1240: Quantum Mechanics

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Quantum Mechanics
You can also just ignore any science assertion where 'quantum mechanics' is the most complicated phrase in it.
Title text: You can also just ignore any science assertion where 'quantum mechanics' is the most complicated phrase in it.


This comic plays with the fact that quantum mechanics is a very complex subject that is frequently misapplied by laymen. Many of the phenomena studied in quantum mechanics are contrary to common sense and can only be expressed in complex mathematics. Yet, since the field is fundamental to our understanding of reality, it is commonly cited to support broad sweeping philosophical generalizations.

The phrase “according to quantum mechanics” betrays the speaker's lack of knowledge about the subject. To a physicist, it is almost as vague as “according to physics”. Somebody who understands the subject would use a more precise term, such as “according to the uncertainty principle” or “according to a paper by such-and-such.”

Cueball explains to Ponytail that dogs must have souls. This would be against the doctrine of certain religions, including some sects of Christianity, which teach that only humans have souls. The question of whether animals have souls comes up for many reasons in theological and philosophical discussions. One major one is the wish of many Christian dog owners to meet their pets in Heaven. In many Christian doctrines, this would require dogs not only to have souls, but also immortal souls. This distinction comes up in Catholicism, for example, where the commonly taught doctrine, as in Aquinas, S.C.G. II, C. 82, is that, while animals do have souls, their souls are mortal, and therefore die with their bodies. In this case, animals cannot enter Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory.

Cueball, however, uses quantum mechanics as an argument, even though quantum mechanics is only applicable on the atomic scale and not on macroscopic objects like animals. It also only applies to matter and energy, and not to souls, which are held by most doctrines to be immaterial. His argument, however, is a reference to the concept of an 'observer' in quantum physics, as well as theories about the collapse of wave functions. It should also be noted that science does not equate the ability to observe the world and possession of a soul, and that the latter is merely a theological concept, not used in science and not proven to exist in real world.

The vast majority of people do not have a sufficient understanding of quantum mechanics to judge whether Cueball's statement is correct. Nevertheless, Randall's message is: you don't need to understand quantum mechanics to judge the statement. No matter what the sentence is, it is almost certainly incorrect, so “you can safely ignore” it.

The title text refers to “science assertions” — that is, claims about scientific knowledge — that include the words “quantum mechanics”. If “quantum mechanics” is the most complicated term in the sentence, then the speaker probably does not know what they are talking about. If a scientist is correctly applying quantum mechanics, they will use more specific (and hence more complicated) language.


[Cueball and Ponytail stand facing each other, talking. Cueball has a small dog on a leash.]
Cueball: But dogs can observe the world, which means that according to quantum mechanics they must have souls.
[Caption below the frame:]
Protip: You can safely ignore any sentence that includes the phrase "According to quantum mechanics".


Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.

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To me, it's not about "probably wrong" it's about irrelevant. QM itself says nothing about anything but quantum (particle component) probable vector(s). Recent success of Bayesian probability in these regards implies more about lack of "common sense" understanding or meaning, than about subjectivity of universe (as if there was a difference?). QM is not really knowledge in itself, it's just illuminating math (in a very limited realm). not wrong, just fuzzy Monteletourneau (talk) 05:39, 1 August 2013 (UTC)

Who is CueBall talking to? It is not Meg, unless she dyed her hair.

