February 16, 2012

Does Quantum Mechanics Support Supernaturalism And Postmodernism?

Does Quantum Physics Make it Easier to Believe in God? by Stephen M. Barr, BQO Big Questions Online, July 10, 2012

Deepak's Dangerous Dogmas by Phil Mole, eSkeptic, June 6, 2012 (originally published in Skeptic magazine volume 6, number 2 (1998).  Chopra's conflation of quantum mechanics and human spirituality is an unsupported leap of logic.

From Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality (2007):

Debate on the issues discussed in this chapter will no doubt continue as we grope to understand what space, time, and spacetime actually are. With the development of quantum mechanics, the plot only thickens. The concepts of empty space and of nothingness take on a whole new meaning when quantum uncertainty takes the stage. Indeed, since 1905, when Einstein did away with the luminiferous aether, the idea that space is filled with invisible substances has waged a vigorous comeback. As we will see in later chapters, key developments in modern physics have reinstituted various forms of an aetherlike entity, none of which set an absolute standard for motion like the original luminiferous aether, but all of which thoroughly challenge the naïve conception of what it means for spacetime to be empty.
There is no single, preferred, universal clock; there is no consensus on what constitutes a moment, what constitutes a now.  Even so, you can still tell a clockworklike story about the evolving universe. The clock is your clock. The story is your story. But the universe unfolds with the same regularity and predictability as in the Newtonian framework. If by some means you know the state of the universe right now—if you know where every particle is and how fast and in what direction each is moving—then, Newton and Einstein agree, you can, in principle, use the laws of physics to predict everything about the universe arbitrarily far into the future or to figure out what it was like arbitrarily far into the past.

Quantum mechanics breaks with this tradition. We can’t ever know the exact location and exact velocity of even a single particle. We can’t predict with total certainty the outcome of even the simplest of experiments, let alone the evolution of the entire cosmos. Quantum mechanics shows that the best we can ever do is predict the probability that an experiment will turn out this way or that. And as quantum mechanics has been verified through decades of fantastically accurate experiments, the Newtonian cosmic clock, even with its Einsteinian updating, is an untenable metaphor; it is demonstrably not how the world works.

Intervening space, regardless of how much there is, does not ensure that two objects are separate, since quantum mechanics allows an entanglement, a kind of connection, to exist between them.  ...  the quantum connection between two particles can persist even if they are on opposite sides of the universe.  ...  Our universe is not local.  ...  Irish physicist John Bell showed that the issue could be settled experimentally, and by the 1980s it was. The most straightforward reading of the data is that Einstein was wrong and there can be strange, weird, and “spooky” quantum connections between things over here and things over there.

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Having just completed reading Lawrence Krauss' A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing (2012) and now halfway through Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality (2007), I fantasized running outside, throwing myself face down, spread eagle on the ground and clinging as best I could with my arms and legs to the surface of our planet; and pleading both in gratitude and fear that I would not be cast into the oblivion of the cosmos, either forward or backward in spacetime.

After returning from this imaginary fit, I now ponder what quantum mechanics and our species' most recent discoveries in physics and cosmology may mean for other less secular-scientific understandings of Humankind's state, past and present, in the cosmos.  Spiritualists, pantheists, supernaturalists, paranormalists, religionists, and postmodernists come to mind.

The ideas in physics and cosmology that there is in fact a "substance" to spacetime, some kind of "aether," where a particle in one section of spacetime can directly influence another particle on the opposite side of the universe of spacetime, without having any physical connection with that second particle, that is, no "locality," is astonishing.  If these are the most current and accurate inklings scientific secularism has as to the natural laws of the cosmos, have we not, in fact, taken a step back in our efforts to understand these laws?  Are not our understandings such as atomic theory as well as the evolution of the cosmos in need of such drastic revision that we must begin to ask if the accidents and contingencies that have occurred at both the sub-atomic and cosmological levels, and the subsequent agencies and emergencies that have taken place, require more of our attention than we have relegated them in the past?

Surely, this is being taken as proof-positive evidence by many non-secular supernaturalists and postmodern relativists that a cosmic power does, in fact, exist - a supernatural power and reality they have been trying to convince ancient thinkers, natural philosophers, and modern scientists of for thousands of years.  Their argument might be couched in the following terms:  If space has substance and we can predict its actions, past and present, with only a degree of probability rather than certainty, then is it not game up, all understandings of the cosmos, those scientific and those supernatural, are equally valid?  That science will either never reach a "certain" understading of the laws of nature, or, if it does, it will be forced to admit the existence of a supernatural power and reality behind the laws that will remain forever beyond science's reach.

1 comment:

E.Toro said...

As a former Christian, a secular postmodernist, a Buddhist and a follower of all scientific discoveries, I can tell you that the Buddhist philosophy has had its finger on the pulse of quantum mechanics since the days of the Buddha and before. And here what I refer to is the substance and nature of consciousness and its symbiotic oneness of both matter and energy. The mind consists of the laws of particle physics and all that this entails including the so called non-local quantum powers. There are teaching in the Buddhist philosophy, specifically in the Mahayana Lotus Sutra which speak to the mystic relationship between the mind and the environment. See the 21st chapter of the Lotus Sutra.