Saturday, December 22, 2007
What truly is Einstein’s Moon?
As you recall in my last post I was speaking as to why Albert Einstein served as my inspiration in coming to realize that science should not be content to restrict itself to only answer “how” the world works but also to imagine “what” it is and “why”. In doing so I attempted to demonstrate Einstein’s thoughts on what science should explore and serve to be. I offered you the insight that Einstein’s strength in his pursuit of understanding and discovery rested on the fact that he were not just simply intelligent: but, that also he was a man of conviction as to what should be considered to represent truth in our world. More specifically I said I would attempt to explain what significance this blog’s question “What is Einstein’s Moon” is in reference to.
To begin, despite all the success and favor Einstein attained in life; he, until the end of his days found himself to be an outsider in the then forefront of scientific discovery. That forefront of course was with the dawn of quantum theory, which attempts to explain our world at the very small (non perceived) scale. Today some believe that this was due to Einstein not understanding the subject or perhaps even compounded by advancing age. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact he was one that laid the foundations for its beginnings. For instance it is widely assumed that Einstein was awarded the Noble prize for his work on special and general relativity. This is not so. What he was given the Nobel Prize for was in showing that if light was considered as a particle it could explain why only light above a certain frequency (energy density) could free electrons from specific materials. We exploit this today in many applications, most notably the solar cell. This along with Max Planck’s ideas marked the birth of what is considered modern atomic physics. In continuance with this, he inspired, communicated and consulted with all those who became known as the founders of quantum theory. So then, how did Einstein find himself outside the consensus formed about the nature of the quanta that emerged and for the most part is still accepted in the main today?
How Einstein came to find himself in this position was two fold, in that quantum theory implied two things about nature with which he had trouble with. First, the theory proposed things about the world that appeared inconsistent with his own theories, specifically special relativity. Second, the theory dismissed the objective nature of the world. That is it suggested that the world of which we are aware is somehow connected with ones perception of it and in some respect is not real in the normal sense of meaning until it is so perceived. This if taken to the extreme could suggest that every individual (not just person but rather organism) has its own private reality. As time progressed Einstein was to focus his attention primarily on this second feature as to be its central flaw. He can be seen in the act of expressing this doubt about what the new theory implies and what the responsibilities of scientists are when he writes a paper entitled “Physics and Reality” for the journal of the Franklin Institute [Volume.221, No. 3, March 3, 1936], he states in the opening paragraph the following:
“It has been often said, and certainly not without justification, that the man of science is a poor philosopher. Why, then, should it not be the right thing for the physicist to let the philosopher to the philosophizing? Such might indeed be the right thing at a time when the physicist believes he has at his disposal a rigid system of fundamental concepts and fundamental laws which are also well established that waves of doubt cannot reach them; but, it cannot be right at a time when the very foundations of physics itself become problematic as they are now. At a time like the present, when experience forces us to seek a newer and more solid foundation, the physicist cannot simply surrender to the philosopher the critical contemplation of the theoretical foundations; for, he himself knows best, and feels more surely where the shoe pinches. In looking for a new foundation he must make clear in his own mind just how far such concepts which he uses are justified, and are necessities.”
Now to indicate that the physicists truly thought as Einstein perceived I offer here a quote of Aage Petersen paraphrasing Niels Bohr (a founding father of quantum theory):
“There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.”
So as can be seen not only can we assume that Bohr dismisses the “what” and “why” of the world, which in some ways we have come to expect of science; he, says we can no longer be permitted to ask “how” and should be content with what we can say about nature, which serves to answer essentially nothing at all. Einstein was thus considered unreasonable in not accepting this.
