Re: [asa] Fw: Pilot-wave theory

From: <>
Date: Sun Jun 21 2009 - 15:54:48 EDT

 I think this article is muddled on its physics history.  As I recall, it wasn't de Broglie who proposed the pilot wave -- that was David Bohm.  de Broglie's contribution was to argue that particles with mass should have a wave nature, just as massless light (being a wave) has a particle nature.  So it is true that de Broglie was interested in the wave behavior of quantum mechanics, but as far as I know de Broglie never proposed that the particles are a separate entity from a wave that exists to "pilot" them about.  That came much later from David Bohm.

I never liked Bohm's pilot wave concept because it requires the existence of two entities where only one is needed. As far as I know, the pilot wave has no function except to appear at the proper time and push particles around.  It is immeasurable and is discerned (supposedly) only through the fact that the particles behave a certain way.  The particles meanwhile have no ability to get where thy are going unless the wave shows up and pushes them.  This seems to be a very inelegant theory, IMO.  It is substituting awkwardness for the usual abstraction of QM, and is that really a good thing?  I prefer the abstraction because we have good reason to expect abstraction in the fundamental reality of nature, and also to expect elegance. Furthermore, the pilot wave idea doesn't solve the
non-locality of QM (the violation of Bell's inequality); the pilot
wave still needs to behave non-locally with information passin
g between
its parts faster than light, so what good does it do?  In the final analysis, isn't it still abstract?


-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Powers <>
To: Randy Isaac <>
Sent: Sun, Jun 21, 2009 9:49 am
Subject: Re: [asa] Fw: Pilot-wave theory


Can you provide us with more information as to the critical experiment
that Valentini suggests? 

BTW, Roland Omnes provides another approach to QM, as a description of
histories, following on Griffith's work, that would also avoid a lot of
these paradoxes. 

He has an interesting take on the direction of time also, associated with
decoherence and the dissipation of the entangled states. 



On Sun, 21 Jun 2009, Randy Isaac wrote: 

> Do any of you folks knowledgeable about quantum mechanics have a perspective on de Broglie's pilot-wave theory as advocated by Valentini? 

> I'm not much of an autograph collector but I do cherish an autograph I obtained from Louis de Broglie when I met him after a lecture he gave in Paris in 1971. So my reasons for wishing him success are highly unscientific! 

> Here are a few paragraphs from the latest issue of Science. 

> Randy 

> Science 19 June 2009: 

> Vol. 324. no. 5934, pp. 1512 - 1513 

> DOI: 10.1126/science.324_1512 


> News Focus 

> Physics: 

> Is Quantum Mechanics Tried, True, Wildly Successful, and Wrong? 

> Tim Folger* 

> A skeptical physicist charges that his field has been wandering in a philosophical wilderness for 80 years. The good news: He thinks he knows the way out. 

> Antony Valentini has never been happy with quantum mechanics. Sure, it's the most powerful and accurate scientific theory ever devised. Yes, its bizarre predictions about the behavior of atoms and all other particles have been confirmed many times over with multi-decimal-place exactitude. True, technologies derived from quantum mechanics may account for 30% of the gross national product of the United States. So what's not to like? 

> Valentini, a theoretical physicist at Imperial College London (ICL) and the co-author of a forthcoming book on the early history of quantum mechanics, believes that shortly after the theory's birth some 80 years ago, a cadre of influential scientists led quantum physics down a philosophical blind alley. As a result of that wrong turn, Valentini says, the field wound up burdened with paradoxical dualities, inexplicable long-distance connections between particles, and a pragmatic "shut up and calculate" mentality that stifled attempts to probe what it all means. But there is an alternative, Valentini says: a long-abandoned "road not taken" that could get physics back on track. And unlike other proposed remedies to quantum weirdness, he adds, there's a possible experiment20to test whether this one is right. 

> "There isn't a more insightful or knowledgeable critic in the whole field of quantum theory," says Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada. Smolin, who researches a subfield known as quantum gravity, has long held that current quantum theory is incomplete at best. 

> In a book to be published later this year by Cambridge University Press, Valentini and co-author Guido Bacciagaluppi, a philosopher of physics at the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom, reassess a pivotal and contentious meeting at which 29 physics luminaries-including Louis de Broglie, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, and Albert Einstein-butted brains over how to make sense of quantum theory. 

> The book, Quantum Theory at the Crossroads, includes the first English translation of the proceedings of the historic 1927 Solvay conference. The gathering was the fifth in an ongoing series of invitation-only conferences in Brussels, Belgium, launched in 1911 by the Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay. At the meeting, blandly titled "Electrons and Photons," attendees grappled with issues that were-and remain-among the most perplexing ever addressed by physicists. Quantum mechanics confounds commonsense notions of reality, and the physicists in Brussels disagreed sharply about the meaning of the theory they had created. 

> .... 

> The proceedings do, however, contain 24
 pages of discussion of a rival interpretation by de Broglie. Unlike Bohr, who viewed the quantum wave equation describing a particle as a mathematical abstraction, de Broglie thought such waves were real-he called them pilot waves. In de Broglie's picture, particles never exist in more than one place at the same time. All the mysterious properties of quantum theory are explained by pilot waves guiding particles along their trajectories. In the two-slit experiment, for example, each particle passes through only one slit. The pilot wave, however, goes through both slits at once and influences where the particle strikes the screen. There is no inexplicable wave collapse triggered by observation. Instead, Valentini says, "the total pilot wave, for the particle and the detectors considered as a single system, evolves so as to yield an apparent collapse." 

> Bohr, Heisenberg, and their supporters at the Solvay conference were unimpressed. The details of the particle trajectories were unobservable, and Bohr insisted that physicists shouldn't traffic in hidden, unmeasurable entities. "De Broglie wasn't happy with the Copenhagen interpretation," says Valentini, "but he gave up trying to argue about it." 

> Bohr and Heisenberg's vision of quantum theory prevailed; de Broglie's languished. David Bohm, a prominent American physicist, rediscovered de Broglie's work in the early 1950s and expanded on it. But Bohm's work, like de Broglie's, failed to attract much support, because it could not be distinguished experimentally f
rom conventional quantum mechanics. 

> The past decade has seen renewed interest in understanding the foundations of quantum mechanics, and physicists have devised several competing interpretations of the theory (Science, 25 June 2004, p. 1896). Valentini has been in the thick of this quantum renaissance. In the early 1990s, as a graduate student studying with the late Dennis Sciama, a cosmologist who also mentored Stephen Hawking, he learned about the work of de Broglie and Bohm and became convinced that it had the potential to resolve all the mysterious paradoxes of quantum mechanics. He has spent most of his career almost single-handedly building on their work. 

> ... 

> Confirmation of Valentini's idea would be one of the biggest advances in physics in decades. The Planck spacecraft, launched in May by the European Space Agency (Science, 1 May, p. 584), will take a closer look at CMB and could conceivably find evidence supporting Valentini's predictions. 

> "One of the most attractive features of Antony's proposals is that they're testable," says David Wallace, a philosopher of physics at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. "If tomorrow there is some experiment that Antony's theory gets right and quantum mechanics gets wrong, then end of story." 

> Valentini knows he faces steep odds. "Maybe in 200 years people will look back and say the time wasn't right to reexamine the foundations of quantum mechanics," he says. "Or it might20be that they'll say, 'My God, it opened up a whole new world.' We can't tell. One thing is certain: We won't find out if we don't try." 


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Received on Sun Jun 21 15:55:52 2009

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