August 12, 2011
Time, Space, and Quantum Mechanics
Posted by JP
Quantum mechanics developed in the last century to deal with the tiniest parts of nature. It seemed that classical physics, which applied to everything from stars to grains of sand, should have sufficed. But it didn’t. A whole new theory was needed. To it we owe modern bombs and modern computers. It’s been called the most empirically powerful and accurate theory ever developed.
But quantum theory has been a pain, or at any rate a challenge, for philosophers since its beginning. In the first place, the quanta turn out to be neither particles, or waves --- each of which classical physics could deal with --- but something that shares the properties of both, in a way that is impossible to picture. This used to bother people more than it does now. There is a consensus that if we can understand things mathematically, or at least physicists can, we don’t need picture them.
More worrisome is the strange role for the observer in quantum mechanics. The idea seems to be that the systems move along from quantum state to quantum state in predictable and unproblematic ways as long as there is no observer. But these quantum states are just probabilities about what’s happening. But as soon as there is an observer, things have to resolve themselves one way or the other. And this seems to not be determined by the quantum state.
So, to use Schrödinger’s famous example, you put a cat in a box with bottle of gas rigged up so that if a particle ends up in one place, it will be released and the cat will die, but if doesn’t’ end up in that place, the cat will be OK.
Quantum theory tells us exactly what the probabilities are, but not what happens. But when someone opens the box and looks in, the cat is alive or dead. Some how the observer forces the world make up its mind in some way the laws of quantum physics don’t.
Well some physicists, and some philosophers, say that what happens is the world splits, with the cat living in some and not in others, matching the probabilities. I think that is really weird.
These problems have been around for almost a century. Lately, in the past quarter century, attention has focused on yet another problem, entanglement. And what some physicists say about entanglement makes us philosophers feel like we’ve been kicked back inside of Plato’s cave, that our familiar world, spread out in space and changing through time, is being downgraded to an illusion.
Here’s how I understand it. Suppose that Ken and I are particles generated by some subatomic process. We fly off in opposite directions at close the speed of light. After a while we each raise one of our hands---simultaneously, relative to an observer at the place where we began.
It seems like there is a 50-50 chance we will raise the same hand. But it turns out that we do so ¾ of the time. Somehow, what one of us does depends on what the other does. Our states are entangled, even if after a few minutes we are thousands or even millions of miles apart. But how?
We can’t be influencing each other, because no signal can go faster than the speed of light, and get from me to Ken, or Ken to me, in time to coordinate out actions. It seems like this better-than-chance correlation would be a miracle.
But that’s the way quanta really seem to work. Quantum physicists know this. But they don’t believe in miracles, so they are finding it hard to explain.
And some of their attempts at explaining I really find upsetting. Our guest, Jenann Ismael, uses the analogy of a kaleidoscope to explain one idea.
When you look into a kaleidiscope, you see one thing --- a red piece of glass, say, in one position, and another exactly symmetrical thing in another position. As you turn the end of the kaleidoscope, the symmetry remains.
So you ask yourself how their positions remain coordinated ---- some hidden connection perhaps? Some entanglement?
But in fact, the hidden connection is just identity. Because of the mirrors, you are seeing the same piece of red glass twice over.
So one idea, one I really find philosophically distressing, is that our life in space and time is a little bit like living in a kaleidoscope. There are other dimensions, ones we can’t perceive, and along those dimensions, things, like the Ken particle and the John particle, that seem after a few minutes to be millions of miles apart, are quite close together --- maybe they are even the same thing.
It is like we live in Plato’s cave, or Ismael’s Kaleidoscope, seeing shadows or mirror images, with no way of knowing what the true relations between the causes of those images are.
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I have never put much stock in any relationship between philosophy and the quantum thing. It has not troubled me, and I cannot imagine why it should. If what you have characterized as entanglement is anything at all like complexity (as characterized by Kauffman), then we are on reasonably solid sand. If we put enough heat and/or pressure on sand, it gets fairly stable. It is not clay or concrete, no, but it is not water either.
There have been some great mathematicians and physicists who were also philosophers. There have been philosophers who were also mathematicians and/or physicists. And so, what is my point? Well, the relationship between science and philosophy is tenuous at best. When we try to comingle the two, we end up with confusion---or chaos. So, what really happened to that hypersonic craft that was launched? Was it lost in the ocean, or did it skip the time/space continuum and flop in another dimension? Socrates would not care. Sartre might have been mildly intrigued. You can impute your own ideas to others.
