Tag: Quantum Mechanics

Meandering Thoughts On Physical Dimensionality, String Theory, Quantum Mechanics, the Theory of Everything, etc.

A 1-dimensional object can’t exist because if you multiply its length times its width, which is zero, and times its depth, which is 0, you get a volume of 0. An object with 0 volume is a non-existent object, just like a car with 0 gallons of gas does not have gas.  Yet once you count to three dimensions, objects apparently exist despite (presumably) having no 4th-dimensional depth. It would seem more coherent or consistent, or at least simpler, metaphysically, to assume that objects we see have length, width, depth, and some amount of 4th-D depth to exist at all, lest their 4-D volumes be 0, hence making them not exist. Yet this same principle must then be re-applied to include 5th-D depth, 6th-D depth, 7th-D depth, and so on and on, ad infinitum. And that’s just what I’m arguing for: an infinite number of spatial dimensions.

And string theory posits just that. The common conception is that string theory holds for 10, 11 or 26 dimensions, but Paul Davies said in Superstrings: A theory of Everything? that that’s only for purposes of a simplified approximation, that string theory holds for an infinite number of dimensions.

The depth of these extra spatial dimensions is very small, or else reality wouldn’t behave as it does such that our reality appears 3-dimensional. But how would you possibly constrain a spatial dimension? In string theory, this is done by way of the extra dimensions being “curled up.” By analogy, imagine a one-dimensional world, only instead of existing on a line, it actually exists within the perimeter of a very thin tube. Because the tube is so microscopically thin compared to the macroscopic scale of its one-dimensional physical life, the effects of the second dimension aren’t noticed except through the experiments and models of their physics. In string theory, all the dimensions above the third are tightly curled in an analogous but higher-dimensional manner.

I’m still ambivalent about string theory though. It’s very complex and constantly growing, and yet it makes almost no predictions (I’ve only heard of one, and we don’t have the technology to test it yet). This pretty much makes it unfalsifiable and seemingly an ivory-tower endeavor. Not only that, but the strings it reduces things to are unintuitive, unobservable, as small as as small gets, and apparently made out of nothing but math. And I think that for a “thing” to ultimately lead to a sensory experience, it must have some substance to it, as in a property, that is somehow commensurate with that experience. Math is all just numerical values and abstract relationships between them. It’s like measurements of real things without the real things/substances being measured. For reality, experience and qualia to occur, you need actual substances.

Using math is great for modeling and predicting physical reality, but reducing the universe to mathematics is going too far. It lacks substance so it couldn’t give rise to reality/experience, and mathematics is purely abstract (see also https://philosophy.inhahe.com/2019/09/21/why-mathematical-platonism-is-silly), so it can’t be the basis of anything extant. Abstractions are strictly derivative of extant substances/phenomena/whatever.

Moreover, string theory is said to be not one theory, but a set of numerous possible theories, that figuring out which one is correct would take more computing power than we remotely have in this age. It seems not very coincidental, to me, that the theory poised to be the first Theory Of Everything is actually a statement that “one of a large subset of all possible theories is correct.” In what dimensions this set extrudes or does not extrude into the set of all possible or feasible theories is a subject worthy of notice, and beyond my knowledge of physics.  

That leads me to another thought, though. In much the same way that any possible series of points on a graph can also be traced by a sufficiently complex polynomial equation, I wonder if there’s a possible universal formula in which every possible physics theory, or every possible TOE, is expressed as a series of parameters to that formula. That would be a beautiful generalization and simplification for the search for the ultimate physical theory.

When I say “possible theories,” of course I mean mathematically constructible theories. But I think that the real theory of everything—the only one possible, or at least the only one actually satisfying—might not be mathematical at all. It could be, for example, something more like a new-age principle. Perhaps that could capture the more living, less mechanical aspects of cause and effect that physicists don’t even dream of. Scientism supposes science to be all-reaching, while the things that physics can’t predict, particularly things within quantum mechanics, are thought of as “absolute randomness.” (Some interpretations of quantum mechanics are deterministic, but as long as they can’t actually predict any particular instances of the randomness in question, they’re just weak conjectures.)

