What is "matter" in the quantum age?

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Reply Sun 13 Dec, 2009 09:26 pm
In Newtonian physics space and time is like a rigid box and matter is like little billard balls knocking together or orbiting around each other.

In general relativity; space time is like a trampoline (elastic and flexible) and matter likewise is like a sponge changing its length, mass and other physical characteristics with velocity and gravity.

In quantum mechanics "particles" have both wave and particle properties. These quantum particles (I prefer to think of them as quantum events) have no definite simultaneous (velocity, direction and position) which can be measured anyway and can only possess certain values. The impression one might get is that space time itself is not continuous and not separate from "matter" and in some ways dependent on observation. Repetitive experiments starting with the same initial conditions yield variable results (stochastic) according to a probability wave function.

So when we talk about mind/matter, idealism/realism, materialism. Which concept of matter are we employing anyway?

What does "matter" mean in quantum age? What is "quantum materialism"? How does this changed conception of matter affect our conceptions of such classic notions of the world as a mechanical machine obeying fixed deterministic laws? Or of space and time as existing independent of "matter". I think many of our philosophical notions are still based on a Newtonian view of the world. I think the dualisms of philosophy: mind/matter, ideal/real, objective/subjective is really based on a misconception of the nature of deeper reality. Are there important clues in our changed conception of matter for resolving these troublesome dualities?
Monism, oneness, anyone?
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Sun 13 Dec, 2009 09:41 pm
@prothero,
M-theory - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Mon 14 Dec, 2009 05:55 am
@prothero,
Well, one effect that springs to mind is the doubt about realism. Take, for instance, a photon emitted from an atom and later incident upon a detector. We can measure the photon with the detector and in doing so destroy it, knowing that the photon existed at the atom at some time and at the detector at some later time.

We would naturally infer that the photon existed in the spacetime path linking these two events, but we cannot affirm this. If we tried to detect the photon en route, we would destroy it at the new point of detection, meaning it never reached the intended detector.

There are similar though less catastrophic issues with massive particles. Scientific realism pre-QM would assume that the matter was there and, in principle, describable irrespective of whether or not we looked at it. However the minimum about which QM can describe as real is the measurement and, in conjunction with conservation laws, certain definite properties (rest mass, charge, spin magnitude, etc).
 
xris
 
Reply Mon 14 Dec, 2009 06:06 am
@Bones-O,
Is it just me but the more I'm told the less I understand. The layman has no chance of keeping up with the thoughts and the theories that abound. Once it was so easy to comprehend the basic atomic theories but now we are strung together with vibrating strings that don't exist in reality. When the universe stops vibrating will it disappear?
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Mon 14 Dec, 2009 06:09 am
@xris,
xris;111178 wrote:
Is it just me but the more I'm told the less I understand. The layman has no chance of keeping up with the thoughts and the theories that abound. Once it was so easy to comprehend the basic atomic theories but now we are strung together with vibrating strings that don't exist in reality. When the universe stops vibrating will it disappear?


Ha ha! Pity the poor fools who choose to work with this stuff - it was nature wot did it! Of course, the above does not preclude realism between measurements - it simply brings it into doubt.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 14 Dec, 2009 06:17 am
@Bones-O,
Bones-O!;111180 wrote:
Ha ha! Pity the poor fools who choose to work with this stuff - it was nature wot did it! Of course, the above does not preclude realism between measurements - it simply brings it into doubt.


What is being doubted when realism is doubted? That there is anything but spirit? Are we doubting that something we all believed exists, exists?
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Mon 14 Dec, 2009 06:29 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;111183 wrote:
What is being doubted when realism is doubted? That there is anything but spirit? Are we doubting that something we all believed exists, exists?


That real properties of matter exist when unobserved. Not all of them: as I said, those pertaining to conservation laws of discretised properties seem fairly vouchsafed. Just not its variable properties (energy, momentum, position, spin, etc.) despite these always having real, single values when measured.
 
Jackofalltrades phil
 
Reply Mon 14 Dec, 2009 12:39 pm
@xris,
xris;111178 wrote:
Is it just me but the more I'm told the less I understand.


You can add me to that.

Initially, when the Y2K bogie and bugle was sounded, so much was written about it, that we waited in deep breaths and with nail biting moments, largely created and hyped by the media, and some attention seeking scientists and opportunists companies, but eventually hardly any computer or systems crashed due to that conjured apocalypso which was slated to hit us all. It all went over my head. At that time , i was so dumb, that i thought it was a kind of an alien invasion in the form of an virus killing our poor earths wel thought and well laboured computer systems.

when the word nano technology was introduced, i was dumb struck just like the hare freezes in front of a headlight.

when string theory was introduced, i felt like the fish out of the water.

wonder how far would the other mans creative and cognitive mind take us. I for one lets the other guy imagine, while i prefer watching the butterfly suck the nectar out of a flower.

