The Laws of Nature

You seem like an intelligent lot. What do you think of this?
In the 1920’s, the Danish pioneer of quantum physics, Neils Bohr, was the first to explain the ambiguous properties of quantum objects, such as photons. He said they can behave either as a wave or as a particle. Which they are, he said, is linked to the test that is performed to determine which it is. If the test is for a particle, it will behave as a particle. If the test is for a wave, it will act differently - as a wave.
This bothered Einstein, who thought (as we all might) that there just has to be an unknown principle, other than the choice of the observer, impacting upon the property of the photon. It is surely just that people do not know what that principle is.
Incredibly, after almost 100 years, we are yet to figure out such a principle. In fact, recent studies suggest there is no such principle!
Reportedly, scientists have in the last couple of years put the wave/particle theory through its most rigorous testing yet. The methods employed have included building massive measuring apparatus, trying to randomize the decision, and delaying the decision on how to measure the photon until as long as possible after the after it has entered apparatus. (Science vol 315 p966). We lay people will never understand exactly how the science is conducted at this level. However, we can learn the results. Particularly, when they are expressed in lay terms. For example, see New Scientist, 5 January 2013 pp 36-39.
The results of the recent experiments are said to have affirmed Bohr’s findings of inbuilt ambiguity. They found there does not appear to be any principle, except the choice of the observer, to determine whether the smallest particles behave as waves (non matter) or particles (matter). The scientists concluded, in effect: “Wave and particle are two sides of the one coin describing reality. Which way it flips, you decide”(New Scientist 5 January 2013, p38).
Could there really be such ambiguity at the bottom of reality?!!! We may, one day, learn more. But, for now, it seems the best we can say is:
“Whether our reality is built up of waves or particles is not known. There is, however, evidence that we may influence whether the smallest particles are waves or particles, by simply choosing which they shall be!”
Such a principle, of our choice affecting the materiality of something or otherwise, at any level, is of course counterintuitive. It conflicts with our appreciation of the physical world. As with the Uncertainty Principle, another ambiguous creature of quantum physics, it just doesn’t seem to make sense (that principle also alleges the coming into existence of something which is not predicated on the physicality of what just happened before it - and purports to prove it mathematically. We may be uncomfortable with this also).
We could just raise our eyebrows at the latest tests on the wave/particle ambiguity.
But what if we choose not to, and to examine other examples of this kind of ambiguity, to try and work out what this means?
Consider laws. One law can also be accurately viewed as two different and opposite things. In particular, a law can be expressed as a ‘right’, or as an ‘obligation’. Which of those two things it is, can be completely and accurately determined by the person considering the law.
For example, a law might say “If a person kills someone, the person shall be imprisoned for not less than 20 years”. This is a law that constitutes an obligation on you not to kill another. But it is also a law expressing your right not to be killed by others. It confers either a right or an obligation, depending on the choice of the person doing the considering.
Here is another example of the right/obligation ambiguity in all law: “In order to transfer title in a piece of land, one has to lodge a signed ‘transfer’ document with the Land Registry. If you do not, title will not pass.” This law conveys an obligation – not to interfere with that land unless certain conditions are met, being that a title has passed to you through the registration process. But it also confers a right – that no person can interfere with your land until that registration process has occurred to transfer title to that other person. Again, whether the law represents a right or an obligation depends entirely on the observer.
The leap comes here. Could it be possible that the ambiguity inherent in Bohr’s findings have arisen because he was describing a law, not a physicality?
Could it be that, just like rights and obligations, waves and particles are two sides of the same law?
If correct, it could follow that that nature itself is comprised, at it’s foundation, not by physicality, but by laws, meaning we do not live in a physical world at all. That would explain many things. Not least:

  1. The perception of free choice in a world that otherwise seems deterministic. Seemingly impossible in a physical world, it might easily be possible to have choice in an ethereal world made up only of laws. A component may simply have been built into the laws for individuals to affect the world around them by choice;
  2. If we exist in a realm of laws, this allows more easily (than the physical world theory) for our placement in this world from another world. Such other world could logically have set parameters for action or inaction, and permitted us to make choices. On accomplishing our life we revert to that world. This could explain the near death experience that so many people report – of brushing with another indescribable dimension to which our souls are also connected;
  3. The repeating beliefs across societies, primitive and modern, til very recently, that there is more to the world than physicality. Whereas the arrows of science in more recent times have aligned themselves with a modern view that the world is purely material , maybe the older musings were right after all? (It is conceded that these more spiritual beliefs of societies past (and some present) were more prevalent in times when there was less science. But, in past times, when there has been greater prevalence of these beliefs of the non materiality of life, we should remember there was also less noise, less distraction, and more time for people to reflect more deeply).

In summary, perhaps the explanation for wave /particle ambiguity arises from the fact that nature is not a physical phenomenon, but rather, a world that is built up of ….laws. Life would accordingly exist in a realm of laws, where “If A, then B”, and a healthy smattering of laws that read, “If C, then you may choose D or E”?
I myself am a lawyer, which might explain my premise. I am sure a used car dealer, equally, sees life as a car lot…

Hi, GM, I don’t really have much to say regarding your OP–but I’d like to welcome you to ILP and ask you two questions: where are you from and how do you pronounce your user name? :slight_smile:

As for the wave particle duality, that’s been shown with the double-slit test with photons. Why is a different question. The thing is, light can be described as being both, depending on what aspect of light one wants to examine.

