And So We Patiently Wait for Science to Discard the Real World Out There

October 9, 2013 | None Yet - Post a Comment

Categories: Failure of Scientific Materialism

            ‘We all agree that your theory is crazy.  The question that divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct.”

Niels Bohr

Modern physics is at a crossroads. Since the time of Einstein, it has pursued a quest to unify the laws of physics using a naïve realist or materialist approach.  This viewpoint holds that there is a real world independent of the scientific theorist, that ultimate reality is a material thing (matter) rather than a mind, and that the mind has no influence on the world.  Most theorists likely assume that discarding the realist perspective is too crazy. And that’s the problem: modern science will not be able to unify the laws of science working within the box of materialism.  Instead, as might be expected, it will need to go outside the box to arrive at a unified theory

Front-page announcements such as the finding of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider, the search for dark matter, and musings over string theory and the multiverse, have masked the basic truth that today’s scientific worldview has reached a dead-end in attempting to assemble an all-encompassing world outlook while operating under the heavy burden of naïve realism.

Lee Smolin, in his book, The Trouble with Physics, in recognizing the conundrums facing modern physics, identifies five problems that any unified theory of physics must solve.

These are:

  1. Combine general relativity and quantum theory into a single theory that can claim to be the complete theory of nature.  This is known as the problem of quantum gravity.
  2. Resolve the problems in the foundations of quantum mechanics, either by making sense of the theory as it stands or by inventing a new theory that does make sense.
  3. Determine whether or not the various particles and forces can be unified in a theory that explains them all as manifestations of a single, fundamental entity.
  4. Explain how the values of the free constants in the standard model of particle physics are chosen in nature.
  5. Explain dark matter and dark energy.  Or, if they don’t exist, determine how and why gravity is modified on large scales.  More generally, explain why he constants of the standard model of cosmology, including the dark energy , have the values they do.

Dr. Smolin should be credited with articulating in a concise and direct manner the five great problems standing in the way of a unified theory of physics.  But in pondering how future scientists may come to solve these mysteries of science, Smolin also reveals the prejudice of the modern scientific theorist: he acknowledges that “physicists have traditionally expected that science should give an account of reality as it would be in or absence. “  Belief in a “real world out there,” he writes, “motivates us to do the hard work needed to become scientists and contribute to the understanding of nature.”  In other words, Smolin defines “science” as practice that can only occur if the practitioner assumes a “real world” independent of the observer. Having accepted on faith the very obstacle preventing progress in the first place, it is no wonder that modern scientific theory remains mired in the same old intellectual quicksand.  Like a hot-air balloonist wondering why he cannot reach the stars while tethered to a fence post, modern science can make no further progress toward a unified theory until it lets go of the “real world out there.”

In this article, I will do something crazy.  I will provide answers to each of these problems and show that a unified theory becomes readily apparent if Mr. Smolin and his university colleagues simply let go of their treasured assumption that there is a real world independent of us.

In considering this assumption, we might first ask, why should the universe obey the commands of the scientific theorist in the first place? Isn’t it true that the world existed before the theorist came on the scene? The job of science is to understand the world as it is, not as scientists assume or wish it should be.

It should not be considered as simply a coincidence that, as shown below, when we eliminate the independent-world assumption, we come upon the outline of a theory that solves Smolin’s five problems

So let us start with the first problem:

Problem 1:    Combine general relativity and quantum theory into a single theory that can claim to be the complete theory of nature.  This is known as the problem of quantum gravity.

The two fundamental theories of the physical world, general relativity (gravity) and quantum theory, are in fact incompatible.  At small scales, the herky-jerky quantum effects conflict with the smooth continuous force of gravity.

This problem, however, is a consequence of the independent-world assumption.  This view assumes that there is a world outside of the theorist that must be pounded into a form understandable by the scientific mind.  The theorizing mind looks at the assumed physical world and believes that it can understand how it operates.  Large masses follow the law of gravity; small masses, at sub-atomic levels, follow the contradictory ways of quantum theory. But suppose there are neither large nor small masses independent of human experience; suppose masses of any size, and in fact, the entire physical world, is a projection of the mind.

