Quantum implications

“May we call a world that nobody contemplates even that? A world existing for many millions of years without any mind being aware of it, contemplating it, is it anything at all? Has it existed?”
–Erwin Schroedinger, Quantum physicist

“Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.”
–Sir Arthur Eddington, Quantum physicist

My hope is to keep this discussion (should one follow) in laymen’s terms as much as possible. (Mainly because those are the only terms I am able to grasp…) But the philosophical implications of this branch of science are interesting to say the least.

In a very simplified nutshell, matter, broken down into its smallest components is not, as one might expect, tangible “stuff.” Matter at this level exhibits characteristics of waves (analogous to, say, radio waves). So with matter at this level, as waves, there is an indeterminacy that exists. Waves can become anything. This is quantum indeterminacy. Interestingly, though waves can be recorded and tracked, the moment they’re physically observed, they collapse into observable particles. They become tangible “stuff.” The indeterminacy is removed. This wave/particle duality cannot be observed in its entirety. Waves can be tracked, but once observed, become particles.

There is, that is to say, something about the very act of observership that makes something what it is.

Quantum physicist John A. Wheeler called this the “Participatory Anthropic Principle,” arguing that (Wheeler’s words), “observers are necessary to bring the world into being.”

This is nothing short of astonishing.

What are the philosophical implications of this? What does quantum physics tell us about the universe? What does it tell us about us?

Does quantum indeterminacy argue against determinism? Or is it just a highly-ordered, more complex form of determinism, every bit as mechanistic as Newtonian physics?

And what is this “stuff” that the universe is made of?

I’m curious as to how someone can elaborate on the philosophical implications of quantum physics, or any other discipline for that matter, without understanding what is involved.

And dragging anthopocentrism into everything is highly suspect in my opinion. Man has always gotten into serious philosophical trouble in the past by attempting to make himself the center or focus of the universe.
I myself do not know enough quantum physics to know if it really does imply a degree of anthropocentrism. But the various solipsists and mystics taking some puzzling scientific results and running with it as if it is a validation of their philosophies smacks of attempting to justify a pre-supposition.

IMO (and it is just opinion for the aforementioned reason) it would seem backwards (and perhaps circular) to me to make the actions of constituent parts dependent on the whims of an extremely complex entity (the concious observer), whose existence presupposes the independent functioning of those parts.

Quantum physics is supposed to have some element of inherent indeterminacy. (How, I don’t know.) This however, does not necessarily couple it with human conciousness in any way.

Indeterminism, in the sense of people arriving at conclusions via a process that is not a process, independent of inputs, nature, or mechanism is not necessarily the same as indeterminance in the location and momentum of a subatomic particle, and the random behavior arising therefrom.

“Stuff”, in the sense that we humans understand it, has always been defined from the top down as we discover more about how it behaves on smaller and smaller degrees of scale, not from the bottom up. Every time we declare a fundamental atom, we find out that it has constituent parts that determine it’s nature, and that these parts have natures of their own.

In terms of questions of existence and reality things haven’t changed all that much since the introduction of quantum. I mean, would you rather be so gear in a mechanistic machine, or some seemingly random swerving?

The point about realizing hidden potential in ‘the observer’ is interesting though, and one I personally buy into. Some of the things I’ve seen done by people on drugs have simply astonished me, a sober viewer. The mind is a powerful thing and at least has the ability to alter certain non-fundamental aspects of reality.

People have always guessed at the expanse of the universe, most feel that it is endlessly vast. The only other obvious view would be that the universe has boundarys or a place where it ends. There is no way i know of to prove wether it is infinite in size or finite.

However there is no limit to how far IN we can look. Ok, we are limited by the technology…but are we in agreement that theoretically you can continue to magnify something infeginatly?

I dont think i am an expert in Q.P. but i have been taught that on an elementary level…The combined thoughts of all life (known life, unknown life, unrecognised life i.e. all thinking entities, no matter how unsophistacated or sophisticated) create physical reality.

The world is made of thought. This is what alows manifestation to happen, This is what makes dreams come true.

It is “mind over matter” in the literal sense.

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for the great topic. QM fascinates me, and I consider myself lucky to be able to work somewhat with this amazing tool in my current occupation (though I do not consider myself an expert).

The first and most obvious philosophical implication is the collapse of physical determinism. Determinism in the classical sense roughly states that if the state of an object is known (a state being the particles position and momentum) at a particular point in time, then its position and momentum can (in principle) be known at all points in time thereafter, if all effects on it are known equally well. Because of the uncertainty principle (the product of the uncertainty of a particle’s position and momentum is equal to a constant) this forbids the knowledge of the particle’s state in a precise manner, therefore dissallowing the prediction of future states with any certainty.

While some may argue that this has no bearing on “mental determinism” (and they could be right), QM has shown that everything has some indeterminacy. Obviously large, macroscopic objects have a very, very low probability of behaving non-classically, however, all things are constructed of objects which behave quantum mechanically and therefore probabilistically.

What does quantum physics tell us about the universe and about us? In my opinion, it tells us that there is no hard, physical “stuff” in terms of our human conception of “hard, physical stuff”. When we ‘touch’ something, what we are experiencing is coloumbic (electrical) replusion between the electrons in our body and the electrons in the object. This force is communicated by messenger photons between the electrons. All these entities are not well defined physical objects (resembling tennis balls), but smears of probabilistic functions in space. We can no longer view the physical ‘reality’ as being comprised of tangible ‘things’, but rather as mathematical entities following strict sets of rules and interacting in a complex multitude of ways.

I don’t think it can be said so unequivocally that observers are necessary for the universe to exist, nor that the world has been proven to be fndamentally probablistic.
In the latter case, it has been proven that if some part of the universe(a human) is observing some other part of the universe(an electron), the possible knowledge is limited. Quantum mechanics proves mathematically that observing anything requires interacting with it. It does not place a limit on the determinacy of the universe, but on the completeness of knowledge. (One possible philosophical conequence could be theological; I see the beginnings of a disproof of an omnipotent god in that.)
In the former case, it is not a coherent position. To understand what this means, we need to understand “existence”, and more importantly “observer”. “Existence” could simply be the state of our recognition of something. Many animals have been considered non-existing(various ape species, giant squid), until they were observed. What is considered as “existing” might be a matter of popular opinion. If that’s our standard, then of course the world can’t exist without us, but only because we’ve defined existence to require us. But that is irrelevant considering the vaguness of the concept “observer”. We must remember that we are a part of the universe. Considering this fact, we have to wonder why our certain complexity makes us all that special; why couldn’t a rock be counted as an observer? A human sized rock has as many atoms interacting just as much as a human sized human. Does the requirement for the universe to be observed simply mean that the universe interacts with itself?

Hi, Carleas. Yes, it may “simply” mean this. But this is no small thing is it?

In classical Newtonian physics we have a universe with parts wholly unnecessary to other parts. Parts not necessary to the whole. You could theoretically remove a part and the balance of the whole goes about its business unscathed.

This is not true with quantum physics, is it? In fact we don’t have “parts.” We have one big, indivisible whole.

I don’t know. Maybe that means nothing more than just that. I just wonder at the implications is all. Could mean nothing. Could mean everything.

The philosophical question for me then is what is the body for. What is the purpose?

This is difficult to discuss especially in times of fashionable Atheism. However you may get some ideas from Parabola’s interview with Jacob needleman. It’s a bit of a mind stretch but worth it if you’re interested in this question.

jacobneedleman.com/The%20Tru … 20Body.pdf