Can the same duality be used in a Court of Law? Isn’t it already used, in cases of Contract Law, Property Law, Tort Law, etc.? But these laws are legislative while the Laws of Nature (not to be confused with Natural Law–there is a great deal of difference) are primarily theories that are generally thought to be ‘true’ until they are refuted.

I’ll leave it up to other posters to take it from here, if they so desire. And I leave it up to you to explain where I’ve probably misinterpreted your OP.

Thanks, and “Welcome,” again. :smiley:

Thanks LBR. I am from Australia and GM is fine.

To be honest, the piece has been a done a little hastily, but I wanted to ‘put it out there’ to get comments like yours to help me to understand whether it is a purely semantic argument or not.

I concede it looks a bit like someone saying - “THIS can be expressed two ways, so it must be similar to THAT, which can also be expressed in two ways.”

But I think it is more than that. If the reality is what the scientists claim to have found, ie, that a thing’s manifestation depends on what the observer chooses it to be (and we do not infer they are just ‘saying’ it that way), then it could be the start of something big.

Or not. Anyway, I challenge anyone to prove by logic that the premise is wrong.

Emmm… The subject that you are asking about is something that I can answer just about any question about, but frankly, I can’t tell which of the very many things you mentioned, you actually wanted discussed. The wave-particle duality concern to me, is a trivial, non-issue. But what is it that you are actually asking about or proposing? That the universe is actually made of “laws”? If so, please define what you mean by a “law” or at least what you mean by being “made up of”.

The physical universe is the changing of the state of potential to affect.
To me, “laws” or “principles” describe the governance of such changing.

A “particle” is merely a “clump of wavelets” and thus displays both characteristics of being a clump, a “particle”, as well as being a “hump of wave(lets)”. What is the issue?

I don’t think so. Firstly, wave/particle duality doesn’t say “sometimes it’s a wave, sometimes it’s a particle”. A photon simply has both wave-like and particulate properties. It’s more that concepts such as wave and particle, as we have developed them based on our experiences in a human-scale world, don’t really fit the behaviour of things on the photon scale and can confuse us if we try to make them do so.

But were that not the case, the right/obligation aspect of law refers to a different way of describing the same thing. Wave/particle duality would require that the thing is different depending on how you describe it. Rather than you have the duty not to murder and the right not to be murdered, it would be more analogous to saying that if you described it as a duty not to murder, you’d have to describe it as a right to be murdered.

Speculate wildly and then require others to prove you wrong? How lawyerly :wink:

I’m joking, of course. Welcome to the forum, GdM!

I suspect that we scared him off… :confused:

That is a case of pure semantics and political posturing. It has nothing at all to do with reality.

Thanks for the responses!

My argument would be that waves and particles are different things in the same way that rights and obligations are different things. They are most definitely not the same thing as each other. But perhaps the reason they can be both expressed as the flip side of the same thing is that they are both attributes of a law.

Heads and tails are the flipside of the same thing, a coin, and that is not a law. But the word head or tail does not describe the coin, and you do not get to choose which it is.

We all have our vision of the nature of waves and particles, informed by science, yes, but fully understood? If you work with the conclusion of the scientists, and not your mental vision, or preexisting understanding of how a wave and particle ‘look’, then I still think my premise stands as an answer to determinism…

I don’t mind criticism saint, no problem!

I haven’t read your OP closely enough to understand it really, but some of the things you’ve said remind me of this old thread. Just in case it interests you. Ignore it if it doesn’t.

If 99% of an environment is dynamic (ambiguous/reactionary) and 1% constant (definitional), the environment would be determined by the 1%.

So partial ambiguity doesn’t contradict determinism.

I agree it can be said that a photon is just the one thing that has wave-like and particulate-like properties. But the scientists observe different physical phenomena depending on whether it is behaving as a particle or a wave.

My point is that nothing in the physical world can be manifested as one thing or a different thing purely by the choice of the observer.

Laws, on the other hand, can be.

Therefore, the proposition that “Wave and particle are two sides of the one coin describing reality. As to which way it flips - you decide” (as an outcome of physically conducted experiments),if correct, means that behaviour of photons as waves or particles could be an expression of a law, and not a physical event. The premise only fails, I think, if you think the scientists must be missing something.

My next point is that if the scientists are right, then this may be explained if reality is nothing but a manifestation of laws. And, if that is the case, who is to say the same laws may not enable genuine freedom of choice?

I concede my argument is half baked, but this is why I posted it - to see how it holds up and if it can be developed.

I think a problem comes up in what I’ve emphasized above: Wave and particle aren’t two sides of the same thing. With photons, (I use ‘photon’ for simplicity) they’re both ‘characteristics’ of the same thing. Physicists don’t ‘chose’ one over the other; they study the affects of one over the other depending on what’s being studied. IOW, there really is no ‘duality.’

