Some thoughts on Physics

      Bruce Charlton has written about the decline of science.  Probably his best book on that subject is The Genius Famine, where he argues that scientific geniuses have disappeared from the world, so big, qualitative breakthroughs have disappeared as well because geniuses are the only ones who can make them.  This is actually something we can see around us.  I am not a physicist, but it is interesting that the Nobel Prize awarded to Roger Penrose was for work he did in the 1960s.  In one of Eric Weinstein's videos, he said that fundamental physics has been stalled since the 1970s.  In The Genius Famine, the 1960s is when Charlton says scientific geniuses began disappearing.

    In one of Rudolf Steiner's lectures that I have been unable to find again, Steiner said that science will decline from physics on down.  If we look at fundamental physics this is what has happened: the people working on it are extremely intelligent, however, they have been unable to make a big breakthrough.  I believe there are a few things going on.  First, I think we have reached the limits of where intelligence alone can take us.  It might be that more creativity could discover something unexpected in physics.  But, as long as people think along the current paradigm we won't make more progress.  To progress in our understanding of the universe we need something as big as the change from astrology to astronomy but in the other direction. 

    Another reason for this is quantum physics.  Earlier this year, I read Richard Cock's post "Quantum Mechanics Again."  The commenter Mickvet wrote: 

"Bohr said that the quantum world is ‘not real’, Von Heisenberg that it was somewhere between potency and actuality. No physicist has ever produced a mathematical formula that describes or explains wave vector collapse. In other worlds, it has not been proven that the world we inhabit is a physical one. The notion that the matter we consist of is formed of electrons surrounding atomic nuclei and all these being the foundation of atoms, molecules and so on upwards has not been demonstrated. These only exist in potency and what happens when the wave vector collapses is unknown. It doesn’t matter what measuring device, or how many, (even an infinite regress) one uses, ultimately the decisive interpretation has to be by a consciousness. This is Wolfgang Smith’s interpretation and it seems plausible to me. If we can’t really prove the existence of a physical universe, it strikes me there’s not much point debating an effectively infinite series of them. Not to mention that equations might be wrong and the most straightforward interpretation of them not necessarily the correct one."

    I looked up Wolfgang Smith and watched a documentary about his life and views, The End of Quantum Reality.  As I understand it, the main idea is that the quantum world is less real than the world we experience.  This turns the mainstream scientific worldview on its head.  The idea of this view is that everything is composed of fundamental particles, so these particles are more real than what is composed of them.  Any composition is just an arrangement of particles and an arrangement is something abstract, not fundamentally real in the same sense as the particles.  

    However, according to Smith (and also Werner Heisenberg) quantum particles exist only potentially.  The best way I have seen this described is by Edward Feser who has written that the quantum realm is sub-natural; it is a level below nature.  In fact, this idea of the quantum realm bears a great deal of similarity to the prime matter of the Aristotelians and the prima materia of the alchemists; conceived as essentially chaos but pure potential.  Prime matter can take on any quality which is imposed on it.  But where do the qualities come from?  They are spiritual.  Think about it.  We perceive qualities (such as color) in our consciousness.  But the qualities (as we perceive them) are not in the physical descriptions of objects.  Edward Feser has quoted Bertrand Russell saying as much: 

    "It is not always realised how exceedingly abstract is the information that theoretical physics has to give.  It lays down certain fundamental equations which enable it to deal with the logical structure of events, while leaving it completely unknown what is the intrinsic character of the events that have the structure… All that physics gives us is certain equations giving abstract properties of their changes.  But as to what it is that changes, and what it changes from and to – as to this, physics is silent."

    This is one of the most powerful arguments I have seen against materialism: matter cannot organize itself.  When left to its own devices, it just disintegrates; that's entropy.  In order for matter to become organized, it must be acted upon from outside by the spiritual.  In fact, when the human mind observes a particle and forces it to take on a specific value, can we not view this as mind imposing form on matter.  So, if the human mind can do this on such a small scale, then may not far greater minds than ours do this on a much larger scale?  

