Sunday, February 03, 2008

Physics and Philosophy - Thoughts on the Implications of Quantum Mechanics, and Other Matters Section #1

This discourse is the author's draft introduction for an upcoming book project, entitled The Age of Mediocrity. (Postings will be more frequent than the previous few months; a review or two may be interjected between posts.)

1. The Twentieth Century brought about many revolutions. Broadly, the most fundamental are those changes regarding scientific insight. Although less publicly acknowledged,[1] of all those many scientific developments, the discoveries and insights that led to the formulation of the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, were among the most philosophically unsettling. Physics ceased to be, at least in principle, a deterministic science and became inherently uncertain. Of course, throughout history scientific revolutions have had ramifications beyond the intellectual and scientific domains preferred by scientists and philosophers alike. Although post-dating Aristarcus by about seventeen hundred years, Nicolaus Copernicus’ model of a heliocentric universe created much controversy, and even hostility as contrary to church doctrine, by suggesting that the Earth was not the center of the universe. However despite strong contrarian efforts, in part, its value at explaining and simplifying the seemingly complex movements of the planets led to its ultimate acceptance. Prediction is proof. Charles’ Darwin’s Origins of the Species is still not universally accepted. Too many hairless monkeys appear threatened by the idea that the multitude (if ever dwindling) of species seen upon the Earth did not always exist, but rather evolved over a period of time due to a process of natural selection. The idea of humanity as an accident has many penetrating and even threatening religious and philosophical implications. Evolution does not occur at the speed of light. As a contrast, in the case of Quantum Mechanics, its implications were generally accepted both less and more dramatically. In European scientific circles, even if world shaking, the debate was not nearly as hot as the two preceding examples. The interesting case of Albert Einstein will be discussed later.[2] However, the reactions against its political implications were harsher. Indeed, until the development of atomic weapons, the government of the Soviet Union suppressed the theory as something threatening to the Marxist dialectical materialism.[3] Ideology, not just religion, suppresses science.

[1] Perhaps quantum mechanics has less mass appeals because its history and development does not focus upon a single prominent scientist.

[2] See Timothy Ferris, Coming of Age in the Milky Way, for further reading.

[3] It’s hard to argue with the demonstrated reality of an atomic bomb in the hands of an opposing power. The USSR caught up rapidly.

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