Now, for those who believe the mind is incapable of conjuring up a three-dimensional appearance of a world from nothing, consider the simple example of hallucinations.  In an hallucination, the mind of one person is able to create a three-dimensional image of a person or object that blends into the natural world.  How is this possible?  As Oliver Sacks notes in his book, Hallucinations, one remarkable feature of hallucinations is that they appear “compellingly three-dimensional.”

So if the world is a projection of the mind, we would expect this thing called matter – the supposed substance to the physical world –  to dissolve into nothing when we tunnel into it.  And, interestingly, this is exactly what quantum physics shows: at the root of reality are not things, but energy bundles, wave equations or, in different words, the stuff of which dreams are made.  This alternate viewpoint I call the “real dream worldview.”

Turning to gravity, we would expect the physical world, this creation of an infinite mind, to be in the form of a three-dimensional work of art, a grand animation, or computer simulation, where stellar bodies are placed throughout the cosmos to provide a beautiful backdrop to life.  (As we will see below, this approach explains the dark matter problem, assuming it is a problem.)

This picture of the cosmos, as the stunning background scenery to life on Earth, does not fit within the mechanical model of modern, materialistic science.  Modern science would prefer these stellar bodies to follow the dictates of impersonal, objective laws of nature, though when we consider these laws in detail, we find they must have an internal source. This was also the conclusion reached by two of the greatest thinkers in history, David Hume and Immanuel Kant.  David Hume believed the ultimate source to the regularities of nature is our need and belief for those laws.  Kant believed the laws of nature are part of the structure of the mind.

Again, if we want to solve the problem of physics we will need to reinvent the box, not work within the same outdated box.  This is precisely what Einstein meant when he famously said that we cannot solve the problems of science using the same level of consciousness that created them.  The core problem here is that scientists continue to ignore his advice.  They continue to use materialism to hammer the physical world into a shape they can understand, not realizing that it is their attitude toward the problem that is standing in the way of a solution.

Problem 2.   Resolve the problems in the foundations of quantum mechanics, either by making sense of the theory as it stands or by inventing a new theory that does make sense

This problem is also easily solved through the real-dream worldview.  A fundamental dilemma with quantum theory is that at the root of reality we find a phenomenon that does not fit into the naïve realist framework; specifically, we do not find a thing, or a little ball-bearing, but rather, a wave-thing; a substance that changes from a particle to a wave depending on the experiment run.  Worse, the identity of this entity seems to depend upon what the conscious observer is looking for:  if he tries to find a wave-like feature he finds a wave; if he searches for a particle he finds a particle.

This result demonstrates, to many scientists, that this phenomenon we call a “thing” does not have an identity independent of the observer, because if it did, its character would not depend upon the choice of the conscious observer. The shape of the moon, as Einstein once said, does not depend on how one observes it: we want a real world out there that does not depend upon an observer.

Einstein’s quest to locate an objective world remains the quest of many leading scientists, including Lee Smolin.  To them, quantum theory gives an incomplete picture of the physical reality these theorists hope exists out there.

But these theorists miss the point.  We know there is an external world because life would not be possible without one.  We also know that there is an unbreakable connection between mind and the world, as shown not only by the findings of quantum theory, but also by the placebo effect, psychic phenomena, dreams, and hallucinations. Why should there be a world independent of the observer and who ever said we needed one?  Rather, it should be fairly obvious that the dreaming mind strongly desires an external world – since that is point of dreaming – and the fact that the mind has delivered to us the external world desired should be a cause for celebration, not to embark on a mad rush to find another exotic particle.

So quantum theory is a puzzle to the modern scientific theorist because they have considered it from the wrong perspective.  It is impossible to have a theory that will describe the “real world” as it would be in our absence because there is no such world.  Therefore, quantum theory can only be considered incomplete if theorists apply it to their independent world.  Quantum theory tells us there is no independent world, but theorists are not accepting this conclusion.  When we eliminate the independent world assumption, however, we find that quantum theory is in fact the true physical science to a dream world.

