Quantum mechanics developed in the last century to deal with the tiniest parts of nature. It seemed that classical physics, which applied to everything from stars to grains of sand, should have sufficed. But it didn’t. A whole new theory was needed. To it we owe modern bombs and modern computers. It’s been called the most empirically powerful and accurate theory ever developed.
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.
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.
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