    For example, physicists have theorized that the universe will eventually run down.  But, all this calculation says is that, this is what will happen if the universe is left to its own devices.  But who is to say it will be?  Thomas Browne discussed this eloquently in his Religio Medici

    "I believe the world grows near its end; yet is neither old nor decayed, nor will ever perish upon the ruins of its own principles. As the work of creation was above nature, so its adversary, annihilation; without which the world hath not its end, but its mutation."  

    Isaiah 34:4 also says, talking about the end of time: 

    "All the stars of heaven will be dissolved.  The skies will be rolled up like a scroll, and all their stars will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like foliage from the fig tree."

    That is a powerful image, the sky being rolled up like a scroll.  C.S. Lewis has written in The Discarded Image, that when Medieval people looked up at the sky they felt not like they were looking out, but that they were looking in.  They were looking deeper into reality.  So, if the sky rolls up, this means that the border between our reality and what is Above will be dissolved.    

    The main idea is that the physical laws we have describe certain regularities left to themselves but not what happens if something else comes into play. 


4 comments:

  1. I have two degrees on physics and put many years toward a PhD before taking a break. Lee Smolin's book The Trouble With Physics got me to try again but after another year and a half I walked away before finishing a PhD, utterly disillusioned by the prospect of actually working in the field as it is.

    It's fascinating that you mention the limits of what intelligence alone can do. Not three days ago I suggested to a friend that perhaps [long-sought crackpot physics notion] cannot be achieved by model-based technology, but by metaphysical means. He wryly asked whether there is any difference. I think there would not be in a science of final participation. In light of Bruce's placement of beings and relationships among them as primary, and having occasionally sensed the being-ness of various bits of machinery (AKA consciousness-era magic) myself, I now wonder what can be achieved by working with said beings rather than blindly manufacturing them into being.

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    1. Thanks for your reply. My background is in math, so I appreciate a physicist's perspective.

      I do think there is something in your idea about working with nature rather than forcing it to do our will. Valentin Tomberg said something about that in his book "Meditations on the Tarot." He said that we should move towards using the "principle of growth" rather than the "principle of coercion."

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  2. "the quantum realm is sub-natural; it is a level below nature"

    Yes - at this level I don't think the scientists are actually thinking their subject; they don't grasp and comprehend it. Instead they are maths led, equation led - and their understanding is of models which they have constructed.

    (I was terribly disappointed when it became clear that nobody *understood* quantum physics - or indeed string theory - although many mistake their ability to manipulate equations with understanding.)

    Yet the models are gross oversimplifications of reality and cannot be true in all situations, nor - except by trial and error, and liable to fail unexpectedly - can the limits of the model be known.

    AT any rate - the extent to which physics has been corrupted away from science is hard to exaggerate - according to those interested in the subject and who can look beyond careers.

    " First, I think we have reached the limits of where intelligence alone can take us."

    Well, intelligence alone - without creativity - doesn't really take us anywhere; except round in circles. In science, honest devotion to the matter in hand and creativity are indispensable, and much more important than intelligence - which serves more as a tool than a way of discovery. Of course the tool needs to be good *enough* - but if good enough, that is enough!

    "When left to its own devices, it just disintegrates; that's entropy. In order for matter to become organized, it must be acted upon from outside by the spiritual"

    At the end of my amateur and professional life in science; that was my conclusion. Science has tried to get-by by *assuming* only negative tendencies - such as entropy. Purpose and principles of organisation have been ruled out, because as soon as one seriously starts to posit a tendency in opposition to entropy (like Schroedinger's negentropy in What is Life?) - then sooner or later it begins to dawn that we are talking about 'divine creation'. This is why such ideas have never got off the ground.

    But if divine creation is real and a fact in the world - the to assume its absence has been a massive distortion and blind spot in science, with accumulating incoherence as a consequence. Much of the end of science has come from this distortion IMO - because the error is buried so deep in the assumptions of science as to be *invisible* to the bureaucratic world of professional science (which isn't saying much, admittedly!).

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  3. Those are good points. Definitely one issue with science is that, as you point out, people take the models as being the most real aspect of science rather than being a way to understand the reality.

    This is a big issue in mathematics, where especially since the 1900s but really since the 1950s or so people treat math as if the formal theory is everything and human understanding is nothing. But the classical (pre-1900s) mathematicians knew that the formal theory is secondary to understanding, just as musicians know that sheet music is not the music itself.

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