Western Standard

The Shotgun Blog

« The Haze of Hazel | Main | Orono Weekly Times: "Seminar fallout gives Clarington a bad rap" »

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The crazy truths about absolute truth

One of the most poorly understood truths that we do know about reality and existence is that much of what we do, in fact know, contradicts with the premise that there exists such a thing as absolute truth.

What seems to be a matter of debate for philosophers and theologians, actually has experimental evidence against the theological and naturalistic claims for an objective reality.

The discovery of the phenomenon of interference patterns that emerge when single electrons, fired at long intervals from each other -- produce wave-like interference patterns when given the option of going through two possible paths -- but don’t when given one path, has long been a dark cloud over the claim of objective reality in physics.

The experimental results of these experiments led to Einstein’s famous statement -- rejecting the implications -- “God doesn’t roll dice.”

Einstein believed that there had to be some other explanation for the fact that the electrons were acting in the same way they would (when fired individually -- at intervals as long as two minutes apart) as they would if a stream of electrons were being continuously fired through both slits in what is commonly known as the “double-slit experiment”.

What made it even more bewildering, is if you made any attempt to track the electron's journey by setting up detectors in between, the interference pattern disappeared.

It was almost as if the electron had foreknowledge of what was ahead of it, before it got there.

James Clerk Maxwell’s famous field equations would come to describe this phenomenon in terms of probability waves -- not absolutes -- of where any electron could be found at any time. And while this seems like nonsense from a intuitive perspective, Maxwell’s field equations are generally considered the most commercially important physics equations that have ever been discovered. They are relied upon in computer design, and pretty much all electronics.

Yet, these equations seem to point to there being no objective reality in quantum states.

The famous physicist, Richard Feynman would try and improve on the experiment by introducing a factor known as “delayed choice”. It involved creating a well-timed experiment, where the detector would not initiate until the electron had passed through either slit. In effect, trying to create an “a-ha, electron! got you!” effect. But doing this changed nothing. It was almost as if the electron had a priori knowledge that the detector would be turned on after it passed through either slit.

This may sound like science fiction. But this experiment has been replicated over and over again for over sixty years, and has always shown the same results. That, the electron is able to interfere with itself in the same way that waves in a pond interfere with other waves, even though there isn’t another electron to cause the interference.

This led Feynman to only one possible conclusion: that, the electron took every possible path through the experiment. And only when a measurement occurred, would the wave function collapse and force the electron to reveal a single history. This would also explain why the act of measurement would eliminate the interference pattern; because the wave function of the electron would collapse before striking the end detector.

I won’t take you through a comprehensive history, but the vast majority of physicists today accept this conclusion of Feynman. All experimentation is consistent with the assumption.

Maxwell’s equations, which have been shown to be 100% accurate in all experiments ever performed, allow for the electron to magically disappear and re-appear in orbit of Venus. Or anywhere else in the universe. The likelihood of this occurring is so low that you’d have to wait more than several times the age of the universe to observe this occurring. But the salient point is, that probability, not fixed rules based on initial state, is what describes the possible paths of the electron with the probability wave concentrated along paths of high likelihood and extending out infinitely towards outcomes that approach, but never reach zero.

Other odd phenomenon, such as the Casimir effect, are completely consistent with the predictions that this probabilistic model makes. And have been experimentally verified to extreme degrees of accuracy.

This has led many famous physicists, such as Stephen Hawking, to proclaim that when it all comes down to it: no objective reality exists. All there is, is a probability, at any point in time, at any point in the universe, that some specific state exists, and that all histories and futures that stem from that point are contingent on the same probability waves.

This seems unintuitive, because we don’t see giant candy canes appearing and men randomly turning into women -- and vice-versa -- as we walk down the street. But given the nature of how these probabilities are structured -- at the quantum level -- you’d have to wait around for trillions upon trillions of years to see any such event occur. But such events do inevitably occur in this model, and Hawking claims that the Big Bang itself, was one of them.