As part of this distaste for not looking for a objective description of the world Einstein was not content with the fact that nature’s actions were not just merely perceived to be so complex that they could only be predicted within a statistical framework, but, rather that there was no framework at all and that the statistics where due to the fact that nature at the base level acts randomly. This is even furthered in quantum mechanics to suggest that cause is not related to effect. That is to say that nature has no reason at all. Einstein can be seen here complaining about this in a letter he wrote to a friend and fellow physicist, Max Born, on September 7, 1944[Born-Einstein Letters], when he says to Born:
“We have become Antipodean in our scientific expectations. You believe in the God that plays dice, and I in complete law and order in a world which objectively exists, and which I, in a wildly speculative way, am trying to capture. I firmly believe, but I hope that someone will discover, a more realistic way, or rather a more tangible basis than it has been my lot to find. Even the great initial success of quantum theory does not make me believe in the fundamental dice-game, although I am well aware that our younger colleagues interpret this as a consequence of senility. No doubt the day will come when we will see whose instinctive attitude was the correct one.”
As indicated above then Einstein’s main objection to quantum mechanics, as it was accepted, was that it lent no reasonable explanation of the world and in some sense denied what many would perceive as what it means to truly exist. As a further testament to this once while walking with physicist and his biographer, Abraham Pais, Pais reports in frustration Einstein asked “whether I really believed that the moon exists only when I look at it."
To conclude, I hope that you more clearly understand why I chose Einstein to represent both the inspiration and purpose of this blog. That is, with him, I am convinced that mankind should have hope that we will not only continue to explore and discover “how” and “what the world truly is, yet further to be confident that we will ultimately come to realize “why”.
As a postscript to this I'd like to leave you with what Einstein said in relation to all this in the conclusion of a paper he called “The Fundamentals of Theoretical Physics” in the journal [Science- May 24, 1940]
“Some physicists, among them myself, cannot believe that we must abandon, actually and forever, the idea of direct representation of physical reality in time and space; or that we must accept the view that events in nature are analogous to a game of chance. It is open to every man to choose the direction of his striving: and also every man may draw from Lessing’s fine saying, that the search for truth is more precious than its possession. “
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Why “Einstein’s” Moon?
To the few readers of this blog you may have been curious as to how (for me) a blog that is concerned with the “how”, “what” and “why” holds any relevance to Albert Einstein. Also, you may be interested as to why Einstein’s Moon in particular is significant in terms of this blog’s subject matter and focus. First, I must admit that if there is a person in history that has influenced me more then Plato it is Einstein. In fact I started this whole journey of the discovery and contemplation of scientific and philosophic consideration primarily due to his influence. However, to my recollection as to how the whole thing began is that in 1957, as a very young boy, I heard the eerie beeping’s of the first man made satellite over a radio. This of course was the Soviet’s “Sputnik” meaning “fellow traveler”. So you might say that it all started with the practical beginnings of the space age. This event instilled in me a curiosity about science and the nature of the world that has continued to this day. Initially I was primarily interested in modern science and the person that represented this most poignantly was of course Albert Einstein. He did then, and I would say still today, personifies the best of wisdom and science's abilities that the modern age has acheived. Realizing this I proceeded to gather and study everything I could, not only about his science, but also the man and his thoughts.
So enough about me, let’s speak of Einstein as he relates here. What I discovered about Einstein was two fold. That was that his discoveries where made not only because he was intelligent but also because he held a conviction about how the world works and what it should be. This conviction gave him the confidence and tenacity to follow up on ideas he saw as viable, even if they were not considered consistent with the main stream or popular view within his discipline and more importantly his time. This begs the question, how did he get this way? Well besides the blessings of what he was born with and what his parents nurture instilled in him, it was a consequence of what else influenced him in his development. That influence was found in part as result of his education, however I would say more importantly it is found in what he read and studied beyond the curriculum. I could go on for some time as to what this entailed but Einstein has already said this for himself when he was commenting as to what he viewed as the misguided direction of much of contemporary thought when in 1952 he said:
“Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous. There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium. Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist's snobbishness.”
