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Saturday, October 7, 2017
Philosophy ... Science ...

Between any two pure states there exists a reversible transformation. If one requires the transformation from the last axiom to be continuous, one separates quantum theory from the classical probabilistic one.

This is an interesting quote from an article about “Quantum Theory and Beyond”, and is found on the arXiv repository. “Continuous transformation” may seem like trivia to most people, but a big question about the universe and reality lies behind it. And that question is this: is reality discreet, digital and mosaic-like, as quantum physics implies (recall that the “quantum” in quantum physics is a set fixed unit of transaction, no lower value is possible)? Or is reality continuous — which requires infinity, given that you need an infinity of numbers to properly describe any variable in the state of a continuous system, and the number of different possible states of that system are also infinite.

So, is there infinity in the world? Does physics require or at least hint at the presence of infinity? Recall that I had previously discussed whether reality is ultimately cubist or continuous, about 11 years ago. If physics does require infinity (e.g., the inflation paradigm in cosmology has certain versions that require “eternal inflation” with an infinite number of universes), that could have some interesting metaphysical and even spiritual implications.

Or, by contrast, is the world just some arrangement of building blocks which you can’t break into, mosaic chips that you cannot see inside, cannot know what goes on within (sort of like a black hole), there cannot be any interact with smaller chips of the basic mosaic piece? Black holes suggest that this might be true (i.e., the theoretically infinite “singularity” within the black hole is completely cloaked from the universe, and might as well be thought to not exist, just as the “inner divisions” of a quanta are ultimately irrelevant). If so, then perhaps the boffins will eventually be the masters of the universe, since there is ultimately a limited number of things to know — perhaps that number is still quite staggering, but in theory anyway, it might ultimately be investigated and somehow understood. If that is true, this would be the end of metaphysics.

So I was a bit surprised to read recently that quantum physics and the quantum world itself may need continuity and thus infinity! Referring to the Quantum Theory and Beyond article that I quoted from above, Quanta Magazine said

if you modify axiom three to say that states get converted continuously — little by little, rather than in one big jump — you get only quantum theory, not classical. (Yes, it really is that way round, contrary to what the “quantum jump” idea would have you expect — you can interconvert states of quantum spins by rotating their orientation smoothly, but you can’t gradually convert a classical heads to a tails.) “If we don’t have continuity, then we don’t have quantum theory”

I’m not qualified to discuss the high-level mathematical and physics theory implications of infinity in a quantum universe. But as a half-assed metaphysician and pop music aficionado, I will quote a line from the Righteous Brothers:

If you believe in forever, then life is just a one-night stand

PS, here’s a good article from the Big Questions Online site, as to whether modern cosmology can prove or disprove creation (creation by God, of course). William E Carroll, an historian of science, ponders the many recent attempts of modern cosmologists (including the famous Stephen Hawking) to deny any intellectual credence to the notion of God by citing the lack of need in modern cosmological thought for an “in the beginning”. I.e., there is no need anymore for a “beginning”. And since the Bible and most other classic conceptions of God rely on an “in the beginning” moment, it would seem as though Hawking and his like have shut God down!

But not so fast, says Dr. Carroll.

An eternal universe would be no less dependent upon God as a complete cause than a universe with a beginning of time.

In the end, Carroll can’t prove that God exists — he is not trying to be the next Thomas Aquinas. But he does make a good case that the cosmologists, despite their very impressive achievements, are going a step beyond their pay-grade in opining upon the existence or non-existence of a transcendent creator. Bottom line here is that despite the many accomplishments of physics, metaphysics is still alive and well:

One should avoid drawing conclusions about creation from cosmological theories one way or another. Those who do fail to understand that the causal dependence of all things that exist on God is not a scientific hypothesis, but a metaphysical claim.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:08 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, To be honest, this post is way, way over my head. I just do not understand the physics of any of this; me and physics are a “never the ‘twain shall meet”. So I really have nothing to comment on here.

    Well, except, as usual, I probably can find some tangential thing to say. It may be the simple fact that I just don’t understand physics, but it seems to me that if physics requires (at least a “hint” of) infinity (if I have this right), doesn’t it seem that physics is approaching the same ideas as metaphysics? I find myself wondering if the physicists will one day be saying, they have “found God” as if it were a new thing. Then again, maybe I don’t understand what all the physicists ae talking about and searching for, which is certainly possible too. As I say, I’m in way over my head here.

    If I understand things correctly, I find myself asking: Why does God have to be a “person”? (Or three if one wants to be a Christian/Catholic, depending on who one follows, I guess) Why could not “God” be a symbol of a concept that was understandable in ancient times?

    I also tend to take offense at the hubris of Stephen Hawking, especially. I guess this is about the same as your saying (I paraphrase here) some cosmologists are going a step beyond their pay-grade. Others seem to have the same idea(s) but do manage to phrase things in a less “hubris” way, e.g., by saying their thinking is “evidence driven”. (Less hubris-driven, seems to me.) Again, different ways of saying the same thing, I’d guess.

    Finally, at last Dr. Carroll (is he a cosmologist? I presume so) has come out to say that mixing (if I have this correct) scientific hypotheses and metaphysical claims is mixing apples and oranges. Thank you, Dr. Carroll. (That is if I understand this correctly.) Yet again, I find myself how long it will take for the physicists/cosmologists to “discover” the need for a “god”, however conceived in their minds. Seems they are beginning to look for such a connection; how long will it take for them to find it. They always find what they go looking for (or so it seems to me). MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — October 9, 2017 @ 2:02 pm

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