Friday, 7 March 2014

The Many Worlds of Quantum Mechanics

My job here is to give a few talks about physics and cosmology to the folks who signed up for the package — a public audience, but the kind of people whose idea of a good time while sailing the South China Sea is hearing talks about molecular biology or world history. Mostly my talks are variations of themes I’ve spoken on frequently before — the Higgs boson, the arrow of time, dark matter and dark energy. But to spice things up I decided to throw in something new, so I wrote up a talk on The Many Worlds of Quantum Mechanics.
And here it is — the slides, at least. The content is roughly based on my explanation in From Eternity to Here, with a few improvements thrown in.

Two basic goals here. One is to introduce QM to people who don’t know much more about it than a vague notion of “uncertainty” or “fluctuations.” And in particular, to focus on the conceptual foundations, rather than any of the other perfectly legitimate angles one could take: the historical development, the calculational basics, the experimental evidence, the role in modern technology, and so on. Hey, it’s my talk, I might as well concentrate on the parts I’m most fascinated by. So there’s a discussion of entanglement and decoherence that is a bit more specific and detailed than one would often get in a talk of this type, even if it is enlivened by silly pictures of cats and dogs.
The second goal was to give a subtle sales pitch for the Many-Worlds interpretation. Really more damage control than full-on hard sell; the very idea of many worlds is so crazy-sounding and counterintuitive that my job is more to let people know that it’s actually quite a natural implication of the formalism, rather than a bit of ad hoc nonsense tacked on by theorists who have become unmoored from reality. I’m happy to bring up the outstanding issues with the approach, but I do want people to know it should be taken seriously.
Comments welcome, especially since I’ve never tried this approach in a talk before. Of course by only seeing the slides you miss all the witty asides, but the basic substance should come through.

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