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Physics and Faith 4. Rumors of a Designer Creator and Sustainer, Part III. The Ground of Physical Being in Quantum Physics

PDF and .doc files of the overheads used for this presentation are available from the Physics and Faith home page or from the download page

 

1. Introduction and Review of Past Sessions

1.1. The Laws of Physics

1.1.1. The Mystery of the Source of the Universe's Rationality

1.1.2. The Mystery of the Comprehensibility of the Universe's Rationality

1.2. The "boundary" of the universe at time = 0 (the "Big Bang") of classical cosmology

1.3. The Existence of All of Space-Time

1.4. The Anthropic Principle

1.5. The Ground of Physical Being in Quantum Physics

 

2. Quantum Physics and Being: The Orthodox Interpretation

2.1. What is a Thing? What is Being?

2.2. Overview of the Nature of Being in Quantum Physics

2.3. Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

 

3. Other Interpretations of the Meaning of Quantum Physics

3.1. Introduction

3.2. The Realist Interpretation

3.3. Many Worlds Interpretation

 

4. What is a Measurement?

 

5. Quantum Nonlocality = Quantum Entanglement

5.1. The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) "Paradox." Spooky Action at a Distance

5.2. The Classical versus the Modern View of the EPR Paradox

 

6. Metaphysical Questions Posed by Quantum Physics

 

7. Why Does the World Appear "Concrete" to Us?

 

8. Other Issues for Theology Raised by Quantum Physics

 

9. Is Quantum Physics True?

 

References

 

 

1. Introduction and Review of Past Sessions

In the last two sessions we have considered four contingencies or dependencies in the universe that are unexplained by physics, that might be considered "rumors" of God:

 

 

1.1. The Laws of Physics

In considering the existence of the laws of physics, we can ask two questions:

  • 1. The Mystery of the Source of the Universe's Rationality. Why is there an order, any rationality at all to the universe? Where does this order, rationality (the laws of Physics) come from?

  • 2. The Mystery of the Comprehensibility of the Universe's Rationality. Why are these laws comprehensible to the human mind? And why should such laws appeal to our aesthetic sense of mathematical beauty and elegance?

 

 

1.1.1. The Mystery of the Source of the Universe's Rationality

Why is there an order, any rationality at all to the universe? Where does this order, rationality (the laws of Physics) come from?

 

“the universe, in its rationale beauty and transparency, looks like a world shot through with signs of mind, and maybe, it's the "capital M" Mind of God we are seeing”

- John Polkinghorne

 

 

1.1.2. The Mystery of the Comprehensibility of the Universe's Rationality

Why are these laws comprehensible to the human mind? And why should such laws appeal to our aesthetic sense of mathematical beauty and elegance?

 

“. . . there is some deep-seated relationship between the reason within (the rationality of our minds - in this case mathematics) and the reason without (the rational order and structure of the physical world around us). The two fit together like a glove.”

- John Polkinghorne

 

A Christian may speculate that this deep-seated relationship between the reason within and the reason without may be a reflection that human beings were made in the image and likeness of the source of that rationality, God.

 

 

1.2. The "boundary" of the universe at time = 0 (the "Big Bang") of classical cosmology

The Penrose-Hawking Singularity Theorem:

  • proved that in all cosmological models based on General Relativity, a "singularity" at time = 0 is inevitable

    • the "singularity" at time = 0: the fabric of space and time is undefined, non-existent

 

Non-quantum physics (General Theory of Relativity) cannot explain what "caused" the universe to "appear" immediately after time = 0:

 

Contingency of the “boundary” at time = 0, the initial space-time singularity: does this represent the point at which God created the universe out of nothing (creatio ex nihilio)?

 

 

1.3. The Existence of All of Space-Time

Why should we give any one "point" in space-time (the initial "singularity") any special significance?

Why is there something and not nothing?

What "breathes fire" into the equations and mathematical theories of physics (present or future) and makes the universe they describe manifest, real?

 

The existence of all of space-time, the "fabric" of the universe itself, requires an explanation -- not just the initial singularity (if indeed there is an initial singularity)

 

God is not a God of the edges, with a vested interest in beginnings. God is the God of all times and all places

- John Polkinghorne

 

"God is holding a fruitful, rationally beautiful world in being"

- John Polkinghorne

 

 

1.4. The Anthropic Principle

The laws of physics and the "initial conditions" of the universe near time = 0 appear to be incredibly fine-tuned to produce life. The slightest deviations in the physical constants or the laws of physics would have resulted in a sterile universe devoid of stars and life

Why?