I sometimes feel i am the dumbest among you all. Is it just me?
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Mon 14 Dec, 2009 01:08 pm
@prothero,
It is annoying that in order to grasp some theories you practically have to become expert in others. Another interesting point is that the 'wtf' factor increases as one hard-to-grasp theory begets an even more hard-to-grasp theory.

For instance, electromagnetism is probably not amazingly difficult for most people to grasp. You need to accept the usefulness of modelling systems in terms of fields, which is kind of weird when you think about it, but you soon see it works.

But mixing that with Newtonian mechanics gives special relativity... time passing different for different observers, lengths being different, the twins paradox, etc.

Then opening up that to non-inertial frames... curved space... curved time?

Then bringing EM back with the addition of one more space dimension wrapped up into a ball in Kaluza-Klein theory.

Then adding a few more to get some particle physics. Then a few more. Then some extra universes...

If you work your way up it's not so frightening, but if you go from 'okay, so an apple fell from a tree because...' to 'everything is strings in some 11-dimensional spacetime' it probably won't make a great deal of sense.

In truth, if it gets to the point where you need 11 dimensions and additional universes, something has probably gone wrong. ;-)

Bones
 
xris
 
Reply Mon 14 Dec, 2009 01:45 pm
@Bones-O,
Im sure when we get to the real truth , it will be quite simple. Its strange but my imagination tries to simplify the QM world. Music has the ability to design shapes and compose images. I can imagine pure energy vibrating at different frequencies making patterns that describe the physical world. The elements are different instruments playing their songs to give us this symphony of life.
 
prothero
 
Reply Mon 14 Dec, 2009 08:05 pm
@prothero,
Does any kind of "particle" theory of matter actually make sense anymore?
In quantum mechanics "particles" only appear when making certain kinds of measurements. Even then the "particle" position and momentum can not be determined at the same time.
"Reality" would seem to be probablity waves with certain quantitized allowable values. It seems to me that "materialism" as a particulate theory of reality is highly questionable. It also seems to me that Laplace determinism is not tenable.
Even the continous or independent nature of space time is brought into question.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Tue 15 Dec, 2009 12:07 am
@prothero,
I think matter is every bit as real as Santa Clause. And particles are his elves. Especially in Tiny Land, mental-models associated with equations and measurements seem to be all we have. I don't work in the field, but I peruse. Exciting stuff, is it not?
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Tue 15 Dec, 2009 02:34 am
@prothero,
prothero;111409 wrote:

In quantum mechanics "particles" only appear when making certain kinds of measurements. Even then the "particle" position and momentum can not be determined at the same time.


In classical, day-to-day life too things only appear when we observe them, which would constitute 'making a measurement' in QM.

Bones
 
xris
 
Reply Tue 15 Dec, 2009 04:17 am
@Bones-O,
Mass is the visible incarnation of energy , if you look to closely the energy becomes invisible. It seems we can invent our own theories from our imagination and the imagined becomes valid. It appears to me very much like a game where reality is just our point of contact with an ethereal world, where dreams can come true. The more we look the more it changes, till we eventually realise its all an elaborate illusion.
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Tue 15 Dec, 2009 09:44 am
@xris,
xris;111465 wrote:
Mass is the visible incarnation of energy , if you look to closely the energy becomes invisible. It seems we can invent our own theories from our imagination and the imagined becomes valid. It appears to me very much like a game where reality is just our point of contact with an ethereal world, where dreams can come true. The more we look the more it changes, till we eventually realise its all an elaborate illusion.


We call that a 'model'. It just sounds better than saying "I have a new illusion for predicting band gap energies of biscuits! Pick a card, any card..."
 
Deckard
 
Reply Tue 15 Dec, 2009 11:20 am
@Bones-O,
prothero;111071 wrote:

What does "matter" mean in quantum age? What is "quantum materialism"? How does this changed conception of matter affect our conceptions of such classic notions of the world as a mechanical machine obeying fixed deterministic laws? Or of space and time as existing independent of "matter". I think many of our philosophical notions are still based on a Newtonian view of the world. I think the dualisms of philosophy: mind/matter, ideal/real, objective/subjective is really based on a misconception of the nature of deeper reality. Are there important clues in our changed conception of matter for resolving these troublesome dualities?
Monism, oneness, anyone?


I like the post. Just a minor point of fact here

The dualisms you mentioned are not entirely post-Newtonian. For example Descartes died in 1650. Newton was born in 1643.


