The Unsolved Puzzle

This is short review of the The Unsolved Puzzle by Jonathan Kerr.

After more than a 100 years of quantum mechanics, there remains a debate of how to interpret it. Nobody disagrees that the mathematics describing experimental behavior are correct, the problem is understanding what the mathematics is telling us about reality. Wikipedia has an entire entry dedicated to the variations of interpretations.

So I was interested when I caught reference to a new interpretation that claimed to resolve the mysteries.

I’m not sure exactly what to make of this interpretation, but it actually makes a lot of sense, even common sense, to me. Whether it is exactly new might be a question.

The developer of this new approach is Jonathan Kerr. I can’t tell if he is actually a physicist in the sense of someone with a degree who actually works in the area. His book looks like something self-published. On the other hand, he has some movies which explain his ideas which include interviews with Carlo Rovelli and Neil Turok who are recognized physicists.

His book is amazingly readable, almost a page-turner. It is relatively short with short chapters. It has no equations so no mathematics are required. It reads a little like a detective story with some historical background and some personal history along the way about various dead ends in his thoughts on quantum mechanics before he reached his current understanding of the puzzle.

Kerr’s interpretation he calls dimensional quantum mechanics.  It seems very similar to Rovelli’s relational quantum mechanics. So similar, from what I understand, that I am not exactly sure it is substantially different.

There is no woo in the theory. No consciousness is required. The theory is exactly the opposite of that. The whole “observer” thing is a red herring. An observer, as the term as used by ordinary people, isn’t required. Measurement per se isn’t required. The wave collapses to a particle because it interacts with matter. That’s it. It doesn’t matter whether a consciousness observes it or not. It happens whether we look or not. Measurement in a laboratory isn’t anything other than causing the wave to interact with something. Measurement is a subset of interactions.

A wave is actually a particle but we are seeing multiple version of it – dimensions in the theory – so it has many possibilities. When it interacts with matter, one of the possibilities becomes fixed to a particular reference frame in relation to the matter it interacts with. A different possibility could possibly become fixed to a different reference frame to other matter. This accounts for the various paradoxes where one “observer” sees one thing and another “observer” sees something else.  In the world we see, waves are “collapsing” by interacting with matter so the large scale structure gets built up from the ground up with matter becoming fixed or entangled with other matter so everything is in a common reference frame.

(Note: After reading a bit of Carlo Rovelli’s Reality is Not What It Seems, I think most of Kerr’s theory is in Rovelli’s relational quantum mechanics. Kerr does seem to bring in a “dimensional” component that I don’t see in Rovelli’s RQM, but the notion that interaction is what causes the wave to take on it dynamic properties is in the relational theory.)

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21 Responses to The Unsolved Puzzle

  1. Steve Ruis says:

    I will check this out. I am currently reading Fields of Color: The Theory that Escaped Einstein by Rodney A. Brooks who claims that a viable interpretation that avoids all of the quantum weirdness was already invented but has not been widely accepted due to the lack of a charismatic presenter. More charismatic presenters, e.g. Richard Feynman, got their ideas across while these lied fallow. Same approach, no math per se.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Steve,
    So does Rodney A. Brooks argue for an interpretation which suggests ontological determination?

    Same question regarding Jonathan Kerr.


    • James Cross says:

      Not every bit of science has to lead to a metaphysical implication.

      From what I can tell the varieties of definitions and flavors of “ontological determinism” aren’t even clear to philosophers so to try to extrapolate any QM interpretation to anything of a metaphysical nature would require so much additional philosophical infrastructure (perhaps “garbage” would be a better term) that the effort is pointless.

      But if you think it can be done, why don’t you read the book and tell me?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I may not have been clear enough with the “ontological determination” term, which doesn’t mean that either author presents a clear answer. I’ll try again, though no worries if you or Steve aren’t sure. I won’t be reading either book, though I would like to know if an obvious answer does exist.

        My perception of Einstein is that he believed that everything that ever has happened or will happen, is perfectly determined by the dynamics of previous existence. Many modern physicists say that he was wrong, or that ontological rather than just epistemic uncertainty exists by means of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. I consider them arrogant for suggesting that causality ultimately fails, since I consider this interpretation to essentially introduce “magic” into our realm. Thus my question.


        • James Cross says:

          I don’t think Kerr attempts to provide any answer to that question or there is any obvious conclusion that could be drawn from what he’s written.