As the sage (Kehlog Albran) wrote in his masterwork, THE PROFIT: If a goldfish should want a vacation, who would know? Precisely.
Posted by: Harold G. Neuman | Aug 12, 2011 6:50:46 PM
Poor Ken and John, you find yourselves chained like so many others in the scientific cave of shadowy uncertainty and don't know what to do. The blind faithful are there as well and see the shadows too.
If you only allowed me to simply turned on the light, you would find your own Way, the Way to freedom. You would see for yourselves with your own eyes that the chains have no reality, and as for the shadows, they would absolutely disappear.
Don't be afraid, the light is only truth, the truth that will set you free.
Let there be light,
Posted by: Michael J Ahles | Aug 12, 2011 11:08:46 PM
I think our experience of the world is less an illusion than a lie to children. When we talk to a child, we talk about the Sun rising and setting. As the child gets older, we explain to them that no, actually the Earth goes around the Sun, not vice versa. Then, as their understanding of the world develops further, we may go on to explain that actually, it's all relative - both orbit one another, and whichever one you want may be taken as the hub. Very rarely do we try to explain that to a small child, however, because it's complicated and difficult to understand at that stage of their development.
Our experience of the world is not optimised for scientists attempting to explain the world, or even for philosophers attempting to understand it. It is optimised for animals seeking to feed and thrive. We experience the world in a manner well suited to putting food in our bellies and roofs over our heads.
Once we have accomplished that goal, then we take the time to reexamine the world, and we find that many of our useful beliefs are not actually true, in much the same way that the Earth going around the Sun is not realy true. Things are far more complex and interesting than that. And we are able, by dint of our efforts, to begin to understand this more complex world. We find that matter and energy are much more similar to one another than we thought, that most of the apparently solid objects we interact with are actually mostly empty space, and yes, that objects can apparently influence one another instantaneously at a distance.
Does that mean that our previous understanding of the world was false? In some sense, sure. Should that worry us? I say no, no more than the man who comes to understand that it's all relative should be upset when he looks at the horizon and sees that the sun still seems to be rising.
Plus, of course, if this all falls apart, and we are left with no society, no accumulated knowledge, no science or philosophy, our senses will still allow us to fill our stomachs and get our of the weather. Sure, some truth will be nice, but I'll take meat and illusion over truth and hunger. Once your stomach is full, you have all the time in the world to hunt truth.
Posted by: GroovyJ | Aug 13, 2011 9:51:34 AM
I expect we shall always find questions. For some, or many of those,we shall find answers. Because this is the nature of the evolving human consciousness---and, as some philosophers have rightly asserted, we can do no less. GroovyJ has hit upon a piece of it all: a full stomach is immediately important. Abe Maslow outlined it neatly with his hierarchy of needs and no matter how sophisticated we become, we will always place high priorities on bed and breakfast and the means of defending ourselves against those who would deny us those comforts. Like Neuman, I too wonder about the 13,000 mph wedge which has reportedly failed twice.
It costs a lot to launch such a contraption. And when they fail and we learn little from the failures, it makes you skeptical about things like the national debt and how seriously anyone takes that issue. The Chinese are nervous about it. This makes me chuckle. Dollars, yen, euros, yuan, pounds sterling and francs are not quanta. Meat and illusion over truth and hunger? Aptly put---I think I like this GroovyJ. He sounds vaguely like someone I know.
Public philosophy? It is in there...somewhere.
Posted by: Dave the Carpenter | Aug 13, 2011 4:03:22 PM
Theories and faiths are uncertain at best
Truth is absolute
"God doesn't play dice"
So why oh why do they
Truth is more simple than thought!
Posted by: Michael J Ahles | Aug 14, 2011 8:28:34 AM
Truth is simpler than thought. We might deconstruct that notion, but the exercise seems futile. To me. If, in the first instance, we could not or did not think, truth would be meaningless in our human milieu. We would be reduced to to reactionism---the province of the reptilian brain: fight or fly, preserve one's self and thereby increase the odds of passing along one's genes. Thought is important to humans. As is truth (although not as much it seems in today's world.) Is the one more simple than the other? I wonder. Perhaps that is a subject for a post and show?
This is either a deep subject, or a tautological paradox. Or something else.
Seems to me.