Ponytail -- 14:33, 19 July 2013 (UTC)
But, really, to treat the xkcd characters as consistent people — except maybe, maybe, maybe Black Hat — is doing it wrong. Requiscant (talk) 03:22, 23 February 2022 (UTC)
And Beret Guy. He does the same type of stuff every time he appears. PoolloverNathan[talk]UTSc 15:42, 18 November 2022 (UTC)

Are "almost" against common sense? I see you don't know much about quantum mechanics. In quantum mechanics, common sense is about as usefull as in Alice's Wonderland. Possibly less. And that bit about going through the wall is used in Flash memories. -- Hkmaly (talk) 14:36, 20 July 2013 (UTC)

Sure. You can see that people do not understand anything about something because you think you know a lot about that something. WRONG! I know exactly what I was talking about and "almost" was a word that I did not chose lightly.cinico (talk) 13:48, 22 July 2013 (UTC)

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect It applies to us all - the more you think you know the more wrong you are, the more you actually know, the less right you think you are. Monteletourneau (talk) 05:39, 1 August 2013 (UTC)

"You can safely ignore any sentence that includes the phrase 'according to quantum mechanics'" Including, of course, that one. Tbrosz (talk) 16:13, 20 July 2013 (UTC)

awe some Monteletourneau (talk) 05:39, 1 August 2013 (UTC)

"Albert Einstein being famously wrong", isn't that a bit subjective? Although there is little evidence supporting the hidden variable theory, it is not out of the question to consider it, Einstein might've been right you know. -- 21:02, 20 July 2013 (UTC)

Einstein was not wrong, he just was searching to unify relativity mechanics with quantum mechanics. That sentence "God does not play dice" is often misunderstood and in wrong context here. I did remove it.--Dgbrt (talk) 21:27, 20 July 2013 (UTC)
I don't know about ANY evidence supporting Hidden variable theory, on the other hand I heard that Bell inequalities were experimentally tested and results are against Einstein. Wikipedia itself states that "Most advocates of the hidden variables idea ... are ready to give up locality". Einstein assumed that the principle of locality was necessary, and that there could be no violations of it. Are you seriously saying that someone managed to put their subjective position into that many articles on wikipedia? ; The point of "wrong content" may be more valid, especially considering that Einstein probably was able to understand quantum mechanics, just didn't believe it. It would be very interresting what he would say about the issue if he wouldn't died 9 years before the Bell inequalities were formulated. -- Hkmaly (talk) 09:21, 22 July 2013 (UTC)
Exactly! The EPR paper does not claim that QM is wrong, it just points out the (to Einstein paradoxical) consequences of entanglement. In the same way you can claim that Schroedinger said QM was wrong, because of his famous thought experiment involving an angry cat (he made up the example to criticize the kopenhagen interpretation of "his" wave mechanics). 18:02, 1 September 2013 (UTC)

I recall hearing an argument along these lines... Something about the "fact" that a dog observing a quantum wave form will cause it to collapse, thus the observer is "conscious", and thus has a "soul". How exactly you explain all the misnomers in that set of assumptions, let alone test the hypothesis to begin with, I've no clue. Can we train monkeys to read particle detectors? And what consequence might this have for Schrodinger's poor cat? ;) 06:46, 21 July 2013 (UTC)

I'm not sure how they managed to actually prove dogs can collapse quantum wave form, but I'm definitely sure that if dog can do that cat can too. Remember that Schrödinger's cat was THOUGH experiment, we don't know if someone really tried it (unless Lewis Carol did). -- Hkmaly (talk) 09:21, 22 July 2013 (UTC)

Dog = soul, cat does not, it's proven all right! Isn't it right there in the equation? I thought S = soul??? Besides, the bible (NO the devil) tol' me so. Monteletourneau (talk) 05:39, 1 August 2013 (UTC)

Is this not a reference to the Einstein quote that a mouse wouldn't change the universe by observing it? (In German: "Ich kann mir nicht denken, daß eine Maus das Universum verändert, dadurch, daß sie es betrachtet") (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Dogs have souls in Christian philosophical tradition, just not immortal ones. Most Christian philosophers follow a loosely Aristotelian philosophy which says that all living things have some kind of soul: plants have vegetative souls, animals have sensitive souls, and people have rational souls. Thus this sentence ought to be corrected: "the concept of most of the large monotheistic religions [is that] only humans have been created in the image of God and thus only they have souls." (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Fixed as of this comment's date 17:36, 6 March 2018 (UTC)