And speaking of prediction, that’s the one thing all physics is based on. A physical theory is merely a mathematical relationship that’s validated by, and only by, prediction. Physics doesn’t actually purport to be doing anything other than creating useful models of phenomena. So physics isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of what’s going on metaphysically/”under the hood,” so to speak. That’s where interpretation comes in, and some theories have many interpretations. That space-time is curved is just one interpretation of the General Relativity, for example. We can’t even measure space as a thing-in-itself; how can we say that it’s curved? It’s just a mathematical convenience that we use.

Quantum mechanics has a few interpretations, such as Many Worlds theory, but on a deeper level perhaps it has none…Richard P. Feynman said, “It is safe to say that nobody understands quantum mechanics,” and also, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, then you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” All QM has are equations that work in mind-blowingly counterintuitive ways, and they only predict things on a statistical level. This must be why Albert Einstein said, “if [quantum theory] is correct, it signifies the end of physics as a science.” Maybe we’re still waiting for the ricochet…

If the ultimate TOE is a mystical principle, it makes me wonder: how complex should the principle be? Surely, if not on a technical level then on an abstract level, it could accommodate both QM and GTR. They’re so foundational and all-encompassing that, even if physics merely makes useful models, the information of those two overarching theories should fit into our mystical TOE somewhere…but, a fundamental basis of physics is that you can predict/explain anything from the vantage point of “the view from nowhere,” that is, independently of any subject. This constrains physics to theories that are only ultimately work insofar as we live in an impersonal universe full of objective facts, which I don’t think is the case. Some questions arise:

  • Should we incorporate physical theories, on the mathematical level, into our mystical TOE at all?­
  • If we do, how complex should the mathematical part of the TOE be?
  • How would we integrate the mathematical parts of the TOE with the spiritual/mystical parts?
  • How complex should the spiritual parts be?
  • Would the mathematical part of the TOE necessarily be relegated to ”the view from nowhere”?
  • What restrictions does the paradigm of causality impose on physics that mathematics and measurability themselves don’t? (I don’t remember why I asked this.)

In answering the first question, we should first ask (a) what it is in the universe that warrants a particular amount of complexity in an all-encompassing theory, and (b) what do we mean by all-encompassing, in that we don’t actually predict everything (for example, a practitioner of the ultimate TOE probably wouldn’t predict that a fly is about to land on their face)?  Perhaps the amount of data we predict is commensurate with the amount of data we gather, for example, we can’t predict the weather presumably because we can’t measure the position and velocity of every air molecule, not counting the issue of computational limitations. 

But if there is any amount of data we could gather by which to predict quantum randomness, we don’t know how much it is nor where to gather the data from. I don’t believe it’s the case that quantum randomness can be predicted with sufficient physical data, though. I also suspect that, since the so-called laws of the universe and its data are two aspects of the same whole, and it is only in human understanding that things are discretely divided, we’ll find more and more complexity to our “laws” as long as we’re looking for them. Hence physical law is unlimited in complexity, and probably ever-changing, just as the data they “operate on” is.

I say so-called laws because I don’t believe the universe behaves according to laws as such. Laws require energy to enforce, so the universe would constantly be drained of energy. Also, as I mentioned in ‘Notes on Freewill,’ if physical laws were restraining, constraining, or otherwise enactors of some sort, then you’d need further/more-meta laws to enforce or constrain those laws (because why else would they continue to consistently do what they do otherwise; and if they would just naturally continue to do as they do, then it’s equally plausible that the physical “laws” are just things naturally doing what they do rather than being laws as such), and further laws to enforce those laws, etc., to infinite regression.

