I’m guessing that my reaction toward David Berlinski’s writing is not uncommon: I find him an engaging, entertaining writer, and he’s clearly very smart, but I am often frustrated at what he takes to be an argument. For example, in his recent book The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions, Berlinski goes into a longish digression about quantum mechanics, and at one point writes:

the wave function of the universe cannot be seen, measured, assessed, or tested. It is purely a theoretical artifact. Physicists have found it remarkably easy to pass from speculation about the wave function of the universe to the conviction that there is a wave function of the universe. This is nothing more than an endearing human weakness. (p. 100)

Berlinski is being (purposefully?) condescending here, and isn’t giving those who endorse the hypothesis that there is a wave function of the universe credit for having intellectual reasons for their endorsement. Yes, he does this in an entertaining way, but I wouldn’t let my undergrads get away with arguing like this in their philosophy papers, so why should we let Berlinski get away with it in his book? 

I picked this point to focus on in part because I agree with Berlinski that physicists are too willing to embrace the hypothesis that there is a wave function of the universe. But I have intellectually-based reasons for that thought, reasons that are spelled out in a couple papers I’ve written, such as my paper “Quantum Mechanics and 3N-Dimensional Space“. I would have been much happier if Berlinski had, after insulting those who believe in the reality of the wave function, at least put in a footnote citing for example my article to back up his position. But doing so clearly wouldn’t fit Berlinski’s style. So much the worse for his style.

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