Sunday, 28 December 2008


So let's look again at what the Penis-Headed One has to offer about Quantum Physics. Firstly, he says that its conclusions are based on "assumptions" which are "so mysterious that even the great Feynman was moved to remark : 'If you think you understand quantum theory... you don't understand quantum theory'."

Well, perhaps by this reasoning Dawkins DOES understand Quantum Theory, because he clearly DOESNT understand it, as none of the basic principles of Quantum Theory are assumptions at all. Rather, like most science, they are observable facts (insofar as anything is a fact). Action at a distance or non-locality, in which separated electrons act as if they are unified even at infinite distances, the tendency for things at a subatomic level to exist as potentials until they are observed and interact in some way with something else, the ability of electrons to exist in two places at once, the fact that everything is part of a unified, seething mass of quantum processes, these have all been OBSERVED by Scientists. They have not been 'made up' or 'assumed'. Unfortunately for Dawkins, the controllable, understandable, discrete world of cause and effect on which his entire world view is based dissolves into holistic uncertainty when it reaches the Quantum Level. Poor him. No wonder he regards the whole field as 'that rarified pinnacle of twentieth century scientific achievement'! It leaves him clinging to a bit of drift wood after the Good Ship Darwin has dissolved into a sea of weirdness.

Nor is Quantum Science 'true in some sense' because it makes predictions well. It is as true as any other scientific observation. Nor is it rarified, as the findings of Quantum Science have delivered us concrete 'things' which include lasers, DVD players and so on, simply by the way in which we have begun to understand how things operate on such a tiny level. So Quantum Science is NOT rarified at all. It has delivered the much-needed material pay-off scientists like Dawkins need to feel safe about things... A Materialist does need something material to hold onto after all.

Le Dawks goes on to speak of the 'shatteringly paradoxical' and 'shatteringly wasteful' Copenhagen and Multiple Worlds Interpretations of Quantum Physics, both of which he says violate 'common sense', that superbly scientific tool which loosely translates as 'what we can see' and 'how we think things are' (for a giggle, find out how Einstein defines it). Does this suggest Dawkins perhaps doesn't understand what he is talking about, hence his repeated quoting of Feynman on this point? Or is he wary of Quantum Science because it challenges his mechanistic/deterministic world view? Well if its the latter, he isn't alone, as this remark from Einstein reveals:

"All my attempts to adapt the theoretical foundation of physics to this new type of knowledge completely was as if the ground had been pulled from out from under one, with no firm foundation to be seen anywhere, upon which one could have built." - quoted in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist

Poor Einstein! But at least he was brave enough to acknowledge what Bohr referred to as the sudden "insufficiency of our simple mechanical conceptions", as did Heisenberg when he said:

"The violent reaction on the recent development of modern physics can only be understood when one realises that here the foundations of physics have started moving; and that this motion has caused the feeling that the ground would be cut from science" - Physics and Philosophy

So Dawkins finds himself in the position the Church started to find itself in in the Renaissance when Galileo and other Scientists began to unearth truths about the Universe which contradicted their long-established view. Poor Dawks! Of course, one hopes he doesn't start erecting stakes in outside the Royal Society with the intention of burning Quantum Scientists.

Even worse for Richard, the great giants of early Quantum Science found themselves turning to ancient texts by deluded Hoodoo merchants from India and China to grasp a better understanding of what they were discovering (so maybe we DO need those stakes after all!). Here are a few Scientists you may have heard of referring to Lao Tzu, the Buddha and others:

"The general notions about human understanding... which are illustrated by discoveries in atomic physics are not in the nature of things wholly unfamiliar, wholly unheard of, or new. Even in our own culture they have a history, and in Buddhist and Hindu thought a more considerable and central place. What we shall find is an exemplification, an encouragement, and a refinement of old wisdom." - Robert Oppenheimer

"For a parallel to the lesson of atomic theory... [we must turn] to those kinds of epistemological problems with which thinkers like the Buddha and Lao Tzu have been confronted, when trying to harmonise our position as spectators and actors in the great drama of existence." - Niels Bohr

"The great scientific contribution in theoretical physics that has come from Japan since the last war may be an indication of a certain relationship between philosophical ideas in the tradition of the Far East and the philosophical substance of quantum theory." - Werner Heisenberg

So where does that leave Mr D? We have had Einstein acknowledging the 'religious geniuses of all ages' and now Oppenheimer, Bohr and Heisenberg all giving the nod to Buddha, Lao Tzu and the Upanishads! One might even surmise that these other Scientists had READ these texts, unlike Dawkins, who has not. But as we have seen, Dawkins doesn't need to, as he can spot a book covered in pasta from a mile off. Of course, once again, none of this proves God exists, but the argument that anyone who does believe this is an idiot and cannot possibly have anything to offer the Pure Endeavour of Science is starting to look decidedly thin...