One thing that Newton and Descartes and the philosophers of that time had in common was that they were all in the process of overthrowing Scholasticism and Aristotle.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 15 Dec, 2009 03:28 pm
@prothero,
Interpretations of reality work at many different levels. There is the scientific and analytical approach which penetrates the deepest and most minute particulars of matter. It is in this connection that one feels somewhat dumbstruck by the intricacies and specialities required to understand the modern scientific outlook. On the other hand, reality is something that is lived. It is not just an abstract concept or the analysis of forces in a particle accelerator (although it is also that). The intuitive understanding of the nature of life, which is wisdom, is equally important, or maybe even more important. Judgements always need to be made about what to study, and what to do with what we find; many of those judgements are extra-scientific, as is the interpretation of the meaning of what we discover.

Also, the fact that matter is so mysterious again is a source of intrigue, delight and possibility. It ain't really just a bunch of 'dumb stuff' after all. The world that modern science sees is alive with possibilities. It is exciting to be around.

---------- Post added 12-16-2009 at 09:09 AM ----------

Deckard;111531 wrote:
One thing that Newton and Descartes and the philosophers of that time had in common was that they were all in the process of overthrowing Scholasticism and Aristotle.


And there were some babies thrown out with the bathwater, in my view. Not least final and formal causes of things.
 
prothero
 
Reply Tue 15 Dec, 2009 09:34 pm
@jeeprs,
[QUOTE=jeeprs;111567] Interpretations of reality work at many different levels. There is the scientific and analytical approach which penetrates the deepest and most minute particulars of matter. It is in this connection that one feels somewhat dumbstruck by the intricacies and specialties required to understand the modern scientific outlook. [/QUOTE] The method of science has been a smashing success in advancing our understanding of and control over the material aspects of reality. The first problem comes I think in the assertion that the "material" is all there is to "reality". (materialism). The second problem comes in asserting that science is our only tool and will solve all the problems of human experience and existence (including aesthetics and values) (scientism). The third problem comes in adopting a mechanistic, deterministic, reductionist view of total reality and human experience (determinism). I think all three of these philosophical assumptions or speculations can be successfully challenged.


[QUOTE=jeeprs;111567] On the other hand, reality is something that is lived. It is not just an abstract concept or the analysis of forces in a particle accelerator (although it is also that). The intuitive understanding of the nature of life, which is wisdom, is equally important, or maybe even more important. Judgements always need to be made about what to study, and what to do with what we find; many of those judgements are extra-scientific, as is the interpretation of the meaning of what we discover. [/QUOTE] Science and reason alone are not well equipped to address the aesthetic and values problems of human experience and existence. Values and aesthetic problems are those of most significance in the realm of human experience. Modern culture has lost it telos (sense of purpose) and abandoned its mythos (those shared stories and myths which impart values and meaning) and relied totally on logos (reason). The world is out of balance.

[QUOTE=jeeprs;111567] Also, the fact that matter is so mysterious again is a source of intrigue, delight and possibility. It ain't really just a bunch of 'dumb stuff' after all. The world that modern science sees is alive with possibilities. It is exciting to be around. [/quote] I tend to view the universe as perceptive, "alive", enchanted and creative. It delights me to no end to see that in modern physics one can possibly hold these views without being in direct conflict with science and observation.


[QUOTE=jeeprs;111567] And there were some babies thrown out with the bathwater, in my view. Not least final and formal causes of things. [/QUOTE]
From John Donne, An Anatomy of the World. excerpts

'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,
All just supply, and all relation;
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, and that then can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he.

For there's a kind of world remaining still,
Though she which did inanimate and fill
The world, be gone, yet in this last long night,

Her ghost doth walk; that is a glimmering light,
A faint weak love of virtue, and of good,
Reflects from her on them which understood
Her worth; and though she have shut in all day,
The twilight of her memory doth stay,

And new philosophy calls
all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out,
The sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.


This thread of course, is meant to challenge materialism but can as easily be seen as a challenge to scientism and to determinism. A new trinity of sorts.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 15 Dec, 2009 11:20 pm
@prothero,
extremely poignant poem. It makes you realise how delicate our situation truly is.
 
housby
 
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 08:55 pm
@jeeprs,
The really scary thing about all this is the fact that, if all the basic constituents of matter only exist when they are observed, and all matter is made up of these basic constituents, as must be accepted, then does it follow that my wife and kids only exist when I am with them? It kind of makes the world (whatever that is) a very lonely place. This has caused me the odd sleepless night over the years. Perhaps we were never meant to look so deeply into what makes it all work. We may not like what we find.
 
 

 
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