Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Quantum Mechanics.

Why is it so hard to understand quantum weirdness?

A potato has limited intelligence so understands less than we do. It has sensitivity to gravity and light and can process the information to organize the directions of growth of roots and shoots. But that’s about as far as it goes. A potato is unaware of its place in the cosmos and can’t even make a cup of tea. The important point is that potatoes have not evolved complex sensory systems or the brains to process and act on more sensory inputs than they possess.

Human senses are more complex; we have eyes, ears, noses and skin that send information to a brain that has evolved the capability to interpret the signals and to construct a model of the Universe. Our brains are even capable of dealing with the enhanced sensory signals delivered by some of the instruments we invent, such as telescopes and microscopes. We can understand the aspects of reality that these instruments reveal and add them to our Universe model.

There are, however, limitations to our understanding of reality. Our model of the Universe is constructed from what we are able to sense and understand. There may be phenomena that exist but are undetected, not understood and therefore not included in the model, a model that may represent only part of the Universe. Remember that the potato ‘thinks’ that gravity and light are all there is. The potato’s model of the Universe is pretty limited. Perhaps ours is also pretty limited, but, like the potato, we don’t realise it, not missing what we don’t know about.

Perhaps the Universe is vastly more complex, literally unimaginably more complex, than we realise. Like the potato, we live in ignorance, limited by how far our senses and our brain have evolved. But there may be a fuzzy zone, a liminal region, between what we can observe and make sense of and what is utterly unknowable.

We can hold a piece of glass over a candle flame to deposit a layer of soot from the smoke, cut two very thin, closely space slits with a pair of razor blades, shine a light through them and observe the strange pattern projected on a white sheet behind. It’s quantum weirdness in action. We have constructed mathematical tools can deal with quantum mechanics to help in practical tasks, such as designing electronics, but they have not got us far in helping us actually understand the quantum world.

Our brains evolved to deal with the large scale phenomena described by classical physics, and there was little evolutionary advantage in understanding the quantum world. So we can no more understand it than a potato can understand what Newton demonstrated. Our grasp of reality may be just limited to an infinitesimal part of the whole Universe.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t keep trying, shouldn’t keep pushing at the fuzzy boundaries in the liminal zone beyond comprehension. We may not have quite reached the limits of our brains’ capacities and there may be fascinating, even useful, insights to be gained that fall far short of understanding quantum phenomena.

Quantum weirdness will just have to stay weird.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Afghanistan and the Uyghurs

The most surprising thing about the speed of regime change in Afghanistan is that so many people were surprised at the speed.

Another, perhaps less surprising thing, is how many people mention that the Afghanistan debacle has cost a trillion dollars, but omit the other side of the ledger. It has earned a trillion dollars; much of it by the owners of the armaments industry, that old military-industrial complex. War is profitable for the few.

Not so surprisingly is that few people look east of Afghanistan to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to see if there are any lessons to be learnt.

Western politicians and commentators are pretty much united in their condemnation of the Chinese government's treatment of the Uyghur people. Much of the criticism is doubtless deserved and I have no wish to stand as an apologist for China. Let us, however, pause for deep thought.

There have been elements within the Uyghur people who have called for independence from China and the establishment of an Islamic state. It is always hard to be sure just how much is truth and how much is politically motivated exaggeration but there have clearly been some acts of violence by some people who support such aims.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government seeks to do all it can to avoid secession of Xinjiang and the creation of an Islamic state. It will not have escaped the notice of the Chinese leadership that the Western approach towards Islamist violence has been an abject failure. Across many countries in northern and sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, Islam has brought anything but the harmony that the Chinese see as a goal for its people. They have seen the armies of the USA, the UK and other nations move in. They have seen the killing of uncounted hundreds of thousands of people and unconscionable suffering of the survivors.

The current tragedy of Afghanistan is just the latest testimony to the failure of the West to deal effectively with ruthless theocracy based on medieval scripture. The Chinese will have been looking to their western provinces and deciding to have none of that. There must surely be a better way to establish harmony between citizens than by allowing destructive religions to flourish and then by dropping bombs on people when events get out of hand.

By all means let us hold the perpetrators of atrocities to account, but when criticising China, let us do it with some humility, recognising that the West has failed utterly to deal with violent Islamism, and that China, in contrast, has not sought to be the world's policeman, has not invaded foreign countries and has not bombed countries back to the Middle Ages.

Some further reading about the Turkistan Islamic Party.