Showing posts with label quantum physics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label quantum physics. Show all posts

Friday, April 16, 2021

Gravity. Bet you fall for it too

Gravity: How the Weakest Force in the Universe Shaped Our Lives

Brian Clegg
Non-fiction, 335 pages

Books like this don’t have happy endings. In fact, they don’t have proper endings at all. They begin with questions and end with even more questions. I like to read them anyway.

Clegg begins with history: What were the earliest notions of gravity and how did they evolve? When people think of gravity they often think of Isaac Newton, but the idea of gravity had precedents in ancient Greek thought. Later, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and others elaborated on the ideas that later influenced Newton. Then in the twentieth century, Albert Einstein introduced an entirely new framework for understanding gravity.

 About the time Einstein was tackling gravity, other scientists were developing quantum physics. Now a new problem arose. Einstein’s gravity is very good at explaining the behavior of large objects like stars and planets, while quantum physics can account for the behavior of small objects like atoms and particles. However, the two theories don’t play well with each other.

 In the latter half of the twentieth century string theory was developed as a means of unifying the two theories. String theory, however, introduces a number of unanswerable questions.  Clegg discusses several newer theories that may help resolve the problems of string theory. One of these was inspired by graphene, a one atom thick layer of graphite. When graphene is cooled to an extreme temperature, it appears to violate the rules of special relativity. Peter Horava wondered about the implications of this finding. Einstein gave us the concept of space-time. Horava’s theory breaks space and time apart again. By doing so, he is able to make general relativity and quantum physics work together.

 All of the recently emerging theories will require further research. Gravity, the weakest of the four forces, has remained elusive. Gravitons have been hypothesized, yet never found.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Allied Alchemists

137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession
Arthur I. Miller
Nonfiction 363 pages

Despite the title, you’ll have to read the final chapter before you learn much about the number 137. But that doesn’t hurt this double biography. Along the way you’ll learn about the numbers three and four and what they meant to Johannes Kepler and Robert Fludd, one a pioneer of science, the other a mystic.

While three is the number of the trinity, four is that of the cardinal directions. C. G. Jung and Wolfgang Pauli both examined the symbolism of these numbers.

Their relationship began when Pauli approached Jung for therapy. Although, Jung referred him to one of his pupils, Jung took an active interest in Pauli’s analysis. As their friendship developed, Pauli found an outlet for his mystical, intuitive side. Jung hoped that Pauli could lend a more scientific foundation to Jung's brand of psychology.

Jung believed that the human psyche was populated by archetypes which supplied symbolic meaning. Certain numbers, among them three and four, could take on archetypal qualities in dreams and visions. Just as these numbers appeared in myth and alchemical texts, they also appeared in Pauli’s dreams and in his efforts to discover the structure of the atom.

Early in his career, Pauli worked with Niels Bohr whose theory of the atom hinged on three quantum numbers. But the theory wasn’t complete until Ralph Kronig proposed that electrons had a spin of one half and others provided evidence. Spin became the fourth quantum number, but its addition meant that electrons could no longer be visualized.

Pauli and Jung both believed in the paranormal, unlike Jung’s mentor Sigmund Freud. Once while arguing with Freud about parapsychology, Jung experienced a feeling like his diaphragm was turning into hot iron. Just then, a loud noise came from Freud’s bookcase and both men jumped. Jung remarked that the event was an example of “a physical effect brought about by a mental thought.” Freud was merely dismissive.

Pauli was a believer in what his colleagues named the Pauli Effect. The frequent failure of equipment in the presence of Pauli made the theoretician unwelcome in physics laboratories due to his Pauli effect. People suffered from the Effect as well. On one occasion the chairs to Pauli's right and left of Pauli simultaneously collapsed, dislodging the women seated upon them.

Jung coined the term “synchronicity” to account for a type of paranormal phenomena. Synchronicity is what Jung calls meaningful coincidences that have no apparent cause. For example, on one occasion a woman was discussing her dream of a scarab when one tapped on Jung’s office window. The coincidental appearance of a real scarab profoundly affected Jung’s patient and allowed her to benefit from her therapy. Telepathic and precognitive dreams are other examples of synchronicity.

