SCIENCE cosmology, physics, life, quantum – philosophy of

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>time, cosmology 3-12-2023 Time Has No Beginning and Big Bang Been Wrong – Roger Penrose: “We were Wrong” – by The Pareto Investor

“Time does not exist — we invented it.” Albert Einstein

Initially, it’s a Big Bang model, suggesting the universe originated from nothing, marking its inception. Before this, there was neither time nor space. However, consider if time is nonexistent and the Big Bang Theory flawed. The James Webb Space Telescope’s recent discoveries challenge the Big Bang Theory, indicating the Big Bang wasn’t the universe’s start, and perhaps time doesn’t exist. This concept, backed by British physicist Roger Penrose, raises questions about the telescope’s evidence against time’s existence and the Big Bang Theory’s flaws, along with alternative cosmic origin theories…

>Quantum Forschung 11-2023 Die Zukunft der Quantentechnik ist jetzt – Noch sind Quantencomputer Science Fiction. Dennoch ist die Physik der Quanten bereits in Anwendung. Die spannendsten Entwicklungen im Überblick. – Von Sabrina Patsch

Quantum-  Messung der Zukunft - Tagesspiegel -11-2023 - Sabrina Patsch 1-3-2023 Why uncertainty is part of science – especially quantum mechanics – Quantum mechanics had a disordered beginning in the 1920s, and is still developing today. Science is rarely a done deal, says Chanda Prescod-Weinstein – By Chanda Prescod-Weinstein 6-4-2023 Life: modern physics can’t explain it – but our new theory, which says time is fundamental, might – by Sara Imari Walker

Even today, we can’t really explain what the difference is between a living lump of matter and a dead one. But my colleagues and I are creating a new physics of life that might soon provide answers. …

…Isaac Newton described a universe where the laws never change, and time is an immutable and absolute backdrop against which everything moves. Darwin, however, observed a universe where endless forms are generated, each changing features of what came before, suggesting that time should not only have a direction, but that it in some ways folds back on itself. New evolutionary forms can only arise via selection on the past. Presumably these two areas of science are describing the same universe, but how can two such diametrically opposite views be unified? The key to understanding why life is not explainable in current physics may be to reconsider our notions of time as the key difference between the universe as described by Newton and that of Darwin. Time has, in fact, been reinvented many times through the history of physics…

… To explain life, we therefore need to understand how the complex objects life creates exist in time. With my collaborators, we have been doing just that in a newly proposed theory of physics called assembly theory. A key conjecture of assembly theory is that, as objects become more complex, the number of unique parts that make it up increases, and so does the need for local memory to store how to assemble the object from its unique parts. We quantify this in assembly theory as the shortest number of physical steps to build an object from its elementary building blocks, called the assembly index. Importantly, assembly theory treats this shortest path as an intrinsic property of the object, and indeed we have shown how assembly index can be measured for molecules using several different measuring techniques including mass spectrometry (an analytical method to measure the mass-to-charge ratio of molecules). With this approach, we have shown in the lab, with measurements on both biological and non-biological samples, how molecules with an assembly index above 15 steps are only found in living samples. This suggests that assembly theory is indeed capable of testing our hypothesis that life is the only physics that generates complex objects. And we can do so by identifying those objects that are so complex the only physical mechanism to form them is evolution…

…If the theory holds, it will force a radical rethink on time in physics. According to our theory, assembly can be measured as an intrinsic property for molecules, which corresponds to their size in time – meaning time is a physical attribute. Ultimately, time is intrinsic to our experiences of the world, and it is necessary for evolution to happen. If we want physics to be capable of explaining life – and us – it may be that we need to treat time as a material property for the first time in physics. This is perhaps the most radical departure for physics of life from standard physics, but it may be the critical insight needed to explain what life is. 4-2023 Great Mysteries of Physics 4: Does objective reality exist?

>agency, free will, quantum, 29-3-2023 ‘QBism’: quantum mechanics is not a description of objective reality – it reveals a world of genuine free will – by Ruediger Schack

What does quantum mechanics, the most successful theory ever proposed by physics, teach us about reality? The starting point for most philosophers of physics is that quantum mechanics must somehow provide a description of the world as it is independently of us, the users of the theory.

This has led to a large number of incompatible worldviews. Some believe the implication of quantum mechanics is that there are parallel worlds as in the Marvel Comic universe; some believe it implies signals that travel faster than light, contradicting all that Einstein taught us. Some say it implies that the future affects the past.

According to QBism, an approach developed by Christopher Fuchs and me, the great lesson of quantum mechanics is that the usual starting point of the philosophers is simply wrong. Quantum mechanics does not describe reality as it is by itself. Instead, it is a tool that helps guide agents immersed in the world when they contemplate taking actions on parts of it external to themselves.

The use of the word “agent” rather than the familiar “observer” highlights that quantum mechanics is about actions that participate in creating reality, rather than observations of a reality that exists independently of the agent.

QBism and its homophone, the art movement Cubism, share the understanding that reality is more than what a single agent’s perspective can capture. However, unlike the art movement, QBism does not attempt to represent reality. It does not attempt to bring the different perspectives together in one “third-person” view. QBism is fundamentally anti-representational and first person.

Rescuing free will This puts QBism in direct contradiction with the two pillars of the 19th-century conception of a mechanistic universe. One is that nature is governed by physical laws in the same way that a mechanical toy is governed by its mechanism. The other is that it is, in principle, possible to have an objective view of the universe from the outside – from a God’s eye or third-person standpoint.

This mechanistic vision is still dominant among 21st-century scientists. For instance, in their 2010 book The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow write: “It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behaviour is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.”

Instead, the QBist vision is that of an unfinished universe, of a world that allows for genuine freedom, a world in which agents matter and participate in the making of reality.

A key aspect of quantum mechanics is randomness. Rather than making firm predictions, quantum mechanics is concerned with the probabilities for potential measurement outcomes. The physicist Ed Jaynes famously expressed that to understand quantum mechanics, one has to understand probability first.

In this spirit, QBism’s starting point is the personalist Bayesian approach to probability (originally a method of statistical inference and now a fully fledged theory of decision making under uncertainty). In this approach, probabilities are an agent’s personal degrees of belief.

So rather than describing the statistics of some experiment, probabilities provide guidance to agents on how they should act. In other words, probabilities are not descriptive but “normative” – analogous to an instruction manual. It turns out that the standard probability rules can be derived from the (normative) principle that one’s probabilities should fit together in a way that guards against a sure loss when used for making decisions.

QBism’s great insight was that the probabilities that appear in quantum mechanics are no different. They are not, as in the standard view, fixed by physical law, but express an agent’s personal degrees of belief about the consequences of measurement actions the agent is contemplating.

In QBism, the role of the quantum laws is to provide extra normative principles about how an agent’s probabilities should fit together. Rather than providing a description of the world, the rules of quantum mechanics are an addition to the standard probability rules; to classical (non-quantum) decision theory. They assist physicists in decisions such as how to design a quantum computer in order to minimise the probability of error, or what atoms to use in an atomic clock in order to increase the precision of time measurements.

Measurements are actions – Just like “observer”, the term “measurement” can be misleading because it suggests a pre-existing property that is revealed by the measurement. Instead, a measurement should be thought of as an action an agent takes to elicit a response from the world. A measurement is an act of creation that brings something entirely new into the world, an outcome that is shared between the agent and the agent’s external world.

Quantum mechanics is often depicted as “weird” and hard, or indeed impossible, to understand. As a matter of fact, the weirdness of quantum mechanics is an artefact of looking at it the wrong way. Once the two main QBist insights – that the quantum rules are guides to action and that measurements do not reveal pre-existing properties – are taken on board, all quantum paradoxes disappear.

Take Schrödinger’s cat, for example. In the usual formulation, the unfortunate animal is described by a “quantum state” taken to be a part of reality and implying that the cat is neither dead nor alive.

The QBist, by contrast, does not regard the quantum state as a part of reality. The quantum state a QBist agent might assign has no bearing on whether the cat is alive or dead. All it expresses is the agent’s expectations concerning the consequences of possible actions they might take on the cat. Unlike most interpretations of quantum mechanics, QBism respects the fundamental autonomy of the cat.

Or take quantum teleportation. According to a common way of presenting this operation, a particle’s quantum state, again regarded as a part of reality, disappears at one place (A) and mysteriously reappears at another (B) – quite literally as in a transporter in the Star Trek science fiction series.

For a QBist, however, nothing real is transported from A to B. All that happens in quantum teleportation is that an agent’s belief about the particle at A becomes, after the operation, the same agent’s belief about a particle at B. The quantum state that expresses the agent’s belief about the particle at A initially is mathematically identical to the quantum state that expresses that same agent’s belief about the particle at B after the operation. Quantum teleportation is a powerful tool used in applications such as quantum computing, but in QBism there is nothing counter-intuitive or weird about it.

QBism is an ongoing project. It spells out clearly the meaning of all mathematical objects in the theory and is thus a fully developed interpretation of quantum mechanics. Yet, QBism is also a programme for developing new physics and has already yielded deep insights even if it is still a work in progress.

QBism has also led to a fruitful dialogue with the kindred philosophical schools of thought of pragmatism and phenomenology. Its vision of the world is one in which agents possess genuine freedom and respect each other’s autonomy. I like to think that this is what quantum mechanics has been trying to tell us about reality all along.

see also Great Mysteries of Physics 14-3-2023 ‘Time Reflections’ Finally Observed by Physicists After Decades of Searching – By Mike Mcrae

Walk through a maze of mirrors, you’ll soon come face to face with yourself. Your nose meets your nose, your fingertips touch at their phantom twins, stopped abruptly by a boundary of glass.

Most of the time, a reflection needs no explanation. The collision of light with the mirror’s surface is almost intuitive, its rays set on a new path through space with the same ease as a ball bouncing off a wall.

For over sixty years, however, physicists have considered a subtly different kind of reflection. One that occurs not through the three dimensions of space, but in time.

