Newton, Einstein, Bohr...One
Updated: Aug 17
(above link contains footnotes not included here)
Newton demonstrated that, at scales of size and speed we evolved to directly perceive, the motion of objects is describable by equations. These equations do not depend on the nature or position of the observer. If the observer knows the mass, vector, velocity, acceleration, etc., of a given object, the observer may determine the object's path through space. Other observers plugging the same information into the same equations will reach the same result. In this way, Newton demonstrated (seemingly) objective truths about objects in motion at the naked eye scale.
Einstein demonstrated that, at scales we did not evolve to directly perceive - e.g., for objects traveling at extremely high speeds - (seemingly) objective truth requires consideration of multiple perspectives. E.g., if one human departs Earth at nearly the speed of light, and another human - say, her identical twin - remains on Earth, when the astronaut twin returns to Earth, less time will have passed for her than for her Earth-bound twin. This is not a matter of time seeming to have gone faster or slower; watches synchronized pre-departure would show different times upon reunion, even though each twin experienced seconds ticking away like they always do. In other words, time passes at speeds relative to the objects' speeds; there is no objective time.
Under Einstein, there is a (seemingly) objective truth: astronaut twin experienced x time passing, while Earth-bound twin experienced y time passing. Determining x and y requires that we shift between the perspectives of each twin.
Under Newton, perspective is irrelevant. If each twin were given a Newtonian calculation to complete during their time apart, when they reunite, they will both present the same conclusion. The calculation is not observer dependent; each twin plugs the variables into the equation and calculates. And, if each twin were given a Newtonian experiment to complete during their time apart - e.g., tracking the arc of a tossed ball - then those results would be the same, assuming both experiments were conducted under identitical conditions (gravity, air resistance, etc.).
At this point, reality remains intuitive, or close enough. Objects & their movement: (seemingly) objective. Time: relative, but (seemingly) objectively calculable, so long as both perspectives are known.
Bohr demonstrated that, at scales we did not evolve to perceive - e.g. for subatomic particles such as electrons & photons - there is no objective truth concerning their position. This birthed the branch of physics known as quantum mechanics. Prior to observing the photon, the scientist may know a variety of positions where the photon may be, and the scientist may assign different probabilities to those various positions. But the scientist cannot know where the photon is until the scientist observes it, e.g., via a photon detector. And that's because the photon isn't anywhere until it's observed. Before being observed, the photon is most accurately described not as a particle, but as a wave function: a series of probabilities describing where the particle may be, if it is observed at that moment. Until it's observed, it's a scatterplot of potential locations. Only upon observation does the photon achieve particularity, i.e. physicality & position. This is called the observer effect.
Under Bohr, when the scientist observes the photon, she can know its particular location and its particular momentum. But she cannot have complete knowledge of both its location and its momentum. The more precisely she knows one property, the less precisely she knows the other. This is called the measurement problem.
If the photon is entangled with another photon - i.e., if the photon has a quantum twin - observation of Photon A will result in a change to Photon B, instantaneously, regardless of the distance between them. If Photon A is on one side of the universe, and Photon B is on the other side, and Photon A is observed, Photon B will behave as though it too were being observed, at the very moment of Photon A's observation. This is called quantum entanglement.
A single photon can relocate from one place to another, without passing between the places; it is at Point 1, and then it is at Point 2, and it never traveled between the points: it is here, and then, like the Cheshire Cat, it is there, with no footprints or flightpath marking its transit. This is called a quantum jump or quantum leap.
At this point, reality is non-intuitive. Downright wacky, if we're being honest.
There are no "objects" without observation; prior to observation, there are only wave functions, scatterplots of locations where the object might be if someone or something, at that moment, looks. This undermines our intuition of a solid, objective reality existing independent of observation. Until observed, the photon exists only as a potential particle in a theoretical location. It requires observation for particularity.
Under Newton, we could determine the position and momentum of an object moving through space, at any point during its transit, by plugging variables into Newton's equations. Under Bohr, the more we know about position, the less we know about momentum, and vice versa. This undermines our intuition that momentum and position are independent data points about which we can have complete knowledge; it would be bizarre to suggest that knowing where a basketball is undermines your ability to know its momentum. Under Bohr, complete knowledge of these data points is mutually exclusive.
Under Newton, when an object moves from Point A to Point B, a scientist can track the path of travel by plugging the appropriate variables into Newton's equations. Under Bohr, the quantum object can move between positions without ever having been between positions; it was here, then there, and there was no moment when it was somewhere in between. This undermines our intuition that objects must travel through space and time to reach a destination.
Under Einstein, the fastest speed possible is the speed of light, roughly 186,000 miles per second. Under Bohr, observation of Photon A affects entangled Photon B instantly, regardless of how far apart they are. This indicates that influence can travel not only faster than the speed of light, but (seemingly) with no speed at all, & across no distance at all - as though the space-time between the entangled photons is illusory, for purposes of quantum influence. This undermines our intuition that communication across space-time involves influence traveling through space and in time.
