CrackpotteryGary zukav

Dancing Wu Li Quack

Gary Zukav was a regular on The Oprah Wenfrey Show when it was running. He boasts more than thirty appearances on the show. The reason that Oprah liked Gary so much was because he seemed to be different from other “spiritualists” as he used physics (speciously) in the behavior of the soul. After all, Oprah’s show “has presented thousands of topics that reflect the human experience, including doctors’ medical advice,” and she trusts her viewers, and knows that “they are smart and discerning enough to … determine what may be best for them.” Therefore, so she claims, she is not one of those wacko celebrities who invite wacko doctors to her show to promote quack medicine and science!

Garyoprah 7041099The “smartness” of the audience of a show or the “smartness” of the buyers of a product is a ruse to disseminate garbage and nonsense to the public. Are the customers of the fast-food restaurants smart enough to determine that what they buy to eat from them is practically poison? That “super sizing” their order is just buying poison cheaper? Are Oprah’s viewers smart enough to know that you cannot summon a soul? That mediums and séances are hoaxes? The approving nods of her audience when Oprah declares the presence of the soul of a baby in the room is a proof that they are conditioned to believe in what Oprah and her guests tell them.

Are – not just middle-aged housewives comprising Oprah’s audience, but – even some of the more educated members of society smart enough to determine whether what Gary Zukav says in his bestselling book, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, makes any sense? Surely, if the book was on top of the New York Times‘ best selling list for months, one must rely on the information it feeds to its reader. Right? Wrong! On the contrary, many books full of balderdash have been listed as bestsellers on the N. Y. Times. And The Dancing Wu Li Masters happens to be a clear winner in that category of books.

The tenet of Eastern mysticism is the “universal soul,” which is present in all things, including inanimate objects, making them alive. The extremely counter-intuitive nature of the quantum theory makes it a fertile ground for the mystics to exploit, and Gary Zukav is an indisputable lord of such exploitation. He uses a famous experiment in physics – the double-slit experiment – to masterfully convince his readers that photon, the particle of light, is alive as the Eastern theosophy has been telling us for millennia! His argument is so convincing that even some professional physicists buy it. However, as this post shows, Zukav’s argument is preposterously wrong.

Onehole 8843149Let a wave – any kind of wave: water wave, sound wave, radio wave, etc. – approach a stopping screen (say from the left) with two closely spaced holes through which the wave can pass. Block either one of the holes and let a detector on the right of the screen capture this wave. For example, if the wave is light and the detector is a photographic plate, you will see the blob on the right on the plate.

Twoholes 6078232Now open both holes. For a light wave, you may expect to see two blobs similar to the one on the right above next to each other. But the image you’ll see on the photographic plate will be as shown on the left. It appears as though the single blob is  divided into vertical strips. This is a well-known phenomenon, called interference effect, and it is a property of all waves.

Einstein in 1905 showed that light consists of particles called photons, which subsequently were detected and formed one of the cornerstones of the quantum theory. Now repeat the double-slit experiment, but instead of shining light on the stopping screen, send photons one by one. With one hole open, you reproduce the image on the right above on the photographic plate if you wait long enough. And when you open both holes and wait long enough, the image on the left is produced. Zukav is intrigued, as is everyone – including professional physicists – who encounters the phenomenon for the first time. Before explaining the phenomenon, let’s see what Zukav takes from this experiment. On page 62 of The Dancing Wu Li Masters we read:

The question is, How did the photon in the first experiment know that the second slit was not open? Think about it. If both slits are open, there are always alternating bands of illuminated and dark areas. This means that there are always areas where the photons never go … When we fired our photon and it went through the first slit, how did it ‘know’ that it could go to an area that must be dark if the other slit were open? In other words, how did the photon know that the other slit was closed? There is no definite answer to this question. Some physicists speculate that photons may be conscious!

This question, with the word “know” at its beginning already hints at a conscious photon. And the “physicists” that Zukav refers to may have a PhD in physics, but have long abandoned the field and plunged into mysticism and parapsychology.

Quackscience2 300x172 3620654Gary Zukav was a regular on The Oprah Wenfrey Show when it was running. He boasts more than thirty appearances on the show. The reason that Oprah liked Gary so much was because he seemed to be different from other “spiritualists” as he used physics (speciously) in the behavior of the soul. After all, Oprah’s show “has presented thousands of topics that reflect the human experience, including doctors’ medical advice,” and she trusts her viewers, and knows that “they are smart and discerning enough to … determine what may be best for them.” Therefore, so she claims, she is not one of those wacko celebrities who invite wacko doctors to her show to promote quack medicine and science!

The “smartness” of the audience of a show or the “smartness” of the buyers of a product is a ruse to disseminate garbage and nonsense to the public. Are the customers of the fast-food restaurants smart enough to determine that what they buy to eat from them is practically poison? That “super sizing” their order is just buying poison cheaper? Are Oprah’s viewers smart enough to know that you cannot summon a soul? That mediums and séances are hoaxes? The approving nods of her audience when Oprah declares the presence of the soul of a baby in the room is a proof that they are conditioned to believe in what Oprah and her guests tell them.

