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Further misunderstanding of coherence

8th July 2008 (17:50)

Comment on “Macroscopic Quantum Coherence in Patient-Practitioner-Remedy Entanglement: The Quantized Fluctuation Field Perspective” [eCAM Advance Access published online on May 14, 2008].

Submitted 8th July 2008, online 11th July 2008

BPSDBAlex Hankey (1) has written to support and defend Lionel Milgrom (2,3), but does so in his own terms of “quantum fluctuation fields” in biological systems (4) rather than Milgrom's model (often referred to as a metaphor (5)) of patient-practitioner-remedy entanglement (6) via “weak” quantum theory (7). Quantum fluctuation fields are supposed to demonstrate quantum coherence on a macroscopic scale, but the reasoning behind this is flawed; in any case, a link between these two models is not to be taken for granted (8,9).

Neumann et al. (10) have recently reported that they have achieved entanglement between two 13C nuclei in a diamond lattice (controlled via their coupling to an electron in a nitrogen-vacancy defect) and that the quantum correlated state persists for 3–5 milliseconds at room temperature, similar to the spin-spin relaxation time of the electron spins (6 ms). A quantum correlated state involving three spins (the two 13C nuclei plus an electron) persisted for less than 2 μs, because interaction with other spin impurities shortens the relaxation times of the electron's spin (11). This represents the reality of quantum correlations in solid matter at room temperature - persistence of an entangled state of two of three particles for milli- or microsecond timescales (respectively) represents a breakthrough. It is a long way from the kind of “macroscopic quantum coherence” which Hankey writes about (1). Hankey insists that coherence can be maintained over macroscopic distances in quantum systems at high temperature:

“All quantum field theories in solid state physics provide examples where this kind of assumption is made at a primal level, since the low energy forms of their various quanta are assumed to extend over the whole lattice being considered. Theoretically that is infinite in thermodynamic systems, and, practically, over a whole crystal, or whatever kind of domain is appropriate to the exciton under consideration, be it phonon, electron, magnon or other.”

Solid state physicists use Bloch waves to describe electrons in a crystal - they are made up of normal plane waves multiplied by a function with the periodicity of the crystal. Plane waves are eigenstates of momentum and are of course infinite in extent but no actual particles really have such well-defined momentum. In a thin semiconducting layer at low temperature (of the order of 1 K) it may be possible to see weak localization (12,13), which causes a slight increase in resistance when the charge-carrying particles (electrons or holes) become trapped in quantum-coherent loops. This coherence persists on a timescale called the dephasing time, which at 1 K (-272°C) in a good-quality sample may be of the order of a few picoseconds (14) and coherence may be maintained over length scales of around a micrometre. The dephasing time decreases as temperature increases. At 1 K the momentum relaxation time (the time it takes the particle to change direction significantly) is also just a few picoseconds, and due to the uncertainty principle this sets a limit on how well-defined the momentum can be. Far from extending “over the whole lattice being considered” the wavepacket of the charge-carrying particle in this example extends for about 1 μm at 1 K and only gets smaller as the temperature increases. Recently, Billy et al. (15) have observed a localization length of almost 0.6 mm in a one-dimensional Bose-Einstein condensate of rubidium-87.

Incidentally, an exciton is a bound electron-hole pair, not a general term for phonons, electrons, magnons or whatever (although the electron-like quasiparticles which pass for electrons in a crystal may be considered as excitations of the Fermi sea, for example).

The Mössbauer effect (16,17) is the emission of a gamma ray by an atom in a solid, in which the crystal as a whole recoils a tiny amount (instead of the emitting atom recoiling alone by a relatively large amount, thus reducing the energy of the emitted gamma ray). It relies only on the fact that there is a significant probability (for gamma rays of relatively low energy) that the recoil, which involves just the atom which emitted the gamma ray, will not excite even the lowest-energy vibrational modes (phonons) of the solid (18). It happens because the tiny momentum kick from the emission of the gamma ray involves just one atom, and the low-energy phonons which can take that sort of momentum have very long wavelength so involve lots of atoms. I struggle to understand how this means that the system undergoes “a quantum interaction as a coherent whole”. It is actually the failure to interact which means the momentum kick is not lost to phonons and is therefore taken up by the entire crystal.