Now researchers from the City University of New York’s Advanced Science Research Center (CUNY ASRC) have turned the theory of ‘time reflections’ into practice, providing the first experimental evidence of its manipulation across the electromagnetic spectrum.

“This has been really exciting to see, because of how long ago this counterintuitive phenomenon was predicted, and how different time-reflected waves behave compared to space-reflected ones,” says physicist Andrea Alù, founding director of the CUNY ASRC Photonics Initiative.

Put aside thoughts of TARDIS-like technologies rewriting history. This kind of time reflection is even weirder. And, it seems, actually possible after all.

By the 1970s, it was becoming clear that there was an analog for spatial reflection in the time component of a quantum wave of light. Change the medium a wave is traveling through quickly enough, in just the right way, and the temporal component of the wave will change with it.

Time Reflections Diagram Circuit
A control signal (in green) activates a set of switches along a metal strip. The electromagnetic impedance of the metamaterial is abruptly changed, causing a forward-propagating signal (in blue) to be partially time-reflected (in red), with all its frequencies converted. (Andrea Alu)
The effect of this reflection in time isn’t going to rip a hole in reality. But It will shift the frequency of the wave, in ways technology could exploit across varied fields like imaging, analogue computing, and optical filtering.

Strangely, the ‘echo’ of altered frequency is also a reversal of the signal. If it was an echo of your voice counting one to ten, you’d hear each number spoken backwards, from ten back to one, in a chipmunk squeak.

Equivalents in acoustics and magnetism have been experimented with before, as has a limited investigation of narrow frequencies in electromagnetic temporal reflection using a computer setup.

Exploring the phenomenon on a less-constrained level would require uniform and sudden variations across the whole electromagnetic field of a material, something experimentalists assumed would demand too much energy to make work.

Until now, it seems.

“Using a sophisticated metamaterial design, we were able to realize the conditions to change the material’s properties in time both abruptly and with a large contrast,” says Alù.

The team shone a mix of frequencies through a purposefully designed metal strip roughly 6 meters in length, loaded with switches and capacitors. Triggered at the same moment, the capacitors unloaded their charge, swiftly altering the impedance of the metamaterial as the signal passed through.

This shock change created an echo in the broad range of light waves, demonstrating a reflection in their temporal properties.

Metamaterials are artificial constructs that have no equivalent in the natural world. Designed with unique properties that are tasked with a particular purpose, they have been made to suit different structural, acoustic, and optical needs.

Finding a metamaterial capable of time reflection provides engineers with a whole new tool for manipulating light.

“The exotic electromagnetic properties of metamaterials have so far been engineered by combining in smart ways many spatial interfaces,” says physicist Shixiong Yin, one of the study’s lead authors.

“Our experiment shows that it is possible to add time interfaces into the mix, extending the degrees of freedom to manipulate waves.”

This research was published in Nature Physics. 25-2-2023 Webb telescope just found massive objects that shouldn’t exist in deep space – The universe holds secrets. By Mark Kaufman

>cosmology, black holes, energy, gravity 2-2023 Two of the most enigmatic phenomena in the cosmos may be linked – Black holes could be reserves of the dark energy that pushes the universe apart

>quantum, philosophy 8-2-2023 The weirdness of quantum mechanics forces scientists to confront philosophy – Though quantum mechanics is an incredibly successful theory, nobody knows what it means. Scientists now must confront its philosophical implications – by Marcelo Gleiser

Despite the tremendous success of quantum physics, scientists and philosophers still disagree on what it’s telling us about the nature of reality. Central to the dispute is whether the theory is describing the world as it is or is merely a mathematical model. Attempts to reconcile the theory with reality have led physicists to some strange places, forcing scientists to grapple with matters of philosophy.

The world of the very small is like nothing we see in our everyday lives. We do not think of people or rocks being in more than one place at the same time until we look at them. They are where they are, in one place only, whether or not we know where that place is. Nor do we think of a cat locked in a box as being both dead and alive before we open the box to check. But such dualities are the norm for quantum objects like atoms or subatomic particles, or even larger ones like a cat. Before we look at them, these objects exist in what we call a superposition of states, each state with an assigned probability. When we measure many times their position or some other physical property, we will find it in one of such states with certain probabilities. 

The crucial question that still haunts or inspires physicists is this: Are such possible states real — is the particle really in a superposition of states — or is this way of thinking just a mathematical trick we invented to describe what we measure with our detectors? To take a stance on this question is to choose a certain way of interpreting quantum mechanics and our take on the world. It is important to stress that quantum mechanics works beautifully as a mathematical theory. It describes the experiments incredibly well. So we are not debating whether quantum mechanics works or not, because we are well past that point. The issue is whether it describes physical reality as it is or whether it does not, and we need something more if we are to arrive at a deeper understanding of how nature operates in the world of the very small.

Even though quantum mechanics works, the debate about its nature is fierce. The subject is vast, and I could not possibly do it justice here. My goal is to give a flavor of what is at stake. (For more details, see The Island of Knowledge.) There are many schools of thought and many nuanced arguments. But in its most general form, the schools line up along two ways of thinking about reality, and they both depend on the protagonist of the quantum world: the famous wavefunction.

In one corner stands those who think that the wavefunction is an element of reality, that it describes reality as it is. This way of thinking is sometimes called the ontic interpretation, from the term ontology, which in philosophy means the stuff that makes up reality. People who follow the ontic school would say that even though the wavefunction does not describe something palpable, like the particle’s position or its momentum, its absolute square represents the probability of measuring this or that physical property — the superpositions that it does describe are a part of reality. 

In the other corner stand those who think that the wavefunction is not an element of reality. Instead, they see a mathematical construct that allows us to make sense of what we find in experiments. This way of thinking is sometimes called the epistemic interpretation, from the term epistemology in philosophy. In this view, measurements taken as objects and detectors interact and people read the results are the only way we can figure out what goes on at the quantum level, and the rules of quantum physics are fantastic at describing the results of these measurements. There is no need to attribute any kind of reality to the wavefunction. It simply represents potentialities — the possible outcomes of a measurement. (The great physicist Freeman Dyson once told me that he considered the whole debate a huge waste of time. To him, the wavefunction was never intended to be a real thing.) 

Note the importance in all this of measurements. Historically, the epistemic view goes back to the Copenhagen interpretation, the hodgepodge of ideas spearheaded by Niels Bohr and carried forward by his younger, powerhouse colleagues such as Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Pascual Jordan, and many others. 

This school of thought is sometimes unjustly called the “shut up and calculate approach” due to its insistence that we do not know what the wavefunction is, only what it does. It tells us we accept the superpositions of possible states, coexisting before a measurement is made, as a pragmatic description of what we cannot know. Upon measurement, the system collapses into just one of the possible states: the one that is measured. Yes, it is weird to state that a wavy thing, spread across space, instantaneously goes into a single position (a position that lies within what is allowed by the Uncertainty Principle). Yes, it is weird to contemplate the possibility that the act of measurement somehow defines the state in which the particle is found. It introduces the possibility that the measurer has something to do with determining reality. But the theory works, and for all practical purposes, that is what really matters.

At its essence, the ontic vs. epistemic debate hides the ghost of objectivity in science. Onticists deeply dislike the notion that observers could have anything to do with determining the nature of reality. Is an experimenter really determining whether an electron is here or there? One ontic school known as the Many Worlds interpretation would say instead that all possible outcomes are realized when a measurement is performed. It’s just that they are realized in parallel worlds, and we only have direct access to one of them — namely, the one we exist in. In Borgean style, the idea here is that the act of measurement forks reality into a multiplicity of worlds, each realizing a possible experimental outcome. We do not need to speak of the collapse of the wavefunction since all outcomes are realized at once.

Unfortunately, these many worlds are not accessible to observers in different worlds. There have been proposals to test the Many Worlds experimentally, but the obstacles are huge, for example requiring the quantum superposition of macroscopic objects in the laboratory. It is also not clear how to assign different probabilities to the different worlds related to the outcomes of the experiment. For example, if the observer is playing a game of Russian roulette with options triggered by a quantum device, he will only survive in one world. Who would be willing to be the subject of this experiment? I certainly would not. Still, Many Worlds has many adherents.

Other ontic approaches require, for example, adding elements of reality to the quantum mechanical description. For example, David Bohm proposed expanding the quantum mechanical prescription by adding a pilot wave with the explicit role of guiding the particles into their experimental outcomes. The price for experimental certainty, here, is that this pilot wave acts everywhere at once, which in physics means that it has nonlocality. Many people, including Einstein, have found this impossible to accept.

On the epistemic side, interpretations are just as varied. The Copenhagen interpretation leads the pack. It states that the wavefunction is not a thing in this world, but rather a mere tool to describe what is essential, the outcomes of experimental measurements. Views tend to diverge on the meaning of the observer, about the role the mind exerts on the act of measuring and thus on defining the physical properties of the object being observed, and on the dividing line between classical and quantum. 

Due to space, I will only mention one more epistemic interpretation, Quantum Bayesianism, or as it is now called, QBism. As the original name implies, QBism takes the role of an agent as central. It assumes that probabilities in quantum mechanics reflect the current state of the agent’s knowledge or beliefs about the world, as he or she makes bets about what will happen in the future. Superpositions and entanglements are not states of the world, in this view, but expressions of how an agent experiences the world. As such, they are not as mysterious as they may sound. The onus of quantum weirdness is transferred to an agent’s interactions with the world. 

A common criticism levied against QBism is its reliance on a specific agent’s relation to the experiment. This seems to inject a dose of subjectivism, placing it athwart the usual scientific goal of observer-independent universality. But as Adam Frank, Evan Thompson, and myself argue in The Blind Spot, a book to be published by MIT Press in 2024, this criticism relies on a view of science that is unrealistic. It is a view rooted in an account of reality outside of us, the agents that experience this reality. Perhaps that is what quantum mechanics’ weirdness has been trying to tell us all along. 

The beautiful discoveries of quantum physics reveal a world that continues to defy and inspire our imaginations. It continues to surprise us, just as it has done for the past century. As said by Democritus, the Greek philosopher who brought atomism to the forefront over 24 centuries ago, “In reality we know nothing, for truth is in the depths.” That may very well be the case, but we can keep trying, and that is what really matters.


