Skeptics with a K: Episode #086


A special live, raw, unedited show recorded on Wednesday 28th November 2012. Featuring the perfect pint, beanstalks, capillaries and rock genies. Plus evidence, enjoyment, and regression to the mean. Being nice to homeopaths, it’s Skeptics with a K.

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  1. #1 by Martin clem on November 30, 2012 - 06:36

    http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=420478

    This may be of interest regarding “Mindlabs”

  2. #2 by Disagreeable Me on November 30, 2012 - 13:47

    Enjoyed the podcast as always. I particularly appreciated the letter to Emily – it was a great example of how to disagree with someone while being polite and respectful. The explanation of why personal experience should not be compelling was particularly clear and insightful.

    But at the risk of starting a feedback loop, I just wanted to mention the Quantum Mechanics stuff again.

    It still seems to me that there’s something not quite right with Mike’s explanation of the observer effect.

    I don’t know whether your conception of what’s happening is right or wrong, but the way you explained it does sound like you just can’t help disturbing delicate microscopic systems with your big clumsy macroscopic measurements, and so you can never measure something without disturbing it.

    I think this explanation has elements of truth but it’s just too classically intuitive to capture the unintuitive weirdness of quantum mechanics.

    I could be wrong here too, but I really don’t think that the results we see are because of the practical impossibility of passively observing something on a micro scale, and that seems to be what you are saying when you state that “observation is not passive”.

    For example, the double slit experiment. If you do not place a detector at the position of the slits, you get interference as if the electron went through both slits simultaneously. If you do place a detector there, you do not get interference and you see that it went through one or the other.

    But if the detector is only at slit A, then even if it isn’t entirely passive, let’s assume that it won’t have any direct effect on what happens at slit B, and yet the presence of the detector at A does affect what happens at B – instead of the electron appearing to go through the slit every time it now only goes through it sometimes.

    Another example is working with entangled particles which are widely separated. Performing a measurement on one particle will determine the result of a measurement on the other particle happening remotely, despite the fact that the two particles are too widely separated for the side-effects of the measurement at A to be disturbing B in a classical sense. These effects can even occur faster than the speed of light and back in time.

    (Unfortunately they can’t be used to transmit information because you need to have both sets of measurements to see the correlations and make sense of it).

    Again, love the podcast, and sorry if I’m being a nit-picking prick.

  3. #3 by Mike on November 30, 2012 - 17:13

    I don’t see anything you are saying as incompatible with what I’ve said.

    When you measure the system, it behaves differently than when you do not measure the system. When measured, a superposition of states will collapse into a single state. A photon which previously might have passed through two slits simultaneously, will only pass through one or the other.

    My point is that this is related to the act of measurement, not the interpretation of the measurement by a conscious mind. I’m not proposing any mechanism by which the act of measurement causes the wave functions to collapse.

  4. #4 by Disagreeable Me on November 30, 2012 - 19:19

    Hi Mike,

    Fair enough I suppose, it’s just that it sounded like you were giving a classical explanation (you disturb the particles with your measuring instrument) for something that is a bit weirder than that. If your emphasis is only that consciousness is not necessary, then that’s ok.

    Except I think perhaps that’s not quite right either. As I understand it, there kind of does seem to be something special about consciousness, only that I don’t think it’s consciousness that’s important per se but rather subjectivity.

    For example, in the Schrodinger’s cat thought experiment, from the point of view of the cat it is never both alive and dead at any time, yet it is from the point of view of the physicist.

    If you put Schrodinger’s lab in a hermetically sealed box, then you might extend the experiment to suppose that after Schrodinger opens the box, from the point of view of an observer outside the box then Schrodinger is in a superposition of the states ‘disappointed’ and ‘relieved’ when he opens the box to see that his cat is either ‘dead’ or ‘alive’ (assuming he likes cats).

    The wavefunction for Schrodinger’s cat and Schrodinger himself only collapses when you open the door to the lab.

    It’s not the act of measurement that collapses the wavefunction really, it’s when the results of that measurement become available to a particular subjective point of view. I could be wrong here, but I think there is probably experimental support for this, which has led to the interpretation by some that there is something special about consciousness.

    In any case, this is probably only a reasonable explanation of what’s going on if you subscribe to the many worlds interpretation as I do.

  5. #5 by Fred on December 4, 2012 - 22:41

    Hey guys, great episode! Just wondering whether you have/could publish that letter response to the homeopathy email? It was the most succinct breakdown of why personal experience is a faulty method for determining what is true (and hence why we need science). Brilliantly put I thought.

  6. #6 by John on December 5, 2012 - 13:21

    Hi guys, thanks for a consistently great podcast. You never cease to make me laugh out loud! Whether its poo in a jar, Colin’s dry wit or some anti-homeopathy news, you guys are the ducks-nuts!!

  7. #7 by Michael Halprin on December 6, 2012 - 09:06

    Hi Guys
    I Just listened to your latest podcast. Loved it. I was lucky enough to get a ticket for QED a couple of weeks ago. I’m a 66 year old retired pharmacist and live in Melbourne Australia. I recently did my first bit of Skeptical Activism by stopping a lecture organized to be given to a group of pharmacists (me included) in Tanzania by Jeremy Sherr and his clinic on Homeopathy – Helping patients with HIV/AIDS in Africa. I just blew my stack when I saw the lecture in the handbook. But success. Your email from and to Emily really got me excited. I would love a copy if possible, as I intend to engage with all the other delegates as to why the lecture was cancelled and those 2 emails would really help my case. I look forward to seeing you in Manchester in April and hope to speak with one of you about the matter.
    Best wishes, Michael

  8. #8 by martin on December 7, 2012 - 12:19

    They only drank 1000 beers in their search for the perfect pint? Bloody amateurs.

  9. #9 by martin on December 7, 2012 - 20:39

    Oh, and thanks for the mention at the end. I appreciate it!

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