My (largely, maybe entirely, unoriginal) thoughts:
- our intuitions are not truth-finding machines; our intuitions are gizmos we evolved to improve our chances of passing along our genes
- accordingly, our intuitions are calibrated to the scales of 3D reality that our ancestors competed within
- those scales are, roughly, the scale of the naked eye: objects we can see up close, and from afar, at speeds we can track, across distances we can see, or at least visually imagine
we didn't evolve the ability to intuit mechanics at extremely small scales, and extremely fast scales, because it would've been a waste; it would've consumed additional resources (neurons, e.g., and the nutrients necessary to sustain them) while offering no competitive advantage; why would a finite being evolve the ability to intuit reality at scales it never competes within?
- under Newton, science presented a seemingly coherent and orderly model of reality, with objects behaving in a clockwork fashion under inviolable physical laws; this comports with our intuition of physical reality as a place of solidity, discreetness, and cause-and-effect
even though Einstein warped our notion of time and space, he still maintained a cosmology that comported with our primary intuitions: the universe is a 3D reality consisting of discreet, solid objects that move through space and time and interact with each other in predictable ways
- under Bohr, intuition begins to seem not only inadequate, but misleading; applying intuition at the quantum scale not only doesn't reveal the truth, but actually prevents us from seeing the truth, as evidenced by Einstein's unwillingness/inability to believe that quantum reality is as "spooky" as the mathematics suggest
- Bohr explored reality at a level underlying Newton and Einstein's scales; the "objects" of Newton and Einstein's physics are made of the spooky, bizarro quanta that Bohr described; Bohr's unimaginably wacky quanta are the building blocks of Einstein and Newton's solid objects & orderly theories; we can't explain away Bohr by claiming he explored some random, far-flung region of space; by burrowing into the quantum level, Bohr inspected fundamental reality more closely than Newton and Einstein; Newton and Einstein's theories are an emergent property of Bohr's scale; we instinctively prefer Newton & Einstein's theories to Bohr's because their theories maintain the very delusions we evolved to help us navigate reality - not for the grand purpose of understanding reality's truths, but for the practical purpose of passing along our genes
- we don't know what, or how much, we don't know
- given that our intuitions become decreasingly useful as we approach increasingly fundamental layers of reality - indeed, intuition becomes increasingly misleading the farther down we drill - I question:
1. whether the scientific method is a useful tool for comprehending reality outside of our intuitive scopes & scales
2. whether this physical reality we call our universe is "real," or whether it's better categorized as an evolutionarily-generated virtual world that blinds us from a fundamental reality that, from an evolutionary perspective, we had no good reason to behold & explore; maybe we evolved this blindness to prevent access to that fundamental reality, because such access was detrimental to evolutionary fitness; someone might choose to focus on that fundamental reality instead of our 3D virtual reality, to their genes' demise
Maybe that's all hogwash. The universe is real-real, and quantum weirdness is merely phenomena we don't understand well enough yet to describe with coherence and orderliness. With better experimentation, research, theorization, etc., we can untangle Schrödinger's Ct's Crdle and demonstrate the fundamentality & inviolable laws of this physical reality we call home, all the way down to its most fundamental levels.
Here's my stab, based on my dilettante notions of Hinduism, Buddhism, George Berkeley's A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, cross-cultural commonalities in mystic & psychedelic experience, emerging scientific theories of the pan-psychic flavor, wishful/fanciful thinking, etc.
Fundamental reality is nonlocal consciousness. We experience this nonlocal consciousness as loving awareness, awareness loving. I(T) is One, God, Atman. At this fundamental level, there is no time, no space, no distinctions. There is what is, which is One.
The subjective experience of existing is One assuming perspective to encounter itself.
This manifests the experience of A encountering B, and B encountering A. A and B are One. From their perspectives, they are each a one, and the other is a one, too.
The delusion of separateness is believing that this subjective experience is complete truth.
Separateness becomes a delusion when we forget truth - One - and mistake subjective experience for the complete picture. Put differently: when A says "I'm me, and you're you," A's correct, and incomplete. To be complete, and thereby asymptotically approach objective truth, A should say: "I experience me as me, and I experience you as you, and, in truth, we are both manifestations of One, and these experiences of separateness - me being just me, and you being just you - are the result of One encountering One while forgetting Oneness, and pronouns & demonstratives are just directional arrows describing One's perspectives."
You're One. I'm One. We're One. They're One. It's One. One's One. Assuming perspective to encounter One, One trades objectivity - Oneness - for subjectivity - being one self. When One - e..g, you, me - forgets the trade it made, it experiences delusions of objectivity and separateness. These delusions are errors of incompleteness, & our suffering is the experience of operating within such delusion. When One fully embraces & thereby fully surrenders to the complete truth - I am I, you are you, they are they, its are its, we are One, One is all - suffering ends, and we experience the fundamental nature of reality: Oneness.
