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Sabine Hossenfelder: The big problem with quantum theory is chaos

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According to theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder,

You’ve probably seen a lot of headlines claiming that quantum mechanics is “strange”, “weird” or “spooky”. In the best case it’s “unintuitive” and “no one understands it”. Poor thing. In this video I will try to convince you that the problem with quantum mechanics isn’t that it’s weird. The problem with quantum mechanics is chaos. And that’s what we’ll talk about today,

Saturn has 82 moons. This is one of them, its name is Hyperion. Hyperion has a diameter of about 200 kilometers and its motion is chaotic. It’s not the orbit that’s chaotic, it’s the orientation of the moon on that orbit.

It takes Hyperion about 3 weeks to go around Saturn once, and about 5 days to rotate about its own axis. But the orientation of the axis tumbles around erratically every couple of months. And that tumbling is chaotic in the technical sense. Even if you measure the position and orientation of Hyperion to utmost precision, you won’t be able to predict what the orientation will be a year later.

Hyperion is a big headache for physicists.…

Take the example of the electron hitting the screen. When the wave-function arrives on the screen, it is spread out. But when the particle appears on one side of the screen, the wave-function on the other side of the screen must immediately change. Likewise, when a photon hits the moon on one side, then the wave-function of the moon has to change on the other side, immediately.

This is what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”. It would break the speed of light limit. So, physicists said, the measurement is not a physical process. We’re just accounting for the knowledge we have gained. And there’s nothing propagating faster than light if we just update our knowledge about another place.

But the example with the chaotic motion of Hyperion tells us that we need the measurement collapse to actually be a physical process. Without it, quantum mechanics just doesn’t correctly describe our observations. But then what is this process? No one knows. And that’s the problem with quantum mechanics.

Sabine Hossenfelder, “Chaos: The Real Problem with Quantum Mechanics” at BackRe(Action) (May 28, 2022)

One must, perhaps, pick one’s chaos.

Meanwhile, you may also wish to read: Quantum randomness gives nature free will. Whether or not quantum randomness explains how our brains work, it may help us create unbreakable encryption codes. Cryptography requires true, unhackable randomness, not just a string of numbers that looks random to us because we don’t know how they are generated. Because the quantum world truly is random, quantum random number generators would truly be random and are a potential solution. (Robert J. Marks)

2 Replies to “Sabine Hossenfelder: The big problem with quantum theory is chaos

  1. 1
    BobSinclair says:

    Apples and Oranges

  2. 2
    Querius says:

    Fascinating from a couple of perspectives:

    1. I learned some things that I didn’t know about quantum mechanics.

    2. It’s interesting to see how scientists attempt to rationalize unknown behaviors and properties, often falling into common logical traps.

    In a way, they’re cheating. They know the answer (i.e. Hyperion’s orientation is chaotic), so they speculate on reasons that sound neat and plausible, but are most likely wrong.

    In those cases, I believe it’s better to hold a strong conviction of ignorance while testing various hypotheses or gaining additional evidence.


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