… throughout the past 100 years, physicists have proposed a lot of different ways to interpret their mathematics and, in the process, explain what quantum theory tells us about the fundamental nature of “The Real.” These interpretations tend to fall into one of two camps.
For the first camp, the mathematics directly describes a reality that is independent and objective. In this view, quantum mechanics is an ontological theory (ontology is the branch of philosophy dealing with what truly exists). For the second camp, however, the mathematics of quantum mechanics describes only our knowledge of the world. For these folks, quantum physics is an epistemological theory (epistemology is the branch of philosophy dealing with what human beings know and how they know it).
But the encounter with quantum weirdness can shake that vision for some physicists. Many of the founders of quantum theory were convinced that their new theory was telling them that ontology was no longer possible for physics. For them, physics was the act of learning about our interactions with the world, not the world in-and-of-itself.
The problem with all these interpretations is that, in general, there remains no way to distinguish between them experimentally. All anyone can do is argue philosophical positions based on, well, philosophy. More.
Exactly. And the pretense that things are otherwise helps us understand the current war on testability and falsifiability in order to defend string theory (actually, multiverse theory). Some people believe it must be true and just can’t wait around for the evidence that merely confirms it. Others don’t have much at stake and can wait for testable evidence. Some wouldn’t want it to be true but support standards based on evidence. Those positions all depend on underlying philosophical positions.
The problem is that the philosophy that prevails gets to call itself “science” and decide what is or isn’t evidence and whether it matters. And that could just come down to a vote.
See also: Has Nature “got” what is at stake in the string theory controversy?
How we got here and why it matters
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