msb ~093 Quantum worldviews

Quantum worldviews

Schrödinger's cat - quantum worldviews
Schrödinger’s cat

One aspect of ‘reality’ where the mind’s eye leads us astray is quantum worldviews. Quantum physics describes subatomic particles, but it’s contentious whether it goes much larger: microbes, cats, quantum physicists? People often look for analogies that seem to encompass consciousness, ecology and non-Western worldviews. I’ve found these attractive ever since reading Gary Zukav’s Dancing Wu Li Masters, though my physics degree then cautioned me to think inside the box. Part of the appeal? The quantum language — ‘duality’, ‘entanglement’, ‘many-worlds’, ‘non-locality’ — and the science’s radical forms of uncertainty appeal to the abstract mind and visual imagination: the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat-in-the-box, alive-and-dead-at-the-same-time (‘superposition’, not superstition), until the instant the curious observer opens its box and the cat becomes one-or-the-other. But visual imagination cannot go there, and the words don’t mean what they do in everyday talk.

A new thought experiment clarifies what’s at stake in rival interpretations of what quantum physics says is real. It’s worth getting through the confusing middle to the end. Einstein famously hated the standard interpretation’s ‘anti-realism’. The alternatives are just as troubling. At least one expert “is holding out for something new. ‘I think the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics is none of the above’.”

4 Replies to “msb ~093 Quantum worldviews”

  1. Out of interest – are there (m)any buddhist astrophysicists (or even, any astrophysicist buddhists, for that “matter”) out there?

    1. I think there must be thousands – beyond the ‘West’ definitely, and within. Either in a ‘religious’ sense of Buddhism (as there are Christian, Muslim, Hindu. Sikh etc physicists) and in other ways of practising Buddhism. I don’t know whether Fritjof Kapra falls into either camp, but he’s written and advocated enough about the complementarities to make me assume he is… David Peat also.

  2. And, while we’re on the subject, is Schrödinger merely expressing the human ego-mind with his cat? The idea that the cat, in and of itself, is neither alive or dead until the observer (presumably human) determines it seems a little anthro-aggrandising.

    1. The cat, presumably, is more than capable of ‘observing’ itself (when alive, anyway) so, yes, the thought experiment itself clearly dates from a time when biologists were mostly behaviourists and all animals (humans included, though presumably not behavioural scientists…) were ‘just machines’. So using cats as proxies for subatomic particles is not that useful (and not to be tried at home, kids). Schrödinger himself wrote a book called What is Life? (which I’ve not read)…

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