somehow so
it's just so hard to make progress under these circumstances? And meanwhile we have big cool ideas, like string theory that are hard to connect to the real world. So this is the last third of the look to me, is you know again like I have my favorite ideas, but there's a bigger picture about what kinds of ideas we should pursue and how we should pursue them. So the last sort of the book is maybe we need to understand quantum mechanics to better understand quantum gravity in the theory of everything you know like what should? How should we, we expect to understand quantum gravity. If we don't understand, quantum mechanics come on right and what we is the motivation behind starting your broadcast. It's called minds: capes Mindscape, yeah, Mindscape, um yeah. I've been having lots of fun with the podcast, it's been ah great and several episodes about quantum mechanics most recently. Just last week I did a whole two hour. Solo episode on how space time
merge from Quantum mechanics, the I'll tell you. The motivation was when I wrote my previous book, the big picture. It was a sprawling book, so it's not only physics. But also philosophy and neuroscience, and biology and math and computer science is a whole bunch of things in there that I'm not an expert on I'm a big believer that people should talk about things, they're, not an expert on, but they should talk about them in some sense of humility that I don't understand everything here. So I will talk to some experts right, so I went around talking expert, so you know I interviewed people had so much fun because I was writing a book. I could literally just email a Nobel Prize Winning Biologist and say: could I drop by and talk to you for an hour and they say yes, and when the book was done that went away. I can't I can't I don't license this call people up randomly and say: can I talk to for an hour? But if you have a product that has a podcast and
suddenly. If you want to talk to you right so yeah, I've gotten, you know, I talk to Wynton Marsalis, the the trumpet player right. You know the the Grammy Winning trumpet player I talked to set before then the other day. My truck Nobel Prize Winners, Mcarthur Prize winners, philosophers biologists documentary filmmakers, it's I I just really have a blast, so um yeah. This podcasting thing, I think, is gonna. Take off you should look into it yeah. Well, for me, I mean there's no way I would be able to get. Someone like you sit down. Explain things like this without a podcast it is a it's taking advantage. I think right I mean I'm not telling this lets. They were telling the audience this in, but it's it's your for the we can talk, songs. You want right like you to, give an inch of this much better than anybody um and it's different, it's doesn't replace things like books, okay, but like books are always where you can get into the weeds. A little bit might be a little bit more specific,
more careful, but there's a long road. You know there's a lot of books out there, I'm not gonna, read all of them. That was the other motivate. Shin behind starting my own podcast is that I had a stack of books. I wanted to read to force myself to read them. I would invite the author of the podcast um, but I can't read all those books which book should I read, There's a whole journey to saying: oh, like this is important enough. I should dedicate myself to a week of my time to reading this book and hearing people talk about it in an informal setting. Is you both illuminating, but also like yeah? There's ideas in there I really need to get to so I'm a big believer in diverse ecosystems. I like Twitter had like little you two videos I like podcaster, like books. I like talks, is all sorts of ways to get this information yeah. I think it's opened up the interest in a a a a far broader group of human beings to because and having conversations like this with you or with you know the hundreds of people that I get to talk to on a regular basis,
yeah, it's sparks ideas and people that you know in their mouth seemingly Monday in existence. Maybe just would never get in there and it it did. It allows these new areas of inquiry in the new areas for them personally to go look into, and I get messages and I meet people all the time. Tell me how much it's changed the way they view things because they've now been exposed to interesting information. That's sort of spark there their view of the world in a different way, ignited different parts of their imagination and the any looting me like literally yesterday, one of the areas that I had hoped to get on to Mine Skate podcast is economic, some breeds in economics, but I realized- I don't know crap about economics
like I'm, not interested in you know the trade deal or what interest rate the FED should set, and the problem of economics is it's too relevant to the real world. So people want to talk about. You know monetary policy and things like that, but I want to talk about the underlying theoretical ideas right on. I realized I just it's hard to get those, so I downloaded some economics podcasts and I started listening them, and this happens to me all the time. I'm just no good podcast, I'm in the car, and I have to stop it to think about. Just happened because you know they gave me, they said something it gave me an idea and the great thing about being a physicist is: there is some relationship between what I do for a living and almost everything else right like whether it's economics or biology or or philosophy. So I can only say like An interesting idea. I wonder if I should. You know, write a paper about that so and I wouldn't have done that very easily without the podcast for me yeah. No, it's a really interesting time. It's really exciting time to spread information. It's a really exciting time to find things that you're interested in.
