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Helgoland? – escape from quantum island

[“Quantum foundations” series]

Carlo Rovelli’s new book Helgoland – Making Sense of the Quantum Revolution is in the news cycle this week, with promo’s and reviews. (Probably more comments later.)

(quote) Helgoland is a book by Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli. It is about quantum mechanics and its relational interpretation. The title refers to Werner Heisenberg’s visits to Heligoland in the 1920s. The book was first published in Italian in 2020.

Key concepts:

  • Observables
  • Object properties
  • Probability
  • Discreteness (granularity)
  • Superposition
  • Interaction, interaction net (web)
  • Relational attribution
  • Entanglement
Time’s Jeffrey Kluger’s interview with the author

• Time > “8 Questions with Theoretical Physicist Carlo Rovelli – Including Quantum, Cats and Why We Should Forget About Time” by Jeffrey Kluger (May 25, 2021)

[Rovelli] Quantum physics is a fantastic machine that allows us to predict what’s going to happen in physical systems when they interact with something else. But if we take it as a description of what happens when a system is not interacting, it forces us to make implausible statements.

From Einstein’s relativity we know that our common notion of time is an approximation. … it’s only good for thinking about our daily life. … The best way is to forget about the idea that there is a spatial time at all.

I’m not the person who thinks that science is a fundamental explanation of everything. As a scientist, especially one who looks at one side of things, I should not make the mistake of thinking that that’s the overall picture.

An early review by NPR

Here’s NPR’s book review, which begins with the disconnect between our everyday perception of the world and the weird reality revealed by quantum physics. Rovelli’s book (much like de Grasse Tyson’s book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry) is intended for the “popular” audience – a guide for mere mortals, a movie-like trailer about the fundamental nature of reality.

As Adam Frank notes, quantum physics is over a 100 years old, and (as I’ve noted elsewhere) the quantum story is playing on a grander stage and to a greater audience. Ongoing interpretations, advancing technology, new generations of physicists, and the wider culture. With tropes and memes, which sometimes only fuzz the story (re the adventure of science).

• NPR > “‘Helgoland’ Offers A New Way To Understand The World, And Our Place In It” by Adam Frank (May 27, 2021)

(quote) What Rovelli offers in this new book is an interpretation of quantum mechanics. There are many such interpretations out there and in recent years a spate of works by well-known physicists have appeared defending some of these. There’s Sean Carroll’s recent book on the many-worlds interpretation, which says there are parallel realities that explain quantum weirdness. There’s also Lee Smolin’s argument for the pilot-wave interpretation, which claims there are hidden variables that explain quantum weirdness. Rovelli has developed his own relational interpretation — and Helgoland represents a clear and yet poetic argument for its vision.

… the lesson Rovelli wants us to learn is that nothing has any properties at all until it interacts with something else. And between those interactions there are no properties at all. What quantum mechanics is teaching us, Rovelli says, is that reality is a vast net of interactions where there are no things, only relationships. “This is the radical leap,” he writes, that “… everything exists solely in the way it affects something else.”

One thought on “Helgoland? – escape from quantum island

  1. Rovelli talks about his latest book in this podcast from earlier in the year.

    • The Guardian > Science Weekly > “Carlo Rovelli on how to understand the quantum world (part 2) – podcast” (March 18, 2021)

    A theory of how systems affect each other vs. a theory of how systems are.

    Relations between physical systems … instead of thinking about things, consider the network of relations between things, where a thing is a node in the network of relations

    Properties are relative … cat is either awake or asleep with respect to itself … but outside the box respective to …

    Example, velocity is relative to something else … velocity is relational … relations all the way down … Plato: to exist is to have power to affect something else … (vs. exist in itself) … properties manifest themselves in interaction …

    We are always looking at things from the inside … describing interactions with ourselves vs. “objective” … perspectives interact for a better and better understanding of reality …

    Physics is about making sense of the world … interpretations that are useful … over time convergence of interpretations … evolution … not a unique story about the world … it’s about how we can learn from one another useful ideas to navigate the world in which we’re immersed.

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