Exposing PseudoAstronomy

November 23, 2010

Please, Don’t Appeal to Quantum Mechanics to Propagate Your Pseudoscience


Introduction

There is no formal logical fallacy that I know of called “Appeal to Quantum Mechanics,” but I think it should be on the books. It is a frequently utilized term by purveyors of New Age beliefs and other ideas to try to make their ideas seem more sciencey when, in fact, to anyone who actually knows quantum mechanics and slaved away for tens of hours a week on QM homework, it just makes them sound stupid.

This post is another about Andrew D. Basiago, in particular his interview on the Coast to Coast AM radio show from November 11, 2010. In it, he discussed his supposed involvement in “Project Pegasus,” alleged the early time travel work done by the U.S. government. For those of you who have a very good memory, you may recall I have discussed Andrew Basiago before in the context of his pareidolia-fueled claims of discovering alien life on Mars and demanding that National Geographic publish what he found after blowing up images 5000%, stretching them, and then wildly extrapolating.

Statements by Andrew Basiago

The following are direct quotes from Basiago, mostly from hour 3 of the broadcast:

“In fact, I spent four ‘phantom summers’ in New Mexico … . There was an extensive cover-up of our summers in New Mexico, uh, in this sort of quantum displacement sort of way.”

“I was involved in actual wormholing where I was moving through the quantum tunnel.”

“So the very act of sending the same child or different child to the same ‘event’ was – I guess as a result of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – changing that event a little bit.”

“Actually, what happens is when you go back and visit yourself in the past, you’re somebody from the future visiting your alpha-timeline, then if you interfere with your past at that moment, um, basically Schrödinger’s cat takes over and a new timeline branches off that’s affected by your visit, but then you return to the future that you left.”

George Noory: “Did anything go wrong with Project Pegasus? Anything?”
Basiago: “… Certainly the notion that propagating holographs of past and future events somehow destabilizes the quantum hologram, that was suggested by the Dan Burisch testimony, provided to Project Camelot, is not true.”

What Is Quantum Mechanics?

Without going through math and a lot of explanation that is not the focus of this blog post, quantum mechanics is basically the physics of the very small. We’re talking about what happens on atomic scales, what happens with electrons (sub-atomic particles), and light. We are not talking about time, space-time, nor any object on the macro-scopic scale, where “macroscopic” means in this context objects that are about the size of a cell or larger (collections of millions of atoms).

Quantum mechanics is weird. In fact, it almost fits the very definition of “weird” since many of the observations at atomic scales defies our concept of how objects “should” act. I think this is why a lot of purveyors of modern pseudoscience rely on an appeal to quantum mechanics to describe how their ideas work: Since most people don’t understand quantum mechanics beyond the “things get weird” part, people are more willing to accept a “quantum mechanics says this can happen” claim and just trust it.

But quantum mechanics is not magic. You cannot use quantum mechanics to argue that psychic powers work. Or that time travel is possible. Or even that information (which also has a very specific definition) can be transmitted instantaneously.

Quantum mechanics has a very specific set of rules and governing equations that have been verified to be correct to within measurement capabilities. (Hence it is also a “theory” in the scientific sense.)

Because quantum mechanics does not make sense to many people in our every-day world, physicists have come up with some analogies that are used to describe some of the consequences of the field. For example …

Schrödinger’s Cat: One of the consequences of quantum mechanics is that a particle‘s state will not be known until it is observed. I remind you that in this field, “particle” and “observed” have very specific definitions and cannot be extrapolated to, for example, “person calling the telephone” and “picking up the phone” (yes, people do make that extrapolation). In fact, the consequences of this had three different interpretations in the early days of the field, where the Copenhägen interpretation was that the particle actually exists in all states until it is observed. This turns out to be the actual way it works (experimentally determined a few decades ago), but in the early days there were two competing ideas, one being that it exists in a particular state, we just don’t know what it is until it is measured. This is where the famous Einstein quote comes from: “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.”

In order to think of this from a more familiar scenario rather than an electron’s energy level, the idea of Schrödinger’s cat is used, where Schrödinger is effectively the founder of quantum mechanics: A cat is placed in a sealed box from which no information can escape. A piece of radioactive material is placed in there before it’s sealed, where the release of the poison is a purely random process (governed by quantum mechanics). After the box is sealed, an outsider cannot know whether the cat is alive or dead because they do not know if the poison has killed the cat. Therefore, for mathematical purposes, the cat is described as both alive and dead. It is only after the box is opened and you make the observation that you know which is the case.