Posted by: Dr. Sardonicus | Aug 14, 2011 5:32:31 PM
A public statement of truth:
The infinite immeasurable power of the universe is simply One's own true self.
And how does One find the power, the beauty, the purity, the absolute?
Remove the measure, remove the inequity, remove any shadow of a doubt.
Posted by: Michael J Ahles | Aug 15, 2011 11:33:49 AM
PONDERING THE IMPOSSIBLE
Whatever is improbable, probably isn’t. For our purposes, reality = normative reality. Quantum mechanics: strangely, when power is applied to electrons, instead of moving proportionately to the power, the electrons wait until some threshold of additional power is added, then jump to another orbit, in a discrete jump. Strange; in this “quantum leap,” like the proverbial “leap of faith,” all kinds of improbable and seemingly unreal stuff happens, and is suggested, as the show pointed out, today.
I loved the philosophical ramifications of the issue, posed by the guest philosopher, when she queried as to “What you think needs to be explained.” That is, think about what stuff we need explanations for, and why, and even more importantly, what stuff we either don’t need an explanation for, or don’t WANT an explanation for. The non-philosopher needs almost nothing explained, in order to address reality, and spends almost no time investigating explanations. Philosophers want everything explained, as illustrated by the wonderful fish tank video example. And pondering explanations for the impossible and improbable are among the central occupations of philosophy.
I am always looking for methodologies; a few methodologies of the impossible are: 1. deconstruction, which seeks to describe the territory when meaning is gone, and 2. integral calculus, which seeks to describe what happens as you get closer and closer to some point, which you never can reach.
As the guest pointed out, the conceptual problems of quantum physics are minimized by thinking of it as a mechanical process, but what is most striking about q.m. is its other-mechanics. This is another philosophical impossibility problem: confusing, quite naturally, “observation” and “reality.” It is (almost) impossible not to.
And, finally, the wonderful question, which seems to need many universes in order to be visualized, is “probability” reality?
Posted by: mirugai | Aug 15, 2011 4:29:09 PM
If I so humbly may:
"Truth is simpler than thought. We might deconstruct that notion, but the exercise seems futile."
"is probability reality?"
Is a most uncertain way.
To be a scientist ye must have faith!
Science = Religion hmmmmm
There is a better way, "A Path less Traveled"
And it has meant all the unity to me.
Posted by: Michael J Ahles | Aug 15, 2011 10:22:03 PM
It isn't that we don't understand the relationships, we have the mathematical tools to describe them. Just as Newton provided the mathematical relationships between the moon and the tides. The problem resides in communicating these relationships into macroscopic understanding. We don't seem to live in a probabilistic universe in the way that quantum mechanics describes. As such, we have a hard time understanding it on an intuitive level, but this is not new to science. History of Science tells us that similar controversies arose when Newton proposed his own view of physics. It just took us time to accept them as just "what it is" to be a particle with mass. Similarly we face a problem today with not properly understanding "what it is" to have probabilistic positions. But that's starting to go away as a new generation simply accepts it.
And this also touches on another point, which is explanation. Some philosophers of science cry out for an explanation to everything in terms of common language. Why must everything be explainable? Why must we be able to put into common language what we can put into the language of mathematics? We have the language in terms of math to describe and explain the relationships between particles. The fact that our common language is too impoverished to describe these things should be expected given that it was never developed to deal with phenomenon like quantum mechanics.
Posted by: James Claims | Aug 16, 2011 11:13:19 AM
Wilber has said:"and just so" so many times that we who have read his sage professions got bored with the comment. Yet, after reading this post and the comments thus far, I am ashamed to say (but will say): and just so. The beauty and discrepancy of language is that it reaches us on our own level. It took me forty or more years to notice, and fifty five years to form my own reactions; to begin to FORMULATE my own ideas---to SAY IT, as a favored blog has advised. Chance favors the prepared mind. Chaos will defeat the faint-of-heart.
There are levels of consciousness, and those depend upon how interested we are in what is going on, outside of our immediate milieu.Or, whether we have 'awakened' to something other than the superficiality of CURRENT popular culture*. This is fairly simple stuff, if you think about it. If you do not think about it, it is rendered irrelevant, for the reasons previously set forth. Well, all of this is subject to criticism and/or change---philosophy is like that; to a lesser degree, perhaps, so are physics and mathematics.
(*popular culture is relative, because it has been around a long time---we are not the end of evolutionary thought. I hope.)
