A World on The Make: From Modern Quantum Mysteries to Early American Pragmatism
Professor Christopher A. Fuchs
25 March 2015, 6:30-7:30pm
Eastern Ave Lecture Theatre F19
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Quantum theory is the great foundation for nearly all of modern physics. Since its discovery in 1925, it has never met a single experimental failure, and without it we could kiss our technological society goodbye. Without quantum theory, there would be no transistors, no lasers, no GPS satellites, no smart phoneswe might as well be living in 1910. But this foundation, for all it is worth, sits itself on some pretty shifty metaphysical sands. Some physicists look into quantum theory and see evidence that the universe is a vast web of instantaneous connections, making a laughingstock of the idea that any two events in the universe are really independent. Some physicists look into quantum theory and see not one universe, but a continuum of parallel worlds, each disconnected from the others except for having the same physical laws. Still other physicistsa tiny minoritylook into quantum theory and see overwhelming evidence that the theory's key terms have not so much to do with nature itself, but with our place in nature. Metaphorically, the physicist is like a tiny paramecium caught up in nature's stream, and quantum theory is his best tool yet for navigating the course. This is the foundational stance of QBism. (Q is for quantum, of course, but what of the B? For that you will have to come to the lecture.) In QBism, the singular role of quantum theory is to make better decisions and better gambles as we confront nature. But this is not to say that we might not learn a lot about nature itself by studying the tool's design. To a great surprise, that study does take us back to 1910, but now in a good way, to a nearly-forgotten philosophy called "American pragmatism". Crucial to pragmatism is the idea that our world is always on the make; the big bang is not just something remote and at the beginning of time, but something intimate and all around us. The philosopher William James once asked, "How can new being come in local spots and patches which add themselves or stay away at random, independently of the rest?" That this is so is QBism's vision of the world and the subject of this lecture.
Christopher A. Fuchs is currently Professor of Physics at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Previously, he held research positions at BBN Technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, and Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. From 1996-1999 he was the Lee DuBridge Prize Postdoctoral Fellow at the California Institute of Technology. He has authored over 85 scientific papers, with more than 9,000 citations on Google Scholar. One of his co-authored papers “Unconditional Quantum Teleportation” was voted a top-ten "breakthrough of the year 1998'' by the editors of Science. In 2010 he was a winner of the International Quantum Communication Award, and in 2012 he was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society. On top of physics, Dr. Fuchs's humanistic interests come through in his Cambridge University Press book Coming of Age with Quantum Information: Notes on a Paulian Idea. In a recent posting, he described himself as "for the last 25 years having lived and breathed the question of what quantum theory is trying to tell us about the world." He calls his current understanding of this QBism.
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