Quantum woo

By | April 9, 2012

Quantum woo happens when irrational beliefs are justified by an obfuscatory reference to quantum physics. This typically uses buzzwords like “energy field”, “probability wave”, or “wave-particle duality” that magically turns thoughts into something tangible to directly affect the universe. This results in such foolishness as the Law of Attraction or quantum healing. Some have turned quantum woo into a career, such as Deepak Chopra, who often presents ill-defined concepts of quantum physics as proof for God and other magical thinking.

When an idea seems too crazy to believe, the proponent often makes an appeal to quantum physics as the explanation. This is a New Age version of God of the gaps.

This is an attempt to piggy-back on the success and legitimacy of science by claiming quack ideas are rooted in accepted concepts in physics, combined with utter misunderstanding of these concepts and a sense of wonder at the amazing magic these misunderstandings would imply if true. A fairly easy way to tell if a claim about quantum physics has scientific validity is to ask for the maths. If there isn’t any, it’s invalid. …

The reason why quantum woo works is because of the almost mystical status of quantum mechanics in the collective imaginary: nobody knows what it actually is, but whatever it is it’s definitely extremely hard science about very awesome stuff. Even having a basic understanding of quantum mechanics requires a working knowledge of differential, integral, multivariable, complex, vector and tensor calculus, differential equations, linear and abstract algebra, classic Newtonian mechanics and electromagnetism. Such topics are … out of the league of anyone who hasn’t spent at least three years studying them, and this, combined with the efforts of pop science authors to make science accessible to the masses, inevitably leads to quantum mechanics being widely summarized as all the weird, wonderful properties of matter in the tiny nanometric scale—and all it takes to make something appear to be based on Hard Science™ is spouting a little bit of vague technobabble about quantum stuff. One bad habit often exhibited by pushers of quantum woo is throwing out the theories of Isaac Newton because his work supposedly has rendered obsolete by quantum theory. In actuality, Newtonian equations for motion work quite well when it comes to predicting the motion of a football, asteroid, or comet (in fact, the computers used in the Apollo mission were programed with them).

Concepts such as “non-locality” or “quantum probability waves” or “uncertainty principle” have become social memes of a kind where people inherently recognize that something “strange” is going on. Practitioners of fraudulent and silly ideas can tap into this feeling of mystery to push their sham concepts …

via Quantum woo – RationalWiki.

Richard Bach’s “Illusions,” the book with the blue feather on the cover, was my first intro to the exciting idea that we can change the physical universe by changing our thoughts.  How do we really know the Law of Attraction is nonsense?

The main criticism is that anecdotal evidence is used with self-selecting positive reports susceptible to confirmation bias and selection bias. In other words, by chance, some good stuff happens while you are thinking good thoughts and when it does, you blame the good thoughts. You ignore the 9,999 times that nothing good happened when thinking good thoughts, or explain it away as there being a “delay” between thoughts and manifesting reality.

Did I test this carefully and scientifically? No. So, I’m showing skepticism bias. I’ll conduct some experiments and get back to you.


2 thoughts on “Quantum woo

  1. stanukraine

    According to this article “Even having a basic understanding [that is, note “a basic understanding”] of quantum mechanics requires a working knowledge of differential, integral, multivariable, complex, vector and tensor calculus, differential equations, linear and abstract algebra, classic Newtonian mechanics and electromagnetism.”

    So, I guess most of us are just stuck in the lowly position of being ignorant, Idolizing those few intellectually superior to us.

    Yeah, right … not too bias.

  2. licky

    And unfortunatety this biased article, comes from a very biased and small minded site “RationalWiki” — a site which claims a gluten free diet, adaptogens, Andrew Weil, harmful mercury in vaccines, Joseph Mercola, macrobiotics etc, are all “woo.” Wow, I am glad I dont live in their world!

    Is RationalWiki run by the Tea Party or the the Klu Klux Klan? Oh right- just every day rational biased folks. Either way, the site is disappointing in misinformed on many levels. It is certainly not my reality or experience.

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