Are – not just middle-aged housewives comprising Oprah’s audience, but – even some of the more educated members of society smart enough to determine whether what Gary Zukav says in his bestselling book, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, makes any sense? Surely, if the book was on top of the New York Times‘ best selling list for months, one must rely on the information it feeds to its reader. Right? Wrong! On the contrary, many books full of balderdash have been listed as bestsellers on the N. Y. Times. And The Dancing Wu Li Masters happens to be a clear winner in that category of books.

The tenet of Eastern mysticism is the “universal soul,” which is present in all things, including inanimate objects, making them alive. The extremely counter-intuitive nature of the quantum theory makes it a fertile ground for the mystics to exploit, and Gary Zukav is an indisputable lord of such exploitation. He uses a famous experiment in physics – the double-slit experiment – to masterfully convince his readers that photon, the particle of light, is alive as the Eastern theosophy has been telling us for millennia! His argument is so convincing that even some professional physicists buy it. However, as this post shows, Zukav’s argument is preposterously wrong.

Onehole 8843149Let a wave – any kind of wave: water wave, sound wave, radio wave, etc. – approach a stopping screen (say from the left) with two closely spaced holes through which the wave can pass. Block either one of the holes and let a detector on the right of the screen capture this wave. For example, if the wave is light and the detector is a photographic plate, you will see the blob on the right on the plate.

Twoholes 6078232Now open both holes. For a light wave, you may expect to see two blobs similar to the one on the right above next to each other. But the image you’ll see on the photographic plate will be as shown on the left. It appears as though the single blob is  divided into vertical strips. This is a well-known phenomenon, called interference effect, and it is a property of all waves.

Einstein in 1905 showed that light consists of particles called photons, which subsequently were detected and formed one of the cornerstones of the quantum theory. Now repeat the double-slit experiment, but instead of shining light on the stopping screen, send photons one by one. With one hole open, you reproduce the image on the right above on the photographic plate if you wait long enough. And when you open both holes and wait long enough, the image on the left is produced. Zukav is intrigued, as is everyone – including professional physicists – who encounters the phenomenon for the first time. Before explaining the phenomenon, let’s see what Zukav takes from this experiment. On page 62 of The Dancing Wu Li Masters we read:

The question is, How did the photon in the first experiment know that the second slit was not open? Think about it. If both slits are open, there are always alternating bands of illuminated and dark areas. This means that there are always areas where the photons never go … When we fired our photon and it went through the first slit, how did it ‘know’ that it could go to an area that must be dark if the other slit were open? In other words, how did the photon know that the other slit was closed? There is no definite answer to this question. Some physicists speculate that photons may be conscious!

This question, with the word “know” at its beginning already hints at a conscious photon. And the “physicists” that Zukav refers to may have a PhD in physics, but have long abandoned the field and plunged into mysticism and parapsychology.

Doubleslitprobab 300x220 8417178How do we explain the double-slit experiment in quantum mechanics’ native language, mathematics? Quantum mechanics predicts only the probability of physical phenomena. In the case of the double-slit experiment, it can predict the probability of the photon going through either hole. If you send a single photon, you cannot predict where it will land on the photographic plate. However, if you send many photons, the theory predicts the aggregate result, or pattern. This is the content of the law of large numbers in probability theory, which is behind the very accurate predictions of pollsters after they interview a large number of people. With both holes open, the figure on the right shows the photographic plate with increasing exposure times. Parts (a) and (b) look completely random, because the number of photons landing on the plate is not sufficient to reveal the pattern. Part (c) begins to show the pattern, and (d) has enough photons to completely display the interference pattern.

Why does the two-slit pattern differ so enormously from a single slit? Quantum mechanics says that there is a probability amplitude associated with the photon going through each slit. The total probability amplitude is the sum of individual amplitudes. This is the superposition principle, which is one of the most fundamental principles of the quantum theory. The probability itself is the square of the amplitude. That’s it! Everything follows from this! The probability amplitude for each slit is identical to the other one. When squared, they give the same result. Therefore if either of the slits is open, one observes this probability, which is represented by a single bright image. But when both slits are open, the amplitude is the sum of two amplitudes and the square of this sum – the probability of the position of each photon on the photographic plate – is not the sum of the squares of the summands, and could be zero at some points of the plate! (If you are comfortable with math, look at this to be convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that mathematics explains this weird behavior beautifully.)

Mystics don’t believe in probability. They would rather resort to consciousness than to the rational explanation of subatomic phenomena, which is crucially based on probability. And

There is no explanation for probability itself!

As Richard Feynman so famously said, if you try to “understand” the (probabilistic) quantum mechanical phenomena, “you’ll go down the drain.” Insisting on the lingual understanding of probabilistic processes can have detrimental consequences, not only at the quantum level, but also at the level of classical physics. The chance of getting 6 heads in throwing 10 coins is fairly high (about 20%), while the chance of getting the same proportion of a million coins, namely 600,000 heads, is a decimal fraction with more than 8500 zeros after the decimal point … practically zero! Now divide the million coins into 100,000 groups, each group having ten coins. Gary Zukav may ponder:

The question is, “How does each group of ten coins know that it is part of a million coins and therefore it should avoid showing too many heads, as it would if it were an isolated group of ten coins?”  As we toss a million coins, is it not possible that the members of each group of ten tell each other “Remember, we are now only one of 100,000 teams, so let’s not show our heads.”?

Are the coins conscious just as Zukav’s photons are conscious?

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