13.8 A series by Adam Frank and Marcelo Gleiser exploring the beauty and power of science in culture

>time, space, quantum 29-1-2023 Why more and more physicists consider space and time to be “illusions”. by Mason Regan

…But why does entanglement have to do with space and time? And how can it be important for future breakthroughs in physics? Properly understood, entanglement means that the universe is what philosophers call “monistic,” that is, at the most fundamental level, everything in the universe is part of a single, unified whole. It is a defining property of quantum mechanics that its underlying reality is described in terms of waves, and a monistic universe would require universal functioning. Decades ago, researchers such as Hugh Everett and Dieter Zeh showed how our everyday reality can emerge from such a universal quantum mechanical description. But it is only now that researchers such as Leonard Susskind and Sean Carroll are developing ideas as to how this hidden quantum reality could explain not only matter but also the structure of space and time.

Entanglement is much more than just another weird quantum phenomenon. It is the working principle why quantum mechanics merges the world into one and why we experience this basic unity as many separate objects. At the same time, entanglement is why we seem to be living in a classic reality. It is – in the truest sense of the word – the glue and creator of worlds. Entanglement refers to objects composed of two or more components and describes what happens when the quantum principle that “anything that can happen actually happens” is applied to such composite objects. Accordingly, an entangled state is the superposition of all possible combinations that the components of a composite object can be in to produce the same overall result. Again, it is the rippled nature of the quantum domain that can help illustrate how entanglement actually works…

…“GR=QM,” Leonard Susskind boldly asserted in an open letter to quantum computing researchers: General relativity is nothing more than quantum mechanics—a hundred-year-old theory that has been applied with great success to everything imaginable, but never really fully understood. Sean Carroll has pointed out, “Perhaps quantifying gravity was a mistake, and space-time has been lurking in quantum mechanics all along.” For the future, “perhaps instead of quantifying gravity, we should try to gravitate quantum mechanics. Or, more accurately but less evocatively, ‘find gravity in quantum mechanics,’” …

Adapted from The One: How an ancient idea holds the future of physics by Heinrich Pas.

knowledge, nature, quantum 26-1-2023 Einstein’s quantum ghost is here to stay – To Einstein, nature had to be rational. But quantum physics showed us that there was not always a way to make it so by .Marcelo Gleiser

Einstein died refusing to believe that quantum weirdness was a property of nature. He saw a world that was rational, with things having a reality of their own. Niels Bohr countered that the quantum way was here to stay. Behind their epic dispute was a fundamental question: Could nature’s deepest secrets be unknowable to us? 7-2022 Can particles really be in two places at the same time? – When talking about quantum physics, people will often nonchalantly say that particles can be in two places at once. by Sabine Hossenfelder

The following is an extract from our Lost in Space-Time newsletter. Each month, we hand over the keyboard to a physicist or two to tell you about fascinating ideas from their corner of the universe. You can sign up for Lost in Space-Time here.

The quantum world is a strange place. If you look at an object, it changes. If you know how fast it’s moving, you can’t know where it is. Measurements that happened in the past can seemingly be erased later. Particles are sometimes waves and can be in two places at once. Cats may be both dead and alive. These are things we say when talking about the quantum world, but is this really what is going on?

Quantum mechanics is an incredibly well-established theory. It has passed every test it’s ever been subjected to. It underlies much of the technological progress we have seen in the past century, for what would electronics be without discrete energy levels, which came to us courtesy of quantum mechanics? We have the mathematics and we know how to work it, yet even after a century of debate, we don’t know what the mathematics of quantum mechanics means….

…That we don’t understand how quantum effects disappear was illustrated by Erwin Schrödinger with his famous cat thought experiment. Schrödinger suggested that an atom that is both decayed and not decayed could be used to trigger the release of a toxin that then both kills a cat and not. This argument shows that without the act of a measurement, superpositions can become amplified to macroscopic size. But we don’t observe dead-and-alive cats, so what gives?

The standard reply to this conundrum is that the cat is constantly being measured. Not by us, but by air molecules and even radiation in the cosmic microwave background. These measurements, so the story goes, make quantum effects disappear very quickly. But this is really just a story that isn’t born out in the mathematics. For a shut-up-and-calculate person like me, it’s a real problem indeed. In my mind, therefore, the proliferation of quantum woo in the media distracts from the real problem at the heart of quantum mechanics: that we don’t know what a measurement is. Quantum mechanics is strange, yes. But let’s not pretend it’s stranger than it is.

Sabine Hossenfelder, specialises in probing our understanding of the very foundations of physics. She hosts the popular YouTube channel Science without the gobbledygook and her latest book, Existential Physics: A scientist’s guide to life’s biggest questions, is out in the UK, US and Canada in August. Her Lost in Space-Time letter takes on a central tenet of quantum physics: can particles really be in two places at once?

>neuroscience, brain, consciousness, quantum 11-2022 Brain experiment suggests that consciousness relies on quantum entanglement – Maybe the brain isn’t “classical” after all. – by Elizabeth Fernandez

Most neuroscientists believe that the brain operates in a classical manner. However, if brain processes rely on quantum mechanics, it could explain why our brains are so powerful. A team of researchers possibly witnessed entanglement in the brain, perhaps indicating that some of our brain activity, and maybe even consciousness, operates on a quantum level.

…”…Since quantum gravity and quantum processes in the brain are both big unknowns, the researchers at Trinity decided to use the same method other scientists are using to try to understand quantum gravity. Using an MRI that can sense entanglement, the scientists looked to see whether proton spins in the brain could interact and become entangled through an unknown intermediary. Similar to the research for quantum gravity, the goal was to understand an unknown system. “The unknown system may interact with known systems like the proton spins [within the brain],” Kerskens explained. “If the unknown system can mediate entanglement to the known system, then, it has been shown, the unknown must be quantum.” 

The researchers scanned 40 subjects with an MRI. Then they watched what happened, and correlated the activity with the patient’s heartbeat. The heartbeat is not just the motion of an organ within our body. Rather, the heart, like many other parts of our body, is engaged in two-way communication with the brain — the organs both send each other signals. We see this when the heart reacts to various phenomena such as pain, attention, and motivation. Additionally, the heartbeat can be tied to short-term memory and aging.  As the heart beats, it generates a signal called the heartbeat potential, or HEP. With each peak of the HEP, the researchers saw a corresponding spike in the NMR signal, which corresponds to the interactions among proton spins. This signal could be a result of entanglement, and witnessing it might indicate there was indeed a non-classical intermediary.  

“The HEP is an electrophysiological event, like alpha or beta waves,” Kerskens explains. “The HEP is tied to consciousness because it depends on awareness.” Similarly, the signal indicating entanglement was only present during conscious awareness, which was illustrated when two subjects fell asleep during the MRI. When they did, this signal faded and disappeared. 

Seeing entanglement in the brain may show that the brain is not classical, as previously thought, but rather a powerful quantum system. If the results can be confirmed, they could provide some indication that the brain uses quantum processes. This could begin to shed light on how our brain performs the powerful computations it does, and how it manages consciousness.” 7-2022 Reality doesn’t exist until you measure it, quantum parlor trick confirms – Two players leverage quantum rules to achieve a seemingly telepathic connection

The Moon isn’t necessarily there if you don’t look at it. So says quantum mechanics, which states that what exists depends on what you measure. Proving reality is like that usually involves the comparison of arcane probabilities, but physicists in China have made the point in a clearer way. They performed a matching game in which two players leverage quantum effects to win every time—which they can’t if measurements merely reveal reality as it already exists.

“To my knowledge this is the simplest [scenario] in which this happens,” says Adan Cabello, a theoretical physicist at the University of Seville who spelled out the game in 2001. Such quantum pseudotelepathy depends on correlations among particles that only exist in the quantum realm, says Anne Broadbent, a quantum information scientist at the University of Ottawa. “We’re observing something that has no classical equivalent.”

A quantum particle can exist in two mutually exclusive conditions at once. For example, a photon can be polarized so that the electric field in it wriggles vertically, horizontally, or both ways at the same time—at least until it’s measured. The two-way state then collapses randomly to either vertical or horizontal. Crucially, no matter how the two-way state collapses, an observer can’t assume the measurement merely reveals how the photon was already polarized. The polarization emerges only with the measurement.

That last bit rankled Albert Einstein, who thought something like a photon’s polarization should have a value independent of whether it is measured. He suggested particles might carry “hidden variables” that determine how a two-way state will collapse. However, in 1964, British theorist John Bell found a way to prove experimentally that such hidden variables cannot exist by exploiting a phenomenon known as entanglement.

Two photons can be entangled so that each is in an uncertain both-ways state, but their polarizations are correlated so that if one is horizontal the other must be vertical and vice versa. Probing entanglement is tricky. To do so, Alice and Bob must each have a measuring apparatus. Those devices can be oriented independently, so Alice can test whether her photon is polarized horizontally or vertically, while Bob can cant his detector by an angle. The relative orientation of the detectors affects how much their measurements are correlated.

Bell envisioned Alice and Bob orienting their detectors randomly over many measurements and then comparing the results. If hidden variables determine a photon’s polarization, the correlations between Alice’s and Bob’s measurements can be only so strong. But, he argued, quantum theory allows them to be stronger. Many experiments have seen those stronger correlations and ruled out hidden variables, albeit only statistically over many trials.

Now, Xi-Lin Wang and Hui-Tian Wang, physicists at Nanjing University, and colleagues have made the point more clearly through the Mermin-Peres game. In each round of the game, Alice and Bob share not one, but two pairs of entangled photons on which to make any measurements they like. Each player also has a three-by-three grid and fills each square in it with a 1 or a –1 depending on the result of those measurements. In each round, a referee randomly selects one of Alice’s rows and one of Bob’s columns, which overlap in one square. If Alice and Bob have the same number in that square, they win the round.

Sounds easy: Alice and Bob put 1 in every square to guarantee a win. Not so fast. Additional “parity” rules require that all the entries across Alice’s row must multiply to 1 and those down Bob’s column must multiply to –1.

