I’m Procrastinating for Good Reasons… Really.

August 18, 2004

Avid readers of this blog (and the good folks at www.sitemeter.com seem to imply that there’s a handful of you beyond my own family) might have noticed a falloff in my posting frequency in the last 2 months or so.

I assure you all that I’m procrastinating for good reasons… really… such as staying up to obscenely late hours to watch NBC’s pathetically short snippets of Massachusetts’s own Jimmy Pedro winning the bronze in the 73kg Judo event.

But seriously, I’m actually working on my thesis proposal… and so I’m procrastinating on my procrastination to do work. Strange, but true. [Rest assured that all such vocational progress is slow and grudging. 🙂 ]

Thus, I sincerely apologize to any in the Blogosphere who’ve been waiting with bated breath for me to tie up any of this blog’s many loose ends, be they the conclusions of my “Meeting Joe Wilson” series, a promised series on the book Imperial Hubris by Michael Scheuer (the author formerly known as “Anonymous”), or worse, my long-languishing series “The Default Democratic Party Strategy and What Should Replace It” or perhaps even the fufillment of my implicit promise to write “a common sense guide to contemplating interpretations of quantum mechanics without going insane.”

But speaking of good reasons for procrastination, I do have specific good reasons for procrastination on each of these topics:

1) Regarding Joe Wilson: While hopes that we’d soon learn who (if anyone) faces indictment by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury have almost surely been dashed on the metaphorical shoals of the many legal challenges various press organizations are (or are soon to be) filing against the various subpoenas that have recently been issued to major reporters, I still think we have hope that the full story will soon be revealed of those infamous forged documents which purported to be completed sales agreements of yellowcake uranium between Iraq and Niger and which led to Ambassador Wilson’s trip to Niger. (You may recall that a little over 2 weeks ago, on August 1, the Sunday Times of London levelled the explosive charge that the source of these forgeries which began filtering through the western intelligence agencies in late 2001, first with Italian military intelligence (“SISMI” – Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare) and then various British, French, and US agencies by early 2002—was in fact the Italian military intelligence agency itself! Josh Marshall discusses this article on his blog here, and expresses his distress that the The Times thus scooped him and Laura Rozen who’ve been working on this very story since early January of this year for The Washington Monthly. Mr. Marshall and Ms. Rozen’s article should be coming out soon.)

2) Regarding Imperial Hubris: The furor over certain passages in his book is not the end of Mr. Scheuer’s 15 minutes of fame, now that it’s clear he’s in a running battle with the CIA over making his views known so publicly, a battle which is certain to intensify now that a scathing e-mail he sent to the 9-11 Commission to register his dissent from their conclusions has been leaked to the New York Times. I’m waiting to see how this plays out.

3) Regarding the question of for what the Democratic Party should stand: Running debate has erupted in the Blogosphere of to what extent Democrats should commit to some sort of explicit, idealistic democracy promotion or simply embrace “realism.” A rant has long been simmering in my addled little brain which shall argue (a) idealistic foreign policy lives or dies by its results not its intentions, and thus (b) it behooves those of us who fall on the idealistic side of the spectrum to proffer pragmatic ideas and break out of the tunnel vision that has focused this debate almost exclusively on Iraq and the Greater Middle East Initiative.

4) Regarding interpretations of quantum mechanics: I’m hung up on this extremely interesting paper by Aage Bohr (the younger part of the most famous father-son combo* in the history of the Nobel Prize for Physics, being the winner of the 1975 prize and son of the 1922 Laureate, the legendary Niels Bohr):

Reviews of Modern Physics 67, 1–35 (January 1995)

Primary manifestation of symmetry. Origin of quantal indeterminacy

Aage Bohr and Ole Ulfbeck
The Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, DK-2100, Copenhagen, Denmark

Quantal physics is established as a manifestation of symmetry more far-reaching than hitherto appears to have been recognized. In this primary manifestation, the coordinate transformations of spacetime invariance are themselves the elementary variables, which define their own properties without appeal to an assumed quantal formalism. In irreducible representations, the symmetry variables are inherently indeterminate, and the probabilistic laws invoked in the interpretation of traditional quantum physics are found to originate in geometric relations between these variables. Completeness is, therefore, not an issue, and the quantum of action is not part of the theory of symmetry variables. Quantal physics thus emerges as but an implication of relativistic invariance, liberated from a substance to be quantized and a formalism to be interpreted. A symmetry variable appears in a measurement with one of its eigenvalues, but does not have a value (cannot be represented by a number) in an irreducible representation, which combines sets of eigenvalues. It is this generalized significance of a measurement that allows for correlations that cannot arise for classical variables. The observation of symmetry variables is illustrated by an interferometer experiment measuring reflection symmetry and by the equivalent coincidence experiment registering the polarization of two quanta. The measurement process becomes a matter of following the state of affairs of the symmetry variables in their unitary evolution. For the resolution of the dilemmas that quantal phenomena have been felt to pose, it appears crucial to recognize that indeterminacy, as an inherent property of a symmetry variable in a multidimensional representation, is not affected by subsequent observations. A position variable and the canonical commutator with momentum, which are basic elements of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics, emerge from spacetime symmetry, but require the link between space and time of relativistic invariance. The transition to the classical regime is analyzed in terms of a quenching of nonlocality in the state of affairs of the multidimensional symmetry variables. While the elementary variables constitute individual quanta in irreducible representations, product representations of spacetime symmetry describe systems of bosons and fermions, which form local fields with canonical properties. The discussion is focused on spacetime invariance (noninteracting quanta), but gauge invariance is itself a primary manifestation of symmetry and is as such encompassed by the theory of symmetry variables.