That, given the conclusions that -- at least at the quantum level -- that no objective reality exists: eventually, anything that can happen, will happen. Nothingness will turn into somethingness. Somethingness will suddenly cease to exist. Candy canes will eventually rain down from the sky, and electrons will randomly disappear and appear in orbit of venus.

And while these seems absurd, nearly a century of scientific experimentation and mind-numbing deconstructions of it by physicists has only served to strengthen this assumption.

But at the end of the day, these theories have survived scrutiny, accurately predicted future discoveries, fuelled the semiconductor revolution in computers, and year-by-year continue to be strengthened. So many physicists are now coming the conclusion that, in effect, objective reality -- and philosophy and religion along with it -- is dead.

Most people will, unfortunately, reject these things out of hand. But evidence is hard to argue with. Especially when it produces consistent predictions about future discoveries.

Update: This YouTube video explains the double-slit experiment in layman's terms:

Posted by Mike Brock on September 16, 2010 | Permalink

Comments

Arguing about this is pointless. None of these theories can be proven, no matter how much taxpayer money is thrown at PhDs with no job skills. Religion is the only movement that's mostly funded by private donations. That's why so many scientists spend so much time and energy trying to ridicule religious people. They pose a real threat to scientist's only source of income, research grants.

If everyone were to join a church, and stop listening to the endless stream of new theories, that have no impact on our daily lives, several things would happen. For one, taxes would go way, way down. For another, governments would have to find new ways to scare everybody. Maybe they'd have to focus on some real threats, instead of fake ones. Not saying religion hasn't cried wolf on any fake threats, because they have, but at least they don't waste a fortune in taxpayer money coming up with those supposed threats.

Posted by: dp | 2010-09-17 10:48:33 AM


Oh yeah, by the way, just as no one has ever seen God, no one has ever seen an electron. They've made models, and every kid who ever took a chemistry course has taken it, as an act of faith, that these models are correct.

Posted by: dp | 2010-09-17 10:51:08 AM


dp,

Except, of course, we can see the effects of electrons when we fire them at photographic plates. We can see the validity of the electron theory being applied on the very computer you are typing on.

If electrons are just wild guesses, then it's a pretty huge coincidence that these theories produce working high-tech electronics when their principles are applied.

I'm sorry. But anybody who tries and says that there's no more proof for electrons than there is for god is just ignorant.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-09-17 11:16:05 AM


dp,

And the fact that you'd say we should stop paying for science and just all go to church is probably the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Especially considering that religion has never produced any appreciable improvement in living standards the likes of science.

Ask any electronic engineer if Maxwell's equations are just unproven theories and they'll laugh at you. Especially considering that pretty much every piece of electronic equipment more complex than a lightbulb relies on them for design.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-09-17 11:20:04 AM


You also demonstrate the typical religious attack on science: that electrons don't exist until you can see them with your own eyes, that evolution doesn't exist until you can personally witness the evolution of apes into humans.

These are impossible standards of proof.

If they were applied to most crimes, almost nobody would be convicted.

Nobody saw Robert Picton kill anyone. Guess that's just a "theory". I expect you to go campaign for his release while you herd everyone to church.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-09-17 11:23:06 AM


Oh, I almost forgot the brand new logical fallacy that's become en vogue among the anti-intellectual right: if some scientists acted unethically around climate change research, how can we trust all other science?

I fully expect these idiots to stop going to medical doctors and start using witch doctors, as science can't be trusted. That makes your family doctor part of a giant scientific conspiracy!

If you contract cancer, don't go looking for sciences answers! Go to your nearest church. They'll fix you right up.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-09-17 11:34:21 AM


Hey Mike, I'm not religious. I'm not affected by any of your slurs. I'm pretty well objective on the matter. My observations are just that, observations. If you think technology has improved your life more than awareness of morality, you haven't been paying attention. Science, and scientists in general are morally neutral. Without some sort of moral grounding, technology would destroy society in a heartbeat.

Posted by: dp | 2010-09-17 12:03:14 PM


dp,

That wasn't a response to my counters of your claims. You made fairly significant statements about the ambiguity of the existence of electrons, the unreliability of science, and so on.

