Dr Eric Amidi reviews a worldview supported by Quantum Physics
Our daily activities tend to support a certain worldview, a worldview based on solid reality. We live in a world that seems to exist and function in a certain way regardless of how we interact with it. We believe that all that happens in the external world would have been the same whether we perceive them or not. That’s how physicists used to think before quantum physics.
They believed that world behaved in a definite manner and all they had to do was to setup experiments to learn how it functioned. But, in early 20th century, they were surprised to see that the results of their experiments were different, even though they were looking at the same thing. After, few years of head-scratching they found out that, even though they were looking at the same thing, when they’d setup their equipment differently, the matter would behave differently.
That was a fundamental blow to solid reality, because now the reality of the universe depended on how we observed it. How we perceive the world defines it for us.
So what does Quantum Physics tell us exactly?
If you wanted to talk about how your car engine works, you’d say it’s got a combustion engine, bunch of cylinders, and parts and pieces that operate in a certain way. Then to prove that your model was correct, you’d lift the hood and check it out.
What you’d see under the hood either confirm your model or reject it. You’d never doubt that your car engine would work the same way if you hadn’t lifted the hood.
In other words, you’d believe that what’s going on under the hood was objective and wouldn’t change whether you lifted the hood and looked at it or not.
That view is logical and reasonable.
But, if you examine the situation here, and try to be extremely logical and not presumptuous at all, all you could say is that: when you lift the hood and look at the engine it works that way.
If you said when you are not lifting the hood, the engine worked the same way, it’d be reasonable, but not 100% logical. You’d be assuming that your lifting the hood had no effect on the function of the engine.
That reasonable assumption is what failed in Quantum Physics.
Physicists realized that if they lifted the hood on small objects like atoms, they could see how they worked, but it’s not the same way the atoms would’ve worked if they hadn’t lifted the hood!
This put them in a very awkward situation. They wanted to explore how atoms worked and the only way they could do that was to experiment with them (to lift the hood). As soon as they did that, they would see how they worked, but the way they worked was not the same if they hadn’t lifted the hood and experimented with the atoms.
Now you can see the paradox here, right?
Physicists felt very uneasy about that because they felt their path to understanding how atoms worked was closed off for them. They could never know how atoms “really” worked.
Imagine an all-knowing and mischievous alien would come and give you a box and tell you: “There’s a million dollars in this box, but if you open it, your million dollars will turn into a dime”. Quite a buzz-kill, isn’t it?
Physicists struggled with this paradox, but finally realized that the problem was with their belief system and assumption. They wanted to know how atoms “really” worked. They had assumed there was only one “reality”.
The only way they could reconcile this paradox was to assert that reality is not solid or objective.
Reality is what we measure it to be, not what we assume it to be before we measure it.
In fact, they realized that talking about reality of things before we measure and observe them is meaningless.
That’s why Niels Bohr was compelled to say that everything we see around us and consider as real is actually made of things that cannot be considered real.
How does that impact our view of the world?
Quantum Mechanics had seismic impact on our understanding of the nature, not only because of the experimental implications but also the philosophical consequences of it.
All of sudden, scientists of all branches where faced with a new paradigm shift; one that they started referring to as “Logical Positivism”.
It was no coincidence that another revolutionary theory around the same time, pointed to “Logical Positivism” as the right approach; Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
When the time is ripe for an idea or paradigm shift, you see seismic changes in multiple and seemingly unrelated fields like physics, math, art, and psychology.
In short, Logical Positivism says that you shouldn’t assume something is meaningful or exists unless you show a way to measure it or detect it.
Around the same time, physicists were struggling with another problem, which got resolved by Einstein’s Logical Positivist approach. Einstein simply asserted that you cannot say absolute time and ether exist unless you can show a way to measure them. As a result, they found out that neither absolute time nor ether existed, and so Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was born.
These paradoxes and their resolution gave birth to a new way of thinking:
“The universe is what we measure”
In other words, reality is what we perceive, nothing more, nothing less.
The only thing we may be sure is that the universe exists, although solipsists may disagree with that too!
About Dr Eric Amidi
Dr Eric Amidi is a particle physicist. His writings cover the concept of reality, and quantum physics as it relates to the nature of reality. Dr Eric Amidi considers the effects our perception on the reality that we live by as the basis of his self improvement teaching.