Where to begin?
I guess I’ll take Sean in this one. Philosophically—we should be trying to dig deeper—but also out of loyalty. We go way back to his Cosmic Variance days 😉
It’s not my style, but I can forgive a little marketing and promotion here and there.
Ethan is ultimately right too, of course. We can’t go past quantum mechanics unless we theorize beyond it, but those theories can only be selected by experiment and observation. Otherwise the theory is purely superficial, cosmetic.
And so far, that’s all we’ve got. Key phrase: “So far.”
For good measure, a quote from each viewpoint:
“What is real?” Real is what you can build shit with. Last I checked, people building quantum computers and quantum crypto links to space are not waiting for permission from the philosophers.
“Just because we don’t currently know of an experiment that can distinguish between interpretations of quantum physics does not mean that we will never know how to do such an experiment.”
All that said, cosmetics can be important in their own right. Especially for the rest of us non-practitioners. We like being able to fit things into a worldview of some kind, for better and worse.
Smolin himself put it very bluntly during a public lecture he delivered less than a year ago:
“A complete description should tell us what is happening in each individual process, independent of our knowledge, beliefs, or our interventions or interactions with the system.”
In science, this is what we call an assumption, a postulate or an assertion. It sounds compelling, but it might not be true. The search for “a complete description” in this fashion assumes that nature can be described in an observer-independent or interaction-independent fashion, and this may not be the case. While Sean Carroll just argued in Sunday’s New York Times that physicists should care more about (and spend more time and energy studying) these quantum foundations, most physicists — myself included — don’t agree.
Science does not exist to show that reality conforms to our biases and prejudices and opinions; it seeks to uncover the nature of reality irrespective of our biases. If we really want to understand quantum mechanics, the goal should be more about letting go of our biases and embracing what the Universe tells us about itself. Instead, Carroll regressively campaigns for the opposite in teasing his upcoming new book. Unsurprisingly, most physicists are underwhelmed.
The key, if you want to further your understanding of the Universe, is to find an experimental test that will discern one interpretation from another, thereby either ruling it out or elevating it above the others. Thus far, only interpretations that demand local realism (with some level of determinism thrown in there) have been ruled out, while the remainder are all untested; choosing between them is exclusively a matter of aesthetics.