Problem 3: Determine whether or not the various particles and forces can be unified in a theory that explains them all as manifestations of a single, fundamental entity.

Problem 4: Explain how the values of the free constants in the standard model of particle physics are chosen in nature.

I have combined these two problems because they are essentially the same problem.  Smolin’s Problem 3 seeks a unified theory that would combine the four fundamental forces and the 24-0dd particles of the Standard Model into one overarching theory.  This seems like a necessary result because it is hard to imagine that the world began as anything but a unity; it just seems too odd that at the very beginning of time there happened to be four  separate forces (gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear, strong force) and 24 different particles that would later combine to form a picture-perfect universe.

So if the world did begin as a unity, then it must still be a unity and there must be one theory to explain it. On this point we have to remember that one of the chief criticisms of creationism is that it seems ludicrous to suppose that God, or any force, created the existing universe in one fell swoop; some sort of growth or evolution appears essential.  But this is the same problem that science confronts when it seeks to explain the universe as resulting from the big bang.  Any such explosion, as cosmologists acknowledge, must have had very special initial conditions to have grown into the universe standing before us.  So instead of supposing that the God created the entire universe in one miraculous act, cosmologists suppose that some unidentified force created the initial conditions of the big bang in one miraculous act. It’s the same problem in a different form.

Problem 4 asks a similar question: Despite the wide disparity in the strength of the four forces and the masses of the elementary particles of the Standard Model, there must be a natural way to explain them.  As Smolin notes, the “constants specify the properties of the particles.  Some tell us the masses of the quarks and the leptons, while others tell us the strengths of the forces.  We have no idea why these numbers have the values they do; we simply determine them by experiments and then plug in the numbers.”

This problem is actually not a difficult one to solve.  All we have to do is to change our perspective and look at the world as coming from us instead of at us. Remember, materialists assume the physical world exists outside of our internal states and then try to imagine how it created itself and human life.

The hierarchy problem of physics asks why is it that the masses of the elementary particles span 13 orders of magnitude? The answer is that scientists look at the world as if it were built from the small to the large, or from the inside to the outside: from a collection of small particles that somehow snowballed in a three-dimensional world.

The opposite perspective explains more and is in fact true: the three-dimensional image came first and the inner parts align because they look up to the whole; another way to express this point is that the melody came to the mind first and the notes follow the melody; in the materialistic worldview, scientists scratch their heads wondering how these synchronized notes  the particles of the Standard Model of physics all line up to form the matter in the universe.  But they are looking at the problem from the wrong perspective: the three-dimensional image of the world came first and the parts align because they look up to the whole.  So these two problems are easily solved as well.

Problem 5:     Explain dark matter and dark energy.  Or, if they don’t exist, determine how and why gravity is modified on large scales.  More generally, explain why the constants of the standard model of cosmology, including the dark energy, have the values they do.

Dark matter is the missing mass that cosmologists believe is holding the universe together.  It turns out when they apply the law of gravity to the physical appearance of galaxies and other cosmic structures cosmologists reach the conclusion that there should be a lot more mass than meets the eye – in fact dark matter is supposed to make up over 75% of the total mass in the universe.

Dark energy is the repulsive force that is imagined to be accelerating the expansion of the universe.  This unknown force was named because cosmologists have been unable to explain why the expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating: to them there must be some hidden background force that is giving the expansion a turbo-boost.  Ironically, dark energy is such a significant force that it is thought to comprise almost 75% of the total mass and energy in the cosmos.

But modern scientists know neither the nature nor source of either dark matter or dark energy, thus creating one of Smolin’s five mysteries.

But again both dark matter and dark energy are easily explained through the Real-Dream worldview. Under this view, neither dark matter nor dark energy exist.  In the final analysis the three-dimensional picture of the cosmos is exactly that: a three-dimensional, artistic rendition of a cosmos. It is not a world created outside of us by gravity and the other forces. The cosmos follows the laws of the mind before it follows the laws of nature.

