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Without Observers

a physics page


Thursday, 23 October 2014

In the past decade as I've moved from an active research career to the quieter life of an observer of physics, my reading has turned more and more to the subjects that first interested me in physics before economic considerations lured me to the more practical route of condensed matter experiment. While I probably read more of the contemporary (current) literature than most working physicists, I've supplemented that technical reading with historical and biographical investigations. One of the figures that I keep returning to is David Bohm. When I first learned about his causal interpretation of quantum mechanics (I was a grad student at the time), I collected everything written about Bohm and his his ideas that I could find. His book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, fascinated me not just because of what he had to say about physics, but because of what he wrote about language, epistemology, and consciousness. Here was a man, a physicist who was applying his physical insight to address some of the questions which (for me) are of vital interest.

About a year ago, I thought I might try to write a blog about David Bohm and the causal interpretation. The idea was that the blog would serve as a kind of public notebook were I would record what I was reading and my thoughts about what I learned from the various articles and books I could find on Bohm and his ideas. The blog was to be called Without Observers, a reference to the idea that the quantum world doesn't need an observer to be real. The quantum universe is apart from our thinking about it and consciousness (human or otherwise) has nothing to do with the collapse of the wave function. The title was also a description of the prospective readership for the blog. Not that I doubt in the existence of potential readers, it's just that in my experience, blogs largely go unread and unobserved. I kept up my reading and note taking for a few months, but other interests prevailed and that blog went moribund.

Recently, because of discussions I've had with friends here on Long Island, some are writers, others physicists, I've returned to the idea of public writing on the topics that interest me. And as I warmed up to the idea of resuscitating this web site, I decided to add physics back as a potential entry point. While there are several entry points and what connects them may not be obvious, I think that there is a unifying theme, something which is at the center of this labyrinth. I hesitate to give what is at the Center a label. If I did give a label it would be misleading and not capture my intent. But a clue would be this: what I'm aiming at is a critique of contemporary culture. At the moment, I'm particularly interested in what Karl Marx had to say. One of the reasons I became interested in Marx had to do with my historical reading associated with David Bohm. I chanced across an article by Olival Freire Jr on the arXiv called, "Science and exile: David Bohm, the hot times of the Cold War, and his struggle for a new interpretation of quantum mechanics. It's quite long, 55 pages, but it might be a good starting point to see how a materialist view of the universe influenced the development of an interpretation of physical theory. Whether you find such associations of value is up to you. Let's just say that any journey has to begin somewhere. Shall we begin?