Skip to main content

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen!

One of the more depressing trends of recent years has been the collapse of TV comedy, a field in which the UK once lead the world (think Monty Python, Blackadder, The Fast Show, Green Wing). It's not lack of volume but of quality and tone: ever since Little Britain the mental age of the comics has been following a roughly parabolic downward trajectory*. However rescue is at hand, and from the a unlikely direction - Horizon.

The much hyped episode What Is Reality? (shown on January 17th 2011) showed us a bunch of bleeding-edge particle physicists musing about what the universe really consists of, all of them in thrall to the now-over-familiar paradoxes generated by the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics. We saw an Austrian gentleman with a magnificent beard perform the two-slit experiment yet again, and go into a swoon of confusion over "where is the photon now" that would have done credit to a three-card trickster in Oxford Street. It all got weirder and weirder, but in the phony way of those old Outer Limits programs of the '60s. Perhaps our 3D reality is actually a hologram pasted on the fence that surrounds the universe (I can't remember whether that was the one with the ponytail or not...) What Horizon really demonstrated wasn't so much the relationship between quantum theory and metaphysics as the relationship between TV commissioning editors and brainy men with ponytails. A million students in a million halls of residence passed the bong and gasped in awe.

Of course the highlight was another run through of the faintly ludicrous Many Worlds Hypothesis, in which every act of observation splits the universe so that both possibilities happen. This is the perfect physical underpinning for the spectacular consumer society: if you stare at the shirts in Ermenegildo Zegna's window, the universe splits into several worlds in each of which you're wearing a different one of them! Wow! There's another world in which the Coalition didn't win the election and isn't about to dismantle the National Health Service! Phew! The only problem is that our pathetic consciousness appears to remain stuck in just one of these worlds, though pharmacology has the potential to fix that once they legalise lysergic acid derivatives and tweak those molecules a bit.

I used to wonder when the physics community would finally dump the Copenhagen Interpretation and re-examine those wave models favoured by Einstein and Schrodinger. I now realise that can never happen because it would cut off their easy entrĂ©e into show business. 


* Peep Show is the exception that highlights the rule.

Comments

  1. Can students today still afford weed? Times clearly aren't that hard then;-) So why don't we get them to pay more for dossing around? Oh hang on...

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A New Age of Sabotage

I haven't posted much recently because every time I think of something to say, the extraordinary pace of events makes it sound lame by the next morning: New York under water, Obama re-elected, News International in the dock, rockets falling on Tel Aviv, and that's even before we reach the Mayan apocalypse on Dec 21. However I've finally plucked up courage to wade into the torrent of the miraculous-horrific thanks to a fortunate discovery on the web. In this previous post I confessed an increasing interest in the radical Norwegian-American economist Thorstein Veblen, but that interest was quite narrowly based on reading only three of his works, namely The Theory of the Leisure Class, The Theory of Business Enterprise and his important essay The Socialist Economics of Karl Marx and His Followers. This wasn't just due to laziness but to the difficulty of obtaining many of Veblen's books, which have been out of print for a long time.

But I re-read Veblen's Wikiped…

Trump of Doom?

Thought for the day. The type of economy we call social democracy depended for its success on a willingness of the majority of the population to cooperate as well as compete with one another, giving up a portion of their income in taxes to be spent on various public goods like medicine, education and transport. If the population loses its willingness to make these reasonable sacrifices then it becomes impossible to maintain a social democracy.

The UK population was so willing for at least 30 years following WWII, to a large extent thanks to the experience of necessary cooperation among the generation who fought that war. But over the *last* 30+ years that willingness has been steadily eroded by many factors, including (but by no means confined to): greater individualism stemming from precisely the relative affluence and economic freedom that post-war social democracy conferred; successive economic crises (some related to oil, some to financial recklessness); industrial decline, outsou…

Collapse of the Left

The devastating setbacks recently suffered by the Left in the UK, USA, Turkey, Hungary and Poland (perhaps soon to be followed by more within the EU) have not yet lead to any satisfactory explanation of what is going wrong. They're still largely discussed in terms of Right v Left, but using partially outdated definitions of what these terms imply.

For the first half of the 20th century, the democratic Left was associated with socialised services, economic regulation, high wages and worker's rights,, while the Right espoused militarism, privatised services, free markets and low wages. The 1960s counterculture crucially changed the beliefs of the so called New Left in the direction of pacifism, minority rights and social libertarianism, and these positions have now merged into the mainstream Left to produce a bewildering range of different combinations and sects.

The Right still likes militarism, free markets, and individualism but has also adopted substantial parts of New Left …