The more we dig into Quantum Theory, the more outlandishly mystical its claims are about our Universe. We have established, for instance, that Quantum Theory points to a holistic vision of the Universe at a subatomic level. Even if one takes out the role of the Observer in establishing 'wave collapse', the concept of 'Entanglement' - in which when two electrons interact they become as one, thus fixing their states and, in larger 'Entanglements', forming material objects - leaves us in a mysterious situation in which everything is bound up with everything else. Worse than that for Dawkins, this 'Entanglement' is completely universal in nature. If the Big Bang theory is correct and all the Matter in the Universe was contained in a single point, then a) the Universe is no bigger in terms of Matter than it was then and b) every electron/proton/neutron in that Boson that has been thrown out into the Universe as we know it as is operating non-locally with all the others ie it is 'Entangled' and capable of operating along the lines of 'Action At A Distance', as mentioned above. This means that the Universe is, quite literally, an enormous web of interacting electrons, protons and so on. It genuinely is One, with all the independent things within it only appearing to be so, just as the Mystics have said. As Marcus Cheown puts it:

"There is a ghostly web of quantum connections crisscrossing the Universe and coupling you and me to every last bit of matter in the most distant galaxy. We live in a telepathic universe. What this actually means physicists have not yet figured out." - Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You

Of course, when Cheown uses the word 'telepathic', he doesn't mean it literally. What he means is that, given the observable phenomenon of 'Action At A Distance' and 'Entanglement' they act 'as if' they were telepathic. In other words they seem to exchange information between each other in a way we don't understand, or at least not yet. One suggestion is that the Speed of Light is being violated, but that would go against a central tenet of Relativity Theory. Another is that they interact through through the superimposition of an infinite number of Multiple Universes which come into being at the instant any Quantum Process has taken place. Another is that the 'Action At A Distance' indicates that the Universe operates in a state of unbroken wholeness. None of these please Dawkins much as an explanation. A shame. But there's no pleasing some people. And only an irrational fool dares criticise Science, don't you think? Thank God Dawkins has Feynman's quote to let him off the hook of trying to understand these ideas!

No, Cheown doesn't mean 'telepathic' literally. To mean it literally would mean the Universe had a mind, wouldn't it? If that were so, wouldn't it be a bit like 'God'? Ridiculous! Except some Quantum Scientists are saying just that. David Bohm, for instance, who I have mentioned before, reasoned that, just as our physical universe emerges out of a wider, potentially infinite sea of Quantum Processes (demonstrably true), so does Consciousness. Just as Matter is concentrated Energy, so is Thought, an elegant idea which might explain how the brain and human nervous system is able to convert electricity into Conscious Processes. Thus Matter and Consciousness are seen to be synonymous, just as Time and Space are thanks to Relativity Theory:

"We have shown in some detail that matter as a whole can be understood in terms of the notion that the implicate order is the immediate and primary actuality, while the explicate order can be derived as a particular, distinguished case of the implicate order. The question that arises here, then, is that of whether or not the actual 'substance' of consciousness can be understood in terms of the notion that the implicate order is also its primary and immediate actuality. If matter and consciousness could in this way be understood together, in terms of the same general notion of order, the way wold be opened to comprehending their relationship on the basis of some common ground. Thus we could come to the germ of a new notion of unbroken wholeness, in which consciousness is no longer to be fundamentally separated from matter." - Wholeness And The Implicate Order