Now as you can imagine when I discovered this I was inspired to take Einstein to heart and accept both his judgment and his challenge. I don’t think I need to explain much more beyond this. One thing I must include here is that his challenge doesn’t just extend to studying the teachings of antiquity but all the way up to the present. I have striven to do just that within my limits of time and comprehension. It is with this then why Einstein serves as the type of person to represent this contention that not only the “how” is important to the understanding of our world but the “what” and also the “why”. Einstein summed up his personal feelings about this many years ago when he said:
“I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.”
I must say I was a little hesitant to quote this as it is so often misused to portray Einstein as someone motivated by religion and so I will clear this up later with another of his quotes. What this truly portrays is that Einstein was not so interested in being able to expand our or his ability to predict as is the main focus of science today, but rather to attempt to understand “what” is the world and “how” it was so conceived which of course is the “why”. Now in regards to Einstein and religion he totally disregarded all of them, as they relate to two categories which he called “the religions of fear” and “the religions of morals”. He summed up his feelings on these when he said:
“And yet, that the primitive religions are based entirely on fear and the religions of civilized peoples purely on morality is a prejudice against which we must guard. The truth is that all religions are a varying blend of both types, with this differentiation: that on the higher levels of social life the religion of morality predominates.”
So it is clear with this that what many would call religion or the will of God is not what Einstein was alluding to. So what was he talking about? This is also revealed in this essay when he says:
“But there is a third stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.”
So as can be seen the God that most everyone thought that Einstein was referring to was not what it actually was. I will offer no further explanation of this due to the reasons that he cited and yet will tell you that it can be understood if you accept the challenge he offers to all.
Oh yes, I was going to relate to you what “Einstein’s Moon” refers to. Although I intended to include it here, I have decided it important enough that it serve as the discussion of a future entry.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Truth & Beauty, do they still Hold?
It has been some time since I have written in this blog. There are many reasons for this, yet I have to admit the central one was a lack of inspiration. However, recently with the start up of a new blog and topic, some things fell into place which I would like to include here. As you may know that in previous posts I have devoted some time to Plato and the explanation and promotion of his ideas. I believe that you would not be too surprised to learn I am greatly influenced by his teachings . One of the central tenants of platonian thought is that the world is the end result of two things, which I have explained here in the past as being “truth” and “beauty”. These Plato thought formed and explained both the substance and action of our world. He also referred to a second level of reality that was not part of our own world and yet connected. This place as he described was where all things found in our world and all things possible in the past or future, in terms of final form and action exist in their completion. You could describe this as the realm of all possibility. What I would like to discuss here is if such concepts still serve a useful role as to the definition and explanation our world.
When it comes to the broad strokes of the concepts of Plato, for the most part today are referenced as being Metaphysics. The particular form this metaphysics takes is said to be its ontology, or an explicit specification of a conceptualization. The central feature to Plato’s metaphysics is that as far as our world's (reality) is concerned there are two interconnected aspects to it, referred to as “truth” and “beauty”. These aspects correlate in some fashion to form what is the world. This would be considered today as a dual ontology. The other realm I spoke of is a conceptual realm where all of this interaction has played out as to the final form of which all this can take. This of course for many would amount to no more then fantasy, as to how such a conceptualization could actually be relevant to our world. In fact many involved in the physical sciences would say that all relates to quantum physics where the only feature considered as the bases of our reality is a wave or rather action of a wave, that forms what we perceive as all that is real. This could be referred to as a singular or one aspect ontology. With the adoption of this ontology they have in turn ended up with a description of the world that is in many ways both incomplete and bizarre. None the less, despite these obvious features and concerns, it is thought to be a reasonable explanation, since it has proved useful in terms of prediction of outcome which as I have explained is a primary objective within modern science.