©1995 The American Physical Society

URL: http://link.aps.org/abstract/RMP/v67/p1
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This paper, despite being published in the major long-form-article professional journal in physics, seems not to have aroused much interest in the community in the decade since it was published. I can’t tell yet if that’s because it’s a seeming dead end or it’s because Aage has pushed this idea out of the mainstream of physics with his subsequent metaphysical insistence that it establishes a “genuine fortuitousness” underlying Nature, that is, observed events are fundamentally uncaused. (See, for example, most recently:

Foundations of Physics 34, 405-417 (March 2004)

The Principle Underlying Quantum Mechanics

Aage Bohr
The Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, DK-2100, Copenhagen, Denmark

Ben R. Mottelson
Nordita, DK-2100, Copenhagen, Denmark. mottelson@nbi.dk

Ole Ulfbeck
The Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, DK-2100, Copenhagen, Denmark

The present article reports on the finding of the principle behind quantum mechanics. The principle, referred to as genuine fortuitousness, implies that the basic event, a click in a counter, comes without any cause and thus as a discontinuity in spacetime. From this principle, the formalism of quantum mechanics emerges with a radically new content, no longer dealing with things (atoms, particles, or fields) to be measured. Instead, quantum mechanics is recognized as the theory of distributions of uncaused clicks that form patterns laid down by spacetime symmetry and is thereby revealed as a subject of unexpected simplicity and beauty. The departure from usual quantum mechanics is strikingly borne out by the absence of Planck’s constant from the theory. The elimination of indeterminate particles as cause for the clicks, which the principle of genuine fortuitousness implies, is analogous to the elimination of the ether implied by the principle of relativity.

© 2004 Plenum Publishing Corporation (Kluwer Academic)

URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/B:FOOP.0000019621.02554.7e
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NB: Foundations of Physics, while peer-reviewed and having some very eminent physicists on its editorial board, has… ahem… a tendency to attract… um, how to say it politely? …the intriguing speculations of eminent physicists in their autumn years as well as younger, less eminent physicsts who aspire to that wizened, autumnal state of mind.)

[* Nobel Trivia Enthusiasts: The Nobel Prize in Physics has seen a remarkable 4 father/son combos:

1) Sir Joseph John Thomson (1906) & Sir George Paget Thomson (1937)
2) Sir William Henry Bragg & Sir William Lawrence Bragg (1915 for both, the only prize for a father/son collaboration)
3) Niels Bohr (1922) & Aage Bohr (1975)
4) Karl Siegbahn (1924) & Kai Siegbahn (1981)

Alas, if only George H.W. Bush had been a Nobel Prize winning physicist rather than a president, George W. Bush might have been inspired toward a different calling.]


2 Responses to “I’m Procrastinating for Good Reasons… Really.”

  1. Mark Stuckey Says:

    I became aware of A. Bohr et al’s theory of symmetry variables via their letter in Physics Today (v57, Oct, 2004, p15). I’ve read their two Found of Phys papers (2001 & 2004) and am still working through their 1995 paper. At this pt I’m buying their msg — do not attribute ontological status to phenomena described by matrix-valued variables. Of course, I was already leaning that way — trans-temporal objects should be abandoned at the microscopic realm (Phys Essays, v12, no3, 1999, p414) — but not at the expense of ontological reductionism. Nonetheless, this approach certainly resolves quantum “conundrums” in a methodologically reductive fashion so I’m also wondering, why isn’t there some interest? As you say, they first published in Rev of Mod Phys, a highly-respected journal, almost 10 yrs ago.

    BTW, whence eqn 1 of the appendix to their 2004 paper?

  2. To answer your question, Mark:

    Eqn. 1 of the appendix to their 2004 paper is the standard orthogonality relation encapsulating the fact that the matrix elements of the unitary, irreducible representations of a group G form a complete, orthonormal basis set for functions on the elements of G.

    See, for example, Section 1.12 “Orthogonality Relations” of Howard Georgi, Lie Algebras in Particle Physics, 2nd edition, which conveniently is full-text viewable at Amazon.com through their “Search Within the Book” feature through this specific weblink.

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