By the way, I said that the ultimate TOE probably wouldn’t allow you to predict that a fly is about to land on your face, but perhaps if it were really the ultimate TOE then it would predict absolutely everything, or at least everything in one’s immediate environment. All theories ultimately describe the universe as we perceive it, even if that perception involves looking at measurements by scientific instruments. We do the best we can designing theories that try to explain things from arbitrary hypothetical perspectives that trivialize individual frames of reference, we draw an ultimately arbitrary line between the “rules” or “laws” of the universe and the “stuff” that the rules “act upon,”, and we then try to discover laws that work within those artificially constructed modalities, but it still comes down to explaining qualia in the end. So, perhaps if there were actually an ultimate TOE that perfectly encapsulated the essence of the workings of the universe, it would tell you exactly what you’ll see or hear at any given time.

As for the second question, there is beauty in mystical principles, while physical law, on the other hand, is a plethora of arbitrary constants relevant only to lifeless, labyrinthine, and ultimately unaccountable equations. Beauty is truth and truth is beauty, or so I’ve read, so spiritual/mystical maxims are likely more fundamental and universal than the laws of physics. See also https://philosophy.inhahe.com/2018/04/13/notes-on-science-scientism-mysticism-religion-logic-physicalism-skepticism-etc/#Reductionism.

Perhaps somewhere else in the universe, or in the multiverse, the gravitational constant is different, or there are more than three spatial dimensions, etc. Given that the variables are apparently set just right for physical life where we are, it must be that, unless this universe was specifically designed by God, the strong anthropic principle accounts for all of that. The strong anthropic principle requires the existence of many worlds/places with different physics varying in many dimensions. Thus a mystical-principle TOE might potentially tell you what is always so, while physical theories are a way of describing “where you are” currently in the all, or perhaps more accurately, what the nature of your current body is…

If, as the strong anthropic principle suggests, the universe is precisely that which is necessary to support your physical life as someone who would ask “what is the universe like?,” then the whole corpus of physics is fundamentally nothing more than a reflection of the nature of your own, current body. It’s actually a little more complex than that, because the question also depends on your current body living within what you would deem a universe and because it’s actually a question being asked, and answered by, the whole of humanity. And there are probably also other species living in the universe who are asking the same question, who are quite different anatomically, but whose bodies work on the same physical principles.

To the last question, I would point out that quantum mechanics apparently establishes correlations that uphold outside of causal time, as you might notice in Wheeler’s delayed choice quantum eraser experiment. It’s often said that the reason QM and GTR are incompatible is that they treat time differently. A theory that connects relativity with quantum mechanics is probably one that has a basis beyond time (such as the one in Julian Barbour’s books), or is at least one that’s not bound by the idea of prediction in causal time.

Notes on Existence and the Multiverse

  • The weak anthropic principle does not automatically answer every profound question about why the universe is the way it is, and it does not defeat the whole enterprise of cosmology as some scientists lament, because it requires a “selection principle” determining which universes come into existence. This selection principle itself begs to be explained, and its existence must be justified to assume that the weak anthropic principle explains, e.g., the fine tuning of the universe.
  • Multiverse theories such as the string theory multiverse or the quantum field theory multiverse may not cover all universes that exist. They could be a very small, perhaps infinitesimally small, fraction of all the universes that exist. There could be layers and layers of multiverses, perhaps in a tree pattern, where sibling multiverses share similar metaphysics/physics principles and subsets or more general levels of those principles are shared with parent layers and smaller subsets or even more general layers of principles are shared with parents of parent layers, etc. etc. It may also be less like a tree of different multiverses than a network or maybe just some unstructured plethora of them, possibly situated in different places within a much larger, non-mechanistic spiritual reality.
  • Our physical reality could be a paradigm of interaction based on a mathematical principle, instated for unknown purposes by a (probably enormous) spiritual entity. Of course, if the spiritual (or otherwise non-physical) realm or realms are infinite, then there is probably an infinite number of physical realms just by virtue of the fact that the creation a physical realm is something that sometimes occasionally happens here and there.
  • Even in a multiverse of an infinite number of universes, its metaphysics could make some possibility-bins (where the bin sizes and delineations are arbitrary) possibility more frequent, hence more likely, than others. This provides a basis for inference and extrapolation about states of things at one place or time based on states of things at another (i.e. prediction and memory). It could also be interpreted as an explanation for probabilistic causality as revealed by quantum physics.
  • Some, maybe even most, universes may not be physical at all, though it’s possible that the containment and separation required for the concept of multitude of universes only applies to physical realms, and that though the non-physical realm may be unlimited and may involve an unlimited number of more and less stark disjunctions or parts that are just fairly separated, there aren’t boundaries of the type that would justify the use of the term “multiverse.”
  • Why does anything exist, as opposed to nothing? I have a pet theory. It’s always the context of a possible thing or situation that determines whether that thing/situation is made manifest or not. This context includes all relevant factors, including local information, the physics of the universe, and even metaphysical principles. But there can be no greater/deeper context/metaphysics than existence itself to determine whether anything/everything exists or not. So, in the absence of any more-overarching metaphysics than the totality of existence to determine whether something is manifest or not, on that level, every possibility is manifest.