Now you're turning the page and creating a straw man fallacy.

Nobody who reads me would say I'm an amoral person. My morals are constantly on display here at the Shotgun. I believe in individual freedom, dignity and the right to be safe from harm.

You are correct that science is not an ideology. It is a tool. An amoral tool. And my defence of science is nothing more than a defence of science. It is not an attempt by myself to conflate science to a moral system.

My point was in response to you argument that we'd all be better off if we relied on happy-go-lucky, communitarian nature of churches.

As for your point, I don't think science should be funded by government. But rather by private educational institutions and companies -- and most of it is! Especially in the United States.

Sure, the government doles out research grants -- which I can agree it shouldn't do -- but that's sort of besides the point of whether or not science can be trust or not.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-09-17 12:25:16 PM


Mike- I'm not going to argue physics with you, because neither of us is qualified to do so. My "claim" was that no one has seen an electron. If you'd like to dispute that, you need to show me some pictures, or video, or something.

Can you give me some statistics on free-market science vs government funded science? If I'm not mistaken, most of the advances in medicine have come from gov. funded labs. I'm not sure what that means, other than maybe there's less profit in some of the more useful branches of science.

Posted by: dp | 2010-09-17 1:29:32 PM


I never stated that anyone has seen an electron. But my response is, you don't need to physically see something to know something exists -- if it leaves sufficient physical clues of it's existence.

We cannot see gravity, either. But we know it exists. We can feel it's effects.

We cannot see or feel radio waves. But our car radios demonstrate they are there.

This is no different than with electrons.

If our theory about electrons was wrong, then the atomic bomb should have never worked, for instance.

My point is that your point about the ability to directly observe electrons is nonsense. Because when it comes down to it, you can't directy observe anything.

We can see things. But only because light bounces off of them, enters our retina and is processed by our visual cortex. But like, with electrons being measured by special instruments, our eye is just a special instrument for indirect observation.

All human observations are indirect. So to call into question, the existence of physical phenomenon based on the fact that only indirect observations exist to support it's existence is nonsense.

And who says I'm not qualified to argue physics?

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-09-17 3:40:44 PM


DP: I'm sure you'd consider yourself a reasonable and 'down to earth' person. Rather than trouble you with all of these little side topics, let's stick to just one thing. I'm sure you have reams of facts and years of education in moral philosophy and sociology and what have you - but I don't want to tax your expertise needlessly.

So please, let's try something simple for us laymen. Just one thing you said - let's have you prove or I guess defend one thing you said against all comers - and if you're able to do that, I think all reasonable people would be able to reasonably conclude that you know what you're talking about. Fair?

So, you said "None of these theories can be proven".

Right off the bat, I'm confused. Now I'm not a big city lawyer, but I seem to remember learning that to become a 'theory' you need to prove the thing first. So I don't understand this sentence of yours - it seems to be a contradiction.

That aside. Again, as a humble and modest person, I'm grateful to have the chance to ask a learned person like yourself - What do you think is a sufficient standard of proof for a scientific theory to be valid? And if that level of confidence can't be achieved should that scientific theory be considered equally valid to some other hypothesis regardless of the level of proof 'it' has achieved?

I have to think that if you set an impossible standard for proof and make rock solid facts as good as the most often refuted myths then instead of leaving room for something like morality - you end up with the exact opposite: moral relativism, the belief that everything is as good as everything else because nothing can be really proved.

Posted by: Robert Jago | 2010-09-17 6:00:31 PM


I find it an interesting observation that most Creationists I know -- not all, but most -- support the death penalty.

However, they demand for science and theories like evolution a higher standard of proof than is physically possible -- direct observation of past history -- than could ever be achieved in a murder investigation.

Creationists demand direct first-hand accounts of witnessing macro evolution occurring, in spite of the fact it takes millions of years.

If the same standard were required to convict rapists and murderers -- direct first-hand observation of the crime -- then most murders would never be convicted. Yet, Creationists never seem to think the courts are aggressive enough at conviction.