Definition of “Quantum:” In physics, quantum does not mean “magic” nor “[fill in the blank with something].” It has a very specific definition: A discrete quantity, usually of energy. In fact, the whole field of quantum mechanics is based around the idea that energy cannot come in a pure spectrum of intervals, but it can only happen in discrete – albeit very small – packets. This was a very novel idea 100 years ago and it still surprises many people. But, that’s what “quantum” means, no more, and no less. Putting it in front of another word does not make that other word suddenly mean something different. In fact, as it is normally applied, it makes the other word meaningless.

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: Again, this has a very specific definition – and a mathematical one at that: Δx·Δpħ/2. What this means in words is that the change in position times the change in momentum must be greater than or equal to half of h-bar, where h-bar is h/(2·π), where h is Planck’s constant (a very small number). Unless you’re a physicist or have really studied the field, you are probably thinking some combination of, “huh?” and/or “what the heck does that mean?” In plainer English, the consequence of this is that when we measure a particle’s position or momentum, the more precise we measure that value, the less precisely we can know the other. This is not because of our measuring equipment, rather it seems to be a general rule of the universe, that the particle’s other quantity really, literally, becomes less defined and knowable.

Let’s Apply This to That

Now that you have taken a crash course in quantum mechanics, let’s take another look at some of Basiago’s comments:

Basiago: “In fact, I spent four ‘phantom summers’ in New Mexico … . There was an extensive cover-up of our summers in New Mexico, uh, in this sort of quantum displacement sort of way.”
Analysis: Sticking “quantum” in front of “displacement” makes it next to meaningless. If anything, a “quantum displacement” would mean that he has physically moved less than the width of an atom.

Basiago: “I was involved in actual wormholing where I was moving through the quantum tunnel.”
Analysis: Again, sticking “quantum” this time in front of “tunnel” still makes this a meaningless phrase. “Quantum” does not have anything to do with, effectively, the fabric of the universe, and wormholes are more of an application of General Relativity, something very different from quantum mechanics.

Basiago: “So the very act of sending the same child or different child to the same ‘event’ was – I guess as a result of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – changing that event a little bit.”
Analysis: Now that you know what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is – you cannot know both the position and momentum of a particle to arbitrarily high precision – you can see that the idea of time travel paradoxes has nothing to do with it. This is an appeal to a scientific term and equation that has zero bearing on the claim, showing (a) his lack of understanding of quantum mechanics, and (b) fairly good evidence (if you didn’t have it already) that his claims are made up.

Basiago: “Actually, what happens is when you go back and visit yourself in the past, you’re somebody from the future visiting your alpha-timeline, then if you interfere with your past at that moment, um, basically Schrödinger’s cat takes over and a new timeline branches off that’s affected by your visit, but then you return to the future that you left.”
Analysis: This is very much like the above example where Basiago made a conjecture from his story and then inserted a thought exercise from quantum mechanics to try to make it sound more believable, when in actuality the insertion shows again he has no idea what he’s talking about.

Noory: “Did anything go wrong with Project Pegasus? Anything?”
Basiago: “… Certainly the notion that propagating holographs of past and future events somehow destabilizes the quantum hologram, that was suggested by the Dan Burisch testimony, provided to Project Camelot, is not true.”
Analysis: This is another example of the first two where Basiago has inserted the word “quantum” into his sentence in the apparent hope to make it sound more sciencey and hence believable when, again, it makes the phrase even more meaningless than it would be without it.

Final Thoughts

Please, whenever anyone uses any form of appeal to quantum mechanics to explain their fringe claim, do a little bit of research to figure out what the term actually means and whether it applies to that situation. I have tried in this post to point out the three most commonly used quantum mechanics terms that have been borrowed by today’s pseudoscience in the hope that you are now armed with some of the information necessary to critically analyze various claims.

And for those of you who are prone to make these kinds of claims, a few words of advice: Stop using quantum mechanics. It does not mean, “Anything you can dream up, I can do.”

19 Comments »

  1. Calleman’s version of quantum mechanics is more “reasonable” (it does not relate to time travel, etc). He basically argues that there are macroscopic versions of quantum mechanics that explains the evolution of consciousness. When it comes to biological evolution he claims that each species is separated from other species through quantum leaps and that they can be assigned a numerical value following his version of the Maya calendar. He is arguing for a non-Christian creationist evolution. In any case, the way he describes quantum mechanics is fairly brief. I have to return to you and ask what is accurate and what is wrong.