    You may ask, “why isn’t the possibility of nothingness the one that’s selected instead?”, and the answer is that it is. Both the possibilities of nothing existing and everything existing are manifest, because in the absence of a greater context to determine eligibility, all possibilities are manifest, but of course, you can’t and don’t notice the nothingness. All you can notice is the somethingness.

    You could argue that possibilities are a mental thing, the product of speculation, and that supposing ontological possibilities is supposing an existing thing/situation/metaphysics that can give rise to possible states, thus contradicting the idea of every possibility being made manifests in the absence of any deeper context, but to ask why anything exists as opposed to nothing presupposes that there are possibilities and that nothing and existence are two of them. So, my answer is not supposing anything not presupposed by the question. We cannot escape our own episteme while exploring ontology. Due to the primality and non-empirical nature of metaphysics, at some point metaphysics and epistemology are inextricable from each other.

    I suppose you could argue that, in the absence of an overarching metaphysics beyond existence and non-existence, there’s nothing to determine that “every possibility would be manifest” (including the possibility of nothing) instead of “no possibility would manifest,” but maybe in the lack of an overarching metaphysics beyond existence and non-existence to determine if “every possibility would be manifest” (including the possibility of nothing) and “no possibility would manifest,” both manifest, and then you could then make the same argument again recursively, ad infinitum. What would be the end result in the case of an infinite regress?
  • In order for two things to interact with each other at all, they must share some common substrate or metaphysical design so that they have a basis/a set of rules/a protocol by which to interact. There must be agreement on how an action of one thing affects the other and vice versa. As the dynamics of a thing’s actions are presumably based in the laws of physics, and all things in our universe supposedly behave and even compose according to the same laws of physics , you’d think that as a general rule it’s probably underlying mechanics or composition of two things that they have being in common that engenders said agreement.

    If there were many different types of things—that is, different types on the level of being fundamentally incompatible—in the same “space” (besides the fact that spatial relationships probably don’t apply to things that are incompatible enough not to have a basis for interaction), you’d only know of those things that have a composition that’s fundamentally compatible with yours, because to know of something is for it to affect you. So, it’s possible that everything possible or some subset of everything possible exists “in the same space” and what we call the universe is only the set of those things that operate according to a specific modus operandi, that is, the laws of physics or perhaps the laws of physics as we know them.

    It kinda follows that what universe you’re in is a function of the organization principle of your being, or perhaps the mode of your perception.

    I say “in the same space” even though spatial relationship wouldn’t necessarily apply across different modalities of being, but the principle of space itself probably arises from a mode of perception or, equivalently, a common mode of being among objects in the same spatiotemporal universe anyway. So “objectively” they’re in the same space in a sense or might as well be, with respect to the idea that our mode of perception or modality of being selects for them.
  • Although the above reasoning was done with physical universes in mind, it could also possibly explain what’s often termed the “law of attraction.”

    If everything that can possibly happen happens, then there is some reality somewhere where any given person expects or desires for any given thing to happen. a principle that what you expect or desire on the deepest level tends to happen in the world would not be contradicted by the fact that everyone probably desires or expects different things, if there is some kind of organizing principle in effect where people on similar paths of desire or expectation share the same reality-state out of all reality-states. Thus major world events and developments can be more-or-less products of personal will or belief.