          I see, however, this looks to be related to the causality issue again. I do know Kerr’s ideas are close to Rovelli’s and Rovelli’s has written something which I haven’t read about QM in a timeless universe. I will actually be looking at something by Rovelli soon but in the timeless universe the whole notion of causality will need to be reexamined. Failure of causality may not mean magic in that sort of universe.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. The issue I see here is that we know interaction, in and of itself, isn’t sufficient to cause the wave collapse. There have been various experiments holding larger and larger molecules in superposition. For atoms to be in a molecule requires ongoing electromagnetic interaction between them. For that matter, for atoms to hold together requires ongoing interaction between the subatomic particles.

    The relational interpretation handles that be simply saying that the collapse isn’t an absolute fact, but relative to particular systems (such as observers, but not limited to them). You mentioned they were similar. Does Kerr handle it the same way?

    One thing that I haven’t been comfortable with on the relational interpretation is the idea that properties of the particles don’t exist until an interaction. Is it the same in Kerr’s interpretation? If so, does he provide any rational for what’s happening between the interactions?

    Just curious.


    • James Cross says:

      I think Kerr’s position is that some of the properties are inherent in the particle and some manifest at the interaction. I may need to look back at that.

      Regarding your issue, I’m not sure how Kerr would answer. Just guessing but I would think that the atoms in a molecule have already interacted and fixed their position relative to each other. So the molecule is just a larger unit that hasn’t yet interacted with other atoms or molecules. Since everything is relative to the interaction, there wouldn’t be an issue with this.

      But I’m really guessing about a lot of that and I’m definitely out of my realm in most of this. I just thought Kerr’s explanation seems so plain and straightforward.

      I did buy a Rovelli book and my sense is that I might find a lot of Kerr implicit or explicit in Rovelli.


      • Thanks for taking a shot at it!

        On the molecules, from everything I understand, them staying together requires chemical bonds, which require constant electromagnetic interactions, with electrons flitting around and between the atoms, and photons being exchanged by everything. If the answer is similar to the relational interpretation, then the constituents have collapsed for each other, but not yet for the outside world. (Exactly what this means is where MWI and relational seem to diverge, although according to Wikipedia, it’s more accurate to say relational is agnostic on it.)


        • James Cross says:

          FYI I looked back at the book.

          He talks about static properties like mass and charge that are known in the wave state. Other properties like spin exist in multiple possibilities until the interaction fixes them.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Lee Roetcisoender says:

      “The issue I see here is that we know interaction, in and of itself, isn’t sufficient to cause the wave collapse.”

      The main take away from RQM is that there is no “wave function collapse” simply because there is no wave function. The Copenhagen interpretation is rejected by RQM as a grounding architecture of quantum mechanics, a position I agree with.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Lee,
        I was using “collapse” in an epistemic rather than physical sense since that’s what James’ post used. As I understand it, there is a wave function, it’s just not interpreted as a real wave. That said, my reading of RQM has been light and sporadic, so I’m not in any position to debate the details.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Lee Roetcisoender says:

    Sorry folks, but the long standing Copenhagen interpretation is a red herring and has absolutely nothing to do with the true nature of the quantum world. The wave function, with its infamous “wave function collapse” is a manufactured scenario that simply does not exist. And because it does not exist, the natural progression of postulating theories leads to wild, exotic and outrageously absurd conclusions, MWI to name just one. All of these exotic theories manufacture intractable problems that in the quantum world fundamentally do not exist.

    Physics has been held hostage by this bogus interpretation of the double-slit experiment for only 100 short years. Contrast that against being held hostage by the subject/object metaphysics for over 2500 years and still counting. No problem, because ignorance is bliss…



    • James Cross says:


      I’m trying to figure out who or what you arguing against now. Kerr’s position is not the Copenhagen position. It is almost anti-Copenhagen. But it is not MW either.

      It is closer to Rovelli’s relational quantum mechanics.

      “The interpretation does not require to assume the existence of a classical world to be formulated, nor special observer systems; it does not give any special role to measurement. Instead, it assumes that any physical system can play the role of the Copenhagen’s observer and any interaction counts as a measurement. This is possible without changing the predictions of quantum theory thanks to the postulate above, because the interference observed by a system S′ is not erased by the actualisation of variables relative to a different system S′′ (it can of course be suppressed by decoherence). In this way, RQM can make sense of a fully quantum world without requiring hidden variables, many worlds, physical collapse mechanisms, or a special role for mind, consciousness, subjectivity, agents, or similar.”


  5. Lee Roetcisoender says:

    Copy that James,

    I should have read more before making an erroneous assumption, my bad. Even though RQM cannot account for “how or why” interactions take place, I like how RQM summarizes:

    “The physical world must be described as a net of interacting components, where there is no meaning to ‘the state of an isolated system’, or the value of the variables of an isolated system. The state of a physical system is the net of the relations it entertains with the surrounding systems. The physical structure of the world is identified as this net of relationships. The notion of substance that plays a major role in western philosophy might be inappropriate to account for this science; perhaps the idea of a “mutual dependency” [Nāgārjuna 1995] may offer a relevant philosophical cadre.”

