Numinations — September, 1998

Philosophical Musings

© 1998, by Gary D. Campbell

Last time I left you deep in the woods. While we’re still there, let’s get philosophical. Both science and philosophy exist to answer questions. Science tackles questions both big and small, often having more success with the small ones. Philosophy rarely tackles the small questions. The bigger the question, the better. But one area that has attracted philosophers, and has even turned scientists into philosophers, is the area of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics involves the small—to an extreme. But it raises big questions, even if its subject matter is sub-microscopic. Let’s go there.

Questions about quantum mechanics started with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. It says that there are trade-offs in what you can know. To be more certain about one aspect of a quantum situation, you have to be less certain about some other aspect. Quantum mechanics goes on to describe a number of phenomena that are probabilistic until they are actually observed. Here is where the philosophy enters. The world of photons and sub-atomic particles is a very high-speed, twitchy, and non-localized world. We cannot access it directly, we must observe it indirectly. The statistical models of quantum mechanics have proved very successful in describing this world. Very successful, indeed.

If we observed the freeways of a major city from outer space and were prevented from coming any closer, we might develop a statistical model of rush hours. Trucks and automobiles would be the “particles,” and we would find a very good correlation between traffic density and the rotation of the planet beneath us. But would we observe the fact that a vehicle nearly always returns at night to the same point from which it originated that morning? Would we understand the cause and effect relationship that explains this? Would we conclude instead that the entire situation was governed by probability? Here on earth we know there is an underlying reality, because we are a part of it. We could link the regularities of traffic surges to human ownership of the vehicles, human psychology, sociology, economics, government regulation, and a host of other factors or “scientific models” that cannot be brought to bear when peering down from outer space.

Quantum mechanics describes certain attributes of photons and particles with complex tensors involving probabilities. When the state of an object is observed, this “wave function” is said to collapse—the object is now in a definite state, not a probabilistic one. This creates philosophical problems. Electrons are said not to have definite positions around an atom—until actually observed they inhabit “probability clouds.” Certain attributes of particles and photons are linked together when they depart from a common event. When the state of one is determined, perhaps miles away, the state of the other is also determined. Somehow, the wave function collapses as a result of one measurement, and the information from that measurement is communicated instantly (that is, faster than the speed of light) to the other point of measurement. How can the wave function collapse to produce this “action at a distance” that exceeds the speed of light? Why not assume that a deterministic linkage exists all along? Again, the most practical model need not be the underlying reality. But, more than one physicist, turned philosopher, has opined that the probability tensors of quantum mechanics are the reality. My guess is that any model based on probability and statistics is only a convenience. It signals a situation where we are removed from the underlying reality and have no better way to describe or interact with it. It makes scientific sense to build such models—they work—but it’s unsound philosophy to claim them as reality.

Might it not be sensible to suppose that the world of particles and photons is deterministic on its own level—a level that is simply not accessible to us? We may find statistics to be the best way to model quantum mechanics, but that should not be the same thing as saying that quantum reality is fundamentally statistical—that quantum existence is nothing more concrete than a probability cloud or an uncollapsed wave function.

In the spirit of philosophy, then, let’s pick up our last Numination where we left off. We were constructing an underlying reality consisting only of darkness and light. We were allowing matter to evolve from there. We allowed that photons propagate through space along geodesic curves. This much is accepted science. Then, we speculated that all geodesics ultimately close back upon themselves. Going beyond speculation, we Numinated that particles might be composed of photons whose geodesics are tiny orbits about a point of mass, and that particles propagating through space are photons in complex paths involving their orbits within the particle. The fact that the photon itself is always traveling at exactly the speed of light means that the particles must behave in ways consistent with the wave natures of their constituent photons. Photons possess several characteristics that lead directly to the phenomena they exhibit, and indirectly to phenomena that might emerge from them if they formed particles in the manner suggested. Chief among these is the wave nature of their electrostatic and magnetic forces. Photons interact when their “influences” intersect, that is where the “bends” they impose upon space overlap. This is the difference between the coherent light of a laser and normal, incoherent light: Each photon in a beam of coherent light is synchronized with all the others. Laser light coheres—normal light interferes. Coherence conserves energy—interference disperses energy.

We know that a photon can even interfere with itself. We also know that particles have a wave nature just like photons. If particles turned out to consist of photons, this would come as no surprise. Electrons are particles whose wave nature dictates the kinds of orbits they inhabit within various types of atoms. Their orbits are essentially restricted to regions that allow them to be coherent with themselves and with each other. These orbits are not like those of planets around a sun.

