The dilution deluded

A skeptic waits for his turn at the pharmacy reading a newspaper

Might be a quantum computer, might not be. If we don't check how would we know?
Might be a quantum computer, might not be. If we don’t check how would we know?

Throughout history we have been ignoring important information that, perhaps not individually, was rather trivial to obtain. Almost like a reluctance to know or in the assumption it would come to us when we needed it. We still do this.

There’s this misconception that Christopher Columbus was the first man to realize the earth was round. This is puzzling since no-one actually thinks he was a scientist. In fact we are told he was a not-so-successful merchant up until his Royal-backed expedition to ‘The Orient’. As it was, Earth-roundedness was then what climate change is now. Smart people understood and accepted it while the less intelligent went with more comfortable notions that ‘had always been true’.

Columbus was able to wrap his mind around a ‘round earth’ but he was still an idiot, since of all people that realized the earth was round, he was the one that chose to ignore the evidence about how big it had to be. He went to sail around it at a time when doing this on a ship’s rations was not possible. On the other hand, perhaps he gambled on living on rations from undiscovered lands. Rather an idiot of the courageous kind then.

The same could not be said about the pharmacist I was visiting the other day. I remarked for the first time a humongous neon-sign saying ‘HOMEOPATHY’. So when it was my turn at the counter I couldn’t resist asking whether it was new. I halfway expected her to be a little embarrassed since homeopathy is entirely based on unscientific principles. Much to the contrary she was proud that they’d had a ‘Lab’ upstairs since the earliest days of the pharmacy. I didn’t respond to that.

For those of you that are not already acutely aware, homeopathy is based on the idea that you dilute a supposedly useful substance into so much water and ‘mix-it-up-real-good’ in order for the water to retain a ‘sense-of-the-structure’. The underlying idea being that “Western Medicine” has been poisoning us with high concentrations of ‘toxins’. The only problem is that molecularly, water can only ever have a structure when it is frozen and that structure is atomically predetermined. If you dilute working substances to the amounts homeopathy does your chance of getting one working molecule of ‘toxin’ (or medicine) is like winning a raffle at your high school. Even that isn’t going to do much good. Skeptics have been publicly ‘overdosing’ on homeopathic ‘medicine’ for many years without any noticeable effect.

Now I don’t feed the trolls and I don’t mind the idiots on game-shows. I do mind my educated pharmacist leveling her entire study-domain to something pulled out of someone’s private mine-shaft years ago and being blissfully proud of it. It would be the same as for me, a historian, to talk as gleefully about the tales of the brothers Grimm.

“And the prince and princess lived happily ever after. Now to switch back to the story of the Ku Klux Klan…”

Now I know most of you think about the people from past times as idiots. Especially for things they could have known but for some mysterious reason seemed reluctant to go and fetch. Think for instance about the fact that the earth’s surface was curved. Go a couple of miles into the ocean and you see the land ‘drop’ away without actually falling off. How hard could it have been to go and check? But also in less obvious cases as the Civil War in the U.S.. Seriously, you’d think they had seen that coming right? Slavery here, none there, the fashion of the times.

 And how about the Kennedy assassination. If your main (and only) suspect is firing from an impossible angle such that, after all misses are registered and subtracted from the maximum of shots he could have squeezed off, so that you need a super-duper magical bullet to account for all the actual wounds inflicted; you’d think that at some point someone said, ‘hey, let’s go fire this M1 from that window and see how many ricochets we can get on a stationary car.”

Yes we stand on the shoulders on giants, but we stand on the shoulders of giant idiots as well. And they are in good company today, ‘Welcome to idiotville, population 7 billion’. You see, while reading an article on the tablet I realized we do exactly the same.

We laugh at creationists for ignoring evidence they can so easily access. We scold at ‘climate-skeptics’ that try to discredit science they do not even believe to be wrong (only inconvenient). But we all do it.

One of the most profound changes that will soon come to us it the Quantum – Computer. A computer that deals so radically different in the way it treats information, that uses the very molecules of matter to store and process information and is predicted to do this at orders of magnitude faster than what we have today. Honestly despite my efforts I haven’t really understood the details but part of the difference is that bits will not be processed in 1’s and 0’s but also in several intermediary states. It may even not be entirely deterministic. Now this seems all terribly out of place here but bare with me.

Quantum computers is not only a positive concept. For instance our banks and internet providers rely on the ‘infeasibility’ of some calculations to lock bogeys out of transferring your money to themselves. With a quantum computer the bogeys could do it with impunity. Now quantum computers much like the atomic bomb is perhaps one of those inventions with clouds attached to the silver lining, but it is equally unavoidable. The only thing worse than having a quantum computer is if someone else has it and you don’t, just like with the bomb.

Now while the scientists are since its theoretical conception been working on the practical mechanics of the quantum physics involved, since several years there is this private company that claims they made and sell an actual quantum computer: D-wave. You’d think the NSA would be more interested to know if someone will soon decrypt the keys to Fort-knox than know whom you called last night, but you’d be wrong. Google has bought a D-wave computer to see what it can do and how it works but we’re still to see the first draft of a communication from them explaining why or why not this D-Wave computer can be considered a quantum computer.

For now the thing is severely underperforming with regard to the theoretical model. It is barely on par with modest supercomputers on basic Intel technology. The question is whether it’s because they opted for the wrong wiring, or whether it’s the approach (or lack thereof) towards quantum physics. We could find out. For things that important judges could warrant the intrusion on trade secrets. But it’s just one of those things we, as a society, decide not to bother with; much like our meek actions to mitigate climate change or our indifference to actually find out who (along Oswald) killed the U.S. president some decades ago. Because, whether it be before ‘underwear’ or ‘bullet’, the use of the word ‘magic’ has a 100% correlation with bullshit. But then again so does homeopathy and you [..know people who..] buy that, don’t you?


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