Saturday, February 07, 2015

Interim report

Obligatory cat picture
A note from Dee Ann a couple of days ago. She and her husband, Craig, were colleagues in the States when we were employed at Cable & Wireless in Reston, Va.  They were working in the HR/psychometrics area and moved to Singapore after the demise of C&W Worldwide. They're delighted to be back in Carolina. It was good to hear from them.

I read "J" by Howard Jacobson which was short-listed for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. Jacobson does a fine job enmeshing the reader in the existential fragility of the Jewish experience: the suitcase pre-packed in the wardrobe, always just a few days from the need to flee. The suffocation of the relentlessly-nice, repressively-tolerant and chillingly-threatening post-atrocity state is particularly salient (when is it not?). Don't want to say more as Clare is currently reading it. But it's really good - what happens when an author cares about what they're writing.

"The Emergent Multiverse: Quantum Theory according to the Everett Interpretation" by David Wallace. Working my way through this and lost in jaw-dropping admiration for the erudition of Oxford Philosopher of Science David Wallace. Subject to my caveats below, the Multi-World Interpretation (MWI) of QM (Quantum Mechanics) is quite well explained in the Wikipedia article.

I'm not going to say much here: it needs an essay, not just a few trite remarks. Just this: it's an illusion that you can access even the concept of the MWI of QM (no matter how many science-fiction books you've read or SF films/TV episodes you've watched) without completing a university-level course on QM. The MWI tries to solve a problem (what does QM actually mean?) which can't even be understood without familiarity with the theory itself.

Furthermore, the MWI needs some extra concepts, beyond the scope of a first (undergraduate) QM course: in particular creative use of the density matrix and in particular its application to decoherence. Sorry, without the maths you can't engage .. and without engaging you can't have a view as to the truth or utility of Hugh Everett's intellectual creation.

I'm still working through it and I would class myself as an MWI-agnostic, akin to those people who consider themselves agnostic supporters of the Church of England or the Catholic Church. Perhaps I will eventually be converted when I understand more!

There you are, Dee Ann. I said I would write about it - and that no-one would read it!