Time, Space, and Quantum Mechanics

Sunday, November 17, 2013
First Aired: 
Sunday, August 14, 2011

What Is It

Quantum physics is regarded by many as the most powerful predictive theory science has produced.  But there is no interpretation of what the theory means that all knowledgeable scientists and philosophers agree on.  For example, quantum mechanics delivers no very clear message about the difference between past, present and future. What are the implications for our everyday experience of space and time?  John and Ken welcome back Jenann Ismael from the University of Arizona, author of The Situated Self and many essays on the interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Listening Notes


This week John and Ken explore the philosophical questions arising from quantum physics. What does it mean to be a wave and a particle at the same time? How can particle at one end of the universe be ‘entangled’ with one at the other end and somehow communicate to it instantaneously? Would do kaleidoscopes have to do with the nature of the universe?

For Jenann Ismael, these aren’t just interesting questions but her life work. She explains why the theoies of Eric Baum have revolutionised the way physicists think about these problems. Instead of accepting that particles can somehow communicate with each other faster than the speed of light, Baum argues that entangled particles are not actually different entities, but simply lower-dimension images of the same higher-dimensional substance. Jenann believes that this theory of ‘Complementarity’ could help explain away the apparent paradoxes that arise with traditional quantum theory, and uses the idea of a multi-dimensional fish tank to prove her point.

Another issue that is broached is the Many Worlds Theory, first proposed by Hugh Everett. Traditional quantum mechanics stipulates that a particle has no set properties until it is observed, following which it randomly sets certain properties, based on probabilities. The Many Worlds Theory proposes that for each observation, a universe is created containing the possibilities that did not occur. Therefore, for each interaction in life, there are an infinitely many universes, each based on different outcomes. Although Jenann doesn’t buy into this approach, she says that it could go a long way to solving some of the issues raised by the traditional interpretations.

The final section of the program deals with the issue of physics itself. Using philosopher George Berkeley’s ideas on the material world, our philosophers consider to what level modern physics has evolved or devolved into metaphysics, and whether such a transition is good for science. Their conclusions may change the way you view the universe.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter: This week Caitlin Esch explores the effects of quantum physics on films and pop-culture. She is joined by Chad Orzel, Professor of Physics at Union College and author of How to Teach Physics to Your Dog as they discuss the how the Many Worlds Theory is represented in Hollywood. 
  • Sixty Second Philosopher: This week our inspired genius boldly goes where no man has been before—to another universe where he is the mayor of Europe, his girlfriend has a Jamaican accent, and he can divide by zero for ever and ever.  


Comments (1)

Marcel-Marie LeBel's picture

Marcel-Marie LeBel

Sunday, December 23, 2018 -- 7:45 PM

Dark Matter and Dark Energy

Dark Matter and Dark Energy

A substance is what we interact with to produce an “experience”. Essentially our reality is the sum of all our experiences.

In the present context, a cause is a logical reason for something to happen. Because it is “logical” it normally follows or is spontaneous. Then, the “Cause” is a logical reason for something to happen spontaneously.

The universe has existed and evolved for 13.8 By before we showed up to experience it. We require a substance to account for this long existence, as well as a (type of) cause to explain its spontaneous evolution, all before we started making our reality out of it.

The universe obeys the rule of non-contradiction. Its behavior is well described by mathematics which is based on logic. The universe is a logical substantial system.

As a logical system, the universe works by simple logical operations at the most fundamental level. Such a substantial logical system is allowed only one type of substance or one nature. This is because only elements of a same nature – same substance may participate in a logical operation.

Since the whole universe is allowed to contain only one type of substance, the Cause has to be some aspect of that single type of substance.

Everything in the universe is made of the same substance which may be found in different forms. For example, a clock must measure Time via a logical operation between the two of them. The clock is obviously a more complex form of the substance. Time is a simpler form of the substance. We will say Time is the name of the substance. In other words, the clock is made of time, but a more complex for of it.

We know that Time goes at different rate here and there, like in a gravitational field. This tells us that the substance “Time” is actually a dynamic process and the local rate of its evolution is a variable.

The substance has a variable. How then is the substance recognized as the same substance in all its different forms. The substance must have a property or “constant” throughout all its different forms.

If, for some of the substance A, the value of this property (think something like the Planck h) somehow changes from A to B, the substance with the B value for the property becomes a different substance for it is not logically operational with substance A and its universe. Then, the substance with the B value for the property belongs to the B universe. The A and B universes could be overlapping without any logical operations happening between the two. In other words, they are non-existent with respect to each other because they are not logically operational with each other.

(Say you have a magic bottle that could contain any substance. You could fill it with substance A. You could also fill it with substance B because to substance B, the bottle is empty since it does not interact logically with a different substance. (Only a bottle of made of substance B could contain the substance B) Of course, one could imagine some sort of such magic bottle at the Big Bang where piles of universes A, B, C, D ... etc. would be filling it for the sake of squeezing as much as possible into the small bottle... Let us imagine something a bit more complicated, like the property is not constant but rather oscillates between values A and B. That substance, in our universe A, would seem to appear and disappear without explanation... Try something, anything and see if it fits the data... )

A substantial logical system allows only one type of cause. There is no simple logical rule to determine which of the two causes has precedence... One example of this only type of cause allowed involving the rate of time is known as gravity.

‘ .. A more accurate way of summarizing the lessons of General Relativity is that gravity does not cause time to run differently in different places (e.g., faster far from the earth than near it). Gravity is the unequable flow of time from place to place. It is not that there are two separate phenomena, namely gravity and time and that the one, gravity, affects the other. Rather the theory states that the phenomena we usually ascribe to gravity are actually caused by time’s flowing unequably from place to place... “Bill Unruh arXiv:gr-qc/9312027v2 17 Dec 1993

In conclusion, to me, Dark Matter and Dark Energy could simply be the modern names for the “Substance and Cause” of Ontology or Natural Metaphysics.

(Was also posted somewhere else on philosophytalk.org )