This shows, to me, that the Christian love for all life is in doubt. Christians are ready and willing to kill other human beings with less evidence than they require of a scientific theory.

Logical consistency is hard!

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-09-17 7:08:07 PM


"...you can't directy observe anything.

We can see things. But only because light bounces off of them, enters our retina and is processed by our visual cortex. But like, with electrons being measured by special instruments, our eye is just a special instrument for indirect observation.

All human observations are indirect."

One has to be careful with statements like this. They can lead to the fallacious notion that human senses are somehow a distorting agent, and that there is a "true" reality out there that is inaccessible to human consciousness.

What would a "direct" observation be like in this context? An observation without the use of the senses? A "non-human" observation? No such "observation" is possible.

Humans may not be able to perceive electrons in an ostensible or self-evident manner, but they can, perhaps with the help of instruments, perceive evidence for such entities. Somewhat as a person whose eyesight is poor can be aided in the observation of small print by wearing glasses.

This is why one does not need to directly observe a murder to know it took place; one can observe the evidence left by the murderer, and come to conclusions based on that.

Posted by: Dennis | 2010-09-17 8:17:38 PM


One has to be careful with statements like this. They can lead to the fallacious notion that human senses are somehow a distorting agent, and that there is a "true" reality out there that is inaccessible to human consciousness.

Well, unfortunately, our senses are flawed and do give us a distorted sense of reality. Can you see in the infrared, ultraviolet or x-ray wavelengths? Because I can't. Do you not have a blindspot in your eye, like every other human, where the optic nerve enters the retina? Because I do. Have you ever been dizzy or experienced a sense of vertigo? Because I have.

Do you think in terms of up and down? Because I do. Although, up and down is meaningless outside a gravity field or acceleration. Or an object in free fall within a gravity field.

Does the Earth feel like it's moving? It feels pretty still to me. Yet I'm pretty sure it's orbiting the Sun and rotating on it's axis at fairly high speeds.

The flawed nature of our senses makes science all the more important. Because our intuitive understanding of the universe, provided by our senses is at odds with the way the universe actually is.

As my examples show, the statement about our flawed senses is not dangerous. Rather, it is salient.

Yet, so many people, choose to trust their intuitive notions of the world over those of experimentally-tested science. Despite the fact that experimentally-tested science has a pretty damned good record. Our plain human senses, plus our intuitive notions about the world on the other hand? Notsomuch.

Humans may not be able to perceive electrons in an ostensible or self-evident manner, but they can, perhaps with the help of instruments, perceive evidence for such entities. Somewhat as a person whose eyesight is poor can be aided in the observation of small print by wearing glasses.

This is why one does not need to directly observe a murder to know it took place; one can observe the evidence left by the murderer, and come to conclusions based on that.

That was the exact point I was making.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-09-17 9:09:11 PM


"...Humans may not be able to perceive electrons in an ostensible or self-evident manner, but they can, perhaps with the help of instruments, perceive evidence for such entities. ..." \


you have never seen an electron but you believe they are there, because of instruments, shrines, Icons, periodic tables, Whatever .. good for you.

Maybe its time to go out for a beer and shoot some pool, because you are arguing yourself over to the other side Mike

= In the end, who gives a fuck if people came from rocks or monkeys or stars .. its where we are going that matters ..

drink up its your shot

Posted by: 419 | 2010-09-17 10:17:45 PM


The concept of time as an infinite series of negative and positive progressions is difficult to conceive. Cartesian coordinates using time as axes, even two dimensionally, will yield confusion to human conceptualisation.

Posted by: Agha Ali Arkhan | 2010-09-17 10:38:41 PM


Robert- What gives you the idea that you need to talk down to people? You should look up the definition of the word theory. I believe when something has been proven, it's called a fact.

Mike- You've proven you aren't qualified to argue physics, by starting a debate with a bunch of people who aren't exactly experts in the field, myself included. Reminds me of the last acid party I attended, in 1973.

