23/10/2021 by socialistfight
The Guardian editorial view on the quantum world: “facts are relative things”
The Guardian gave us their view on the quantum world on 30 Aug 2021. Carlo Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist who “offers a fresh way to understand the world and interpret quantum theory in his new book, Helgoland”.
The fundamental truth is that it is impossible to know everything about the world
THE AMERICAN PHYSICIST Richard Feynman thought that “nobody understands quantum mechanics”. That is no longer true. Smartphones, nuclear plants, medical scans and laser-operated doors have been built with insights from the physics that governs the subatomic level. What perplexes many is that the quantum world is governed by rules that run counter to classical notions of physical laws.
In quantum mechanics, nature is not deterministic. Subatomic particles do not travel a path that can be plotted. It is possible only to calculate the probability of finding these specks at a particular point.
Where such calculations leave physics, that hardest of the hard sciences, has troubled its greatest minds. Albert Einstein thought the idea that an element of chance lay deep in science was absurd. “god does not play dice,” he famously declared.
Physics is full of predictions that could be confirmed or denied once the technology to examine them had caught up. Einstein was proved wrong. In his new book, Helgoland, the Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli narrates how a scientific revolution was started by a young German physicist, Werner Heisenberg. He first devised quantum theory during a summer holiday in 1925 spent on the barren North Sea island of the book’s name.
The world, thought Heisenberg, could not be stated exactly, merely known through models of uncertainty and probability. He won a Nobel prize in 1932, though his achievements were tarnished by tacit support of Nazi Germany. The theory was that the world people experience is decided upon when many possibilities of the quantum world collapse to become the certainty of the classical one.
This led to Erwin Schrödinger’s cat-in-a-box thought experiment. Quantum theory suggested that only by opening the container could it be determined if the feline was dead or alive. If the box remains closed the unfortunate cat is in limbo – in a state between life and death, a superposition of possibilities.
Prof Rovelli dismantles attempts to explain away the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics. First, he takes on the “many worlds” thesis, which claims that every possible alternative exists and we just see one of them. In short, Schrödinger’s cat is alive in one universe and dead in another. Some claim that Heisenberg’s work would collapse for some as yet undiscovered macroscopic entity. In this explanation, the cat is too big to be subject to quantum physics. More recently, it has been argued that quantum systems do have definite properties; we just do not know enough about those systems to precisely predict their behaviour. But in Helgoland, this is dismissed as an attempt to return to a pre-1920s view.
Quantum theory, Prof Rovelli says, views the “physical world as a net of relations. Objects are its nodes.” In his “relational” interpretation, Schrödinger’s cat has properties only when it interacts with something else. When it is not interacting, it has no properties. Prof Rovelli reaches for Buddhist thought to explain his ideas. He claims that if nothing exists in itself, surely everything exists solely through dependence. “Facts are relative,” he writes, opening up a debate that is likely to last longer than the century of argument that it seeks to close. ▲
Unity between thought and being By Joanne Tefler
MATTER, OF COURSE, is in one way or another, always in motion. But to me this truism always breaks down in the absence of an observer. It is knowledge and its epistemology. Does matter intrinsically know it is moving? I would argue that knowing requires a material brain.
My solution to this conundrum is Ilyenkov’s assertion of the unity between thought and being (exquisitely Monist). Ilyenkov, follows Lenin’s appraisal of ‘dialectic materialism’ in Volume 38 (collected works), the Philosophical Notebooks. Dialectic, as per Socrates, was an exchange of viewpoints, an examination of contradiction.
Yes, there exists in reality, forces which exist in opposition to each other. Were that not the case, nothing could happen, and time would cease to exist. Matter could not become and there could be no motion of matter.
Lenin regarded dialectics as logic and theory of knowledge. To me the difference between dialectical logic, and formal logic, is the 4th dimension, time! Matter of course is always in motion, but matter includes thought! Thought persists until its material base rots away, leaving its residue behind in the memory of others. This residue, I suggest, includes class consciousness.
This consciousness navigates the minefield of material existence. In summary, this is dialectics, materialist dialectics, stripped of its hocus pocus.
Yes, everything that exists owes its existence to matter in motion but dialectics as a logic and theory of knowledge bequeathed by Marx in the nineteenth century, must not be allowed to dissolve into a theory of everything. Marx himself, I believe focussed on humanity and of course the environment which sustained it. ▲
Dov Winter replies to Joanne Telfer
Joanne Tefler’s piece “Unity between thought and being” is not good on dialectics. It is too dense and hard to follow. I am particularly perplexed by its conclusion: “. . .theory of knowledge bequeathed by Marx in the nineteenth century, must not be allowed to dissolve into a theory of everything.”
This is a wrong narrow interpretation of the dialectics as the theory of knowledge. The dialectics, of course, were developed by Marx and Engels to understand the evolution of history, in particular the history of class societies crowned by capitalism. Dialectical materialism was developed by Marx, Engels, and later used by Lenin and Trotsky as a critical tool in the Russian Revolution to aid the proletariat and its leadership to fight, and ultimately depose capitalism and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat as a necessary step for a classless socialist society.
All dialectic theories and practice reflect the objective laws of matter. And it is not true that the dialectic “must not be allowed to dissolve into a theory of everything.” On the contrary, the dialectic method can be applied into anything and everything that exist in the universe. The atom itself is a manifestation of all the dialectic laws of motion. The relationship between the electron and the proton can be fully understood by using all the basic laws of the dialectics: the unity and the opposites of matter, the inter connectiveness of all matter, the inter-penetration of opposites and their transformation into something new—the leap into a new unity and opposites of matter. The importance of the atom as the basic unit for all dialectical processes can be illustrated when removing two electrons from the same atom and placing the two electrons into great distances between them. But regardless of the distance, even if we put the electrons in space, each electron “recognizes” the other as it tilts in the direction of the other electron. As long as the electrons comes from the same atom this is true.
Ultimately any phenomena in nature and human society can only be fully understood by the laws of the dialectics. That does not mean that we need to use the dialectics for every daily routine. When you go to the store to buy a loaf of bread, formal logic is quite adequate for this. However, to understand the complexity of the class struggle and to form and use a correct program of action for the liberation of the working class, the revolutionary leadership of the working class must grasp the dialectics not just as an abstract program, but as a living map with its contradictory ebbs and flows. Without such a grasp of the dialectics Lenin and Trotsky could not have led the Russian workers in the October revolution and its consolidation.