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The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

Two Books Fighting The Problem Of Wrongness

Adam Becker (What Is Real?) and Errol Morris (The Ashtray) both agree with me that wrongness is the problem. They identify the specific wrongness of Neils Bohr and Thomas Kuhn in two books reviewed together here, The Defeat Of Reason. 

Tim Maudlin, the author of the piece, does a fantastic job explicating complicated issues of both science and philosophy. His description of Kuhn, who I often cite with approval, helps me see that I am, at most, a soft Kuhnian. Either that, or Morris and Maudlin are not doing justice to his theory.

I don’t go in for the full relativism of the notion that scientific paradigms are adopted by brute force and propaganda. Rather, I think that real progress toward truth happens in science but it happens through paradigm shifts. The day to day work of science is exactly as Kuhn describes it: within a paradigm fleshing out the details. Those details are helpful and true until they start to expose the need for a paradigm shift.

But all that is to do with Morris’s book.

Becker’s book sounds awesome for the way that it demonstrates that an entire academic discipline, in this case physics, can be totally wrong for decade after decade: 

How did the physics community react to this epochal discovery? With a shrug of incomprehension. For decades, discussion of the foundations of quantum theory had been suppressed. Physicists were unaware of the problems and unaware of the solutions. To this day, they commonly claim that Bell’s result proves Bohm’s theory to be impossible and indeterminism to be inevitable, while Bell himself was the staunchest advocate of Bohm’s deterministic theory. Even now, the average physicist has no understanding of what Einstein argued in the EPR paper and what Bell proved.

The last third of What Is Real? could hopefully be titled “Slow Convalescence.” Gradually the worst excesses of Bohr’s influence are mitigated as Bell’s work inspires a new generation to look into foundational issues. We meet a new cast of characters, and the overall atmosphere is mildly optimistic. But there is a long way to go, and this very book could prove to be a watershed moment for the physics community if it faces up to its own past and its present. Or, following the fate of Einstein, Bohm, and Everett, Becker could just be ignored. But if you have any interest in the implications of quantum theory, or in the suppression of scientific curiosity, What is Real? is required reading. There is no more reliable, careful, and readable account of the whole history of quantum theory in all its scandalous detail.

H/T Barry Ritholtz

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