 

The Weak Anthropic Principle asserts:

  • these coincidences are selection effects.

  • we live in a privileged position in the universe

  • there are other universes (Many Universes Hypothesis), or other domains/parts of universe (for example, in the Chaotic Inflation Model) where the laws of physics or the initial conditions are different, and in which stars and life never developed

 

The Strong Anthropic Principle asserts:

  • the apparent extraordinary "fine-tuning" is present because life is a requirement for the universe. Either:

  • the universe was "designed" for life to evolve (= a Rumor of a Designer)

  • conscious life is required for the universe to come into existence (Observer Created Universe)

 

 

1.5. The Ground of Physical Being in Quantum Physics

When physics probes to understand the most basic constituents of matter, it reaches another boundary, a "ground" of physical being in quantum physics which is impenetrable to further probing

 

Today's toxpic:

The Ground of Physical Being in Quantum Physics

 

 

2. Quantum Physics and Being: The Orthodox Interpretation

2.1. What is a Thing? What is Being?

 

What is a thing?… It is striking that, of all the modern sciences, only quantum physics seems to have been obliged to face this issue directly

- physicist C. J. Isham

 

 

2.2. Overview of the Nature of Being in Quantum Physics

The Orthodox or Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Physics is the most commonly accepted interpretation of quantum physics. It tells us:

  • Atoms and subatomic particles are NOT the ultimate physical reality

  • Ultimate physical reality must be imagined as a "ground of being" teeming with latent potentialities, latent possibilities not yet actualized, not yet "real" 

  • Our knowledge of these latent potentialities, latent possibilities is encoded in the quantum "wavefunction" or "state function" of a system

  •  The act of measurement seems to CAUSE one of the possibilities / potentialities in the "ground of being" to become actualized

    • Out of the range of possibilities / potentialities, one possibility / potentiality becomes "real", and a "particle" (or "quantum") temporarily appears

    • Physicists call this actualization of one of the latent possibilities / potentialities the "collapse of the wavefunction"

  • The "ground of being" somehow "chooses" which particular possibility / potentiality is actualized when a measurement is done

  • We can predict only the probability of a particular "choice" occurring. Within the boundaries of the probability function, the "choice" made by the ground of beings appears to us as random

  • After measurement is done, the “particle” soon returns to the realm of latent potentialities, latent possibilities

 

 

2.3. Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

The act of measurement does not bring into being a "classical" particle which has all its "properties" or "observables" fully defined

A measurement / observation only "brings into being" / "actualizes" a "particle" which has the measured / observed property or observable well-defined. Other properties or observables may remain "undefined," may still lie in the realm of latent possibilities / potentialities

 

For example:

Measuring for the observable "position" causes the wavefunction to collapse into a state which has a well-defined position

  • the observable "momentum" however will still remain undefined, will still lie in the realm of latent possibilities

 

Measuring for the observable "momentum" causes the wavefunction to collapse into a state which has a well-defined momentum

  • the observable "position" however will still remain undefined, will still lie in the realm of latent possibilities

 

This is the basis for the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

 

It is generally no longer consistent to talk of individual entities possessing a value for an observable: it is more as if the property concerned is latent in the system until such time as an observation brings it into being. As John Bell has put it, "beables" are replaced by "observables," and the verb "to be" becomes "to be measured"

- physicist C. J. Isham

 

 

3. Other Interpretations of the Meaning of Quantum Physics

3.1. Introduction

The Orthodox or Copenhagen Interpretation of the meaning of quantum physics in section 2 -- that the act of measurement itself causes a particular "observable" to become actualized / become "real" -- is the most widely accepted interpretation

 

There have been two major alternative interpretations of quantum physics.

  • 1. Realist interpretation

  • 2. "Many Worlds" interpretations

 

 

3.2. The Realist Interpretation

The Realist Interpretation posits that Quantum Physics must be incomplete. A system being measured must actually possess the value of the property being measured before the measurement is made, and there must be a "hidden variable" that remains to be discovered that will allow us to find out what this value is before the measurement is done.

The Realist Viewpoint became untenable in 1964, when J. S. Bell proved that any local hidden variable theory is logically incompatible with quantum physics

 

 

3.3. Many Worlds Interpretation

The Many Worlds Interpretation posits that each time we "collapse a wavefunction" through an act of measurement and observation, the universe is actually fragmenting into an unimaginable number of universes, each universe manifesting one of the possible latent potentialities, latent possibilities

 

 

4. What is a Measurement?

One important and still unclarified facet of the Orthodox Interpretation is what is required for an act to constitute a measurement, with the “power” to cause the “collapse of the wavefunction”?

