Revolutions


I have been reading about John Bell, an Irish physicist who died in 1990 and who gave the world Bell's Theorem. If you click on the Wikipedia link to the theorem it will all be explained to you. If the explanation leaves you a bit mystified, let me briefly explain. John Bell was addressing some of the wierder aspects of quantum physics - the bits of the theory that common sense tells you simply cannot be true. His theorem is a set of equations that would have to be valid if the ordinary, common sense view of the universe was actually the way the universe was made. He invited scientists to come up with a way of falsifying the theorem because if his hypothesis was shown, by experiment, to be false, it would mean the odd predictions of quantum, physics were correct, namely, that either a) things in the universe had no reality until someone observed them or b) the impression that the universe is composed of separate, distinct things is an illusion or c) both of the above. In the early 1970s a physicist named John Clauser performed an experiment which showed Bells Hypothesis to be false. In the 1980s Alain Aspect did the same. Oh dear.

Some people have described Bell's Hypothesis as the most profound scientific discovery ever made, and if you stop to think about it for a while you can see why. Our whole Western world view is based on philosophical materialism; that is, on the idea that the only real things are matter and the four great forces (gravity, electromagnetism, the weak force and the strong force) which act on them. Everything else, including life and consciousness are epiphenomena: that is, they are a sort of by product which arises from material reality. This philosophical assumption underlies the scientific method, and all forms of enquiry which model themselves on the scientific method, such as much of our psychology, sociology, Biblical studies and theology. Quantum physics has been dynamiting philosophical materialism for about a century now but everybody who realises this has been quietly looking the other way, particularly most of the quantum physicists. Unfortunately Bell's Hypothesis and the experimental falsifying of the same won't let us get away with such doublethink for too much longer. Sooner or later we will have to begin seeing the world differently because the world IS different. It's a hard thing accepting that the way we would normally and naturally assume things to be ain't necessarily so but we humans are given the luxury of being able do it step by step. Truth seems to be dolloped out to our species in bite sized chunks. In the few centuries just past we have had to give up the entirely reasonable, sensible views that the sun moves around the earth, that the world is only a few thousand years old and that human beings were created instantly out of dust.
The universe apparently doesn't work by common sense. Common sense is, as I have said before, what tells us the earth is flat. We have had to learn to put aside our common sense in a series of quiet, but utterly profound revolutions

The Universe is more like a great thought than a great machine, said James Jeans, or maybe, given the oddity of quantum mechanics, more like a great dream. As we let go of the view of the world presented by our common sense we become more and more uncomfortable but we move more and more toward the truth. You shall know the truth, said Jesus, and the truth shall make you free. Free yes. Comfortable, no.

Comments

daharja said…
*physics love* :-)

I just love the way the more you look at the world, he more there is to see.
Alden Smith said…
Of course the world works on common sense, but first you have to define what common sense is - and in doing so realise that common sense is a moving target and changes over time - common sense is historically contextual. There was a time when it was common sense to create a world view based on Newtonian law, but Einsteins special law of Relativity etc, etc modified all that - and now its common sense to include Quantum physics and common sense to search for a unifying field theory to smooth out the micro and macro contradictions.
World views and the philosophy, theology and science that these world views are predicated on is a moving target - its common sense to realise that!
VenDr said…
Perhaps I shouldn't bandy a term like "Common sense" around quite so freely. What I mea, of course is that this stuff is counter intuitive. Also, that the behaviour of matter at the small level seems to be different from the behaviour of matter at a larger scale. What particularly interests me at the moment is the concept of matter not existing til it is observed - and that this idea is now based on fairly robust experimental data not just the wafflings of a few saffrom robed swamis. This means that consciousness - whatever that may be - has an enormously important role in the universe, and that the way we westerners view things is about to (ie over the next century or so) experience a fairly thorough demolition job.