Ask Dr. SETI ®
by Dan Duda
from the August 2022 issue of Penn Central,
the monthly newsletter of Central PA Mensa,
used by permission
I've recently run across a new (to me) Nobel-winning theoretical physicist (writer) who provides a potentially significant key to understanding reality. In his book Fundamentals, Frank Wilczek states that two conflicting views of reality may both be true, depending on what perspective one chooses to look at. "Picasso and the cubists created visual art that captures complementarity pictorially. By taking up different perspectives on a scene in the same picture, they were liberated to bring out with greater freedom aspects they feel are important."
One of the most mysterious issues to come out of the quantum revolution in the early 1900s is Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. For example, we can't learn the position and the momentum of a particle at the same time. We must set up an experiment to look at one or the other. We can never know both at the same time. Picasso's portraits are so confusing to most of us because we are unable to limit our perception to just one of the images. With cubism he presented combinations of ideas into a single image.
Wave/particle duality, exemplified by the famous and enigmatic two-slit experiment, is another example. Depending on how we set up the experiment, the same object is either a wave or a particle. Some attribute our conscious observation to the result, seeming to indicate that we participated in creating reality. Schrodinger's Cat is another case - it has a complimentary existence (both alive and dead) before we look.
Wilczek also suggests reality is guided by probability. Interestingly, quantum mathematics is also based on probability. You can't predict the result of one experiment, but as the N increases toward infinity quantum equations are perfect in their predictions based on comprehensive results.
Explaining his view on complementarity, Wilczek said, "There can be different ways of approaching the same question. Often there are different ways of describing the same thing. They can be valid each in their own terms, but they may sometimes be very difficult or even impossible to reconcile." To me, this indicates a deficit in the ability of the human mind to handle the issues we face as we search for ultimate truth. However, it seems that the quest for understanding is a fundamental feature of mankind, if not as individuals certainly of humanity overall.
Wilczek has some support in the philosophy of Gottfried Leibniz who said, "There are also two kinds of truths: truth of reasoning and truths of fact. Truths of reasoning are necessary, and their opposite is impossible; those of fact are contingent and their opposites are possible." Leibniz and especially Spinosa shared a tendency toward pantheism with Wilczek. Sponoza "required that his philosophy exhibits the whole universe as a single connected system." My spin (here again) is that in a pantheistic universe the apparent enigmas contained in quantum reality would be understood if only man could grasp the unity of reality.
To sum things up, Wilczek, in my opinion, has added some worthwhile perspective to the conceptual challenges of grasping the reality of the quantum universe. I'm impressed with the strength of his logic, and I feel it's useful to add this to our search for meaning. I look forward to more insight from Wilczek and others. But, in the words of Murray Gell-Mann “if somewone says they can think or talk about quantum physics without becoming dizzy, that shows only that he has not understood anything whatever about it.”
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this page last updated 6 August 2022
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