If hidden variables predetermine the results of the measurements, Alice and Bob can’t win every round. Each possible set of values for the hidden variables effectively specifies a grid already filled out with –1s and 1s. The results of the actual measurements just tell Alice which one to pick. The same goes for Bob. But, as is easily shown with pencil and paper, no single grid can satisfy both Alice’s and Bob’s parity rules. So, their grids must disagree in at least one square, and on average, they can win at most eight out of nine rounds.

Quantum mechanics lets them win every time. To do that, they must use a set of measurements devised in 1990 by David Mermin, a theorist at Cornell University, and Asher Peres, a onetime theorist at the Israel Institute of Technology. Alice makes the measurements associated with the squares in the row specified by the referee, and Bob, those for the squares in the specified column. Entanglement guarantees they agree on the number in the key square and that their measurements also obey the parity rules. The whole scheme works because the values emerge only as the measurements are made. The rest of the grid is irrelevant, as values don’t exist for measurements that Alice and Bob never make.

Generating two pairs of entangled photons simultaneously is impractical, Xi-Lin Wang says. So instead, the experimenters used a single pair of photons that are entangled two ways—through polarization and so-called orbital angular momentum, which determines whether a wavelike photon corkscrews to the right or to the left. The experiment isn’t perfect, but Alice and Bob won 93.84% of 1,075,930 rounds, exceeding the 88.89% maximum with hidden variables, the team reports in a study in press at Physical Review Letters.

Others have demonstrated the same physics, Cabello says, but Xi-Lin Wang and colleagues “use exactly the language of the game, which is nice.” The demonstration could have practical applications, he says.

Broadbent has a real-world use in mind: verifying the work of a quantum computer. That task is essential but difficult because a quantum computer is supposed to do things an ordinary computer cannot. However, Broadbent says, if the game were woven into a program, monitoring it could confirm that the quantum computer is manipulating entangled states as it should.

Xi-Lin Wang says the experiment was meant mainly to show the potential of the team’s own favorite technology—photons entangled in both polarization and angular momentum. “We wish to improve the quality of these hyperentangled photons.”

> physics, quantum, philosophy, ontology.,reality modality

bigthink 11-2022 Does physical reality objectively exist? -We think of physical reality as what objectively exists, independent of any observer. But relativity and quantum physics say otherwise.


  • The old philosophical question, “If a tree falls in the forest but there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” seems to obviously have an answer: yes. 
  • Whenever a tree falls, its trunk snaps, its branches collide with others, and it collides with the ground. Each one of those actions should make a sound. 
  • But relativity teaches us that the sound each observer experiences is relative to their position and motion, and quantum physics tells us that the act of observing changes the quantum state of this system. What does that all mean for the existence of “objective reality?”

>cosmology, time, space 9-2022 Knitting space–time out of quantum entanglement – by Clara Aldegunde 8-2022 Why rethinking time in quantum mechanics could help us unite physics – by Vlatko Vedral

Inspired by experiments showing entanglement over time, not just space, physicist Vlatko Vedral is reconsidering the way we think of time in quantum mechanics. The new approach treats space and time as part of one entity and could help us unravel black holes and make quantum time travel possible
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I WOULD like to take you with me, just for a minute or two, on a journey through space and time. We are minding our own business, watching the stars and galaxies zip by, when, suddenly, an invisible force draws us in. The closer we get to its source, the faster we move. Eventually, we are moving so quickly that time slows. We become extremely heavy and nothing can stop us – we are hurtling towards a black hole.

On our approach, we start to see streaks of light curving around a dark centre. This is the event horizon, the point beyond which gravity is so great that nothing, not even light, can escape.

But our journey must end here. Putting aside the torture it would place on our bodies to go further, we can’t even imagine what lies beyond this point. At the centre of a black hole, our best description of gravity, the general theory of relativity, breaks down and our other great theory of nature, quantum mechanics, must kick in. We have reached a place where our two best ways to describe the universe – relativity on the larger scale, quantum mechanics on the very small – come together in some way we don’t yet understand. Trying to unify these remains one of our greatest challenges.

However, there are now glimmers of hope. Recently, 2-2022 New Map of Meaning in the Brain Changes Ideas About Memory –Researchers have mapped hundreds of semantic categories to the tiny bits of the cortex that represent them in our thoughts and perceptions. What they discovered might change our view of memory. by Jordana Cepelewicz 2022 Can we craft a theory in which space and time aren’t assumed to exist? In some versions of quantum gravity, time itself condenses into existence. by Conor Purcell

Over the past decades, a field of physics has developed that postulates the existence of mysterious algebraic entities called spin networks. These networks—proposed as the constituent stuff of space and time—condensed to produce the Universe as we know it. That condensation resulted in the event that we currently call the Big Bang, giving the field its name: condensate cosmology. It may sound like an odd idea, but we already know that the Universe works in very strange ways. The idea, technically termed “Group Field Theory (GFT) condensate cosmology,” is a branch of quantum gravity, a field of physics that aims to establish the fundamentals of what everything from light and matter to space and time is made of. It is an idea based completely in theoretical calculations—and it’s totally untested for now. Condensate cosmology requires a great deal of abstract reasoning to even try to understand it. 

Despite these challenges, quantum gravity has drawn a lot of attention from some of the sharpest minds in all of physics. Its ideas are bold and daring, highly creative, and extraordinarily imaginative. Quantum gravity has been formulated to tackle one of the greatest problems in all of physics: the need to unite the two great theories of the 20th century—general relativity and quantum mechanics. 

The former presents a framework for understanding the world in terms of space and time, and it covers behavior over large distances. General relativity introduces the notion that time is relative and that gravity itself exists because of a curved space-time. As Einstein first realized, a ball does not fall to the Earth because it is attracted to its mass, as Newton told us; it falls because of the existence of a space-time field that permeates the Universe and curves around large objects.

Quantum mechanics is a mysterious yet incredibly accurate theory that describes the world of the very small. It tells us that both particles and fields exist in discrete units that, because of uncertainty, can only be described probabilistically. The theory also describes entanglement, the bewildering phenomenon in which physical systems can be so intertwined with one another that they lose their independent, individual reality and start obeying rules that apply to a collective. 

As far as we can tell, these two theories are both right—and in conflict. Their simultaneous existence generates a paradox, meaning physics is, in a sense, in disarray. While quantum mechanics deals with reality in discrete, granular fashion, relativity tells us that space-time, and therefore gravity, is continuous and non-discrete. One way to deal with this is to give one of the theories precedence. Since we know the world is quantum, general relativity must be an approximation of an underlying quantum description of space-time itself. And this suggests that any unification of the theories requires that gravity become discrete. 2-2-2022 Does Quantum Mechanics Reveal That Life Is But a Dream? A radical quantum hypothesis casts doubt on objective reality

…”…Many physicists ignore the puzzles posed by quantum mechanics. They take a practical, utilitarian attitude toward the theory, summed up by the admonition, “Shut up and calculate!” That is, forget about those quantum paradoxes and keep working on that quantum computer, which might make you rich!

In 2020, physicists performed a version of Wigner’s thought experiment and concluded that his intuitions were correct. In a story for Science headlined “Quantum paradox points to shaky foundations of reality,” physics reporter George Musser says the experiment calls objectivity into question. “It could mean there is no such thing as an absolute fact,” Musser writes, “one that is as true for me as it is for you.”

A newish interpretation of quantum mechanics called QBism (pronounced “Cubism,” like the art movement) makes subjective experience the bedrock of knowledge and reality itself. David Mermin, a prominent theorist, says QBism can dispel the “confusion at the foundations of quantum mechanics.” You just have to accept that all knowledge begins with “individual personal experience.”

According to QBism, each of us constructs a set of beliefs about the world, based on our interactions with it. We constantly, implicitly, update our beliefs when we interact with relatives who refuse to get vaccinated or sensors tracking the swerve of an electron. The big reality in which we all live emerges from the collisions of all our subjective mini-realities.

QBists hedge their mind-centrism, if only so they don’t come across as loons or mystics. They accept that matter exists as well as mind, and they reject solipsism, which holds that no sentient being can really be sure that any other being is sentient. But QBism’s core message, science writer Amanda Gefter says, is that the idea of “a single objective reality is an illusion.” A dream, you might say. …”…  15/12/2021  Quantum Mechanics, the Mind-Body Problem and Negative Theology – Scientists and philosophers should keep trying to solve reality’s deepest riddles while accepting that they are unsolvable  by John Horgan

“Here’s how I distinguish science from philosophy. Science addresses questions that can be answered, potentially, through empirical investigation. Examples: What’s the best way to defeat COVID-19? What causes schizophrenia, and how should it be treated? Can nuclear power help us overcome climate change? What are the causes of war, and how can we end it?

Philosophy addresses questions that probably can’t be solved, now or ever. Examples (and these are of course debatable, some philosophers and scientists insist that science can answer all questions worth asking): Why is there something rather than nothingDoes free will existHow does matter make a mind? What does quantum mechanics mean?

This final question has absorbed me lately because of my ongoing effort to learn quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics represents reality at its most fundamental level, that of particles darting through space. Supposedly. That’s why science writer and astrophysicist Adam Becker calls his recent book about quantum mechanics What Is Real?…”…  7/12/2021 Quantum entanglement: what it is, and why physicists want to harness it Calculate but don’t shut up – The cliché has it that the Copenhagen interpretation demands adherence without deep enquiry. That does physics a disservice  Jim Baggott

…”And here’s the rub. We never observe the wave function. If we push an electron through a narrow aperture, we imagine that it will diffract, spreading out in all directions in the space beyond as a wave (think of what happens to a rolling ocean wave as it squeezes through a gap in a harbour wall). If we now allow this electron to impinge on a screen covered with a photographic emulsion, we will find that the electron is detected, leaving a single bright spot at a specific point on the screen. Repeating this with more and more electrons will give us a diffraction pattern – a pattern possible only with waves – made up of a myriad of individual spots, each of which is possible only with particles. Where will the next spot appear? We have no way of knowing in advance. All we can do is use the wave function to calculate the probability that the next electron will be detected here, or there, or way over there.