Posted by: dp | 2010-09-18 12:25:34 AM


Wow, thats some cool science :) I can now envision how teleportation might someday work. Or maybe how we will propel ourselves into the universe. It reminds me of how the ship drive in the spaceship from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is described to work. On a side note, I read in the paper last week that some Australians had created a working tractor beam. Unfortunately, it won't work in space, so my dreams of Star Trek land will have to wait. You rock Mike.

Posted by: Steve Bottrell | 2010-09-18 12:48:23 AM


DP: Why do you feel the need to dodge the issue? You see what you're doing right? I asked you to do something specific - and that is defend what you actually said. In fact just one small bit of it. But instead of doing that, you're again bobbing and weaving and saying it's my job to argue about what the word 'theory' means. No, it actually isn't.

Let me guess ... you're totally going to answer the question, but first we have to answer 40 more of your questions, right? What does theory mean? Has anyone ever seen an electron? Why does my elbow hurt when I move it like this?

No. You came on here with some well defined arguments. Science bad, church good. Well prove one. You've got all this certainty and all these facts that seem to elude the rest of us - take us to school professor.

Posted by: Robert Jago | 2010-09-18 2:08:26 AM


You've proven you aren't qualified to argue physics, by starting a debate with a bunch of people who aren't exactly experts in the field, myself included.

You seem to feel like your qualified to cast doubt on what is known about physics, though.

(P.S. You better read this before responding to Robert: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_theory)

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-09-18 8:36:24 AM


"The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence. Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). One of the most useful properties of scientific theories is that they can be used to make predictions about natural events or phenomena that have not yet been observed."

Theory does not mean "hypothesis" or "best guess". An "accepted scientific theory" is pretty much the same as "fact" for all intents and purposes. Why is this difficult for people to understand?

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-09-18 8:46:02 AM


Theory does not mean "hypothesis" or "best guess". An "accepted scientific theory" is pretty much the same as "fact" for all intents and purposes. Why is this difficult for people to understand?

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2010-09-18 8:46:02 AM

I have a theory that you have a form of ADD.

If that theory is accepted by most of the people here, in this little universe of our own minds, does that make it a fact?

Posted by: set you free | 2010-09-18 11:04:48 AM


PS

Fortune-telling is not science. Otherwise global warming, er, climate change er Global Climate Disruption would be true.

Science is the pursuit of proveable facts to explain the workings of the physical world.

Posted by: set you free | 2010-09-18 11:11:27 AM


Robert, I wish you'd fuck off and die. You and Mike are nothing more than science groupies. And, what makes you think I'm some sort of church guy? I haven't been to church for decades. I have nothing against science. What really bothers me is a couple of guys trying to ape some very smart people, and look smart yourselves. You're debating theories you don't understand. As I said already, it's pointless to argue with people who aren't qualified to argue a subject.

One more thing to consider, Mike. If your Islamist neighbours read some of this, you might lose your head.

Posted by: dp | 2010-09-18 11:41:29 AM


Fuck it. I'm done blogging. You're pathetic.

Posted by: dp | 2010-09-18 11:51:12 AM


You know, I will trust in the word of scientists everyday before I believe one word from a theist. At least they have some verifiable proof and empirical evidence of the claims they make, even if I don't understand it. Prove god exists and make a million dollars. James Randi will happily pay up. No takers so far. You would think the Pope would all over it, as he is so close to god supposedly. No, all organized religion is, is a paycheck for the lazy.

Posted by: Steve Bottrell | 2010-09-18 3:58:43 PM


"Fuck it. I'm done blogging. You're pathetic."
-We have great defeat over idiots! Yeah!

Posted by: Cytotoxic | 2010-09-18 5:35:03 PM


SYF,

"I have a theory that you have a form of ADD.

If that theory is accepted by most of the people here, in this little universe of our own minds, does that make it a fact?"

You idiot. How many times must the difference between a hypothesis and a theory be explained to you?

Posted by: Charles | 2010-09-20 7:23:32 AM



The comments to this entry are closed.