Jean BricmontJean Bricmont is a philosopher of science and theoretical physicist noted for his books on quantum mechanics and his attacks on postmodernist ideas about science, which are a consequence of the decades of confusion and puzzlement about quantum mechanics. Bricmont has written two books on quantum mechanics: Making Sense of Quantum Mechanics in 2016 and Quantum Sense and Nonsense in 2017. Both books strongly defend the Louis deBroglie and David Bohm causal and deterministic version of quantum mechanics today known as Bohmian Mechanics.
Making SenseIn his first book, Bricmont critically examines the quantum "nonsense" he sees coming mostly from the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics. He includes dozens of important quotations from physicists through the years, from the founders of quantum mechanics to physicists today proposing "alternative theories" to standard quantum mechanics. He has two extensive chapters on the leading "mysteries" of quantum mechanics, The first includes puzzles arising from the quantum-mechanical wave function, - the principle of superposition, which gives rise to the two-slit-experiment, the measurement problem, Schrödinger's Cat, and Max Born's "statistical interpretation" of the wave function. Bricmont says this chapter builds on David Albert's 1992 book Quantum Mechanics. Bricmont's second "mystery" chapter is on nonlocality and entanglement, problems that were originally seen by Albert Einstein as early as 1905, but which he developed clearly between 1927 and 1935. The famous Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paper of 1935 and Erwin Schrödinger's reaction to it the same year were critically analyzed by John Bell starting in the 1960's. Bricmont's work is largely based on the works of deBroglie, Bohm, and Bell. His extensive chapter on their work calls it a "hidden variables" theory.
In this chapter, we will outline a theory of “hidden variables” (although they are not really hidden) that accounts for all the phenomena predicted by ordinary (non- relativistic) quantum mechanics, is not contradicted by the no hidden variables theorems, explains why measurements do not in general measure pre-existing properties of a system (in other words, it explains why measuring devices have an “active role”), and incorporates and to some extent explains the nonlocality implied by Bell’s theorem. It would seem that, given all the claims to the effect that such a theory is impossible, its mere existence should be a subject of considerable interest, but this is not the case. Although interest in the de Broglie-Bohm theory is probably increasing, it is still widely ignored or misrepresented, even by experts on foundations of quantum mechanics. The theory was introduced at approximately the same time as the Copenhagen interpretation, in 1927, by Louis de Broglie, but it was rejected at the time by a large majority of physicists, and ignored even by critics of the Copenhagen school, like Einstein and Schrodinger. The theory was even abandoned by its founder, only to be rediscovered and completed by David Bohm in 1952, then further developed and advertised by John Bell.He concludes that this theory naturally accounts for the following:
1. The measurement formalism, including the collapse rule.Bricmont discusses determinism and free will in a chapter called a "philosophical" intermezzo. He writes:
...the problem is: what is the alternative to determinism within physics? Nothing has ever been proposed except pure randomness Or, in other words, events with no cause. But that will not give us a picture of the world in which free will exists either. Our feeling of free will is not that there is some intrinsically random process at work in our minds, but that conscious choices are made. And that is simply something that no known physical theory accounts for. Our feeling of free will implies that there is a causal agent in the world, the “I”, that is simply “above” all physical laws. It suggests a dualistic view of the world, which itself meets great difficulties. One solution is, as mentioned above, to declare that free will is an illusion. But if that is the case, it is a “necessary illusion” in the sense that we cannot live without, in some sense, believing in it, unlike, say, believing in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It is not clear what could constitute a solution to that problem, but one should avoid using this problem to create within physics a prejudice in favor of indeterminism, since neither determinism nor indeterminism in physics can “save” free will.This of course is the centuries old standard argument against free will.
Sense and NonsenseQuantum Sense and Nonsense, Bricmont makes all the same basic arguments as Making Sense, but with a minimum of the equations that frighten off popular readers. Bricmont, following Bell, says that Bohmian Mechanics is a "complete deterministic theory" that can "replace" standard quantum mechanics. Bohmian mechanics describes the instantaneous action-at-a-distance behind "nonlocality." Bricmont asks whether the Universe is "indeterministic?"
One way to “prove” indeterminism is to claim that quantum mechanics is both intrinsically indeterministic and complete, but its completeness is precisely what has to be demonstrated. But now, we can say more: we have a theory that does complete quantum mechanics and that is deterministic, so that the claim that quantum mechanics proves indeterminism is surely false. However, determinism in the de Broglie— Bohm theory is a special sort and has two properties that make it somewhat different from what one might expect from a deterministic theory in the setting of classical physics: (1) First of all, the de Broglie-Bohm theory is nonlocal. This means that, even if one wants to determine the future of what happens only in a given region of space, denoted A, one has in principle to specify the physical state of the entire Universe, since events in regions that are arbitrarily far from region A might influence instantaneously what happens in the latter... (2) Secondly, the de Broglie-Bohm theory contains in its very formulation an element of radical uncertainty that one might not expect in a deterministic theory. Indeed, the best analogy is to think of the initial conditions of quantum systems as being like the ones of a large number of coins that are being tossed.Bricmont says about Einstein's famous quote, "no, God does not play dice or at least there is no argument based on quantum mechanics that indicates that he does. The idea of determinism can be maintained, thanks to the de Broglie—Bohm theory."
Fashionable NonsenseIn 1996, physicist Alan Sokal published a tongue-in-cheek article in the postmodern cultural affairs journal Social Text. Once published, Sokal revealed that the article was a hoax, loaded with jargon that exposed the editors inability to separate science from nonsense. Actually, the main body of article was filled with accurate, but seriously obscure, quotes from the founders of quantum mechanics on their "Copenhagen Interpretation." Sokal's quotes from postmodern authors were equally obscure, and equally accurate. The following year, Bricmont collaborated with Sokal on the book Fashionable Nonsense. Normal | Teacher | Scholar