Tag Archives: quantum physics

Surfing the Dimensions

camellia011316Can you describe this in three dimensions?  Of course not.  Fundamentally, the notion that “reality” is three-dimensional (or four-dimensional, if you include the concept of time) is based on a mathematical depiction of a box, but it doesn’t even describe what kind of box, its color, smell, materials, or anything beyond spatial measurements.

Nothing in nature can be described in three dimensions, yet mathematical rigidity limits our minds to its man-made constructs and inhibits understanding of the “essences” of physical reality.

Albert Einstein could never accept quantum physics, because he believed science should be able to predict with certainty.  That a quantum particle could defy attempts to predict its position and momentum simultaneously offended him deeply, yet probabilities rather than certainties make for an infinitely creative universe with multi-dimensional possible futures.

A desire to know “the” future, to predict or control it, has attended man’s evolution since time immemorial.  When there were no instruments except the five known senses for guidance, man looked to the stars and other natural phenomenon for understanding.  Whether a god or gods created man or whether man created his gods remains a subject of debate, but no one argues about the cycles of the sun, moon, and visible planets.  In earlier times, those who could predict eclipses and the like were believed to have godly powers.

In modern times, we don’t think of ourselves as superstitious, yet predictions abound, and they have the power to influence large groups of people.  But just as you can only predict an electron’s probable location at any given time, you can only predict probable events based on current trends and the beliefs that contribute to them.  A study of astrology shows how futile predictions are, because there are so many factors influencing any given moment.

A horoscope is nothing more or less than a symbolic map of a moment in a specific place and time.  It is completely impersonal, but an individual’s horoscope, cast for the place and time of birth, describes the potentialities of the moment itself, not of the person incarnated at that time, although that person may manifest some or many of the potentialities indicated in the chart.

The so-called “scientific mind” does not accept anything it can’t measure and “prove” by “objective” criteria, meaning it meets certain “laws” of nature.  It’s important to remember these are not necessarily nature’s “laws” but man’s “laws” imposed on nature through mathematics. The ancient Greeks liked symmetry, so conceived of a symmetrical universe, but the cycles of time defy symmetry.  Calendars reflect the difficulty of fitting the solar system into mathematical  laws.  The earth refuses to orbit the sun in exactly 365 days but must take a quarter day extra to make its ellipse (not a circle) complete.  The lunar day is a mathematically inconvenient 24 hours and 50 minutes.  In short, it’s a wobbly universe, not predictable, but in terms of the human time frame, stable enough.

Science doesn’t have the instruments to detect subtle fields or the “essences” of things.  It approaches the “essence” idea with its relatively recent discovery of the electromagnetic spectrum, of which light is the most obvious manifestation.  Astrology and the loose assortment of “psychic” phenomena, operate like electromagnetic energy,  on the principle of vibrational patterns or frequencies.  The Oriental concept of qi, or “life force,” which permeates everything, may approach this idea of energy patterns that are as yet beyond the scope of human instrumentation.

Anyone fully indoctrinated into modern “scientific” thinking might be justifiably skeptical of the claim that there are energy fields outside scientific measurement.  Such people might scoff at the idea that human thought has the power to influence “the” future, yet science has begun to approach that threshold with quantum physics.  That the experimenter influences the experiment–and is necessarily a subjective part of the experiment–shatters the illusion that true objectivity is possible.

Attempts to predict “the” future are also attempts to control “the” future, and those who predict catastrophe become invested in the futures they predict.  They thus take subtle steps to bring about the future they fear, even though it may be disastrous.

It becomes a question of free will and the notion that you can choose what you think about.  Those who believe in pre-destination , that they are fixed on a path and have no choice but to follow it, do not understand the infinite variations possible within every moment in time.

 

 

Predicting Uncertainty

 

 

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It’s impossible to know what might have been.  It’s just as impossible to know what lies ahead.  I just finished reading a biography of Albert Einstein (Einstein: His Life and Universe, Walter Isaacson, 2007).  It struck me that Einstein wanted to believe in a universe that could be predicted, if only we knew the hidden laws.  He thus believed in predestination, insisting that “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.”  He wanted to believe in strict cause and effect.

In this regard, Einstein ran up against, and spent the latter part of his life, trying to refute the implications of his own 1905 paper on the “photoelectric effect” which won the Nobel Prize in 1922.  He relied on the work of Max Planck, who in 1900 had come up with an equation that described the curve of radiation wavelengths at each temperature.  This required the use of a constant (now called Planck’s constant) that accounted for the sudden shift in wavelengths of light emitted by metal at different temperatures.  Planck believed these “quanta” were not properties of the light itself, but of the interaction between matter and light.  It was Einstein who suggested these “quanta” were properties of the light itself.  Thus he and Planck laid the foundations for quantum mechanics, but neither was comfortable with the fact that their ideas undermined the Newtonian concepts of strict causality and certainty they cherished.

Based on these beginnings, the rising physicists of “quantum mechanics,” like Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, recognizing that light demonstrated the dualistic qualities of particles or waves, refuted age old ideas of an objective reality, existing apart from the observer.  They began to think in terms of probabilities.  Heisenberg developed his “uncertainty principle” in 1927.  This asserted that it is impossible to know the exact position and momentum of a particle, such as an electron, at the same time.  Knowing the precise location precludes certain knowledge of the momentum, and vice versa.

Quantum mechanics expanded the world of physics far beyond Isaac Newton’s absolute, objective universe, based on observable laws. But throughout his life, Albert Einstein resisted the vagueness of non-absolutes, even though he made his own contributions to quantum physics.  Einstein’s stubborn desire for predictability, which is the ostensible goal of science, for some people, could not adapt to the uncertainty of probabilities.  As another early quantum physicist, Erwin Schrodinger, might explain, the wave function of probabilities exists until an actual event is observed, at which point the probability wave collapses and the probability of the event’s occurrence becomes 100%.  Linked with this is the idea that the observer cannot be objective but must be considered a participant in the event.

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That the observer necessarily affects the experiment is an integral component of quantum physics, but the principle has more general implications, too.  Books like The Tao of Physics (Fritjof Capra, 1975), or The Dancing Wu Li Masters (Gary Zukav, 1979), describe how modern physics parallels the beliefs of Oriental mystics.  As noted in The Dancing Wu Li Masters, the Chinese term for “physics” is “wu li,” which means “patterns of organic energy.”  This relates to the pervasive quality of “qi,” sometimes described as “life force,” or “vital energy,” which is said to pervade the cosmos, including all matter and non-matter.  The idea of ‘qi” is ignored in Western thinking, as if life exists apart from science or medicine.

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Western science presumes to disconnect life from the mechanical universe we imagine, but this is a relatively modern development.  Astronomy grew out of astrology and chemistry grew from alchemy, ancient belief systems that gave life to the heavens and to earthly minerals.  The search for cosmic laws or the language of the gods is as old as man’s awareness of the sun, moon, the planets and constellations, and their mysterious cycles.  All these have been used to make predictions.  The seer, the fortune teller, the prognosticator–these are as powerful as ever.  Modern superstition confers blessings on the predictors of weather, stock market, politics, or football games, as well as on the climate changers and the Apocalyptic soothsayers of the twenty-first century.

From a quantum mechanics point of view, however, it might be said that nothing can be predicted with certainty.  We only can assess probabilities and can’t know all the contingencies that affect events.  There is no objective reality, no ultimate outcome, no absolute end-point.  Time is endless.  There is only process, and no one knows where it will lead.  The possibilities are infinite.