Transcript: What Popularizers of Quantum Mechanics Don’t Want You to Know by Ron Garret


Ron Garret

Ron Garret presents The Quantum Conspiracy: What Popularizers of QM Don’t Want You to Know at Google TechTalks Conference (Transcript). This event took place on January 6, 2011.

Google TechTalks — The Quantum Conspiracy: What Popularizers of QM Don’t Want You to Know – Slides


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Arthur Gleckler: Hi everyone. I’m Arthur Gleckler and I’m happy to introduce Dr. Ron Garret here, who’s going to be speaking about quantum mechanics today. He’s a former Googler from the very early days of the company, around 2000. He was the lead engineer on the first release of AdWords and the original author of the Google Translation console. He also wrote the first billing system that Google used. Also, for many years, he worked at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, specializing in AI and robotics. I’m hoping to convince him to come back and talk about his experiences, debugging spacecraft 250 million miles from the earth. Here’s Ron.

Ron Garret – Software engineer turned entrepreneur

Thanks. So I’m told that my abstract caused a little bit of a kerfuffle, so let me start out with a couple of disclaimers upfront to kind of manage expectations. The title of the talk was intended to be tongue-in-cheek. There is no actual conspiracy, at least, as far as I know but there is a fairly big disconnect between what you read about quantum mechanics in the popular press and what the actual underlying truth is, and that’s what this talk is about.

I am not a physicist. Do we have any actual physicists in the crowd? Oh, boy, okay. You can make sure you keep me honest. I’m a software engineer. I came upon this about actually 20 years ago when I read an article in Scientific American and I thought, “This can’t possibly be right.” And it took me 10 years to finally find a physicist at Caltech who could explain to me why in fact it wasn’t right and at that point, everything just kind of clicked and quantum mechanics made a lot more sense to me than it did before. And that’s what this talk is about.

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It’s about a different way to think about QM that hasn’t gotten very much attention and dispels this idea that quantum mechanics is sort of intractably weird. Somebody has said to me once that quantum mechanics obeys the law of conservation of weirdness. And to a certain extent, that is true. There is a certain amount of — quantum mechanics extracts a toll on your intuition and some of that will never go away. But I don’t think that quantum mechanics needs to be fundamentally any more incomprehensible than, say, relativity which most technical people seem to have no trouble wrapping their brains around nowadays.

So with that sort of expectation management out of the way, I want to start out by inviting you to think about the question: What does it mean to ‘measure’ something? So, imagine that we’re sitting here doing some experiment. We have some system — let me grab a pointer — that we want to measure some property of it, so we have some sensor here like a camera. And it gathers some data and we feed it to a computer, and that data shall pop up from the screen, and we look at that with our eyes, and we form some mental image in our head, and how do we know that this mental image that we form in our head actually corresponds to underlying physical reality?

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