Regarding David Chalmers (19) it seems that Chalmers’ dismissal of Penrose's “nonalgorithmic processing” actually invalidates Hankey's “putting together” (20) of Penrose and Chalmers (21). Chalmers has already considered Penrose's ideas on conciousness and quantum gravity (22), and even if they were right (which is somewhat controversial, to say the least (23,24,25)) they are not what Chalmers was looking for in his “innocent version of dualism”. He is not particularly interested in general quantum mechanics either, which seems to further negate what Hankey is trying to suggest (and probably what Milgrom is trying to suggest, or at least what Hankey is trying to suggest about what Milgrom is trying to suggest). Chalmers also dismisses vitalism and therefore the “life force” which would be “equated with quantized instability fluctuations” (4). In any case, the non-trivial quantum effects (23) which Hagan et al. discuss (22) would take place in microtubules of diameter 25 nm and coherence might last for 0.01–0.1 milliseconds, although Tegmark calculated times of less than 0.1 ps (24). We are still a long way from macroscopic time- and length-scales.

Regarding phase transitions and the critical point (26), Hankey writes

“As the temperature T approaches the critical temperature Tc from above, the increase in specific heat means that extra heat energy is lost; implying that systems of critical fluctuations have anomalously low energy/heat content. This translates into low entropy content, since, by dq = TdS, heat change dq is directly related to entropy change dS.”

The third law of thermodynamics states that minimum entropy S of a system is to be found at the absolute zero of temperature. The entropy only increases as the internal energy q and therefore the temperature T is increased, by dq = CdT (where C is the heat capacity and is almost always positive). The high value of the specific heat at the critical temperature Tc means that to increase the T through Tc requires an anomalously large input of heat energy. This translates via dq = TdS to a large increase in entropy. Hankey seems to imply that a low-entropy state exists at Tc, but since entropy is a state function this cannot be true, and systems of critical fluctuations do not have anomalously low energy/heat content. It is just that a system at a temperature just below Tc has quite a low energy/heat and entropy content compared to a system just above Tc.

This would already seem to render most of Hankey's further reasoning untenable. The correlation length does become very large at the critical point, but this is not related to low entropy and it certainly has nothing to do with macroscopic quantum coherence. This is because the correlation length in a statistical mechanical sense is not directly related to the phase correlation length in a quantum mechanical sense. Spins, for example (26), correlate because they line up in each other's magnetic fields, not because there is some quantum phase interaction. (If the long-range correlation were quantum mechanical in nature then we would only be able to understand it by creating a wavefunction which contained all the particles' spin states combined in a non-trivial way; this is not usually necessary, unless T→ 0 (27).)

In conclusion, the link between coherence of some property near the critical point and coherence of the quantum phase is spurious and nothing to do with low entropy; Hankey's “quantized fluctuation fields” (4) do not seem to have anything to do with Milgrom's hypothesis of patient-practitioner-remedy entanglement (2,6) based on “weak” quantum theory (7) to explain what is only the placebo effect (28), apart from the vague appeal to quantum theory. Milgrom's work is not physics and neither for that matter is Hankey's.


