Psychology is important for research on quantum mechanics, but everything in the first half of this sentence is a mess

A fellow Caltech alum posted this article on Facebook:

This is a much better article than most others I have read on this topic, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that a Caltech person is the one I saw it from! I have no criticism for these authors at all.

However I think that many of the researchers addressing this topic are suffering from a pretty fundamental misconception: namely, that “weirdness” is a real thing. When people say that quantum mechanics is “weird”, that means that it predicts things that don't match your expectations. That is the only thing that “weird” means in this context! Of course different people have different expectations; I think it's clear that a lot of the “shut up and calculate” camp are people who either aren't so attached to those expectations, or didn't have them in the first place. (Some of them are probably people who just get off on the feeling of weirdness, too.)

Whenever you have a line of inquiry that is fundamentally driven by people's expectations rather than observations, I think there are a lot of things that can go wrong. I think that if all the physicists on this line of research took a day off and went to the beach or the forest or the mountains and asked themselves, ok, if I really force myself to be brutally honest with myself and set aside all of my own expectations, and instead ask the question, what are the shortcomings of the theory in terms of its ability to predict observations, rather than what are the shortcomings of the theory in terms of its ability to match my own expectations, then I think they might choose to alter their research priorities a bit.


In other words, if you are being as precise as a scientist ought to be, then it is simply false to say “quantum mechanics is weird”. The correct statement is “I feel weird about quantum mechanics”. So, what kind of physics research program does the corrected statement motivate? Well, it doesn't, but it does give you the opportunity to keep thinking more deeply about what is wrong with the theory, and to keep asking yourself every step of the way how your assumptions are basing your observations and theorizing.

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