If Bohm is right, it would overturn all the biological determinism of modern science with its view that Consciousness is an 'epiphenomenon' of the brain. It would overturn all Dawkins' smug notions of evolution as a purely random process, as Consciousness would have to be taken into account as part of the evolutionary process - something Quantum pioneer Wolfgang Pauli himself suggested. With this interpretation, instead of being dependent on Matter, Matter becomes a means by which Consciousness transmits or expresses itself, the two being one. Not only that, but by implication Consciousness would have to be a latent property of the entire Universe with us as concentrated, localised expressions of that Consciousness, just as our physical bodies are concentrated, localised expressions of the material/energetic quantum processes of the Cosmos. In fact Bohm's theory stands to reason, even if it is hard to 'prove'. If all Matter is non-local and entangled, independent material objects being just expressions of a universal Quantum Field, then how can Consciousness not be the same? If the boundaries of Matter are illusory thanks to the Field, how can Consciousness not operate in the same way? Just as we would have to draw a distinction between a general field of Quantum Matter and localised material objects (eg our bodies), we would have to draw another between a generalised field of Consciousness and localised, differentiated Thought (eg us). Alas, all this just lets in the back door every Mystical notion known to Man ie that the Universe is Mind, that God or Siva is 'dreaming' us, that the we are all microcosms of a macrocosmic First Thought or that as Buddhism says, 'mind and matter are eternally the same'. The nutty delusion-merchants were all correct. Einstein's Cosmic Religion comes full circle. And Dawkins' 'common sense' idea of Science looks like a dusty old dinosaur being picked over by a dessicated Cardinal, both clinging to their rather limited concepts of what the Cosmos might be.

It gets more interesting when one follows the implications of the Consciousness/Matter theory to its logical conclusion in terms of Relativity Theory. If Consciousness is interwoven with Matter which we perceive in three dimensions and if Time is the fourth dimension, interwoven with three-dimensional Space, then it follows that Consciousness must in some sense be the fifth dimension, as it is part of Matter which is the same thing as Space. It is also an Energy, as all Matter is Energy. And Energy at its basic level is Light. Thus the whole Cosmos is Sentient or Conscious Light forming itself into different shapes, some of which are more Conscious than others. And to take things one step further, we know that our physical Universe only exists thanks to its relationship with the Speed of Light. Its existence, therefore, is relative. Thus in one sense, it is an illusion, possibly one of many other levels of existence moving at different speeds, some faster, some slower, and all filled with Dark Energy and Matter, none of which we can see or detect... And if Everett is right, all of these Universes and levels of existence are splitting off into infinite number of other Universes all around us every moment of the day...

Sound silly? Sound almost Mystical to you? And yet these are all things which are being debated by scientists. The problem is that at the moment we cannot test or 'prove' any of it yet beyond thought experiments, theory and mathematics, so we have to rely on, er, faith, or at least abstract thought until we find a way to do so. As popular a theory as String Theory, for instance, would require devices the size of the Solar System to even begin to verify them. So what are we to do? Well we can go back to our safe little Dawkinsian world with its fixed, deterministic rules and close the door of the cage on ourselves. Indeed this is exactly what Ricky does do, putting forward his 'Middle World' theory of a human mind evolved so as not to see things as they are because it didn't need to. If it did, it would not have been able to maintain itself in our apparently three-dimensional world:

"Our mental burka window is narrow because it didn't need to be any wider in order to assist our ancestors to survive" - The God Delusion

A point put perhaps more vigourously by the arch-enemy of Science and the probably the greatest exponent of loony mystical bonkerdom, William Blake, when he said:

"If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." - The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell

How could two such opposing minds come together and reach the same conclusion? Dawkins thinks only Science has tried to "emancipate ourselves from the Middle World, tear off our black burka, and achieve some sort of intuitive - [again that word Intuitive! What happened to Reason?] - not just mathematical - understanding of the very small, the very large, and the very fast?". He is wrong, very wrong. Science is one of the many ways in which we have done this, Mysticism has been another. The correspondences between the findings of both seem to point to some kind of unity of insight. Indeed the whole endeavour of the human race has been to penetrate to the truth of things long before Dawkins's heroes came along, which is why people who have explored Mysticism probably have no problem grasping the non-linear reality of Quantum Science (although New Age woolliness doesn't help). Not only that, but the ideas of some of the people he has most contempt for, or would have if he had heard of them, might just hold some answers. Then we might be able to combine the inner study of the Mystics and the outer study of the Scientists into something very special, something which might be able to bring us together instead of tearing us apart.

But as we hold our breath waiting for this to happen, we can be sure of one thing: God loves Richard Dawkins too!


Pegasus said...

An interesting article about Darwin from the Guardian offering a more balanced view of the Science/Religion debate:

Pegasus said...

More interesting quotes from Quantum Pioneers:

“All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force... We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.” Planck

“Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.” Planck

"As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter." - Planck

"I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness." - Planck

"Quantum physics thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe." Schrödinger

"The world is given to me only once, not one existing and one perceived. Subject and object are only one. The barrier between them cannot be said to have broken down as a result of recent experience in the physical sciences, for this barrier does not exist." Schrödinger

Thanks to Matthew Clark for these!

kuroh tzu said...

Hi, i just discovered this blog, nice work!
-- insightful and entertaining:P