 

Suggestions include:

  • A sufficiently large enough number of other quantum systems  to make up a “macroscopic system” that is used for the measurement (e.g. a voltmeter, an eyeball)

  • A conscious, self-aware mind

 

The suggestion that measurement or observation sufficient to cause the "collapse of the wavefunction" requires a conscious, self-aware mind has led to speculations of:

  • an Observer-Created or Participatory Universe as an explanation for the Strong Anthropic Principle

    • the universe appears "designed" for life because only those possible universes with the potential for conscious, self-aware minds give rise to the observers needed for the universe to "concretize" or "actualize" itself

  • The necessity of God

    • The "observation" / "measurement" of a conscious, self-aware mind was necessary at the "Big Bang" for the "Big Bang" to become actualized, become real

    • God is thus also the "First Observer" or "Primal Observer"

 

 

5. Quantum Nonlocality = Quantum Entanglement

5.1. The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) "Paradox." Spooky Action at a Distance

Einstein did not believe in quantum physics, complaining that God did not play dice with the universe, as quantum physics seemed to imply, in that the collapse of the wavefunction in a measurement or observation caused an apparently "random" actualization of one of many latent possibilities / potentialities.

Physicists Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen proposed a thought experiment similar to the following in order to show that quantum physics led to some "preposterous" consequences:

 

  • 1. Consider the neutral pi meson or pion :

    • All subatomic particles have a property called "spin," (so called because it gives the particle behaviors as if it were spinning on a rotational axis). Spin is conserved in all particle interactions

    • A pion has a "spin" of 0.

    • The pion decays into an electron e-, which can have "spin up" = +1/2 or "spin down" = -1/2, and a positron e+, which can also have a "spin up" = +1/2 or a "spin down" = -1/2)

    • Because spin is conserved, when a pion  decays, the total spin of the electron e- and positron e+ it decays into must add up to the spin of the original pion = 0

    • if the electron e- has spin up = +1/2, then the positron e+ must have spin down = -1/2 and visa versa

  • 2. Observe a pion   and watch it decay into an electron e- and a positron e+.

  • 3. Let the electron e- and positron e+ “fly” way off in opposite directions. Millions and millions of years pass – you have long died. The electron e- and positron e+ are not being observed and so they return to the "ground of being," to the realm of latent potentialities, latent possibilities not yet real, not yet actualized.

  • 4. When the electron e- and positron e+ are one million light years apart, millions and millions of years after the pion   from which they originated decayed, someone measures the spin on one of them -- say the electron e-. By the Orthodox Interpretation:

    • the latent potentialities of the electron e- includes the latent potentiality of being either spin up = +1/2 or spin down = -1/2

    • When a measurement of the spin of the electron e- is made, one of the possible latent potentialities of the electron e- becomes actualized (the "wavefunction collapses"), and a spin up or spin down electron e- appears. Say the measurement yields an electron e- with spin up.

    • Instantaneously, the spin of the positron e+ one million light years away no longer has the latent potentiality of being spin up or spin down, but now has a fully determined spin -- spin down!

 

Einstein, Podolsky, Rosen:

  • how can the electron e- instantaneously communicate to the positron e+, which is one million light year away, the message: "I've had my spin measured. I'm spin up," and "force" the positron e+ to become spin down?

  • this "spooky action-at-a-distance" is preposterous

 

In 1982, Aspect, Grangier and Roger at the University of Paris experimentally confirmed that the “preposterous” effect of the EPR Paradox. The "spooky action-at-a-distance" of the EPR paradox is physical reality.

 

 

5.2. The Classical versus the Modern View of the EPR Paradox

Why was Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen wrong?

 

Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen ("Classical View")

  • considered the electron and positron to be individual particles. For the electron e- to determine the spin of the positron e+, it would have to exert some force on the positron to change it, to "cause” the positron to have a certain spin. This "force" would have to travel across the light years of distance between the electron and positron before it could effect the positron

 

The Quantum Physics View (the "modern" view):

  • The electron e- and positron e+, because they had "interacted" in their past through their origin from a pion p0 , are never fully individual entities

  • In the EPR paradox we see them behaving as a single entity. They have a single wavefunction which describes their shared latent potentialities, their shared latent possibilities.

