Fluid tests and quantum reality

The other day, I mentioned that I had some sympathy for the deBroglie-Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics, namely an interpretation that there isn’t a wave-function collapse as envisioned by the standard Copenhagen interpretation, but a particle that always exists but is guided by a pilot-wave.

It turns out that there are some people doing experiments with fluid dynamics that seem to show results very similar to the dynamics envisioned by the pilot wave interpretation.

The experiments involve an oil droplet that bounces along the surface of a liquid. The droplet gently sloshes the liquid with every bounce. At the same time, ripples from past bounces affect its course. The droplet’s interaction with its own ripples, which form what’s known as a pilot wave, causes it to exhibit behaviors previously thought to be peculiar to elementary particles — including behaviors seen as evidence that these particles are spread through space like waves, without any specific location, until they are measured.

Particles at the quantum scale seem to do things that human-scale objects do not do. They can tunnel through barriers, spontaneously arise or annihilate, and occupy discrete energy levels. This new body of research reveals that oil droplets, when guided by pilot waves, also exhibit these quantum-like features.

The article notes that most particle physicists aren’t impressed.  Despite my sympathy for the pilot-wave interpretation, I can definitely understand why.  These are experiments with fluid dynamics, not with actual quantum systems.  There doesn’t seem to be any good reason to suppose that these fluid dynamics match the dynamics of actual quantum systems, other than the coincidence of their dynamics matching a possible interpretation of those systems.

Still, the experiments are interesting.

11 thoughts on “Fluid tests and quantum reality

  1. not everything is meant to be mixed as they say, and it’s clear from the oil drop, i guess there is a divine energy, and we are all part of it, whatever we might think,


  2. I’m increasingly optimistic that we may arrive at a “true” interpretation of QM some time during the 21st century. The debate has moved on a lot from the Copenhagen days and the old “shut up and calculate” approach. Even Neil deGrasse Tyson can’t stop progress.


      1. It’s a clear that there is a strong movement in the theoretical physics community to solve the problem. Plus the fact that my mind reels at the notion that the problem can’t be solved.

        There are people actively thinking about the many-worlds interpretation; there is the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis; there’s the urgent practical need to build quantum computers; there are people working on entanglement and quantum teleportation; and there is even evidence for inflation and “pre-Big Bang” models of the universe. There hasn’t been this level of progress in truly fundamental physics for a long time.


        1. Thanks Steve. Do you have a sense of how much of the progress related to QM interpretation is theoretical versus experimental? Is it widely felt that a working quantum computer would validate the MWI? (I know Max Tegmark asserts that it would, but I’m wondering how much that sentiment exists in the physics community.)


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