Friday, July 24, 2015

Physics of Reality - 1

 Physics of Reality - 1

Faced with uncertain futures, and distressed by unconquerable disease, decay and death, Man has been in pursuit of an eternal, immutable and unbounded “something,” ever since, perhaps, he has become aware of his own capability to think abstractly. The ultimate quest has been the same whether the investigating men followed a predominantly philosophical path or adopted an analytical approach.  The Scientific method, however, splurged the society in general with a bounty of little goodies, the by-products of its analytical search, that could at least tentatively alleviate the suffering and bring about a degree of amelioration to the people at large.
Clarity in thought and precision in expression are the hallmarks of the method of scientific investigation. The former helped in evolving a well-defined standard terminology  and the latter contributed to the achievement of accuracy in measurement and freedom from bias in observation. Of all the various branches of Science, Physics excels itself in both clarity and precision. So it is interesting to ask, ‘What does Modern Physics tell us with respect to the most ancient question that man has raised?’
Quantum Mechanics says that ‘our observations influence the universe at the most fundamental levels, because the boundary between an objective "world out there" and our own subjective consciousness blurs at those levels.’ As Tim Folgers put it, “When physicists look at the basic constituents of reality— atoms and their innards, or the particles of light called photons— what they see depends on how they have set up their experiment. A physicist's observations determine whether an atom, say, behaves like a fluid wave or a hard particle, or which path it follows in traveling from one point to another. From the quantum perspective the universe is an extremely interactive place.”
Prof. John Wheeler, ‘one of the last of the towering figures of 20th-century physics, after a lifetime of fundamental contributions in fields ranging from atomic physics to cosmology, suggested that our observations  might actually contribute to the creation of physical reality.' To Wheeler "we are not simply bystanders on a cosmic stage; we are shapers and creators living in a participatory universe. Wheeler's hunch is that the universe is built like an enormous feedback loop, a loop in which we contribute to the ongoing creation of not just the present and the future but the past as well.”

Self-excited Universe (Wheeler)
Tim Folgers continues: “Wheeler conjectures we are part of a universe that is a work in progress; we are tiny patches of the universe looking at itself — and building itself. It's not only the future that is still undetermined but the past as well. And by peering back into time, even all the way back to the Big Bang, our present observations select one out of many possible quantum histories for the universe.

Does this mean humans are necessary to the existence of the universe? While conscious observers certainly partake in the creation of the participatory universe envisioned by Wheeler, they are not the only, or even primary, way by which quantum potentials become real. Ordinary matter and radiation play the dominant roles. Wheeler likes to use the example of a high-energy particle released by a radioactive element like radium in Earth's crust. The particle, as with the photons in the two-slit experiment, exists in many possible states at once, traveling in every possible direction, not quite real and solid until it interacts with something, say a piece of mica in Earth's crust. When that happens, one of those many different probable outcomes becomes real. In this case the mica, not a conscious being, is the object that transforms what might happen into what does happen. The trail of disrupted atoms left in the mica by the high-energy particle becomes part of the real world.

At every moment, in Wheeler's view, the entire universe is filled with such events, where the possible outcomes of countless interactions become real, where the infinite variety inherent in quantum mechanics manifests as a physical cosmos. And we see only a tiny portion of that cosmos. Wheeler suspects that most of the universe consists of huge clouds of uncertainty that have not yet interacted either with a conscious observer or even with some lump of inanimate matter. He sees the universe as a vast arena containing realms where the past is not yet fixed.”

If we ask whether Physics will be able to at all find answers to the fundamental questions like ‘why the universe came into being?,’   Wheeler feels that whereas the fundamental “Why?” questions may be a bit tricky, we may be able to answer at least “How?” part.
Andrei Linde who contributed to the theory of Inflationary universe is confident that Physics may be able to find an answer someday to the fundamental questions we ask, though we do not have a surefire answer as of now. He says encouragingly, “You know, if you say that we're smart enough to figure everything out, that is a very arrogant thought. If you say that we're not smart enough, that is a very humiliating thought. I come from Russia, where there is a fairy tale about two frogs in a can of sour cream. The frogs were drowning in the cream. There was nothing solid there; they could not jump from the can. One of the frogs understood there was no hope, and he stopped beating the sour cream with his legs. He just died. He drowned in sour cream. The other one did not want to give up. There was absolutely no way it could change anything, but it just kept kicking and kicking and kicking. And then all of a sudden, the sour cream was churned into butter. Then the frog stood on the butter and jumped out of the can. So you look at the sour cream and you think, 'There is no way I can do anything with that.' But sometimes, unexpected things happen.”
Let us return now to the question whether the universe is really participatory? It maybe 'participatory,' yes; but is it a universe? No!  We can only talk in terms of a participatory universe per a reference frame -- one at a time. We create a universe every instant. We shall take up in our next Post how it is so.
(To Continue ... Physics of Reality - 2)


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