And also you know, I always notice about the internet in general, which is that it calls you on your crap a little bit like before the internet. You know you could have opinions about things that you could spout off to your friends and you know over the dinner table or whatever over drinks and suddenly, when I started having a blogger and I would spout off and people would say like your you're full of shit like what thought you talking about that and say, I know, sit back and think like all. Maybe I am bullish really. Where did you get that idea right on? And I think that despite all of the misinformation etcetera. That's out there if you are or intellectually responsible and want to get things right. Put in your ideas out there in public to be critiqued is a wonderful tool. It really does go so yeah so like it help figure out like what I do understand and know, and what just we're kind of vague ideas that somehow got into my brain for no good reason: yeah if you're open to the the flood
gates, that's the problem. Is there's so much feedback? It's it's really hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is yeah and you know different people have different strategies like when I talk to Seth Macfarlane he is is interesting. He reads the comments like he wants to know. They have have twelve twelve into your phone and he and he hates it- he's like it's poisonous and toxic, and but he read that and uh- and you know for good reasons, he's like look, I'm creating entertainment yeah. If I don't know what the people I'm trying to reach think about it. What is the point? It's like much like me and physics like the kind of physics I do is not building better machine or curing cancer right. It's only cause. Human curiosity leads us there. So if I don't tell other people about it, what's the point and ah, but we did have a conversation about blocking people on Twitter 'cause. I was like the only reason why I like Twitter, because I block everyone who is a jerk. You know like if they make my twitter experience less pleasant. They get blocked right away. Yeah, that's a good
yeah there's a lot of loud noise and there's a lot of wonderful people. I have met wonderful people like half of my podcast guests, come because I you've got to know their twitter feeds and yeah seem fascinated. Yeah yeah. I read a lot of other people's things. I don't read any of my stuff for any of this is coming at me. It's s you dot to overwhelming after awhile it also it. It interferes with the time that you have, to put stuff out, because people get wrapped up in responding to their mansions are reading their mansions, and it is an extraordinary amount of time that you can waste doing that yeah I mean that's the secret, like people ask like you know. How can I spend so much time on Twitter and like what he talking about like it's been five minutes a day on twitter now tweeting and maybe another fifteen minutes reading other people's tweets in zero time, responding to tweet? That's the secret like if you yes, twitter, is a terrible medium for conversing right. You just can't be precise. You can
easily misunderstand and people easily become aggressive. Jerks right was the worst possible way to have a back and forth unless you already know somebody and are just trying to clarify something. So I use it for linking to things like I say, twitter is for thinking up for thinking, it's like the hierarchy of communication top of the food chain, It is one on one talking just two people having conversation and especially without any sort of heightened. Sense of important. Anger or frustration with another person. Just two people talking that's number one like to do with no gravity right number two is probably phone calls like calling. Some one. They don't see them. It's not as good. You know, but like being in front of someone physically one to one. Is the
Way to do it, which is one of the reasons why I love podcast as well, is because you get a chance to put that energy out there, the energy of a one on one actual conversation with people, as opposed to writing an article like that. You know we, as I'm sure you've had snarky articles written about you. It's it's weird, it's like well! That would add on why you saying, if that will do, you did hurt me and my thoughts and and I've I've almost gotten to the point I never respond to those they get a lot of. I mean I get a lot of them, but when you started the podcast, was it always in a studio or did you do things remotely back in the day? It's always. We've only had
view conversations remotely through Skype and one of them was with this Egyptologist John Anthony West was and in poor, healthy since passed away, and then we eventually did get him into the park to a studio. But I started doing it in my house and just with friends yeah it wasn't. There was no grand I Yes, when the thing got started was just comics fucking around and then slowly but surely one of that guy would talk to me and it became every now and then it became what it is yeah. I I'm still a hefty portion of my interviews are still remotely 'cause like I want to get this person. We're in Oklahoma now, whatever um, but I totally think that you know it's much better if you're in person so yeah, I could do that. Yeah, like I love my little podcast portable podcast studio around. So if I like, going to Boston in a few weeks, so I'm gonna try to get like ten people on that. Now, that's great I'm excited you're, doing it and uh, and thank you for writing the book and thing
you're coming in here and talk about it, and if people want to get your podcasts available on Itunes, it's everybody caster sold anything else, many things. But you know this is good: yeah, okay, the podcast to the book or the the things I'm hearing all right. Well always places on very much as being here by everybody. Thank you. Everyone for tuning into the show, and thank you to our sponsors. Thank you to policy genius life insurance. Folks, you need it and you can get it. It's the best time to get it right now, because the price is: are the lowest they've been in twenty years and policy genius is made it easier than ever and they don't just have a life insurance They can make life insurance easy. They can also help you find the right home insurance, auto insurance, disability insurance, the policy his team will handle all the paperwork and red tape. It's the easy way shop for life insurance, online policy genius.
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for three months, free with a one year package visit, Express, VPN, dot com, Slash Rogan, to learn more. I hope you guys recovered from their podcast. It's a brain bender he's too smart for us, but we got through. I hope you enjoyed it. His book is excellent. I really do I really do recommend it. It's and he also has an audio version that he reads himself. So we can back up and try it again, something deeply hidden by Sean Carroll, thank you folks, appreciate you all much love to everybody by.
Transcript generated on 2019-09-16.