The other component of Smolin’s question is explaining why the dark energy has the value it has.   This particular question is also known as the cosmological constant problem.  Under quantum theory, even empty space has energy, since there is always a quantum uncertainty over the energy value of a vacuum.  But if scientists add up the energy value of the vacuum energy in the cosmos they come up with a value that is 10120 greater than the value of dark energy.  This is the problem: why is the actual value of dark energy so low?

From what we have covered to this point, the answer should be apparent: dark energy does not exist and modern cosmologists are simply looking at the picture of the cosmos from the wrong perspective.  Again, we are looking at an artist’s rendition of the cosmos.  The artist is God and we are actors in the drama of God’s quest to understand itself.  Physical forces and particles have their values because they are part of a unified, harmonic whole: they align because the grand picture was sculpted first, and the parts trail behind, like the tail of a comet.

So in the end, if the objective is to explain the world as opposed to perpetuating a false assumption, then giving up the “real world out there” is the right thing to do scientifically.  But leading scientists are not ready to take this step, believing that it is somehow unscientific to discard a real world out-there, but “scientific” to hold blindly to an unwarranted assumption.  Would it not make sense to first adopt the correct metaphysical standpoint and then engage in the practice of science?

And so we patiently wait for the scientific community to discard the “real world out there” and finally set us free to find a true theory of everything.


Tags: real world out there, smolin, theory of everything

The Trouble with Physics and Realism

June 19, 2011 | None Yet - Post a Comment

Categories: Consequences of a Dream World, Failure of Scientific Materialism

The mind calls out for a third theory to unify all of physics, and for a simple reason, Nature is in an obvious sense “unified. .  .  But in both quantum theory and general relativity, we encounter predictions of physically sensible quantities becoming infinite. This is likely the way that nature punishes impudent theorists who dare to break her unity. 

                                                                        Lee Smolin, The Trouble with Physics

             In The Trouble with Physics, Lee Smolin presents a powerful critique of the state of modern physics.  The cause of the “trouble with physics” is that the two leading theories of physics— quantum theory and the general theory of relativity (i.e., gravity) — are mutually incompatible.  The standard explanation for this incompatibility is that quantum physics, with its wave-particle duality and uncertainty principle, governs the world of the very small, while gravity, which by definition is proportional to mass, governs the very big.  See Vlatko Vedral, Living in a Quantum World, Scientific American  (June 2011).

            But there is only one world, combining the big with the small.  Where does one draw the line?  It seems self-evident that any final theory must explain the world on any scale; the theory must explain both tiny particles and the Milky Way; the quark and the sun.  

            In the world of modern physics, the leading candidate to unite quantum theory and gravity is string theory.  This theory holds that at the base of reality are not tiny particles but quivering strings, vibrating in ways that mimic the mass and movement of particles.  See Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe for a complete discussion of string theory.

            String theory may seem like an esoteric topic except, as Professor Smolin shows, it also dominates the physics departments of the nation’s leading universities and research institutions.  But string theory is riddled with serious problems of its own: its 11 dimensions (that’s 7 more than the 4 we know exist, the three spatial dimensions and time), makes no predictions that are testable and is not even a single theory.  As Professor Smolin explains,  

Much effort has been put into string theory in the last twenty years, but we still do not know whether it is true. Even after all this work, the theory makes no new predictions that are testable by current—or even currently conceivable—experiments. The few clean predictions it does make have already been made by other well-accepted theories.  .  .  Thus, no matter what the experiments show, string theory cannot be disproved. But the reverse also holds: No experiment will ever be able to prove it true.

          He goes on to say that

What we have, in fact, is not a theory at all but a large collection of approximate calculations, together with a web of conjectures that, if true, point to the existence of a theory. But that theory has never actually been written down. We don’t know what its fundamental principles are. We don’t know what mathematical language it should be expressed in—perhaps a new one will have to be invented to describe it. Lacking both fundamental principles and the mathematical formulation, we cannot say that we even know what string theory asserts.

