The Real Scandal of Quantum Mechanics
In a short, but important, article in Nature magazine, Richard Conn Henry, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at John Hopkins University, concludes that in light of the findings of quantum theory, the universe is entirely mental. Continuing this theme, Professor Henry, in a letter to the editor of the American Journal of Physics, entitled, The Real Scandal of Quantum Mechanics, writes that the “real scandal of quantum mechanics is that so many physicists still insist on thinking about quantum phenomena with classical ideas.”
Professor Henry is exactly right. Quantum theory teaches that the physical world is not made of things, but of dream-stuff; yet, we still are taught to view the world as consisting of “things” as if we are not quite ready to accept the reality that we dwell in a world of the mind, also known as a dream.
In this blog, however, I want to comment upon a portion of the response by Art Hobson, Professor at the University of Arkansas, to Professor Henry’s letter, which criticizes Hobson’s field approach to interpreting quantum theory.
Professor Hobson articulates a standard objection to the “mental universe” perspective. he writes that,
If, as Henry asserts, observations and everything else are “purely mental” and “not real,” then this desk I am sitting at is not real. Henry apparently takes David Mermin’s question “Is the moon there when nobody looks?” quite seriously, and answer, “Not, and furthermore it is not there even when you do look.” Such a view reduces to is ultimate absurdity the notion that quantum physics needs an interpretation.
Ironically, this is the same objection that Samuel Johnson made against the views of the 18th century idealist philosopher, George Berkeley, who also believed the universe was entirely mental. Johnson kicked a rock instead of his desk and by this act thought he had shown the substantiality of the physical world.
But the flaw in this argument is obvious: both the foot and the rock are ideas in the mind and exist on the same level; they are real to each other. One unappreciated feature of quantum theory is that it reaches the same conclusion from different perspective: both nature and the human body are made of energy packets or dream-stuff and thus are real to each other in the same way. Even if we call the physical world a “field” we — our bodies — are part of the same field as nature.
Professor Hobson also shows he is hung up on a preconceived notion of what is “real.” He wants the real world to be something that exists when no one is looking. That’s a fine belief, but is it true and better, does it matter? I support the definition of real as something everyone can agree upon: this makes the entire universe real, since we all agree upon its size, shape, and features. So the universe is real. But what makes it real to all of us? The simple answer is that we have one mind and we are participating in the same dream. Professor Henry is right: the universe — to all of us — is in our mind.