Behold the Humble Cube…

A central problem in quantum physics is the philosophical debate between realism and idealism. In the case for realism, it has been argued that if we reject realism — that is, an absolute perspective — knowing the truth becomes impossible. This argument is based on the idea that, independent of our beliefs, there is a structured reality which serves as the norm against which statements can be known as “true” or “false.” On the other hand, the argument for idealism is based on the premise that consciousness and the constitution of reality cannot be viewed as separate because observation (which implies consciousness) — and hence the observation of reality — is wholly subjective. This is not to necessarily imply that reality is an illusion of consciousness (a la Berkeley), but that consciousness is an intrinsic part of reality.

In quantum theory, reality is observer dependant: There can be no “knowing” beyond that which is evident to the observer. Special relativity informs us that objects in space are altered by the conditions of observation and perspective, and that time passes at different speeds for observers traveling at different speeds (identical clocks carried by observers traveling at different speeds would each record different times, and none would be more correct than the others). The uncertainty principle infers that the methods and conditions of observation determine what we see. The Copenhagen Interpretation, Bell’s theorem and the Aspect experiments all correlate to a holistic, Platonic conception of reality.

The assumption that reality is objective is not a scientific necessity, but a bias born of the seventeenth-century dualism which separated physics and philosophy. Empirical evidence clearly supports idealism. As we move toward a broader understanding of the role of perspective in science, the paradox of perceptual relativity may well become the new paradigm.



~ by theobservereffect on January 14, 2008.

10 Responses to “Behold the Humble Cube…”

  1. This, of course, is one of the more interesting philosophical questions in all of this. My question to you is, how do you feel about the many-worlds (Everettian) interpretation? It seems to be the de rigeur thing amongst quantum people these days. I, on the other hand, have some misgivings partly related to limitations placed on the “worlds” themselves (never mind the fact that it seems inherently untestable).

  2. What do I think? I think relative state formulation is fascinating, possible, and, as you stated, inherently untestable… Which is not a bad thing from my perspective: Removing the observer-dependent role in measurement would pretty much render this blog moot, and I’m just getting started!

  3. You should read some of Eddington’s Fundamental Theory. He tried mightily to develop a completely observer-independent unified theory (this was in the 1930s and early 1940s). There is much that is problematic with it (partly due to it being a bit ahead of its time), but there is also much that is interesting behind it. My problem with MWI stems from some problems I found with it in relation to permutation invariance and permutation symmetry, though my critique is partially based on a modal interpretation of QM.

  4. I will check out Eddington’s Fundamental Theory. Thanks. 🙂

    Re: MWI: I understand. It is a great exercise in formalism — to a point. And I enjoy its bizarre philosophical implications — to a point… But, as I understand it, there is no interpretation attached to the Hilbert length in this theory, so we are forced to bring probability (or its equivalent) back into the equation. There is the issue of subjective uncertainty (self-location) prior to measurement… The “Sleeping Beauty problem.” I’m not comfortable with the idea of forward-only time-branching, either.

    More questions than answers…

  5. You might have trouble finding Fundamental Theory. I wrote my dissertation on it and had to buy a copy that was shipped from Australia (and it wasn’t cheap). As a warning, if you run across Clive Kilmister’s analysis of Fundamental Theory, it really is an analysis of an earlier work by Eddington. The title is misleading.

  6. In fact, I have had a bit of trouble locating it online. There is considerable biographical information on Eddington, but nothing in-depth on Fundamental Theory on the sites I’ve checked… And I’ve checked quite a few.

  7. Well, if you can stomach it, there’s always my dissertation: It focuses on the first half of Fundamental Theory and could probably use a bit of updating if I ever decide to turn it into a book. One of these days I’ll actually go back and analyze the second half.

  8. Thank you very much. I’ll check it out.

  9. Good Read.


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