What are we supposed to make of this? If we interpret the wave function realistically, as a tangible physical thing, we then have to figure out how it ‘collapses’ to produce a spot at only one location out of all the other probable locations on the screen. Such a collapse implies what Einstein in 1927 called ‘an entirely peculiar mechanism of action at a distance’ – an anathema of ghostly physical effects transmitted instantaneously across space with no apparent direct cause, now generally referred to as the ‘measurement problem’. For Einstein, the lack of any kind of physical explanation for how this is supposed to happen meant that something is missing; that quantum mechanics is in some way incomplete.

Bohr disagreed. He argued that in quantum mechanics we have hit a fundamental limit. What we observe is quantum behaviour as projected into our classical world of direct experience. As we cannot transcend this experience, we have to accept that the wave function has no physical significance beyond its relevance to the calculation of probabilities. We must be content with a ‘purely symbolic’ mathematical formalism that works. The wave function doesn’t collapse (and there’s no peculiar action at a distance) because it doesn’t actually exist, and so there is no measurement problem. In other words, all we can know is the electron-as-it-appears in different experimental arrangements. We can never know what the electron really is.

This is an empiricist, ‘antirealist’, or (to some) an ‘instrumentalist’ interpretation, which judges a theory to be largely meaningless except as an instrument to connect together our empirical experiences. Such an antirealist theory doesn’t necessarily deny the existence of an objective reality (we can happily continue to assume that the Moon is still there even if nobody looks at it or thinks about it), nor does it necessarily deny the reality of unobserved electrons, however we imagine them. But it does deny a direct and exact correspondence between the wave function and the things that the wave function purportedly describes. The formalism appears simply to encode our experiences of quantum phenomena in ways that allow us to calculate the probability that this or that will happen next. Quantum mechanics is complete, and we just need to get over it.”  12/2021  At subatomic level, the past can be the future: quantum researchers – Conventional theory that time can only move forward challenged by study, but the conditions for a ‘backward arrow’ are limited – The question of whether time can be reversed ‘one of the fundamental challenges’ of quantum physics – by Stephen Chen 11/2021 Why is quantum theory so strange? The weirdness could be in our heads
Quantum theory is peerless at explaining reality, but assaults our intuitions of how reality should be. It seems likely the fault lies with our intuitions – by Daniel Cossins

“PARTICLES that also act like waves; the “spooky action at a distance” of entanglement; those dead-and-alive cats. Small wonder people often trot out physicist Richard Feynman’s line that “nobody understands quantum mechanics”. With quantum theory, we have developed an exceedingly successful description of how fundamental reality works. It also amounts to a full-frontal assault on our intuitions about how reality should work.

Or does it? “It only seems strange to us because our immediate everyday experience of the world is so very limited,” says Sean Carroll at the California Institute of Technology. Intuitive-feeling classical physics is largely devoted to describing macroscopic objects – the things we see and feel directly in the world around us. “It should not be surprising that this breaks down when we push it into domains that we never experience directly,” says Carroll.

There is a big difference between seeming strange and being strange, too. “If quantum mechanics is right, it can’t truly be strange – it’s how nature works,” says Carroll. You can say something similar, after all, about other areas of physics, such as Albert Einstein’s space-and-time-warping theories of relativity. Their effects only truly kick in at close to light speed, or in humongous gravitational fields of the sort we never experience, so their picture of the world seems alien to us. For all that, there does seem to be something peculiarly alien about quantum theory. Take the way the mathematics of the theory allows us only to know the probability, on average, of what we will find …”…   11/2021  A New Theory for Systems That Defy Newton’s Third Law – In nonreciprocal systems, where Newton’s third law falls apart, “exceptional points” are helping researchers understand phase transitions and possibly other phenomena.  by Stephen Ornes

…”… But many systems exist and persist far from equilibrium. Perhaps the most glaring example is life itself. We’re kept out of equilibrium by our metabolism, which converts matter into energy. A human body that settles into equilibrium is a dead body. …  Vitelli said perhaps the most important aspect of the new work is that it reveals the limitations of the existing language that physicists and mathematicians use to describe systems in flux. When equilibrium is a given, he said, statistical mechanics frames the behavior and phenomena in terms of minimizing the energy — since no energy is added or lost. But when a system is out of equilibrium, “by necessity, you can no longer describe it with our familiar energy language, but you still have a transition between collective states,” he said. The new approach relaxes the fundamental assumption that to describe a phase transition you must minimize energy.  “When we assume there is no reciprocity, we can no longer define our energy,” Vitelli said, “and we have to recast the language of these transitions into the language of dynamics.” …”… 2021 Like a perpetual motion machine, a time crystal forever cycles between states without consuming energy. Physicists claim to have built this new phase of matter inside a quantum computer. 15/9/2021  Otherworldly ‘time crystal’ made inside Google quantum computer could change physics forever   The crystal is able to forever cycle between states without losing energy.   By Ben Turner

…”Researchers working in partnership with Google may have just used the tech giant’s quantum computer to create a completely new phase of matter — a time crystal.  With the ability to forever cycle between two states without ever losing energy, time crystals dodge one of the most important laws of physics — the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the disorder, or entropy, of an isolated system must always increase. These bizarre time crystals remain stable, resisting any dissolution into randomness, despite existing in a constant state of flux.  According to a research article posted July 28 to the preprint database arXiv, scientists were able to create the time crystal for roughly 100 seconds using qubits (quantum computing’s version of the traditional computer bit) inside the core of Google’s Sycamore quantum processor.”…

Related: 12 stunning quantum physics experiments  9/2021 The hard problem of consciousness is already beginning to dissolve – Science can solve the great mystery of consciousness – how physical matter gives rise to conscious experience – we just have to use the right approach, says neuroscientist Anil Seth  8/2021 New Physics Experiment Indicates There’s No Objective Reality
Turns out, reality is at odds with itself. Brad Bergan

The New Thermodynamic Understanding of Clocks – Studies of the simplest possible clocks have revealed their fundamental limitations — as well as insights into the nature of time itself.

The new perspective on clocks has already provided fresh fodder for discussions of time itself. “This line of work does grapple, in a fundamental way, with the role of time in quantum theory,” Yunger Halpern said.

Gerard Milburn, a quantum theorist at the University of Queensland in Australia who wrote a review paper last year about the research on clock thermodynamics, said, “I don’t think people appreciate just how fundamental it is.” …

In short, it’s the irreversible rise of entropy that makes timekeeping possible, while both periodicity and complexity enhance clock performance. But until 2019, it wasn’t clear how to verify the team’s equations, or what, if anything, simple quantum clocks had to do with the ones on our walls. …

One major aspect of the mystery of time is the fact that it doesn’t play the same role in quantum mechanics as other quantities, like position or momentum; physicists say there are no “time observables” — no exact, intrinsic time stamps on quantum particles that can be read off by measurements. Instead, time is a smoothly varying parameter in the equations of quantum mechanics, a reference against which to gauge the evolution of other observables.

Physicists have struggled to understand how the time of quantum mechanics can be reconciled with the notion of time as the fourth dimension in Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the current description of gravity. Modern attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity often treat the four-dimensional space-time fabric of Einstein’s theory as emergent, a kind of hologram cooked up by more abstract quantum information. If so, both time and space ought to be approximate concepts.

The clock studies are suggestive, in showing that time can only ever be measured imperfectly. The “big question,” said Huber, is whether the fundamental limit on the accuracy of clocks reflects a fundamental limit on the smooth flow of time itself — in other words, whether stochastic events like collisions of coffee and air molecules are what time ultimately is.

“What we’ve done is to show that even if time is a perfect, classical and smooth parameter governing time evolution of quantum systems,” Huber said, “we would only be able to track its passage” imperfectly, through stochastic, irreversible processes. This invites a question, he said: “Could it be that time is an illusion and smooth time is an emergent consequence of us trying to put events into a smooth order? It is certainly an intriguing possibility that is not easily dismissed.”   8/2021  What God, Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness Have in Common
Theories that try to explain these big metaphysical mysteries fall short, making agnosticism the only sensible stance   By John Horgan

People I admire fault me for being too skeptical. One is the late religious philosopher Huston Smith, who called me “convictionally impaired.” Another is megapundit Robert Wright, an old friend, with whom I’ve often argued about evolutionary psychology and Buddhism. Wright once asked me in exasperation, “Don’t you believe anything?” Actually, I believe lots of things, for example, that war is bad and should be abolished.

But when it comes to theories about ultimate reality, I’m with Voltaire. “Doubt is not a pleasant condition,” Voltaire said, “but certainty is an absurd one.” Doubt protects us from dogmatism, which can easily morph into fanaticism and what William James calls a “premature closing of our accounts with reality.” …

If the problem of evil prevents me from believing in a loving God, then the problem of beauty keeps me from being an atheist like Weinberg. Hence, agnosticism

Quantum mechanics is science’s most precise, powerful theory of reality. It has predicted countless experiments, spawned countless applications. The trouble is, physicists and philosophers disagree over what it means, that is, what it says about how the world works …

As I point out in my recent book Mind-Body Problems, there are now a dizzying variety of theories of consciousness. Christof Koch has thrown his weight behind integrated information theory, which holds that consciousness might be a property of all matter, not just brains. …

 I try not to be dogmatic in my disbelief, and to be sympathetic toward those who, like Francis Collins, have found answers that work for them. Also, I get a kick out of inventive theories of everything, such as John Wheeler’s “it from bit” and Freeman Dyson’s principle of maximum diversity, even if I can’t embrace them.

I’m definitely a skeptic. I doubt we’ll ever know whether God exists, what quantum mechanics means, how matter makes mind. These three puzzles, I suspect, are different aspects of a single, impenetrable mystery at the heart of things. But one of the pleasures of agnosticism—perhaps the greatest pleasure—is that I can keep looking for answers and hoping that a revelation awaits just over the horizon. …”…

I air my agnostic outlook in my two most recent books, Mind-Body Problems, available for free online, and Pay Attention: Sex, Death, and Science.  8/2021  Can Consciousness Be Explained by Quantum Physics? Fascinating Research Takes Us a Step Closer to Finding Out

One of the most important open questions in science is how our consciousness is established. In the 1990s, long before winning the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for his prediction of black holes, physicist Roger Penrose teamed up with anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff to propose an ambitious answer.