Before we go much further, I feel I must give you a little taste of what I mean by this incomplete and bizarre description. It is most poignantly and thereby simple brought out in what is referred to as the two slit experiment. In this experiment you have a device that produces and emits one subatomic particle (quanta) as say an electron at a time. Further on and in front of the emitter is a barrier that has two slits cut into it that are close together but not joined. At some distance beyond this barrier there is a backstop which can record and show the location of every electron that strikes it after they pass through the slits. Now to understand this more fully we have to imagine what would happen if we used bullets with a similar setup instead of electrons. What would appear at the backstop after many bullets fired would be impacts that form a distribution pattern that would be greatest in the centre section of the backstop behind the two slits and diminishing in a downward bell like curve. Now what do you suppose happens in the electron case? Well as with bullets as each electron is emitted there is found a corresponding spot (strike) at the back stop. However after many strikes we observe the pattern of hits being formed is nothing like that in the case of the bullets. This pattern reveals bands of strikes starting at the centre with gaps of no strikes in between with the number of strikes in each band outward (of the middle) diminishing in number. This appears to be a pattern formed by wave interference rather then one of a particle nature. Now the question waves of what? For it is clear that what has struck the screen is single units and yet the pattern they distribute is that of a wave. How can this be? Well the way most physicists explain this is they don’t. There are all kinds of rules about how to make predictions in such situations yet no explanation is offered or no reasonable one at best. When asked the question if the electron, (quanta) are particles or waves? The answers often given is both, neither or it doesn’t apply. If you ask if the electron went through both slits or one? In reply they will say we don't know. In the end many say something to the effect of what Richard Feynman did more the forty years ago (taken from The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume 3, page 1-10):
“One might still like to ask: “How does it work?. What is the machinery behind the law?” No one has found any machinery behind the law. No one can “explain” any more than we have just “explained” . No one will give you a deeper representation of the situation. We have no ideas about a more basic mechanism from which these results can be deduced.”
So now you can understand what I mean by incomplete and bizarre. On the other hand if I were to say this to most physicists they would say, that I, not they, have a problem. Now this could be seen as all well and good if what they and Dr. Feynman said was true. However, there has been a reasonable and straight forward explanation of what is called standard non relativist Quantum Mechanics for some time. The explanation was proposed actually twice. First, in 1927 by Louis de Broglie and then again it was independently rediscovered and expanded in 1952 by David Bohm. This theory is known as the de Broglie-Bohm pilot wave theory or more simply as Bohmian Mechanics. This theory explains that the machinery of quantum mechanics is to be found in the resultant action of the influence of a wave over that of a particle. Now how did they miss that one? Everyone was asking “particle” or “wave” when the simple answer was “particle” and “wave”.
Now you might ask, why was this ignored? First you might suspect that both of the discoverers were either unknown or unqualified. Well de Broglie was one of the founders of quantum theory and received a Nobel Prize in 1929 for his contributions to the subject. Bohm on the other hand was a leading physicist of his generation and wrote a text book in 1951 on quantum mechanics that is still widely used to this day. So that doesn’t wash. So then why was it ignored? What I (and others before) contend is the reason relates to this ontology issue. As I stated earlier, standard quantum mechanics is centered on the wave phenomena as being the sole explanation, where all is simply considered as the actions of a wave. Not a normal wave that is, for this wave collapses only upon observation to present or better to be only to be perceived as a particle. Also, there are not any firm or straight forward rules as to when and where this should be considered. So when you boil it all down, it is because they prefer this singlular ontology as opposed to the dual ontology suggested by de Broglie and Bohm.
To conclude today, I would once again suggest that ancient ideas like Plato’s where both the “how” and “what “are considered, still have application today. This is in contrast to modern physics were the “how” is held so central that the “what” could be ignored or thought as unimportant. Now Plato also spoke of the “why”, which is not addressed directly by Bohm’s theory. Plato said the “why” was for the ”good”. When you examine Bohm’s theory, which realizes both the substance (truth) and the order (beauty) of the world I can’t insist this is the reason or prove it so. I can only hope it is true.