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.