They claimed that the brain’s neuronal system forms an intricate network and that the consciousness this produces should obey the rules of quantum mechanics – the theory that determines how tiny particles like electrons move around. This, they argue, could explain the mysterious complexity of human consciousness.  7/2021   PHYSICISTS EXPLAIN HOW THE BRAIN MIGHT CONNECT TO THE QUANTUM REALM
Down the rabbit hole …    by Cristiane de Morais Smith

ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT open questions in science is how our consciousness is established. In the 1990s, long before winning the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for his prediction of black holes, physicist Roger Penrose teamed up with anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff to propose an ambitious answer. They claimed that the brain’s neuronal system forms an intricate network and that the consciousness this produces should obey the rules of quantum mechanics — the theory that determines how tiny particles like electrons move around. This, they argue, could explain the mysterious complexity of human consciousness. …

We’re not yet able to measure the behavior of quantum fractals in the brain — if they exist at all. But advanced technology means we can now measure quantum fractals in the lab. In recent research involving a scanning tunneling microscope (STM), my colleagues at Utrecht and I carefully arranged electrons in a fractal pattern, creating a quantum fractal. When we then measured the wave function of the electrons, which describes their quantum state, we found that they too lived at the fractal dimension dictated by the physical pattern we’d made. In this case, the pattern we used on the quantum scale was the Sierpiński triangle, which is a shape that’s somewhere between one-dimensional and two-dimensional. …”…

This article was originally published on The Conversation by Cristiane de Morais Smith at Utrecht University. Read the original article here.  6/2021  Major Scientific Leap: Quantum Microscope Created That Can See the Impossible

…”The microscope is powered by the science of quantum entanglement, an effect Einstein described as “spooky interactions at a distance.” Professor Warwick Bowen … said it was the first entanglement-based sensor with performance beyond the best possible existing technology. … “Entanglement is thought to lie at the heart of a quantum revolution. We’ve finally demonstrated that sensors that use it can supersede existing, non-quantum technology. “This is exciting — it’s the first proof of the paradigm-changing potential of entanglement for sensing.”…”

KW Biochemistry Biotechnology Nanotechnology Optics  Quantum Physics  18/6/2021  Famous Stephen Hawking theory about black holes confirmed – The areas of black holes are tied to the amount of disorder in the universe    By Ben Turner 

One of Stephen Hawking’s most famous theorems has been proFven right, using ripples in space-time caused by the merging of two distant black holes.  The black hole area theorem, which Hawking derived in 1971 from Einstein’s theory of general relativity, states that it is impossible for the surface area of a black hole to decrease over time. This rule interests physicists because it is closely related to another rule that appears to set time to run in a particular direction: the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy, or disorder, of a closed system must always increase. Because a black hole’s entropy is proportional to its surface area, both must always increase.  According to the new study, the researchers’ confirmation of the area law seems to imply that the properties of black holes are significant clues to the hidden laws that govern the universe. Oddly, the area law seems to contradict another of the famous physicist’s proven theorems: that black holes should evaporate over extremely long time scale, so figuring out the source of the contradiction between the two theories could reveal new physics.

Related: 8 ways you can see Einstein’s theory of relativity in real life


In Quantum Physics, Everything Is Relative

By Anil Ananthaswamy
June 8, 2021
Making Sense of the Quantum Revolution
By Carlo Rovelli  2020   Francesca Vidotto: The Quantum Properties of Space-Time  Theoretical physicist Francesca Vidotto on feminist epistemology, white holes, string theory, and her book (with Carlo Rovelli) on loop quantum gravity.

quantamagazine  2021 How to Rewrite the Laws of Physics in the Language of Impossibility  – Constructor theory grew out of work in quantum information theory. It aims to be broad enough to cover areas that can’t be described in the traditional ways of thinking, such as the physics of life and the physics of information. Chiara Marletto is trying to build a master theory — a set of ideas so fundamental that all other theories would spring from it. Her first step: Invoke the impossible.

For over a century, physicists having been rowing about the true nature of a quantum leap. There’s now an answer, and in true quantum form, everybody was a little bit correct… It actually describes one of the core tenets of quantum physics: that atoms have  discrete energy levels,  and electrons within an atom can jump from one energy level to the next, but cannot be observed between those specific levels. Titans of physics including Niels Bohr, who introduced the idea in 1913, Erwin Schrödinger, and Albert Einstein clashed over the specifics of these leaps – also known as quantum jumps –  particularly about whether they were instantaneous and whether their timing was random.Now, Zlatko Minev at Yale University and his colleagues have settled the debate. “If we zoom in to a very fine scale the jump is neither instantaneous nor as fully random as we thought it was,” Minev says.

The researchers achieved this by building a superconducting electrical circuit with quantum behaviour that makes it an analogue to atom with three energy levels: the ground state, which is the atom’s default state, a “bright” state connected to the ground state, and a “dark” state into which the atom can jump. They fired a beam of microwaves at the artificial atom to inject energy into the system. Generally, the atom was rapidly bouncing between the ground state and the bright state, emitting a photon every time it jumped from bright to ground. But if the atom absorbed a higher-energy photon from the beam, it would leap into the dark state. The dark state was more stable than the bright state, so the atom would stay there for longer without emitting any photons.From these signals, the researchers were able to tell when a quantum jump had started by looking for a flash of light from the bright state followed by a lull as the atom leapt into the dark state. Minev compares it to predicting a volcano eruption. “It’s a random phenomenon, no one can predict when the next volcano eruption will occur, however before the next eruption does occur there are certain signals in the ground that we can detect and use as a warning,” he says. The lull in light from the atom is equivalent to those seismic warning signals. On longer timescales, it’s impossible to predict when the next jump will occur, as Bohr thought – but on shorter timescales of just a few microseconds, they are.

“The fact that such a quantum jump was seen in a superconducting circuit rather than an atom is indicative of the fact that we can control this superconducting circuit in ways that we cannot control natural atoms,” says William Oliver at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We should someday be able to do the same thing with real atoms, he says.

Read more: The quantum world is infamously weird – now we might know why

This control allowed the team to do something that Bohr and his contemporaries would have deemed impossible – controlling a quantum leap.

If, just after the jump had started, the researchers hit the atom with an electrical pulse, they could intercept it and send the atom back to the ground state – something which would not have been possible if quantum leaps were truly instantaneous and random. Instead, they found that the leaps took the same path between the two energy levels every time, so it was easy to predict how to bounce them back.

This shows that, as Schrödinger insisted, quantum leaps are not instantaneous – they actually take about four microseconds. “In a sense the jumps aren’t jumps,” says Minev. “If you look at these finer features, you can do things that maybe you thought you couldn’t do because of these little windows of predictability.”

This may eventually be useful to correct errors in quantum computing, Minev says. An unexpected quantum jump could mark a mistake in calculations, and this method might allow researchers to spot the start of the jump and account for the error, or even reverse it mid-leap. “This is a very important scientific result, and its relevance to quantum computers of the future is going to depend on what quantum computers of the future look like,” says Oliver.

Journal reference: NatureDOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1287-z  – More on these topics:  QUANTUM SCIENCE – Read more: newscientist.comquantum-leaps-are-real-and-now-we-can-control-them – Read  2020 black-holes-are-portals-to-other-universes-according-to-new-quantum – by Bryan Nelson

According to Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, black holes are uninhabitable chasms of spacetime that end in a “singularity,” or a mass of infinite density. It’s a place so bleak that even the laws of physics break down there. But what if black holes aren’t so forbidding? What if they are instead some kind of intergalactic stargate, or maybe even a passageway into a whole other universe?It may sound like the premise for a clever science-fiction movie, but new calculations by quantum physicists now suggest that the stargate idea might actually be the better theory. According to the startling new results, black holes do not culminate in a singularity. Rather, they represent “portals to other universes,” reports New Scientist.

innovationmanagement 2020 Quantum Computing, Zen Philosophy and Space-Time Gary Davis

The up-and-coming field of quantum computing, currently in a prototype phase, will probably be an innovation with exponential and wide-ranging impacts in the power and speed of information technology. There are some interesting parallels between the behavior of quantum computing particles, or qubits, and basic principles of Zen Buddhist philosophy. Like modern physics, this article employs a “space-time” concept of innovation, with implications for the process and intensity of new idea development within organizations.

In previous InnovationManagement articles applying Zen Buddhist (and related Daoist) philosophy to business innovation, I have stressed the importance of Zen’s holistic perspective towards natural phenomena. It is necessary to see the world of nature as it exists in all of its actual complexity. Such a perspective has been expanded over the centuries through major technological developments. Examples include the inventions of the telescope and microscope during the early 17th century. Today, in the 21st century, we stand at the threshold of another revolution in holistic vision—quantum computing.

In a notable interdisciplinary book, Matthieu Ricard and Trinh Xuan Thuan claim that there are “many ways in which science and Buddhism confirm and complement each other…” (The Quantum and the Lotus, 2001, 2004). You especially see this pattern in the quantum mechanics that underlie quantum information technology. The latter is being used “…to develop new kinds of computers and communications networks, and sensors for imaging and measuring things in novel ways” (Jeanne Whalen, “Seven Basic Questions About Quantum Technology, Answered,” The Washington Post, August 18, 2019). 3/2021 ‘Intriguing’ results from Cern challenge leading theory in physics
Physicists have found particles not behaving in the way they should according to the Standard Model.

the 25/3/2021 Cern’s naughty quarks chip away at standard physics 23/3/2021 Helgoland by Carlo Rovelli review – the mysteries of quantum mechanics – Having altered how we think about time, the physicist sets his sights on perhaps the most maddeningly difficult theory of all by Ian Thomson

Carlo Rovelli, the Italian theoretical physicist, is one of the great scientific explicators of our time. His wafer-thin essay collection, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, sold more than 1m copies in English translation in 2015 and remains the world’s fastest-selling science book. In The Order of Time and Reality Is Not What It Seems, Rovelli illuminated the disquieting uncertainties of Einsteinian relativity, gravitational waves and other tentative physics. Nobody said that post-Newtonian physics was easy, but Rovelli’s gift is to bring difficult ideas down a level. His books continue a tradition of jargon-free popular scientific writing from Galileo to Darwin that disappeared in the academic specialisations of the past century. Only in recent years has science become, in publishing terms, popular and attractive again. Rovelli’s new book, Helgoland, attempts to explain the maddeningly difficult theory of quantum mechanics. 2021 Stephen Hawking: Everything you need to know about the thesis that ‘broke the Internet’ – By Colin Stuart, All About Space magazine 1 day ago

Your cheat sheet into the mind of one of the world’s greatest physicists.