  1.  Hankey A. Macroscopic Quantum Coherence in Patient-Practitioner-Remedy Entanglement: The Quantized Fluctuation Field Perspective. eCAM Advance Access published online on May 14, 2008.
  2.  Milgrom LR. Journeys in the country of the blind: Entanglement theory and the effects of blinding on trials of homeopathy and homeopathic provings. eCAM 2007; 4:7-16.
  3.  See http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2008/07/new-fundamentalism-why-lionel-milgrom.html for an examination of some of the criticisms made by Milgrom on those who maintain a skeptical attitudes towards his work; http://apgaylard.wordpress.com/2008/07/04/shangs-secret-the-hydra-of-homoeomythology/ notes a misconception from Milgrom, which seems to be common amongst homeopaths, regarding Shang et al. (29); see also http://shpalman.livejournal.com/tag/lionel+milgrom.
  4.  Hankey A. CAM Modalities Can Stimulate Advances in Theoretical Biology. eCAM 2005; 2:5-12.
  5.  Milgrom LR. Conspicuous by its absence: the Memory of Water, macro-entanglement, and the possibility of homeopathy. Homeopathy 2007; 96:209-219.
  6.  Milgrom LR. Towards a New Model of the Homeopathic Process Based on Quantum Field Theory. Forsch Komplementmed 2006; 13:174-183.
  7.  Atmanspacher H, Römer H, Walach H. Weak Quantum Theory: Complementarity and Entanglement in Physics and Beyond. Found Phys 2002; 32:379-406.
  8.  Hankey A. Weak Quantum Theory: Satisfied By Quantized Critical Point Fluctuations. J Alt Comp Med 2006; 12:105-106.
  9.  Eq. (1) of Ref. (8) appears to be in error, since it seems to represent the commutation relation of a wavefunction ψ with its Hermitian adjoint ψ (or possibly the complex conjugate ψ* is intended as in Eq. (4)) rather than the commutator of two complementary observables as in Eq. (1) of Ref. (7). We also note that Eq. (5) of Ref. (8) does in any case contain Planck's constant; see also http://shpalman.livejournal.com/10685.html.
  10.  Neumann P, Mizuochi N, Rempp F, Hemmer P, Watanabe H, Yamasaki S, Jacques V, Gaebel T, Jelezko F, Wrachtrup J. Multipartite Entanglement Among Single Spins in Diamond. Science 2008; 320:1326-1329.
  11.  Gaebel T, Domhan M, Popa I, Wittman C, Neumann P, Jelezko F, Rabeau JR, Stavrias N, Greentree AD, Prawer S, Meijer J, Twamley J, Hemmer PR, Wrachtrup J. Room-temperature coherent coupling of single spins in diamond. Nature Physics 2006; 2:408-413.
  12.  Lee PA, Ramakrishnan TV. Disordered electronic systems. Rev Mod Phys 1985; 57:287-337.
  13.  Chakravarty S, Schmid A. Weak Localization: The Quasi-Classical Theory of Electrons in a Random Potential. Phys Rep 1986; 140:193-236.
  14.  Berkutov IB, Komnik YF, Andrievskii VV, Mironov OA, Myronov M, Leadley DR. Weak localization and charge-carrier interaction effects in a two-dimensional hole gas in a germanium quantum well in a SiGe/Ge/SiGe heterostructure. Low Temp Phys 2006; 32:683-688.
  15.  Billy J, Josse V, Zuo Z, Bernard A, Hambrecht B, Lugan P, Clément D, Sanchez-Palencia L, Bouyer P, Aspect A. Direct observation of Anderson localization of matter waves in a controlled disorder. Nature 2008; 453:891-894.
  16.  Mössbauer RL. Kernresonanzabsorption von Gammastrahlung in Ir191. Naturwissenschaften 1958; 45:538-539.
  17.  Mössbauer RL. Kernresonanzfluoreszenz von Gammastrahlung in Ir191. Z Physik 1958; 151:124-143.
  18.  Eyges L. Physics of the Mössbauer Effect. Am J Phys 1965; 33:790-802.
  19.  Chalmers DJ. Facing up to the problem of conciousness. J Conciousness Studies 1995; 2:200-219.
  20.  Hankey A. Self-Consistent Theories of Health and Healing. J Alt Comp Med 2008; 14:221-223.
  21.  See http://shpalman.livejournal.com/9807.html and http://shpalman.livejournal.com/10038.html.
  22.  Hagan S, Hameroff SR, Tuszynski JA. Quantum computation in brain microtubules: Decoherence and biological feasibility. Phys Rev E 2002; 65:061901.
  23.  Wiseman HM, Eisert J. Nontrivial quantum effects in biology: A skeptical physicists' view. arXiv [physics.gen-ph] 2007; arXiv:0705.1232v2.
  24.  Tegmark M. Importance of quantum decoherence in brain processes. Phys Rev E 2000; 61:4194-4206.
  25.  Rosa LP, Faber J. Quantum models of the mind: Are they compatible with environment decoherence? Phys Rev E 2004; 70:031902.
  26.  Onsager L. Crystal Statistics. I. A Two-Dimensional Model with an Order-Disorder Transition. Phys Rev 1955; 65:117-149.
  27.  Latorre JI, Orús R, Vidal J. Entanglement entropy in the Lipkin-Meshkov-Glick model. Phys Rev A 2005; 71:064101.
  28.  Moerman DE, Harrington A. Making space for the placebo effect in pain medicine. Semin Pain Med 2005; 3:2-6.
  29.  Shang A, Huwiler-Müntener K, Nartey L, Jüni P, Dörig S, Sterne JAC, Pewsner D, Egger M. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. The Lancet 2005; 366:726-732.
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Posted by: draust.wordpress.com (ext_89228)
Posted at: 9th July 2008 01:58 (UTC)
You scratch my back....