    I suppose if all possibilities are manifest, then that includes possibilities where many people strongly believe or desire different things, which would contradict personal will influencing world events and development, but it could be only a relatively small/rare subset of all conceivable realities that exist, or that exist according to the organization principle that allows for belief or desire to inform reality. (That last possibility goes back to the idea of layers of multiverses and metaphysical principles mentioned earlier.)

    Of course, it’s obvious that there are many different beliefs and expectations among people in the world about everything, including world events and development, but that is also known to those who already espouse the idea of the law of attraction. This implies that it is not “absolute” for lack of a better word; it may be in effect but may only apply in certain ways or circumstances. Also, people tend to believe and desire different things on different levels of their beings and at different times, producing mixed results.

    Another thing that could bring people/spirits together into the same quantum reality is parallel choices or actions they’ve all made, resulting in the same consequences.
  • It’s also possible that, for some reason, in order for one’s path through the multiverse to remain appropriate to their choices, beliefs and desires, sometimes a person must end up in a reality whose past physical timeline differs from that of the reality they were previously in, hence giving rise to the Mandela Effect. (I’ve had personal experiences with the Mandela Effect I’ve described here.)

    One possible contention with this theory of the Mandela Effect is that, if presumably memories are stored in the brain, why doesn’t switching into another timeline also change the state of the brain’s memories (along with the rest of that timelines history), hence making it so that nobody ever knows they switched?

    Possible answers are that not all of memory is brain state and it’s only the physical aspect of the timeline that switches, or that some of the brain state remains the same when everything else shifts, in accordance to how closely intimate the brain state is to the person’s being; i.e., maybe the mechanics of this timeline switching are “organic” in a spiritual sense or up to open-ended interpretation by consciousness, as reality is ultimately made up of consciousness, and the lines between what’s changed and what’s not changed are drawn in convenient/graceful places rather than things being more strict and absolute like what we normally observe on the gross plane.
  • If our consciousness can transition to, or otherwise just find itself in, any extant reality just as long as it accords with their path, beliefs, desires, expectations, karma, choices/actions, or whatever, then it’s possible that we could find ourselves in a reality of any possible past, except there would apparently be selecting principles in place, such that the reality must conform to your memory about it, and that the past must be more-or-less consistent according to some principle of causality. I say more-or-less because you never know, miracles could happen.
  • It may seem contradictory to think that desire generally influences reality, because in your experience it doesn’t. But there are different levels and kinds of desire. In fact, what you want is repelled from you, because wanting something entails a belief that you do not now have it, which is then reflected in your experience. But there are other levels of what one truly desires, which one may not even be aware of. Also, in my experience, desires are often realized when they’re just preferences without need attached. Usually I’ll get what i want when I totally, genuinely accept not having it as being “okay” and then forget about it, ironically.
  • “At the quantum level our universe can be seen as an indeterminable place, predictable in a statistical way only when you employ large enough numbers. Between that universe and a relatively predictable one where the passage of a single planet can be timed to a picosecond, other forces come into play. For the in-between universe where we find our daily lives, that which you believe is a dominant force. Your beliefs order the unfolding of daily events. If enough of us believe, a new thing can be made to exist. Belief structure creates a filter through which chaos is sifted into order.” —Frank Herbert, Heretics of Dune
  • Conversations with God book 1 by Neale Donald Walsch has a lot of interesting info on how and why God created the universe, what came before it, and what our purpose here is.

Are Spirituality and Science in Conflict?

This is in response to tit’s question on kiwi.qa, “For religious/spiritual folks: How compatible are scientific principles/theories with your beliefs? How have you struggled with any conflicts between the two?”

Good question, and the answer is there’s no contradiction, and I’ve never struggled with a conflict. Unfortunately, most people who care about science buy into science’s (ultimately unfounded) scientistic and physicalist precepts and their implications, such as the idea that there is no such thing as a soul, but none of that is proven or even provable by science. There is no experiment to show that there’s no soul, afterlife or reincarnation, there’s no such thing as an aura, the universe isn’t a living thing, there is no God, astrology is nonsense, chakras aren’t real, magic doesn’t exist, we’re not all fundamentally connected in some profound way, or many other such ideas. (Re magic and astrology, see also, respectively, this and this part of one of my essays.)