The causal universe of Newtonian physics was displaced early in the twentieth century by the arrival of quantum physics. Events at the quantum level could no longer be said to be causal – they are probabilistic. Both Pauli and Jung were well aware of this and Pauli had no difficulty accepting the possibility of synchronicity.

The friendship between the two resulted in the 1952 publication of “The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche,” a volume containing two essays — Jung’s "Synchronicity: an acausal connecting principal" and Pauli’s “The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on the Scientific Theories of Kepler.”

Returning to 137 — the number occurs several places in the book. Bohr’s theory was tested by examining the spectral lines created by the light emitted when an electron drops from a higher to a lower orbit. Some of these were found to consist of closely spaced individual lines known as the “fine structure.” The distance between the lines of the fine structure of a spectral line, Bohr called “the fine structure constant.” Pauli was able to determine that this constant is a pure number equal to 1/137 or 0.00729. He wondered why 137 and not some other number — a question that was to occupy much of his professional life.

In addition to being a prime number, there are several other interesting facts about this number. The values of the Hebrew letters which spell the word Kabbalah total 137. So do the Biblical phrases, “The God of Truth” and “The Surrounding Brightness,” and the Hebrew word for “crucifix.”

But perhaps the oddest coincidence was that the hospital room in which Pauli died was number 137. When Charles Enz visited Pauli, he informed Enz that the room was number 137, “I’m never getting out of here alive.”

Miller’s book is an interesting mixture of biography and science and very hard to put down. For those who understand the math, Miller supplies a bit to ponder. But for the most part, the book can easily be enjoyed by non-scientists.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Galileo's Error

Galileo's Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness

Philip Goff
Non-fiction, 256 pages

Galileo determined that the natural world can be measured with math. Certain qualities, however, are unmeasurable because they are derived from the soul rather than from nature. Sensory qualities like “yellow” can’t be measured like size, weight, or movement. Aside from unmeasurable sensory qualities and similar information, Galileo’s method describes nature quite well. But the method creates an error: “Galileo’s error was to commit us to a theory of nature which entailed that consciousness was essentially and inevitably mysterious. In other words, Galileo created the problem of consciousness.”

It took a while to notice the problem. It didn’t trouble René Descartes at all that Galileo’s method couldn’t address unmeasurable qualities. For Descartes, matter was one thing while mind was another. While a bodily action might follow a mental intention, both body and mind, being distinct, can exist without the other.

Today Descartes’ dualism has fallen out of fashion. Materialists argue that it’s the brain that generates consciousness, nothing more. Some, such as Daniel Dennett, argue that consciousness is a brain-generated illusion.

Goff describes several arguments that refute the materialist view of consciousness. Of these, I’m most convinced by David Chalmers’s argument that materialism fails to address the “Hard Question of Consciousness.” Connecting the brain with its outward actions answers easy questions. Such examination can never explain why we experience life as we do. Nobody questions their own experience, but materialists encounter Galileo’s soul derived qualities when they attempt to explain it.

Goff explores one possibility that might save dualism. It involves quantum physics. “By far the strangest aspect of quantum mechanics is that observation seems to make a difference to how the universe behaves.” If an observation is necessary, what else but a mind could perform that function?

 The argument is complicated and involves Schrödinger’s imaginary cat. The cat does just fine when nobody is looking. It’s both alive and dead. But once an observation is made the cat becomes either living or dead. Weird as it sounds, physics has yet to solve this contradiction.

 Goff does not defend dualism for long. Instead he moves on to panpsychism, a view that holds that consciousness is somehow an inherent quality of nature. The problem with panpsychism however is that it fails to provide a mechanism for how the simple consciousness of, say, atomic particles, combine to create the complex consciousness of a human being.

 Every approach to philosophy of mind has problems, Goff explains. However he believes that panpsychism offers the best explanatory approach. While his arguments are inconclusive his explanations are clear and readable. That’s good. Philosophical arguments can be tough for non-philosophers to digest. I have only one criticism. In explaining how the observation problem in physics might save dualism, Goff misses an opportunity to investigate how the observation problem might strengthen the argument for panpsychism.

 Goff’s book is a good introduction to philosophy of mind. Annaka Harris provides another good introduction in her book “Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind.” Despite its shorter length, her book covers the same territory and throws in meditation as well. I won’t say more now about her book now but hope to provide a more complete review later.