    RQM is at least a step in the right direction, a move that philosophically rejects the current model of dualism. Nagarjuna’s “mutual dependency” is a better fit, one that also avoid dualism, but I can’t see a future for this position in the scientific or academic communities. The how and why these interactions take place, otherwise known as causation, are explicitly outlined in my book. Working from the underlying architecture of RQM, it might make more sense for you to appreciate value as the ontological primitive and value being at center of every discrete system; and by being at the center, value would be responsible for motion and form. According to the architecture intrinsic to monism, value would be the cause of systems interacting (motion) and value would be the affect of systems interacting (form), all of these systems, and all of these interactions reduces once again to value, explicitly implying a value centric universe.

    Value is a mystery, the more one tries to reign it in and put one’s finger on it, the more elusive it becomes. Makes one wonder, eh?


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lee Roetcisoender says:

    Putting causation aside for the moment. If RQM is ever accepted by the scientific community, and that’s a big if; RQM makes an excellent model because the architecture makes no ontological distinction between mind and matter, or objects and subjects for that matter. Furthermore, RQM eliminates the use of objects within its vocabulary by reclassifying all objects as discrete systems, wherein those discrete systems are either classical systems or quantum systems, both of which interact with each other, as well as those interactions crossing the great divide between the classical world and the quantum world.

    This architecture can be used to explain the observed wave function collapse in the infamous double-slit experiment where a classical particle interacts with the small space, (space being a quantum system), in the double-slit. This interaction between the classical particle and the quantum properties of space in the small area of the slit interferes with the classical particle and creates a quantum wave signature that can be mapped over time. When a measuring instrument is pointed at the top slit on the double-slit, the measurement device destroys the quantum wave, (
    another interaction between the classical and quantum world), an interaction that eliminates the interference of the quantum wave with the classical particle, a result which again can be mapped over time.

    RQM can also be used to bridge the great divide separating matter and mind, wherein matter is an expression of the classical world (the brain), and mind is an expression of the quantum world. The RQM architecture creates a pragmatic bridge between the classical world of the brain and the quantum world of mind where this intricate interaction takes place. Nothing is ever still, change is a driving continuum in both the classical world and the quantum world, and that continuum of interactions crosses over the “imaginative” divide separating the quantum world from the classical one. In a pragmatic model of reality, there is no impasse dividing the quantum world from the classical world, only an imaginative one.


    Liked by 1 person

    • James Cross says:

      As I’ve mentioned. I’m getting a book by Rovelli so I might have more insight into RQM in a couple weeks. There’s gotta be something else out there better than MW and Copenhagen because both of them feel unsatisfactory to me.

      Whether matter is brain and mind quantum, I don’t know. If you’re making no ontological distinction between mind and matter, I don’t know that it matters. 🙂


      • Lee Roetcisoender says:

        No pun intended here, but of one looks at mind as being just another discrete system, the system of mind is literally “mind blowing”… Just the notion of mind being quantum is fascinating. Visualize a physical universe emerging form a quantum state, a materialistic universe which then evolves until it re-emerges into a quantum state once again as mind, another quantum state that is literally is another universe unto itself. This quantum system of mind is imbued with the power to not only analyze itself and the world around itself, but also with seemingly unlimited power to create and express it’s own power of imagination.

        I mean, just look at the diversity and novelty that emerges from the quantum world in the classical physical universe, and then contrast that diversity and novelty against what emerges from the imaginative power of a quantum mind. The only limitations to mind are those impinged upon it by biology or those placed upon it by the self-model. Just thinking out loud here…


        Liked by 1 person

  7. James Cross says:


    I would encourage you to read a little about Rovelli’s relational quantum mechanics or even quantum field theory. The idea is that no conscious observer is required. All of the quantum “mysteries” come from wave interacting with matter and transferring energy and information.


  8. Steve Ruis says:

    Okay, I just finished “The Unsolved Puzzle” and, unlike you I did not find it all that accessible or well-written. In fact, as a professional editor, I found it all over the place.
    As to the interpretation aspect, I did find that promising, although I still find the idea of “dimensions” having a physical reality a little hard to swallow. But, like the square root of negative one, there are benefits from plowing on.

    He promised another book with all of the math involved and I do not know when that will be coming out or that I will bite on it. (I took “Modern Physics” in 1968 and have only been reading about it since.

    Thanks for the review!


    • James Cross says:

      Well, “readable” and ‘well-written” aren’t exactly the same. I mainly meant the book moved along without becoming too dense or bogged down with equations and complexities.


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