The underpinnings of the scientific view of the world that that are valid are what we think of as the laws of physics or the laws of nature. Physical laws, inferred from physical observation and experimentation and modeling, carve out specific relationships between cause and effect within the physical universe, but they don’t show or imply that those relationships are all that exist. They’re limited in their means of inference, and hence in their reach, to what’s observable by scientific instruments and is within the realm of testability and theorization. This implies they’re limited in a few other or more specific ways, such as (a) to very simple relationships between cause and effect, (b) to proximity in time and space (usually) between causes and effects (with some exceptions for exceedingly simple and obvious relationships, such as the effects of gravity), (c) to predictability based on mechanistic control rather than psychological principles, (d) to causes and effects that can be definitively, quantitatively measured, (e) to repeatable observations or events, etc.

Because of the immense efficacy of science in predicting and controlling the world, people eventually assumed that nature must be wholly mechanistic. But without being able to predict or control absolutely everything that happens, there’s no reason to assume this.

You could assert that the laws of physics leave no room for any other type of influence on events, but I’d say this is false. Again, the domains and contexts in which we surmise and verify physical theories are limited. Then there’s quantum mechanics to think about with its inherent unpredictability, which is where the mechanistic worldview of science bumps up against the open-endedness inherent in reality. If spirituality really means much, it should have some kind of influence in some way on our physical lives, and quantum “randomness” is probably an avenue for that influence.

It may sound like attributing spiritual influence on physical reality to the unpredictability inherent in quantum mechanics is a “god of the gaps” theory, but you have to remember that the idea that the world is made entirely of mechanical, non-living stuff was gratuitous in the first place. There never was a time when science predicted everything; it just assumed everything was inherently predictable and hence mechanistic and essentially lifeless as an extrapolation from the limited scope of phenomena it was able to predict and control. When quantum physics came around this inertia scientific thinking had gained lingered, and hence people assumed that either the inherent randomness of quantum mechanics either (a) just arises from mechanisms-as-such that we don’t understand yet, or (b) is “absolutely random” and meaningless. But instead it should have caused us to retract a little the entirely mechanistic and lifeless view of reality we’ve developed in the first place.

“How gibbering man becomes, when he is really clever, and thinks he is giving the ultimate and final description of the universe! Can’t he see that he is merely describing himself, and that the self he is describing is merely one of the more dead and dreary states that man can exist in?” —D. H. Lawrence

To be fair, after writing this post I was reminded by a particular conversation that it’s not entirely true that I’ve never struggled with a conflict. There is one thing in neuroscience that bugs me, and it’s that so many of the faculties or properties of what we consider to be “just us,” or natural abilities of consciousness, are actually shown by experiment to be associated with specific regions of the brain and can be acutely affected by damage to those regions.

We already knew, of course, that the function of the brain is closely tied to the mind or consciousness, though it’s not proven that this means that consciousness is produced by the brain, any more than a TV produces the television shows you watch on it.  (If one didn’t know better, one could be tempted to think that it does because if you damage the TV in certain ways the observed television show will also be affected or even blacked out, in the same manner that damaging the brain can impair or even appear to annihilate consciousness.)

But when you get into just how specifically myriad functions of our mind are associated with specific areas of the brain and potentially impairable this way, it’s somewhat hard to reconcile this with a belief that our minds survive pretty much the way they are in life after we die and are hence completely independent of our brains. I have no problem thinking of possible ways this can be reconciled, but the issue still irks me a little because those ways seem a bit reaching without having some other compelling reason to believe their attendant assumptions are true.

But I still believe what I believe, because I’ve had compelling enough reason to, so unless and until I understand the issue better I’ll have to chalk up  the apparent conflict to the fact that our puny analytical minds are largely ill-equipped to fathom the mysteries of the cosmos that lie beyond the aspects of it we’re able to experience as corporeal, sensorial humans and the modality we experience them in.