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Taking the Quantum Leap
Fred A. Wolf
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📖 eBook - ePub
Taking the Quantum Leap
Fred A. Wolf
Table of contents
About This Book
This book entertainingly traces the history of physics from the observations of the earlyGreeks through the discoveries of Galileo and Newton to the dazzling theories of such scientists as Planck, Einstein, Bohr, and Bohm. This humanized view of science opens up the mind-stretching visions of how quantum mechanics, God, human thought, and will are related, and provides profound implications for our understanding of the nature of reality and our relationship to the cosmos.
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SubtopicHistory of Art
Welcome to the
I think I am.
Therefore, I am,
I think I am.
Therefore, I am,
THE MOODY BLUES
“Who has seen the wind?” asks poet Christina Rossetti. “Neither you nor I,” yet we certainly believe it is there. Similarly, no one has ever seen a fundamental particle, and yet physicists have a great deal of faith in its existence. But to hold to that faith, they have had to give up some very precious ideas concerning the physical world, the world of matter and energy. What emerged from their reluctant ventures into this tiny world of atoms, molecules, and other fundamental particles was quantum mechanics. What they discovered using quantum mechanics has turned out to be a new insight concerning the universe: the observer affects the observed.
The roots of quantum mechanics, the new physics of motion, are buried in the ancient soil of our earliest awareness of how things moved. Even further back in time, before any awareness of motion, there existed a tiny tendril from these roots, and that was the idea of the observer. And within that idea is the notion of the “passive” or nondisruptive observer. Humans are creatures of the eye. They believe what they see.
Before scientific observation could take place, one had to learn to observe, to tell things apart, and this took a very long time to do. The earliest human observations were quite passive and nondiscriminatory. We first began to observe our own separate existence. Looking up and out, we next began to observe things that were not ourselves. Timidly we reached out and touched, sometimes with painful consequences. The world “out there” was not always friendly. Overcoming our fears, we began to touch things again and take them apart, especially if these things didn’t bite. These were active or experimental observations.
More than likely, our first observations were of moving objects, such as grass blowing in the wind or clouds drifting overhead. At night we saw the stars … and wondered. From daybreak we watched the sun make its journey through the sky, following a path much like that of the stars through the night sky. Perhaps we picked up a rock and threw it.
Movement caught our eyes and told secrets of the natural order of things. Fire went up. Matter stayed close to the earth. Air floated above water, and water fell to earth where it too floated upon the earth’s surface.
When things were out of their natural places, they moved, seeking the places they had come from. Fire came from the stars, for example. When humans entered the scene, we disrupted the natural flow or continuous movement of everything to its proper place. By passively observing, we would learn nature’s secrets. By touching, we would disrupt and learn nothing.
But we could think about motion. We could imagine how it was occurring. We could even make models of motion, imagining the movement of an arrow flying as a series of stationary arrows, each arrow following upon another, like a sequence of still frames in a motion picture reel.
These thoughts and first observations were the roots of the modern science of motion, the magical world of quantum mechanics.
Dawn of Consciousness
It is not difficult to travel back in time to the earliest human attempts at observation. Simply observe a newborn baby. As you watch an infant’s attempts to grasp a finger held before its eyes—and indeed grasp understanding—you are witnessing the early human observer. The child is becoming aware of the subtle division between itself and the outside world.
A process of thinking is going on. It is wordless. Einstein often said that he got his best ideas in pictures rather than words. In fact, Einstein did not speak at all until he was four years old.
Perhaps there is a process of synthesis or analysis going on in an infant’s mind. The child may be attaching the sounds its mother makes to the things it observes. In any case, a distinction must be occurring in the child’s mind. That distinction—the separation of the “out there” from the “in here”—is called the subject-object distinction.
When the first hypothetical observer was first learning this distinction, he was becoming conscious. Consciousness means awareness, and that first awareness had to be the concept of “I am.” In sensing this “I,” our first observer was learning that he was not his thumb nor his foot. The “in here” experience was “I” The “out there” experience was “it.”
Today we make this distinction with no trouble at all. Consider a simple example. Become aware of your thumb. You can feel your thumb or, better, you can sense the presence of your thumb. Next, become aware of your left heel. Again with just a thought, you can feel your heel. In fact, you can sense any part of your body this way. You need not reach over physically and feel your body parts with your hands. You are able to sense them all with your mind.
Once you have done this you realize that you are not the thing you feel. We could regard this experience as the movement of your consciousness or awareness from your mind to your body part. A certain division takes place. A distinction separates your “in here” from your thumb or your heel. That “in here” experience is necessary before any real observation can take place. Observation deals entirely with the “out there” experience.
It is thought that perhaps three thousand or more years ago, people were not able to distinguish the “out there” in a clear way from the “in here” or “I am” experience. They may have been only dimly aware of their capacity to make such a distinction. They had no “I” consciousness. Julian Jaynes offers a speculation on the development of the “I” consciousness in his book, The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 1
Jaynes claims that, about three thousand years ago, our fore-parents suffered their first “nervous breakdown.” They then became aware of themselves as “I” people and ceased to be unaware automatons following the voices of “gods” in their heads. According to Jaynes, the two halves of the bicameral brain were functioning more or less separately. But when the breakdown occurred, the voices stopped and human beings became aware of themselves as independent entities.
From this rather rude awakening humans learned a new awareness of their surroundings. The period of the early Greeks started only about five hundred years after the general breakdown proposed by Jaynes. Internal “godlike voices” are no longer ruling human consciousness, but there are probably still some remnants of the early rumblings in Greek heads. The Greeks began to observe everything in sight with a passion. However, being afraid of the “out there” and not too sure of themselves, they remained passive but quite accurate observers. And their first question was: “Is all one, or is all change?”
