Quantum silliness from the BBC

Since I regularly express my envy at the quality of science journalism in England, I thought I should mention that the BBC has a particularly silly piece about quantum mechanics on its web site.

The experiment described in the article looks perfectly nice, but the results definitely do not “bend” any rules of quantum physics, nor does they “pull back the veil” on quantum reality. The results found by the experiment are precisely what we “knew” they must be all along — that is, they’re exactly what is predicted by standard quantum mechanics. Of course, that doesn’t mean the experiment isn’t worth doing — it’s always nice to test our theories, and learning better techniques for manipulating quantum systems is a great thing to do. But there are precisely no philosophical implications about the nature of reality here. As John Baez said a long time ago

Newspapers tend to report the results of these fundamentals-of-QM experiments as if they were shocking and inexplicable threats to known physics. It's gotten to the point where whenever I read the introduction to one of these articles, I close my eyes and predict what the reported results will be, and I'm always right. The results are always consistent with simply taking quantum mechanics at face value.

The new result fits perfectly into this category.

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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!

2 thoughts on “Quantum silliness from the BBC”

  1. Why do they spend the time and money on studies that don’t find anything new, or on theories that have been proven already? Seems like a wast of time and money.

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