Quantum effects on visible objects

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that this press release about the results of a study will be abused by the New Agey faith healer types like Deepak Chopra. And what I think they’ll try to do is claim that this finding – that quantum mechanics applies to objects which are visible to the naked eye – closes the alleged gap between the micro and macro effects of quantum mechanics.

The usual response by skeptics when someone like Chopra points out some counterintuitive implication of quantum theory and then tries to expand it as if it applies to things like “healing” is that they’re talking about how matter works on a micro scale and they need to show that this applies on a larger one. They haven’t been able to do that. For instance, you can point out that we’re made of atoms and atoms are mostly empty space. And so is something like a wall in your house. But just because both you and the wall are at a micro level mostly empty space, it does not follow that you can walk through walls. Someone would need to close that gap between the micro and macro to make that case, and it’s a pretty safe bet that that simply can’t be done.

And similarly, just because simple observation can change test results – as predicted by quantum theory – it does not follow that we can conjure up a bubble blower bottle out of nowhere.  But now that we know that quantum theory applies to visible objects, I’m guessing that followers of “The Secret” are going to claim that this crosses some line which they believe skeptics claimed can not be crossed.

The problem with that is that the point at which we’re able to see small objects is a pretty arbitrary one. In fact, it’s not even a set line since the visual capacities of humans (and all other animals, for that matter) exist on a spectrum ranging from good vision to blindness. There’s no reason quantum effects should just start and stop at the point where humans happen to be able to observe them unaided. It would be a pretty human-centric approach to try to bridge the gap in that way, if that’s what they end up saying.

This is supposed to be coming out in Nature, so chances are good that it’s been through a decent peer review process. This isn’t just some guys with a press release. UC Santa Barbara physics professor and co-author of the study Andrew Cleland called his findings in the press release, “a significant step forward for nanomechanics research.”


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