All Is One, All Is Change
The first observations of the early Greeks had to do with God, the spirit, and matter.2 They considered two conflicting ways of understanding the human condition: either all was one or all was change. These were no idle thoughts to the Greeks. They were based upon observation. Indeed, these thoughts were largely based upon self-observation.
Let us consider the hypothesis that all is one. How can we today understand that idea? We start with the undeniable experience we all feel—the experience of our own existence, the instant knowing that is for each of us consciousness of our being. This is the “I” experience, perhaps the only experience that each of us “knows” for sure. As you hold this book in your hands, take a moment to reflect that you are doing so. That instant of reflection is the “all is one” experience that the Greeks were thinking about. To them, this experience was ultimate and fundamental.
But what about everything else? Everything else was an illusion, a trip to Disneyland or the movies. After all, we cannot ever be certain that everything and everyone out there is really there. They are beyond our immediate experience. This was the “all being” or “at one with God” experience described by the Greeks. By always keeping track of this experience—i.e., remembering oneself each instant—this “one being” experience, the “I,” was God, and all else was illusion.
Some early Greeks held a conflicting view. For them, all was change and there was no God, no omnipotent, unchanging Being. The moment or instance of “I” awareness was the illusion. The only reality was continuous change or movement. This was all there was. There were no things at rest. To hold on to the illusion of “I” was incorrect and impossible. You change. Moment follows moment. Time marches on whether or not we wish it to do so. Returning to the original example of you holding this book in your hands, notice that even to grasp the idea that you are now reading requires change. You cannot hold the moment still. Even your awareness that you “know” this has, just this instant as you read on, passed into the past. There is no “I.” There is no you. There is only change and movement.
Thus arose the conflict between change and Being. And it led to many lively discussions on the shores of ancient Greece. The beginnings of the scholastic tradition of thinking and writing about such matters was the next step after the dawn of consciousness. The mystery of God, spirit, matter, and motion were being pursued with vigor. Out of this debate arose the very spirit of science. The roots of quantum mechanics were strengthened. If things change, then how do they do so?
The Idea of Discontinuity
I have always found Charlie Chaplin movies amusing. The little guy is always getting in trouble by sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. But, miraculously, he escapes from every predicament. Usually he manages this by moving in a very disjointed or discontinuous manner. I am amused, of course, because I know that motion doesn’t really take place the way it appears in a Chaplin movie. In real life, motion appears smooth and continuous—not at all Chaplinesque. The “jumps” that we see in the film are artificial. They occur because the real life motion has been replaced by a moving series of still pictures.
The notion of the continuity of motion being composed of a series of stationary instants has been with us for a long time. Since we are also able to experience being at rest or sitting still while posing for a photograph, it is natural to try to imagine how we can move from one place to another.
The first scientific thoughts about the discontinuity of movement undoubtedly occurred to the early Greeks. The Greek thinkers Zeno and Aristotle3 pointed out the difficulty with attempting to analyze the motion of an object as a series of “still frames.”
Zeno presented his idea of the discontinuity of motion as three paradoxes. He pointed out that there is a difference between what we mean by motion as we imagine it occurring and what we actually see occurring in real life. He showed this difference by analyzing the motion of an object as if it consisted of consecutive still frames in a motion picture film.
Later, Aristotle attempted to salvage the idea that motion could not occur this way, that in real life an object moved as a continuous “whole.” He felt that Zeno’s “motion picture” concept of movement had to be wrong. And he demonstrated his perspective by pointing to two different ways of interpreting Zeno’s idea of motion. Aristotle’s attempt to show Zeno’s error turned out to be quite successful. It paralyzed further thinking about motion as occurring discontinuously and it led to the faith that, “in principle,” motion could be understood as a continuous stream of inseparable still instants.
This idea of continuity of movement has proven extremely difficult to shake. It is at the heart of modern mathematics, particularly evident in the concept of continuous functions and modern calculus. The entrenchment of Aristotle’s concept of motion, together with the Greeks’ reluctance to analyze nature, kept these early thinkers from discovering the discontinuous motion of atomic-sized objects. Despite Zeno’s theory, this discovery would not take place for another two thousand years.
Zeno and Moving Things
Zeno lived in Elea, which had already been established as a home for scholastic thinking. And think he did. Although often overlooked in a typical course in science, Zeno was the forerunner of the modern theoretical physicist. The job of theoretical physicists is to explain observations. If we are unsuccessful in doing so, we are to point out that something is askew in our understanding of those very same observations. In short, we earn our money either way. Either we show how to understand an observation that was previously not understood or we tactfully point out that we have been mistaken in thinking we understand what we have seen.
Zeno fulfilled the second role of the theoretical physicist very well. He pointed out to his fellow scholastics that “their heads were filled with beans.” He used logical argument (a newfound tool of thinking after the bicameral breakdown) to prove that motion is impossible.
Now of course Zeno knew that motion was not i...
Table of contents
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APA 6 Citation
Wolf, F. (2010). Taking the Quantum Leap ([edition unavailable]). HarperCollins. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/582328/taking-the-quantum-leap-pdf (Original work published 2010)
Wolf, Fred. (2010) 2010. Taking the Quantum Leap. [Edition unavailable]. HarperCollins. https://www.perlego.com/book/582328/taking-the-quantum-leap-pdf.
Wolf, F. (2010) Taking the Quantum Leap. [edition unavailable]. HarperCollins. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/582328/taking-the-quantum-leap-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Wolf, Fred. Taking the Quantum Leap. [edition unavailable]. HarperCollins, 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.