    Comment by Johan Normark — November 23, 2010 @ 11:48 pm | Reply

    • Johan – Without having actually read his work nor heard him interviewed, I cannot comment for certain on his ideas. But, from what you describe, he’s wrong. Another common problem with QM is that people try to apply it to the macroscopic world (e.g., entangled brains mean ESP is possible), when pretty much everything about quantum mechanics and why and how it works collapses when you go beyond a few thousand atoms.

      Similarly to inserting “quantum” before a term or misappropriating QM phenomena, “quantum leap” has been abused more in marketing than in pseudoscience in my experience, but this is another example. A quantum leap refers to a change in the energy level of an electron … nothing more. So trying to use it to refer to differences in species via evolutionary “quantum leaps” is fairly meaningless. Using this as a definition for his own phenomenon, assigning a value to it arbitrarily, and then creating a calendar around itas you discuss in your post is just building an idea on a nonexistent foundation.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — November 24, 2010 @ 8:09 am | Reply

  2. Check out The Woo-Woo Credo #10. Also The Woo Handbook #9

    Re Schrödinger’s cat

    Interestingly, Schrödinger was deliberately presenting the dead and alive scenario as a “quite ridiculous” case. In other words, the point was that since a cat obviously cannot be both dead and alive at the same time, the version of the Copenhagen interpretation that says consciousness is necessary, must be wrong. This could be because “observation” really means “measurement” (ie the Geiger counter measuring the atomic decay is the “observer”), or because Copenhagen itself is wrong. Either way, it is amusing when woos throw Schrödinger’s Cat into the debate, quite oblivious to the fact that is was designed to show the exact opposite of what they think it shows.

    Comment by Skeptico — November 24, 2010 @ 8:57 am | Reply

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mike Sterling and Rohaan Solare, Seba Gonzalez A.. Seba Gonzalez A. said: RT @EmergentCulture: "Don’t Appeal to Quantum Mechanics to Propagate Your Pseudoscience". http://bit.ly/f7GiY0 […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Please, Don’t Appeal to Quantum Mechanics to Propagate Your Pseudoscience « Exposing PseudoAstronomy -- Topsy.com — November 24, 2010 @ 9:35 am | Reply

  4. This was hilarious in that quantum tragic sortof way.
    I think to few people realise how well supported and understood the quantum physics field really is.

    Another great post.

    Comment by Sparx — November 24, 2010 @ 12:43 pm | Reply

  5. The Schrödinger cat is an important ‘concept’. It is not just saying ‘we can’t know the state of the cat until observed or measured’ it is saying that our perception makes the state that way. IE there is a causal relationship between what we think and what we perceive. Consequently everything out there is in a ‘non state’ until we mentally decide what state it is in. One conclusion to this is that our ‘reality’ is a metally constructed ‘construct’. For example, does a tree in a forest make a noise if it falls and no one is there. No it doesn’t, as ‘noise’ is a concept which we apply to our ears being present. Other beings may interpret vibrating air as color. So to them they would try and make sense of a world of color patterns. To say that color is ‘out there’ is not true. So to say our reality is out there is similarly untrue. What Schrödinger was saying is that something is out there in some state but we can NEVER know what that state is.

    Comment by Ben — November 25, 2010 @ 5:09 am | Reply

    • Just as an aside, you don’t even have to have “Other beings…”. There are some people today who due to odd cross-connections in their brains, actually have that experience. They can see sounds, hear smells, smell colors, etc. . It varies from case to case, and I have never (yet) heard of a person experiencing complete cross-over. The medical term for this escapes me at the moment, but I thought you might be interested, if you hadn’t already heard of it.

      Comment by Carl — November 26, 2010 @ 12:04 am | Reply

      • Synesthesia.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — November 26, 2010 @ 8:30 am

  6. Or fish!! The point being is that we create ‘reality’ in our minds based on electromagnetic inputs. So the conclusions we come to about what is outside of our heads are just that. What is stange is that groups of people (and humanity in general) come to such similar conclusions (most that is) and call that reality when our minds are not interconnected. Why is that?

    Comment by Ben — November 27, 2010 @ 5:09 am | Reply

  7. QM applies to macroscopic systems. It just reduces to plain old Newtonian mechanics, or relativistic mechanics, at relevant velocities.

    This is known as the correspondence principle, I believe.

    This should be trivial, since the macroscopic world is obviously the result of QM interactions.

    Comment by Rasem Brsiq — November 28, 2010 @ 11:36 pm | Reply

  8. “One of the consequences of quantum mechanics is that a particle‘s state will not be known until it is observed. ”

    This is wrong. It states that the observation effects the state of the particle.

