This is my first post on a Skeptiko thread.
I don't usually introduce myself with an abridged version of my resume but I feel that it's pertinent to describe my background for the purposes of this post. I'm a PhD student in biophysics (working mostly on quantum effects in biological systems) and I completed undergraduate degrees in cognitive psychology, philosophy and physics, and a postgraduate Honours degree in theoretical physics, with a focus on the role of time in various formulations of quantum mechanics. Here is my most recent publication: http://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/...nphys2332.html
Something else possibly worth mentioning is that I've been tutoring my university's' undergraduate course on the philosophy of modern physics on and off for about ten years.
I've been a regular listener to Skeptiko for a few years now. I admire Alex's ability to maintain a healthy tension between openness and skepticism, his respect for academic qualifications and professional experience, and the courtesy with which he (usually) debates his interviewees. I also like that an appreciable fraction of the people he interviews are actually qualified and professionally experienced enough to speak with authority on the topic about which they are being questioned.
This week's program spurred me to write this post because I found it to be a dramatic departure from the usual high standards of this show. I got the impression that the interviewer and interviewee were well-intentioned. The reason I found the show so difficult to listen to is that they both spoke with such self-assured confidence about science that, clearly, neither of them understood to any depth. This 'quantum physicist', who describes his own career on his website in such grandiose terms and yet lists no peer-reviewed publications on his credentials page, has the audacity to proclaim the nature of the world and mock brilliant, accomplished scientists. He then proceeds to demonstrate a level of understanding of relativity and quantum theory roughly equivalent to the early undergraduate students whom I tutor on these topics. The difference between this high priest of the truth and my students is that the latter crowd are actually willing to acknowledge their uncertainty about the way the world works.
Actually working in quantum physics, one comes to recognise certain give-away cues in the language of people pretending to speak with authority. The first is that they talk themselves up. I am a (very) early career physicist. I don't know much but I have had the privilege to interact with world-renowned physicists who are actually working at the cutting edge of quantum theory. The genuinely great people working in this field are well aware of the limits of current theory and also aware that, currently, there is no other more empirically successful description of the world. Theory is nothing if it can't explain experiments and, currently, nothing does a better job of that than quantum theory. Bray said on the show that despite the money spent on physical experiments over the last half century, physics has 'utterly failed' (I'm paraphrasing that quotation). If quantum physics and relativity didn't work, most 21st century technology wouldn't work. There would be no computers, no GPS, no lasers and no podcasts. Certainly, physics is incomplete and is, in my opinion, yet to satisfactorily account for the relationship between mind and matter - hence my interest in the topics covered in most Skeptiko shows. The physicists whom I work with typically agree with all this. What they don't do is say things like 'there's nothing inside a black hole' and 'everything that Stephen Hawking has ever proposed has been disproved', or claim that Leonard Susskind has shown Stephen Hawking that his ideas about black holes should be replaced with the holographic principle (referred to by Bray as the holographic theory). Here is a nice paper, co-authored by Susskind, about the effects of Hawking radiation: Phys. Rev. D 46, 3444 (1992): End point of Hawking radiation
Hawking radiation requires that things fall into black holes, which Bray seems to think is impossible. Any standard text on general relativity will explain why he's wrong about that. In short, it's because space is *locally* flat in any given reference frame, even in strongly curved spacetime. Time does not stop at the event horizon for the object falling through it. The experience of falling through the event horizon of a black hole would be entirely uneventful for the person/object doing it, except that so-called tidal forces might be felt between the top and bottom of the object. When Hawking radiation is generated, the things falling through the event horizon are virtual photons, which are predicted by quantum electrodynamics. Bray proclaims with some confidence on the show that he 'knows what a quantum electrodynamic event is', despite describing the theory is inexact terms that sounds nothing like the way I usually hear physicists talk about QED.
Now, I don't want to be unfair. If this guy really has had the long and important career in physics that he says he has, then I hope he'll be gracious enough to be patient with a young ignoramus like me and guide me through rigorous explanations of his arguments. I would be doubly enlightened if he did so with the assistance of publications in physics journals, preferably some of his own authoring. I would be delighted if the key to understanding consciousness really were just dividing a real, finite number by infinity.
In the meantime, I would encourage open-minded listeners of Skeptiko to maintain a healthy skepticism of people who claim to be authorities on complicated-sounding things and the back up those claims by arrogantly decrying the establishment and throwing around big words. Anyone can call his/herself a 'quantum physicist'. It's useful to know that people who actually work in quantum physics don't call themselves 'quantum physicists'. They are simply physicists. And it is a very, very long way from the Schrodinger equation to any kind of claim about religion. Quantum mechanics is just a mathematical framework. We can - and do - interpret it however we like.