(Kindle, Loc. 167-69; 181-84). Professor Smolin quotes the remarks Nobel Laureate, David Gross, gave in a string theory conference: “We don’t know what we are talking about…. The state of physics today is like it was when we were mystified by radioactivity…. They were missing something absolutely fundamental. We are missing perhaps something as profound as they were back then.”  (Kindle, Loc. 194-98).

            And the problem is broader than that.  As Smolin writes,

It is not an exaggeration to say that hundreds of careers and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in the last thirty years in the search for signs of grand unification, supersymmetry, and higher dimensions. Despite these efforts, no evidence for any of these hypotheses has turned up. A confirmation of any of these ideas, even if it could not be taken as a direct confirmation of string theory, would be the first indication that at least some part of the package deal that string theory requires has taken us closer to, rather than further from, reality.

(Kindle, Loc. 3243-47). 

            So why is the modern science community so enthralled with string theory?  Well, the answer, as Smolin also skillfully discusses, may be sociological: the string theory freight train is far down the track and anyone who doesn’t jump onboard is thrown aside; no professorships, no grants, no recognition by peers.  Recognizing the powerful conditioning influence of the physics community, Smolin stresses the need for new ideas, a “seer” who can branch off in a different direction and help develop a new approach to explaining the physical world, one perhaps that won’t require 11 dimensions or come in 10500 varieties.   

            And here we come to the root cause of the problem.  Specifically, modern science is wedded to the notion that any physical theory must “give an account of reality as it would be in our absence.” (Loc. 409-10).  He calls this perspective “realism,” the idea that the “real world out there must exist independently of us.” (Loc. 407).  He ponders the thought that realism as a philosophy might simply die, but deems this event unlikely.  Belief in a real world out there, he says,  and the “the possibility of truly knowing  it motivates us to do the hard work needed to become a scientist and contribute to the understanding of nature.”  (Loc. 456-60). 

            But here is the question that must be asked:  what if this real world out there — the one independent of us — does not in fact exist?  Suppose this notion of a mind-independent world is simply a model, a mental construct laid over experience to help frame it for further study?  Suppose in seeking to work within a “realist framework” scientists have ironically chosen an imaginary world? 

             At this point we must focus in a bit and address the question of what the “us” is in the phrase, independent of “us.”  To some, the answer to this question is that we are fundamentally a collection of mind-independent particles; to others, we are fundamentally a mind. 

             If we are ultimately made out of things, then of course the natural world and our bodies would be independent of our minds, or brains.  To conceptualize this standpoint requires no conceptualization: the natural world appears to exist independently of ourselves —like a grand stage on which we are the actors— and therefore we think it does.

             But if we are fundamentally a mind, then both our bodies and the natural world would be projections of the mind; dream-images existing on the same level and therefore real to each other.

             Rene Descartes, during his famous meditations in the 17th century, concluded that  he had greater certainty over his own mind than over the independent existence of the external world.  The natural world, he reasoned, might very well be a dream created by the mind.  He then reasoned, however, that because God would not make him believe a world exist outside the mind unless one really did, he convinced himself the world was not a dream.  But Descartes, despite his use of God to restore the real world, nonetheless showed that we possess greater certainty over our own minds than over the independent existence of the physical world.  Put differently, what if Descartes had not appealed to God to cure his doubts about the independent existence of the external world?          

            And now we come to the big question: Is one standpoint more “real” than the other?  Is the imagined theoretical world of today’s scientific realist more “real” than the truly imagined world of the dreamer?  If we insist on defining “reality” before we know what realities are possible, then perhaps one can reach the conclusion that the world of science is more real.  But if we define reality in terms of possible worlds, then we may have no choice but to accept the fact that only dream worlds are possible and that the world we have is as real as worlds get.  

            So the trouble with physics may be that scientists have not yet thought long or hard enough about whether it is their conceptualization of “realism” that is holding them back from reaching a theory of everything. Perhaps it is possible to be both a “dream-realist” and a scientist, but science will never know unless it attempts to re-cast its theories within a different conception of “realism.” And last, scientists may have no choice: if the world is really a dream, then they must either adapt to that reality or someday find that their theories no longer align with the real world.   


Tags: string theory, theory of everything