Hawking’s PhD thesis relates to Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity— the more accurate theory of gravity that replaced Isaac Newton’s original ideas. Newton said gravity was a pull between two objects. Einstein said that gravity is the result of massive objects warping the fabric of space and time (space-time) around them. According to Einstein, Earth orbits the sun because we’re caught in the depression our star makes in space-time.

Hawking applies the mathematics of general relativity to models of the birth of our universe (cosmologies). The earliest cosmologies had our universe as a static entity that had existed forever. This idea was so ingrained that when Einstein’s original calculations suggested a static universe was unlikely, he added a “cosmological constant” to the math in order to keep the universe static. He would later reportedly call it his “greatest blunder”.

Things began to change when Edwin Hubble made an important discovery. Hawking writes: “the discovery of the recession of the nebulae [galaxies] by Hubble led to the abandonment of static models in favor of ones in which we’re expanding.” …

Most of the early chapters of Hawking’s thesis are unremarkable — they don’t offer anything particularly revolutionary, and he even gets a few things wrong. However, in his final chapter the physicist drops a bombshell that will make his name and ignite a stellar career, during which he will become one of the most famous scientists on the planet.

He says that space-time can begin and end at a singularity, and what’s more he can prove it. A singularity is an infinitely small and infinitely dense point. It literally has zero size, and space and time both end (or begin) at a singularity. They had been predicted for decades, particularly when physicists started to apply Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity to the picture of an expanding universe.

If the universe is expanding today then it was smaller yesterday. Keep working back, and you find all matter in the universe condensed into a tiny, hot point — the moment of creation, a Big Bang. But just how do you prove that you can indeed get singularities in space-time? …

In one swoop, Hawking had proven that it is possible for space-time to begin as a singularity — that space and time in our universe could have had an origin. The Big Bang theory had just received a significant shot in the arm. Hawking started to write his PhD in October 1965, just 17 months after the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background— the leftover energy from the Big Bang. Together, these discoveries buried the Steady State Model for good.  5/2021 The human genome has finally been completely sequenced after 20 years  May 2021  By Michael Marshall 4/2021  A growing chorus of scientists and philosophers argue that free will does not exist. Could they be right?  by Oliver Burkeman

 …”Towards the end of a conversation dwelling on some of the deepest metaphysical puzzles regarding the nature of human existence, the philosopher Galen Strawson paused, then asked me: “Have you spoken to anyone else yet who’s received weird email?” He navigated to a file on his computer and began reading from the alarming messages he and several other scholars had received over the past few years. Some were plaintive, others abusive, but all were fiercely accusatory. “Last year you all played a part in destroying my life,” one person wrote. “I lost everything because of you – my son, my partner, my job, my home, my mental health. All because of you, you told me I had no control, how I was not responsible for anything I do, how my beautiful six-year-old son was not responsible for what he did … Goodbye, and good luck with the rest of your cancerous, evil, pathetic existence.” “Rot in your own shit Galen,” read another note, sent in early 2015. “Your wife, your kids your friends, you have smeared all there [sic] achievements you utter fucking prick,” wrote the same person, who subsequently warned: “I’m going to fuck you up.” And then, days later, under the subject line “Hello”: “I’m coming for you.” “This was one where we had to involve the police,” Strawson said. Thereafter, the violent threats ceased. …

Given how watertight the case against free will can appear, it may be surprising to learn that most philosophers reject it: according to a 2009 survey, conducted by the website PhilPapers, only about 12% of them are persuaded by it. And the disagreement can be fraught, partly because free will denial belongs to a wider trend that drives some philosophers spare – the tendency for those trained in the hard sciences to make sweeping pronouncements about debates that have raged in philosophy for years, as if all those dull-witted scholars were just waiting for the physicists and neuroscientists to show up. In one chilly exchange, Dennett paid a backhanded compliment to Harris, who has a PhD in neuroscience, calling his book “remarkable” and “valuable” – but only because it was riddled with so many wrongheaded claims: “I am grateful to Harris for saying, so boldly and clearly, what less outgoing scientists are thinking but keeping to themselves.”

What’s still more surprising, and hard to wrap one’s mind around, is that most of those who defend free will don’t reject the sceptics’ most dizzying assertion – that every choice you ever make might have been determined in advance. So in the fruit bowl example, a majority of philosophers agree that if you rewound the tape of history to the moment of choice, with everything in the universe exactly the same, you couldn’t have made a different selection. That kind of free will is “as illusory as poltergeists”, to quote Dennett. What they claim instead is that this doesn’t matter: that even though our choices may be determined, it makes sense to say we’re free to choose. That’s why they’re known as “compatibilists”: they think determinism and free will are compatible. (There are many other positions in the debate, including some philosophers, many Christians among them, who think we really do have “ghostly” free will; and others who think the whole so-called problem is a chimera, resulting from a confusion of categories, or errors of language.)

To those who find the case against free will persuasive, compatibilism seems outrageous at first glance. How can we possibly be free to choose if we aren’t, in fact, you know, free to choose? But to grasp the compatibilists’ point, it helps first to think about free will not as a kind of magic, but as a mundane sort of skill – one which most adults possess, most of the time. As the compatibilist Kadri Vihvelin writes, “we have the free will we think we have, including the freedom of action we think we have … by having some bundle of abilities and being in the right kind of surroundings.” The way most compatibilists see things, “being free” is just a matter of having the capacity to think about what you want, reflect on your desires, then act on them and sometimes get what you want. When you choose the banana in the normal way – by thinking about which fruit you’d like, then taking it – you’re clearly in a different situation from someone who picks the banana because a fruit-obsessed gunman is holding a pistol to their head; or someone afflicted by a banana addiction, compelled to grab every one they see. In all of these scenarios, to be sure, your actions belonged to an unbroken chain of causes, stretching back to the dawn of time. But who cares? The banana-chooser in one of them was clearly more free than in the others.

“Harris, Pinker, Coyne – all these scientists, they all make the same two-step move,” said Eddy Nahmias, a compatibilist philosopher at Georgia State University in the US. “Their first move is always to say, ‘well, here’s what free will means’” – and it’s always something nobody could ever actually have, in the reality in which we live. “And then, sure enough, they deflate it. But once you have that sort of balloon in front of you, it’s very easy to deflate it, because any naturalistic account of the world will show that it’s false.”

Consider hypnosis. A doctrinaire free will sceptic might feel obliged to argue that a person hypnotised into making a particular purchase is no less free than someone who thinks about it, in the usual manner, before reaching for their credit card. After all, their idea of free will requires that the choice wasn’t fully determined by prior causes; yet in both cases, hypnotised and non-hypnotised, it was. “But come on, that’s just really annoying,” said Helen Beebee, a philosopher at the University of Manchester who has written widely on free will, expressing an exasperation commonly felt by compatibilists toward their rivals’ more outlandish claims. “In some sense, I don’t care if you call it ‘free will’ or ‘acting freely’ or anything else – it’s just that it obviously does matter, to everybody, whether they get hypnotised into doing things or not.”

Granted, the compatibilist version of free will may be less exciting. But it doesn’t follow that it’s worthless. Indeed, it may be (in another of Dennett’s phrases) the only kind of “free will worth wanting”. You experience the desire for a certain fruit, you act on it, and you get the fruit, with no external gunmen or internal disorders influencing your choice. How could a person ever be freer than that?

Thinking of free will this way also puts a different spin on some notorious experiments conducted in the 80s by the American neuroscientist Benjamin Libet, which have been interpreted as offering scientific proof that free will doesn’t exist. Wiring his subjects to a brain scanner, and asking them to flex their hands at a moment of their choosing, Libet seemed to show that their choice was detectable from brain activity 300 milliseconds before they made a conscious decision. (Other studies have indicated activity up to 10 seconds before a conscious choice.) How could these subjects be said to have reached their decisions freely, if the lab equipment knew their decisions so far in advance? But to most compatibilists, this is a fuss about nothing. Like everything else, our conscious choices are links in a causal chain of neural processes, so of course some brain activity precedes the moment at which we become aware of them.

From this down-to-earth perspective, there’s also no need to start panicking that cases like Charles Whitman’s might mean we could never hold anybody responsible for their misdeeds, or praise them for their achievements. (In their defence, several free will sceptics I spoke to had their reasons for not going that far, either.) Instead, we need only ask whether someone had the normal ability to choose rationally, reflecting on the implications of their actions. We all agree that newborn babies haven’t developed that yet, so we don’t blame them for waking us in the night; and we believe most non-human animals don’t possess it – so few of us rage indignantly at wasps for stinging us. Someone with a severe neurological or developmental impairment would surely lack it, too, perhaps including Whitman. But as for everyone else: “Bernie Madoff is the example I always like to use,” said Nahmias. “Because it’s so clear that he knew what he was doing, and that he knew that what he was doing was wrong, and he did it anyway.” He did have the ability we call “free will” – and used it to defraud his investors of more than $17bn.