Why does reality appear to us as it does - solid, static, discreet? Why do we see an object, say a basketball, as an object, and not as it truly is: a cluster of tiny particles, awash in vast oceans of space, and existing as wave functions until observed?
My answer is, evolution. Brains are only so big & powerful. To mentally represent the quantum level would be taxing & unworthwhile. Evolution would need a compelling reason to develop such mental machinery. Instead, evolution worked from the bottom up: generate a brain that sees reality not as it is, but in a format that allows the brain to navigate reality "well enough," "close enough," for the purpose of spreading genes. No need to see the basketball in its quantum complexity - much less in whatever layers underlie quantum complexity. Just see an object, a collection of matter, a ball of "stuff." Gets the job done for evolutionary purposes.
It's quite a feat. We have sensory organs, sensory processing regions in the brain, and cognitive machinery, all of which collaborate to create a virtual reality so immersive and "real" seeming that we, for all our intelligence, don't realize it's virtual, don't realize it's being made by us, for us, for the limited purpose of passing along our genes, and at the expense of understanding the true nature of reality and who we are: One.
Falcon. Cup. Stone. Sun. Horizon. Space. Those don't exist as "objects" or "things" until the brain makes them so. Prior to the brain's objectification - drawing borders around portions of what's perceived and labeling what's within the border as this, or that - there is what is, which is totality, the whole, the continual unfolding of creation, which we describe most broadly as "the universe," and beneath which (I conjecture) lies the fundamental reality of One. I believe the brain evolved to deprive us access to full, un-objectified thinking, because it's dangerous from a genetic perspective: what if my lil chimp dives into that wild, unchartable realm and never returns to eat & drink & create babies? Keep the chimp focused on objects, on fellow beings, on an immediate environment, on identifying and labeling and recognizing certain patterns, to improve its chances of out-competing rivals and predators, for the ultimate goal of getting its genes into the next generation as prolifically and promisingly as it can.
The brain is only "tricking" us to the extent we mistake brain-generated reality as unfiltered, undistorted, and comprehensive. When we are aware of the brain's role - ferrying our genes safely across the roaring rapids of time - we can reduce our reliance on the brain's framings and simplifications, and begin to use our true genius - loving, conscious awareness - to envision and create changes in the world, from the heart.
The conduct of enlightened people shows the brain's fear - "chimp will dive into that kaleidoscope world and never come back!" - to be misguided, if not outright wrong. An enlightened chimp usually comes back. And comes back happier, wiser, healthier, feeling freer. Enlightenment is good for the chimp. But it's not always great for the chimp's genes. More precisely, it's abhorrent to the default programming our genes & environment generate within us - programming that drives us to seek power & control, to accumulate wealth & status, to seek mates who will generate attractive and successful offspring, to compete against each other for resources, and to fear, even dread, the loss of something gained, or an opportunity missed, or the prospects thereof.
That programming is our genetic legacy. It helped get our genes into the bone-tented meatbags we are today.
It's not something we should hate or be afraid of.
It is something we should recognize and transcend.
That programming doesn't care about us. Doesn't look out for us. It looks out for the genes. It occasionally tosses us tablescraps of pleasure and satisfaction, to keep us motivated and hopeful. But it's a never-ending game that traps us in cycles of unnecessary & fruitless suffering until we finally find ourselves staring at the ravenous, gaping maw of death and we think, wait, what was this all for?
It's natural to play the gene game.
It's a choice to play the game, once you know the truth: we can hack our way out of that programming and into states of fuller, clearer, more loving awareness.
The process - call it a spiritual path, awakening, enlightenment, "the hero's journey," - is, among other things, painful, confusing, long, and hard to track. Part of what makes it so trying is, your body and mind rebel against the deprogramming, because the programming is the only way the body and mind know, from their limited experience, to navigate the dangerous and unpredictable realm of physical being. We are trying to override some deep & pervasive conditioning. Letting go of that conditioning, even for the promise of something better, can be terrifying, agonizing, and feel something like a death - which it is, from the perspective of the obsolescent programming and the bodily machinery that's addicted to running it.
The tradeoff is ultimately between comfort & discovery. Known & unknown. I see the above-discussed arc in science toward increasingly counter-intuitive models of reality as motivation to take the plunge. I believe our logical reasoning and intuitions are inadequate tools for exploring the fundamental truths of being - truths that are more accurately characterized as experiences, spelunks, rather than as propositions or metaphors. Fortunately, we're equipped with a built-in headlamp: conscious awareness. Apply it meditatively, in the spirit of discovery, and truths beyond description may be seen.