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Posts Tagged ‘Pope Sylvester II

To See What Condition My Condition Was In…

Could Quantum Mechanics be wrong?

The philosophical status of the wavefunction — the entity that determines the probability of different outcomes of measurements on quantum-mechanical particles — would seem to be an unlikely subject for emotional debate. Yet online discussion of a paper claiming to show mathematically that the wavefunction is real has ranged from ardently star-struck to downright vitriolic since the article was first released as a preprint in November 2011.

The paper, thought by some to be one of the most important in quantum foundations in decades, was finally published last week in Nature Physics (M. F. Pusey, J. Barrett & T. Rudolph Nature Phys. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nphys2309; 2012), enabling the authors, who had been concerned about violating the journal’s embargo, to speak about it publicly for the first time. They say that the mathematics leaves no doubt that the wavefunction is not just a statistical tool, but rather, a real, objective state of a quantum system…

The authors have some heavyweights in their corner: their view was once shared by Austrian physicist and quantum-mechanics pioneer Erwin Schrödinger, who proposed in his famous thought experiment that a quantum-mechanical cat could be dead and alive at the same time. But other physicists have favoured an opposing view, one held by Albert Einstein: that the wavefunction reflects the partial knowledge an experimenter has about a system. In this interpretation, the cat is either dead or alive, but the experimenter does not know which. This ‘epistemic’ interpretation, many physicists and philosophers argue, better explains the phenomenon of wavefunction collapse, in which a quantum state is fundamentally changed by measuring it…

Read the full story in Nature.


As we listen for the tell-tale purr, we might spare a thought for Gerbert d’Aurillac (who became Pope Sylvester II); he died on this date in 1003.  Gerbert/Sylvester was never canonized; indeed, in his day, he dogged with rumors that he was a sorcerer in league with the devil… which appear to have been the work of reactionary forces resisting both Sylvester’s attempts to rid the Church of corruption (especially simony, the sale of sacraments and indulgences) and his attempts to popularize mathematics, astronomy and mechanics for lay audiences.  Inspired by translations of Arabic texts, he built clocks, invented the hydraulic organ, crafted astronomical instruments, and renewed interest in the abacus for use in mathematical calculations (in the process of which, he seems to have introduced Arabic numerals [except zero]).  It’s not a stretch to suggest that Gerbert/Sylvester began Europe’s long march out of the Dark Ages.


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