To the free will sceptics, this is all just a desperate attempt at face-saving and changing the subject – an effort to redefine free will not as the thing we all feel, when faced with a choice, but as something else, unworthy of the name. “People hate the idea that they aren’t agents who can make free choices,” Jerry Coyne has argued. Harris has accused Dennett of approaching the topic as if he were telling someone bent on discovering the lost city of Atlantis that they ought to be satisfied with a trip to Sicily. After all, it meets some of the criteria: it’s an island in the sea, home to a civilisation with ancient roots. But the facts remain: Atlantis doesn’t exist. And when it felt like it wasn’t inevitable you’d choose the banana, the truth is that it actually was.

It’s tempting to dismiss the free will controversy as irrelevant to real life, on the grounds that we can’t help but feel as though we have free will, whatever the philosophical truth may be. I’m certainly going to keep responding to others as though they had free will: if you injure me, or someone I love, I can guarantee I’m going to be furious, instead of smiling indulgently on the grounds that you had no option. In this experiential sense, free will just seems to be a given.

But is it? When my mind is at its quietest – for example, drinking coffee early in the morning, before the four-year-old wakes up – things are liable to feel different. In such moments of relaxed concentration, it seems clear to me that my intentions and choices, like all my other thoughts and emotions, arise unbidden in my awareness. There’s no sense in which it feels like I’m their author. Why do I put down my coffee mug and head to the shower at the exact moment I do so? Because the intention to do so pops up, caused, no doubt, by all sorts of activity in my brain – but activity that lies outside my understanding, let alone my command. And it’s exactly the same when it comes to those weightier decisions that seem to express something profound about the kind of person I am: whether to attend the funeral of a certain relative, say, or which of two incompatible career opportunities to pursue. I can spend hours or even days engaged in what I tell myself is “reaching a decision” about those, when what I’m really doing, if I’m honest, is just vacillating between options – until at some unpredictable moment, or when an external deadline forces the issue, the decision to commit to one path or another simply arises.

This is what Harris means when he declares that, on close inspection, it’s not merely that free will is an illusion, but that the illusion of free will is itself an illusion: watch yourself closely, and you don’t even seem to be free. “If one pays sufficient attention,” he told me by email, “one can notice that there’s no subject in the middle of experience – there is only experience. And everything we experience simply arises on its own.” This is an idea with roots in Buddhism, and echoed by others, including the philosopher David Hume: when you look within, there’s no trace of an internal commanding officer, autonomously issuing decisions. There’s only mental activity, flowing on. Or as Arthur Rimbaud wrote, in a letter to a friend in 1871: “I am a spectator at the unfolding of my thought; I watch it, I listen to it.”

There are reasons to agree with Saul Smilansky that it might be personally and societally detrimental for too many people to start thinking in this way, even if it turns out it’s the truth. (Dennett, although he thinks we do have free will, takes a similar position, arguing that it’s morally irresponsible to promote free-will denial.) In one set of studies in 2008, the psychologists Kathleen Vohs and Jonathan Schooler asked one group of participants to read an excerpt from The Astonishing Hypothesis by Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, in which he suggests free will is an illusion. The subjects thus primed to doubt the existence of free will proved significantly likelier than others, in a subsequent stage of the experiment, to cheat in a test where there was money at stake. Other research has reported a diminished belief in free will to less willingness to volunteer to help others, to lower levels of commitment in relationships, and lower levels of gratitude.

Unsuccessful attempts to replicate Vohs and Schooler’s findings have called them into question. But even if the effects are real, some free will sceptics argue that the participants in such studies are making a common mistake – and one that might get cleared up rather rapidly, were the case against free will to become better known and understood. Study participants who suddenly become immoral seem to be confusing determinism with fatalism – the idea that if we don’t have free will, then our choices don’t really matter, so we might as well not bother trying to make good ones, and just do as we please instead. But in fact it doesn’t follow from our choices being determined that they don’t matter. It might matter enormously whether you choose to feed your children a diet rich in vegetables or not; or whether you decide to check carefully in both directions before crossing a busy road. It’s just that (according to the sceptics) you don’t get to make those choices freely.

In any case, were free will really to be shown to be nonexistent, the implications might not be entirely negative. It’s true that there’s something repellent about an idea that seems to require us to treat a cold-blooded murderer as not responsible for his actions, while at the same time characterising the love of a parent for a child as nothing more than what Smilansky calls “the unfolding of the given” – mere blind causation, devoid of any human spark. But there’s something liberating about it, too. It’s a reason to be gentler with yourself, and with others. For those of us prone to being hard on ourselves, it’s therapeutic to keep in the back of your mind the thought that you might be doing precisely as well as you were always going to be doing – that in the profoundest sense, you couldn’t have done any more. And for those of us prone to raging at others for their minor misdeeds, it’s calming to consider how easily their faults might have been yours. (Sure enough, some research has linked disbelief in free will to increased kindness.)

Harris argues that if we fully grasped the case against free will, it would be difficult to hate other people: how can you hate someone you don’t blame for their actions? Yet love would survive largely unscathed, since love is “the condition of our wanting those we love to be happy, and being made happy ourselves by that ethical and emotional connection”, neither of which would be undermined. And countless other positive aspects of life would be similarly untouched. As Strawson puts it, in a world without a belief in free will, “strawberries would still taste just as good”.

Those early-morning moments aside, I personally can’t claim to find the case against free will ultimately persuasive; it’s just at odds with too much else that seems obviously true about life. Yet even if only entertained as a hypothetical possibility, free will scepticism is an antidote to that bleak individualist philosophy which holds that a person’s accomplishments truly belong to them alone – and that you’ve therefore only yourself to blame if you fail. It’s a reminder that accidents of birth might affect the trajectories of our lives far more comprehensively than we realise, dictating not only the socioeconomic position into which we’re born, but also our personalities and experiences as a whole: our talents and our weaknesses, our capacity for joy, and our ability to overcome tendencies toward violence, laziness or despair, and the paths we end up travelling. There is a deep sense of human fellowship in this picture of reality – in the idea that, in our utter exposure to forces beyond our control, we might all be in the same boat, clinging on for our lives, adrift on the storm-tossed ocean of luck. “ Does a chair exist if nobody sits on it? Relational quantum mechanics says ‘NO!’
What if things only exist in their interactions with one another?

Imagine you sit down and pick up your favorite book. You look at the image on the front cover, run your fingers across the smooth book sleeve, and smell that familiar book smell as you flick through the pages. To you, the book is made up of a range of sensory appearances.

But you also expect the book has its own independent existence behind those appearances. So when you put the book down on the coffee table and walk into the kitchen, or leave your house to go to work, you expect the book still looks, feels, and smells just as it did when you were holding it.

Expecting objects to have their own independent existence – independent of us, and any other objects – is actually a deep-seated assumption we make about the world. This assumption has its origin in the scientific revolution of the 17th century and is part of what we call the mechanistic worldview. According to this view, the world is like a giant clockwork machine whose parts are governed by set laws of motion.

This view of the world is responsible for much of our scientific advancement since the 17th century. But as Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli argues in his new book Helgoland, quantum theory – the physical theory that describes the universe at the smallest scales – almost certainly shows this worldview to be false. Instead, Rovelli argues we should adopt a “relational” worldview.

What does it mean to be relational?

During the scientific revolution, the English physics pioneer Isaac Newton and his German counterpart Gottfried Leibniz disagreed on the nature of space and time.

Newton claimed space and time acted like a “container” for the contents of the universe. That is, if we could remove the contents of the universe – all the planets, stars, and galaxies – we would be left with empty space and time. This is the “absolute” view of space and time.

Leibniz, on the other hand, claimed that space and time were nothing more than the sum total of distances and durations between all the objects and events of the world. If we removed the contents of the universe, we would remove space and time also. This is the “relational” view of space and time: they are only the spatial and temporal relations between objects and events. The relational view of space and time was a key inspiration for Einstein when he developed general relativity.

Rovelli makes use of this idea to understand quantum mechanics. He claims the objects of quantum theory, such as a photon, electron, or other fundamental particles, are nothing more than the properties they exhibit when interacting with – in relation to – other objects.

These properties of a quantum object are determined through experiments and include things like the object’s position, momentum, and energy. Together they make up an object’s state.

According to Rovelli’s relational interpretation, these properties are all there is to the object: there is no underlying individual substance that “has” the properties.

So how does this help us understand quantum theory?

Consider the well-known quantum puzzle of Schrödinger’s cat. We put a cat in a box with some lethal agent (like a vial of poison gas) triggered by a quantum process (like the decay of a radioactive atom), and we close the lid.

The quantum process is a chance event. There is no way to predict it, but we can describe it in a way that tells us the different chances of the atom decaying or not in some period of time. Because the decay will trigger the opening of the vial of poison gas and hence the death of the cat, the cat’s life or death is also a purely chance event.

According to orthodox quantum theory, the cat is neither dead nor alive until we open the box and observe the system. A puzzle remains concerning what it would be like for the cat, exactly, to be neither dead nor alive.

But according to the relational interpretation, the state of any system is always in relation to some other system. So the quantum process in the box might have an indefinite outcome in relation to us, but have a definite outcome for the cat.

So it is perfectly reasonable for the cat to be neither dead nor alive for us, and at the same time to be definitely dead or alive itself. One fact of the matter is real for us, and one fact of the matter is real for the cat. When we open the box, the state of the cat becomes definite for us, but the cat was never in an indefinite state for itself.

In the relational interpretation, there is no global, “God’s eye” view of reality.

What does this tell us about reality?

Rovelli argues that, since our world is ultimately quantum, we should heed these lessons. In particular, objects such as your favorite book may only have their properties in relation to other objects, including you.

Thankfully, that also includes all other objects, such as your coffee table. So when you do go to work, your favorite book continues to appear is it does when you were holding it. Even so, this is a dramatic rethinking of the nature of reality.

On this view, the world is an intricate web of interrelations, such that objects no longer have their own individual existence independent from other objects – like an endless game of quantum mirrors. Moreover, there may well be no independent “metaphysical” substance constituting our reality that underlies this web.

As Rovelli puts it:

We are nothing but images of images. Reality, including ourselves, is nothing but a thin and fragile veil, beyond which … there is nothing.

This article by Peter Evans, ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow, The University of Queensland is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.