Posted by: The Armchair Philosopher | Aug 16, 2011 4:46:55 PM
I am interested in further interpretation of the fish tank analogy. The "unified reality" is the 3-D fish in the tank and perceptual confusion is caused by the observer's experience of the two projections from different angles. Can we be more specific about the interpretation in the case of the EPR experiment---two particles fly off in different directions and the subsequent correlated observations?
To review: the perception of distinct particles is the perceptual confusion. The explanation of the correlation is that there is a "single" particle and the observer (through the magic of physics (the cameras)) perceives this single particle from two different perspectives. This, it seems, is where the analogy of the kaleidoscope comes in handy: one tool and multiple images.
This unification of the two particle idea as really being two aspects of the same particle has a cost, it seems. In reducing the number of particles it is now possible to ask for the "true" number of unreduced particles. Is there only one electron, one up-quark, ..., and one photon? Such an idea, once put forward (more or less tongue-in-cheek) by John Wheeler can work for fermions because of the continuity of the fermion lines in Feynman diagrams. However, bosons, specifically photons, need not have this property and are "created and destroyed." If there are multiple "real particles", how can they be counted, if that is even possible? To my knowledge, the observation of a particle in a cosmic ray may well be entangled with a particle in another galaxy, but this should not matter to an experiment on earth. Yet to describe the dynamics of the "real particle" one might need information from all of its projections. Does this imply the impossibility of a fundamental physics, since initial data is---in principle---unavailable where it seems needed? How does Dr. Ismael's theory deal with these issues? Is it unresolved and the subject of research or is there an explanation to which someone can direct me?
Further, in such an explanation it seems as though spacial separation (at least non-causal separation) is unreal and would, presumably, be modeled in quantum mechanics as an operator. On the other hand, the ability of the "real" particle to move seems to imply that space is real and substantive (as a container, in the real, higher dimensional world, at least). Even more dramatically, it seems that the perceived motion of the two particles in the projective space is not caused by any motion in the real, higher dimensional space. Rather it is an artifact of the projectors---hitherto unmodeled. It seems then that there must be a physics of the projectors as well as one of the real particles in the higher dimensional space. Where then do the projectors live? But perhaps I carry the analogy too far.
To explain separation in the projection world seems to imply a radical revision of the QM rules (in the projection world) because non-relativistic QM, quantum field theory and string theory all presuppose a "background metric" which implies a pre-existing space-time arena in which particles interact. This arena can evolve, according to general relativity, and its evolution is dependent upon the mass-energy density of the particles, but it is not just a function of the particles. I understand that this is not true in some formulations of quantum gravity, for example in some of the ideas proposed by Rovelli and Smolin. Is there a philosophical debt or connection between Ismael's ideas and that of these thinkers?
Posted by: Robert Riehemann | Aug 16, 2011 4:55:23 PM
Once One finds the truth,
He then must practice it,
Practice living it.
And then there is the sharing,
The beautiful gift of giving,
For if One finds a treasure
That could unite our world,
It must be shared,
And that takes patience
And a lot of practice too.
Posted by: Michael J Ahles | Aug 17, 2011 8:25:59 AM
Question regarding quantum mechanics:
A)If there are infinite universes with infinite possibilities than is there an alternate universe with a "God" like creator? (Assuming ours isn't)
B) How does our concious ability to create new ideas affect the infinite possible universes? Ex. Before humanity created the idea of a unicorn through creative thought, were there previously existing alternate universes containing unicorns? If this is not so, would an individual with concious freewill be a creator like "God" of infinite universes?
Posted by: Gif Gillen | Aug 17, 2011 9:00:58 AM
TO KEN AND JOHN:
Well, you knew you would get people fired up with quantum mechanics, didn't you? What was it that Dennett said in his FREEDOM EVOLVES?: If you make yourself small enough, you can externalize virtually everything. Inasmuch as the quantum world is about the very small and very fast, I guess it IS part of us, whether we choose to recognize it or no.