The orbits of several planets around a sun, however, do have a degree of both chaos and stability. For example, planetary orbits must have a certain spacing or they interfere with one another; planets could be ejected from their systems. Each orbit of the earth around the sun is slightly different from its last. When objects orbit in complex patterns, be they planets subject to gravity, or particles subject to electromagnetic forces, most arrangements are unstable and last very briefly. Only a few arrangements are stable enough to be observed in nature, and most of these are chaotic to some degree. If an atomic configuration has a fifty-fifty chance of self-destructing in a given period of time, we call that period the half-life of its rate of decay. At any given time, if an electron has a fifty-fifty chance of being in a certain region of space, this is an aspect of its “probability cloud.” If there is an underlying reason for these phenomena, it’s no stretch of the imagination to assume that it’s linked to some dynamic involving chaos. Here, we are suggesting that the source of the chaos is derived from orbital mechanics involving quantum and gravitational interactions, as the case may be.

Ordinary matter is made up of protons, electrons, and neutrons. There is a large menagerie of other particles that could be called extraordinary matter. Particles have typically been created in particle collisions. There has been much less (but there has been some) experience in creating particles directly out of photons. What we do know is that any interaction among photons and particles (such as smashing them together), produces an identical sum of other particles and photons. The simple act of an electron changing from one orbit to another around the nucleus of an atom involves the production (going into a “lower” orbit) or consumption (going into a “higher” orbit) of a photon. In fact, the basis of all change is simply the transfer of photons.

So far, our Numination has it that every particle is a photon of a certain quantum in a tiny geodesic orbit around the center of mass associated with the photon itself [or, perhaps it takes two photons in orbit around each other]. We know that electrons and positrons can result directly from a photon interaction, but what about the particles in the nucleus of an atom? The protons and neutrons? What about the menagerie of less stable particles? Could these different particles also stem from the characteristics of photons? A photon’s orbit could not be less than one wavelength around, otherwise it would interfere with itself. A stable particle could only form if the associated mass of a photon produced a geodesic equal to some integral number of its wavelengths. This match could arise from a simple, elliptical orbit, or some more complex topology. Only a few stable particles could be expected to evolve. And, this is certainly the case as we observe it.

From the example of the electron and positron, we might infer that when particles are produced by the collision of two energetic photons, pairs of anti-particles always result. These would be standing waves of opposite charge. They would be strongly attracted to one another on the basis of charge, and less (much less) strongly attracted by mutual gravitation. If attracted too closely, anti-particles annihilate one another—they become “loose” photons once again. On the other hand, objects that are attracted to one another tend to go into orbits. On the quantum scale, orbits are constrained by the effects of coherence and interference. Perhaps a neutron is made up of two anti-particles in orbits about each other. Their equal but opposite charges would simply cancel out. Protons and anti-protons might consist of neutrons with the addition of a positron or electron, presumably in some kind of stable orbit within the neutron particle pair.

Science accepts the conjecture that all of the heavier atoms are forged in the furnaces of first generation stars, and recycled from supernova explosions into second generation stars like our sun. It would take a much more concentrated fireball of energy to forge the original protons, neutrons, and electrons of the first generation stars. It would take the “big bang” of a large black hole, but perhaps not one involving the entire universe; a fraction of a galaxy might suffice. It would take a fireball capable of a sustained force to explode out of its black hole. During this process, photons of very great quanta would impact each other. Particles of all kinds would be produced. Some, like the protons, neutrons, and electrons we observe today, are very stable. They would survive. Others would vanish in a flash—literally—sustaining the fireball. There is an even chance that antimatter would be produced by a Bang of this type, but necessity requires a stable configuration to evolve—matter and anti-matter cannot exist in close proximity. This battle was somehow fought long ago, and now only the victor remains. In our region of the universe, electrons exist outside the nucleus, and the positive charge is contained within it. The exact opposite would have been equivalent, and could easily have been the case.

This brings up one final issue: principles of equivalence. Whether a moving frame of reference is compared to a stationary “background” or to another moving frame of reference, the Lorentz transformation describes how one frame observes another. The main message of special relativity is that there is no way to tell the difference—any two frames of reference may be compared only on the basis of the relative motion between them. If the conclusion of the The Twin Paradox (Numinations—March, 1998) proves true, there is a way to tell if you are “dead” in space: You will be aging as fast or faster than anything else in the universe. A second instance of equivalence comes from general relativity. It states that there is no way to tell the difference between the force of gravity and the force of acceleration. If it’s true that gravity and acceleration are bends in space, it’s possible that the curvature of universal geodesics should be added to this list of equivalent phenomena. A third concept also has an equivalence about it, the concept of dimensionality—whether there are three dimensions curved about a fourth, whether time is a fourth dimension, and whether a whole set of other dimensions must be added to create a Theory of Everything.

This series of Numinations is an attempt to push “reset” on the effort to build a Theory of Everything. It suggests a fresh start at a derivative approach, one that seeks to build explanatory links instead of ever more complex tensors and topologies. The nature of our reality makes many distinctions difficult. When an equivalence is involved, it may make the choice of a model impossible. Other criteria, such as personal preferences, the fad of the times, or the “received wisdom,” make the choice of a model much easier—but not necessarily better.

A true Numinator demands a philosophy consistent with observation, but is skeptical of a scientific model that forces too bizarre a philosophy.

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