Do you suppose by any chance Hankey is the person that reviews Lionel's efforts? And vice versa? The US expression is, I believe, "tag team".

After all, even at serious journals, a main source of names for referees tends to be those who publish papers in the journal. And when the pool of pseudo-quantum wafflers is so small...

Posted by: apgaylard.wordpress.com (apgaylard.wordpress.com)
Posted at: 9th July 2008 19:13 (UTC)
How odd

It's really curious that hankey seems to want to believe that quantum mechanics actaully provides the mechanism by which homeopathy actually works. He seems desparate to see macroscopic scales for system size, time and distance where none exist.

Interesting contrast with Milgrom who seems to go in for building 'castles in the air': symbolic manipulations that have the form but not function of quantum mechanics.

Great post by the way. It's useful to have a reference that nails the misconceptions.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 9th July 2008 21:38 (UTC)

You should really try and get the extended critique of Lionel's blatherings published in some journal, Shpalman. I keep hoping that someone will start up an online Biomed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com/) journal for sceptical coverage of Alt Medicine, but no sight of one yet.

In the meantime, David Colquhoun has suggested Wallace Sampson's (http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=150) Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine.

Posted by: shpalman (shpalman)
Posted at: 11th July 2008 07:30 (UTC)

eCAM actually suggested that I write an article for them, when the eLetters in response to Journeys in The Country of The Blind started to get out of hand. At the time I said that a reply to Milgrom wouldn't make so much sense standing alone; the other point is that I'm not sure if they would really want to publish something in their journal which said that I opposed everything that they and their journal stood for.

But of course I wouldn't ever completely rule it out. There's always the Journal of Molecular Proctology.

Meanwhile, let me enliven your links: Biomed Central; Wallace Sampson.

Posted by: shpalman (shpalman)
Posted at: 11th July 2008 09:20 (UTC)

Oh, right: The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. Is it indexed yet? I notice eCAM is showing off its shiny new ISI impact factor of 2.535.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 11th July 2008 20:29 (UTC)
Woo woo

2.54 ..??! Stewth. It is mildly terrifying that eCAM has an impact factor of 2.54, actually. There are some quite serious science journals in the specialist categories (e.g. pharmacology) with similar imapact factors. And in some of the comparative biology journals, which publish technically well-done science, 2.54 would be at the top end of the impart factor range..

Of course, this highlights one of the many well-described problems with Impact Factors.

As far as I know SRAM is not indexed yet. I will ask some other people if they know better. But there is a historical problem: sceptical journals have a terrible struggle getting indexed (as Sampson describes), while the proliferating Woo journals seem to have no problem at all.

The reasons for this are multiple. Obivously there is the rising popularity of Alt Reality. But there has also been an unholy alliance of string-pulling Woo-friendly politicians (particularly in the US - in the UK we have Prince Charles instead), over-PC social science or AltMed "quackademics", and major commercial publishers, all pushing both the setting up AND the indexing of the CAM journals. But there is also the "Catch 22" factor that Sampson identifies, namely that when he asks for SRAM to be indexed it gets "assessed" by the Alt Med "assessors panel", who are hradly likely to approve it.

Posted by: shpalman (shpalman)
Posted at: 11th July 2008 22:24 (UTC)
Re: Woo woo

The SRAMcurrent issue” dates from “Fall/Winter 2004-05” which isn't a good sign.

Posted by: draust.wordpress.com (ext_89228)
Posted at: 11th July 2008 20:31 (UTC)
Woo woo (PS)

Sorry, that last anonymous post was me again.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 11th July 2008 22:09 (UTC)

Hankey makes a big point of finding examples where physicists have succeeded in entangling things that are "bigger" than 2 photons. This may look clever on his part but is actually rather feeble, since (according to Hankey, Milgrom, Walach et al.):

- Weak/Generalized Quantum Theory (WQT), not ordinary Quantum Mechanics (QM), is supposed to be relevant (the systems considered being Homeopathy, the vital force, etc...). Of course, since WQT doesn't have any kind of Planck constant (or, for that matter, any well established link with reality), there's no way to predict the size of "quantum-like" effects in WQT-systems. They could be bigger than in QM, smaller, or even 0. This is acknowledged in the original WQT-paper (Atmanspacher et al. 2002)
- Natural & robust non-local entanglement is needed by Hankey et al. This doesn't exist in QM - the experimental effort to "create and maintain" the entanglement of separated systems is rather considerable!

Philippe Leick

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