April 03, 2004

The interpretation of quantum mechanics

In a rather suspiciously dated post, Sean Caroll claims that:

As crazy as it sounds, most working physicists buy into the many-worlds theory (and, like approval for gay marriage, there is a significant demographic slant, in which younger people are more open).

Unfortunately, he doesn't tell us what the basis for this comment is. Many physicists - myself included - spend a large fraction of our time moving within relatively small communities of people working on similar topics. It's easy to become convinced that the impression one picks up from that community is true of physicists at large. That is not always the case.

To give an example at odds with Sean Carroll's claim, at a quantum computing conference at Cambridge in 1998, a many-worlder surveyed the audience of approximately 200 people for opinions on the interpretation of quantum mechanics at the beginning of his talk.

Many-worlds did just fine, garnering support on a level comparable to, but somewhat below, Copenhagen and decoherence.

(The previous paragraph should be taken with rather a large grain of salt; it's been almost six years. Anybody else who was at the conference, and cares to comment?)

My impression - admittedly, based in part on the irritated looks and comments of people around me as the poll was being conducted - was that the largest single group of people in the room was people who thought the poll was a waste of time.

Certainly, Asher Peres stole the show (and got a huge and sustained round of applause) when he got up at the end of the polling and asked "And who here believes the laws of physics are decided by a democratic vote?"

Posted by Michael Nielsen at April 3, 2004 06:07 AM
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