  • The measurement of the electron’s spin collapses the entire “electron-positron” wavefunction and so actualizes one of the possible sets of properties for the combined entity of electron e- and positron e+.

  • The fact that the electron e- and positron e+ are far removed from each other does not matter, for wavefunctions are not "local," are not tied to some location in space or time (= quantum "nonlocality"). The wavefunctions seem to exist independently of the dimensions of space and time

  • In other words, there is a "ground" of physical reality that never "forgets" that the electron e- and positron e+ share a common origin, and this memory is "nonlocal," is not tied to any location in space or time.

 

Because the universe is filled with “particles” “interacting” all the time, particle are becoming “entangled” as joint entities all the time. Another name for quantum "nonlocality" is "quantum entanglement."

 

The phenomenon of quantum entanglement imparts to the physical world a degree of holistic interdependence that contrasts strongly with the predominately atomistic concepts of Western Philosophy

- C. J. Isham

 

The EPR experiment shows that the subatomic world cannot be treated atomistically. There's an intrinsic interconnectedness that cannot be broken

- John Polkinghorne

 

 

6. Metaphysical Questions Posed by Quantum Physics

Some metaphysical questions that quantum physics raises:

  • What is the "realm" in which the "wavefunctions" =  the latent possibilities, potentialities "exist"? What is the nature of their "being"?

  • How does this "ground of being" "remember" all the interactions between "particles" and what they shared? How can this "remembrance" be non-local, impervious to separations in time and space?

 

 

7. Why Does the World Appear "Concrete" to Us?

If we do numerous measurements of an electron's "position" as it "rotates" around the nucleus of an atom (each measurement "collapsing the wavefunction" of the electron so that it becomes actualized and has a defined position at the time of the measurement), we find set of all position measurements forms a "cloud" ("electron cloud") around the nucleus. The electron can be anywhere in the cloud on two successive measurements

 

If this is true for the electron, then:

  • Why don't position measurements of Mars' rotation around the Sun form a "Mars cloud?"

  • Why does the world appear to consist of distinct objects occupying distinct positions in a well-defined space-time? Why does the world appear concrete to us?

  • If nature is fundamentally a unity because of quantum entanglement, why is it possible to know something without knowing everything?

 

The "separability" of nature is only approximate, but this approximate separability (the "classical" non-quantum world we observe macroscopically) is sufficient to allow us to know something without knowing everything

Physicist Hartle and Gell-Mann have calculated that the appearance of an approximately "classical world" is the result of a peculiar quantum state of the universe ("initial conditions") at the time of the Big Bang -- and thus another example of the Anthropic Principle

 

 

8. Other Issues for Theology Raised by Quantum Physics

The nature of being that we find in quantum physics may be relevant to theologies of:

  • Divine Action

    • Can God act "without being seen" by influencing the "collapse of the wavefunction" when we make a measurement or observation?

  • The "Openness" of the Universe

    • The exact value that results when a measurement or observation "collapses" the wavefunction can never be predicted. The universe is therefore inherently indeterminate. The future is unpredictably and inherently "open."

 

 

9. Is Quantum Physics True?

 

This theoretical failure to find a plausible alternative to quantum mechanics . . . suggests to me that quantum mechanics is the way it is because any small change in quantum mechanics would lead to logical absurdities. If this is true, quantum mechanics may be a permanent part of physics. Indeed, quantum mechanics may survive not merely as an approximation to a deeper truth, in the way that Newton’s theory of gravitation survives as an approximation to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, but as a precisely valid feature of the final theory

- Steven Weinberg, in Dreams of a Final Theory

 

 

References

Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature. Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action. Second Edition. Robert John Russell, Nancey Murphy, and C. J. Isham, editors. Vatican Observatory Publications and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, Berkeley, 1996. Distributed by University of Notre Dame Press

Science and Theology: An Introduction. John Polkinghorne, SPCK / Fortress Press, London / Minneapolis, 1998

The Mind of God. The Scientific Basis for a Rational World. Paul Davies. Touchstone. New York. 1992

 

 

 

 

Physics and Faith

 

1. Views of the Relationship Between Science and Theology

2. Rumors of a Designer, Creator and Sustainer. Part I. The Laws of Physics. The Big Bang

3. Rumors of a Designer, Creator and Sustainer. Part II. Quantum Cosmology. The Anthropic Principle

4. Rumors of a Designer Creator and Sustainer, Part III. The Ground of Physical Being in Quantum Physics

5. A Universe of True Becoming

6. Physics, The Fall, and The Final Things