There is, however, a possible ‘duality’ in tort law, for example. Someone starts to drink a cup of coffee, is startled by how hot the coffee is, drops the cup into her/his lap and claims to have suffered burns to her/his genitals. S/he sues the restaurant for serving coffee hot enough to burn sensitive areas. The restaurant doesn’t refute the plaintiff’s claims, but counters them by saying the plaintiff has an ‘obligation’ (responsibility) to take the care needed to protect her/himself from being burned. This is an illustration of how tort can be seen as ‘different sides’ of the same coin, at least, in my understanding.

Your idea may be fine–and I wish there were non-religious ways of refuting determinism. There may be–but I don’t think your analogy works out. :slight_smile:

Perhaps it would help to understand that there is a difference between Truth and Reality.

An ontology is a proposed understanding of reality. If it is properly constructed and accurately represents experience, it is “Truth”. But there can be many understandings with equal accuracy just as there can be different languages that say the same thing. As long as each language is properly spoken and accurately represents an experience, each is “true”.

Physics began with the notion that there were solid indivisible “particles” and thus a great deal of development utilizes that concept as an ontological element. But eventually it was discovered that even those things thought to be solid were actually made of waves and the entire “particle” itself can behave similar to what had been ontologically designated as a “wave”. So both words or concepts apply. The same real item can be thought of as either a particle or a wave. The “Truth” is which ever ontological element is more useful for what you are doing. There is not a single Truth until you choose one for your situation.

A Law is an expression of what is or isn’t possible. It is a limit concerning possibilities. Until something is impossible, nothing is actually possible. Thus the “Law” causes the possibilities and the eventual physical realities.

Thus I would say that the expression of what is possible, the Law, is not the reality itself. It is a “Truth statement” of what is necessarily going to take place. And what actually takes place, is not the Law, but the consequence of it. The Law is the Cause. The Physical Universe is the Effect.

But also the Law never goes away and applies to the state of the universe even though it caused that state. In effect, the Law states that because of the situation, the situation must change. But then when it changes, the Law says that because of the new situation, it must change again. And that sequence never ends.

Thus what remains as the physical reality is the state of the situation continually altering because of the Law that never changes and can never be satisfied such as to not always demand another change. So it can be deduced that because the universe is the changing and the Law never changes, the universe cannot be the Law itself nor can the Law be the universe itself.

Does that address your concerns at all? :-s

Why do you want to refute determinism?

If the scientists were saying they were characteristics of the same thing, and they look at one or the other, depending on the method employed to observe, I would agree. But after almost 100 years of testing, they are baffled that the choice of what they are looking for, and not the method employed to look for it, is what causes the change. If that statement is wrong, my hypothesis falls down. But that is what they are saying. Read the article if you do not believe me.

I agree with each of you otherwise. And I do not necessarily buy the conclusion they have come to. But it is their conclusion and not mine. And they know better than me on the nature of particles and waves due to their extensive work on them.

I am assuming for my argument that they have not expressed themselves clumsily. That they have not missed a physical principle at play.

You have each assumed they have reached conclusions consistent with science, is clear from your response. It is like the scientists have given the philosophers a free hit and you are not seeing it. You each have chosen not to accept the inconsistency of their conclusions with the proposition of the world being a physical phenomenon.

I am a sceptic, like you guys. I hate lack of reason like you lot. Maybe have a look at their work, not mine, then we’ll talk again. I mean it, it’s interesting. You might be able to get it on new scientist.com and go to the 5 January edition or search wave particle coin or something like that.

LBR Looking for a way out of determinism doesn’t need explanation does it? Smiley face.

Realize two things;

  1. Notable people (and especially those hiding behind magazine articles) LIE.
  2. There is incentive for inspiring mystery, even at the cost of lying.

Mainly because it can lead to nihilism for many people, Joe. And too many people really aren’t strong enough for nihilism. Nihilism can be a very destructive philosophy. Plus it can lead to misapplication of criminal law and/or the sentence for breaking criminal law. Lawyers are bond to defend everyone who needs to be defended in a court of law. The lawyer may be sure the defendant is guilty–and the evidence against the defendant may be irrefutable, so the lawyer often uses a plea that’ll try to sway the emotions of the judge and jury in order to get a lighter sentence. Ted Bundy, for example, was one such defendant. His attorney tried to convince everyone he wasn’t responsible for his murders, because of his family background which, supposedly, determined how he matured. It was, imm, a bunch of clap-trap–his background was perfectly normal. But the attorney wanted to get his sentence reduced to life in prison rather than death.

In effect, the attorney was saying while Bundy was a serial killer and, in that sense, was responsible, he wasn’t really responsible because of determinism; i.e., one can be guilty but not responsible.

This is a basis for the ‘insanity plea.’

I fear this topic will be left with all assuming that the scientist’s choice as to which they are looking for, alone, cannot really determine whether something is and behaves as a wave or a particle.
This assuming may be right. It sounds right. It is just not what they said. I was hoping their actual findings would be investigated philosophically, not just what we think must be the case.
Maybe all here are right to dismiss it. Maybe some other philosophers will take it up some day.
Thanks for the views and responses, though, this is a great site!