Posted by: Paul D. Van Pelt | Aug 18, 2011 9:33:39 AM
It is fashionable to pooh-pooh the links people have made between Quantum Physics and Buddhism, but read a little Dogen on 'Being Time' and look at the Many-Worlds cosmologies of the Vajrayana, and perhaps a little bit of wonder will surface at how such insights into the physical reality of time as a dimension and the many-worlds view of Everett-Wheeler could have been arrived at merely by a peculiar form of introspection where the aim is to exhaust conventional thought to the point where it stops and allows a new form of 'seeing' the timelessness of each moment as experience itself becomes quantized. It is no less surprising than Wheeler's appreciation of his student Everett's original interpretation. The real issue that irritates science is that usually interpretations are irrelevant to theories, just as Newton asserted 'I make no hypothese', except in the case of quantum mechanics where interpretations cease to become an irrelevant accessory to theory, and start to become as important as the theory. After all, the real puzzle of religion, when you get right down to it, is: 'what possible difference to the universe could it make what I do or do not Think?'
Posted by: a1b5jj | Aug 28, 2011 11:04:13 AM
Given the requirement of infinite time for evolution to resolve the issues of probability for the existing physical circumstances of this universe, other issues and questions are evident.
Unless evolution has stopped due to some physical law, evolution of human characteristics will continue to change to encompass the extent of physics and evolving natural laws.
If human characteristics will continue to evolve, then entity characteristics have already evolved beyond potential human characteristics given an infinite time in the past for the evolution to have occurred. This would include the ability of evolved entities to master sub atomic laws, time cone, curved space issues and a lot more since we don’t understand the physical world well enough to set technical limits. Extending the concept of infinity and evolution a bit further, entity characteristics will have already evolved to encompass and master all known physical laws and much more.
The position that evolved entities have not solved the transcendence from a human form to forms that encompass all physical law is a position that limits evolution beyond the conditions of known science given infinity.
Having entities evolved to the extent of known physical law, and with our rudimentary understanding of physical law, to a state beyond known physical law, the conclusion would be the existence of entities capable of creating or manipulating existence far beyond what is required to create our singular universe.
This is simple and does not require any leap of faith except that humans have and are evolving and that time did not start with the creation of our universe, but that time is infinite in all directions.
Alternatively, elimination of infinity and defining all existence to include only the Universe that we observe is proved with existing science to be so improbable as to require a ‘guiding hand’ or evolved entity.
Another alternative is a circumstance where existence has been in place long enough for our universe to occur, but not long enough for evolved entities that master the laws of physics to form. The in-between position that there’s been enough time to generate the start of our universe but not enough time for sentient beings to evolve who master laws of nature is an arbitrary limit and is not the simplest solution. The in-between position is an example of the ego-centric position that precludes the use of any physics that cannot be proved with the scientific method (science).
As if you are the epitomy of infinite evolution.
There doesn’t seem to be a case for eliminating evolution given existing scientific knowledge.
Either we have a singular universe that is impossible to exist without a guiding hand. Or we have a multiverse with the existence of entities that have the ability to create universes, send messengers to less evolved entities such as humans and create a plausible platform for evolution.
Either way, the logical conclusion is the existence of a creator who has mastered all physical law.
If you could provide a platform for evolution beyond the known physical state, wouldn’t you? And do you really believe that given an infinite amount of time, humans won’t evolve past our current physical condition to an eternal existence? Particularly with the existence of evolved entities that could inform us?
There’s plenty of room to use the term God in here, but you can use your own term.
Any comments you have to re-direct this chain of thought will be appreciated.
Posted by: mrstickle | Sep 12, 2011 6:41:54 PM
Nature is truly a lawless state of just or equitable freedom.
The truth is self-evident.
Posted by: Michael J Ahles | Sep 12, 2011 9:32:46 PM
I feel that Time and Space are this:
To percieve the space of atoms and smaller electrons, protons and neutrons and to expand from there out to the endless expanse of the universe. There is a presence of matter that is an endless soup of molecules in which we exist.Then, at various levels in the perceptions of quantities, matter attains different structure and appearances. Where this completes is unknown. But time is only a characteristic of the complete whole of the universe and matter from the smallest particles to the largest inconcievable structures,time is the constant, begining in the most minute existances of matter causing changes in the appearance of matter by the determined forces of heat, electrostatic and gravitational forms so that what we see as one direction, but is only a progression and completion of infinite capacity of the reality of the universe as a completeness of one mass of infitite value as is the quantity of matter.
Posted by: Tim Gunnison | Sep 14, 2011 11:43:31 AM
The unified field theory solution:
e = mc2
e = mc
e = m
The solution is more simple than thought!
I wish I could tell the Professor,
Just how close he truly was.
So close he couldn't see it.
Posted by: Michael J Ahles | Sep 14, 2011 1:09:28 PM
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