    Comment by Mick — December 1, 2010 @ 4:32 am | Reply

  9. I have found a lot of interesting ideas in what Andrew Basiago is speaking on. Time Travel is a great interest of mine. As to if Andy is telling the truth to us. Time will tell as they say.

    Comment by hdrkid — December 3, 2010 @ 3:12 pm | Reply

  10. While the semantics is flawed, his use of the term is what is being argued here and because he misused the term in the scientific context should not disqualify his attempt to explain and rationalize to a lay audience or public. And I am motivated to find flaws and have little reason to believe anything said. Faith and belief (when knowledge is absent), is not rational.

    This needs to have “in your face” facts and claims debunked in my opinion. The gullible and potentially exploited public are seeing charisma and obfuscation asking for money for an idealistic cause. Formula for exploitation of the 1st kind. A deadly combo to an idealistic audience many of who are open to exploitation as he is doing.

    Confront on conflict of fact. You and he are using the word Quantum in a different context. That is apparent to me. That in itself is not a convincing argument for the reason stated. Now tell me about the science and info referenced as to people’s names and times as well as the science. So far, if I had to confront a brilliant lawyer with this and call him a fraud, I’d want more to go on than this article and resulting thread.
    Vic Jasin

    Comment by Vic Jasin — May 22, 2011 @ 11:10 pm | Reply

    • (A) His “science” makes no sense. He’s throwing out words and stringing them together to try to sound smart when he has no idea what he’s talking about.

      (B) He also is either completely ignorant or willing to perpetuate fraud in image manipulation.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — May 23, 2011 @ 12:10 am | Reply

      • Then someone needs to confront the science. Dumbing down science may not fit academic definitions as much as the dumbing down side.

        I’m not supporting the man, I’d just like to see him confronted on facts no overall assessments over language issues. If it’s fraud it needs to stop as far too many are becoming believers/followers.

        I hope you find a lot of flaws in the science. In fact I’m inviting anyone reading this who is a scientist, please stop this guy or tune in to time travel as a reality. Open mind, attack the message and content not the messenger on the science. Think “prove fraud”.

        He is a genius, and he is a lawyer. The names, dates, events and specific science he does refer to, can be confronted objectively if not empirically. Vic

        Comment by VicJasin — May 25, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

      • You keep referring to him as a “genius.” What is your justification for that? He may be quite a good lawyer – I have no way to judge that as it’s not my field. But as I’ve demonstrated, his grasp of science is tenuous. He was actually just on Coast to Coast again and made similar mistakes, this time claiming that Schrödinger’s cat was a situation where you had two cats, one out of a box and one in a box. He simply has no idea what he’s talking about.

        As to his claims on time travel, etc., he was actually confronted by a caller on this. Instead of answering the question on physical evidence, taking a polygraph, or why he charges $100 to see him speak, he went off on the guy accusing him of being a government agent out to discredit him. But at a more basic level, it’s up to him to prove these things work. Theoretically, practically, etc. Yet he has not. No physicist who knows the field of QM, GR, SR, etc., accepts his ideas. And very few would ever be bothered to look into the crank e-mails that we all get (remind me to post one of those here sometime …).

        That’s why it falls to the skeptics movement to deal with this kind of fringe material. We’re actually interested in it. Personally, I like to use and expose peoples’ wrong ideas/understanding/lies on these topics to point out what the actual story is. For example, I used him in this case to talk about some of the basic tenants of quantum mechanics. I used my other post about him to talk about pareidolia and image processing. I think it’s a more interesting way of introducing people to those topics than a dry lecture.

        In my fields, much less actual harm is done to people for believing these folks. Really most harm of any topics I’ve addressed is some financial (like the star registries) but also fear with the 2012 stuff. If Andrew Basiago were a faith healer, was a “psychic” trying to bilk people out of their life savings to cleanse their house, or anti-vaxxer, then it would be a different story. But as it is, I have better things to do than to really work on confronting him in particular on his, well, crap. I’d rather just put it out there on my humble blog to educate passers-by.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — May 25, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

  11. […] Yes, that was a science museum. Using a fallacious appeal to quantum mechanics. […]

    Pingback by A Fancy Sign Does Not Good Science Make « Exposing PseudoAstronomy — June 21, 2011 @ 3:02 pm | Reply

  12. Perhaps he has more experience , real experience, than all of you real scientists..

    Comment by AnnaChiara Branca — February 14, 2015 @ 6:26 am | Reply

    • Perhaps he really has no idea what he’s talking about and tries to use big words to sound more believable.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — February 20, 2015 @ 6:32 pm | Reply


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