Cosmology Intelligent Design Physics

At Aeon: To understand fundamental building blocks of nature, one must think beyond physics

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In a debate with four other philosophers of physics, Sebens argued that there are no particles, everything is fields:

I was driven to this all-fields picture not by studying the self-interaction problem, but by two other considerations. First, I have found this picture helpful in understanding a property of the electron called ‘spin’. The standard lore in quantum physics is that the electron behaves in many ways like a spinning body but is not really spinning. It has spin but does not spin.

If the electron is point-size, of course it does not make sense to think of it as actually spinning. If the electron is instead thought of as a very small ball, there are concerns that it would have to rotate faster than the speed of light to account for the features that led us to use the word ‘spin’. This worry about faster-than-light rotation made the physicists who discovered spin in the 1920s uncomfortable about publishing their results.

If the electron is a sufficiently widely spread-out lump of energy and charge in the Dirac field, there is no need for faster-than-light motion. We can study the way that the energy and charge move to see if they flow in a circular way about some central axis – to see if the electron spins. It does.

The second consideration that led me to an all-fields picture was the realisation that we don’t have a way of treating the photon as a particle in quantum electrodynamics. Dirac invented an equation that describes the quantum behaviour of a single electron. But we have no similar equation for the photon.

If you think of electrons as particles, you’ll have to think of photons differently – either eliminating them (Lazarovici’s story) or treating them as a field (Hubert’s story). On the other hand, if you think of electrons as a field, then you can think of photons the same way. I see this consistency as a virtue of the all-fields picture.

Charles Sebens, “What’s everything made of?” at Aeon

Read the rest. This theory is reminiscent of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, for whom “everything flows.” Would it be just the biscuit if a philosopher guessed it right 2500 years ago?

5 Replies to “At Aeon: To understand fundamental building blocks of nature, one must think beyond physics

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Even the quantumists agree, witih one side of their peculiar brains, that everything is simply resonances. But the quantumists, for reasons I can’t fathom, need to create “paradoxes” by having particles and waves at the same time, or at different times, or depending on the observer, or when they feel like it, or whatever.

    Ockham wins every time. Particles are unnecessary entities. Stop multiplying them.

  2. 2

    Interesting article. One of the 3 opposing teams included John Wheeler and Richard Feynman. In his autobiography, Wheeler comments that his career can be divided into 3 stages of roughly 20 years each. In the first stage when he was solving nuclear reactor problems, he said “Everything is particles”. In the second stage, when he was resurrecting general relativity for cosmology, he said “Everything is waves”. And in his last phase of life, when he was exploring the foundations of quantum mechanics, he said “Everything is information”.
    So it is curious that the author of this Aeon article has frozen Wheeler at his second stage, neglecting to mention his final conclusion. This would suggest that the 3-way debate is really a 4-way debate. But why would a CalTech prof not know the fourth position? Could it be that there is yet another “meta-physical” assumption at stake, one that involves design?

  3. 3
    Querius says:

    Yep. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the “waves” in quantum mechanics are mathematical probability waves. The wavefunctions that collapse when measured/observed are not electromagnetic waves. Reality is all about information, but quantum physics seems to be all about trying to rescue materialism through imaginative perspectives.

    What would be interesting is going down the information road without the distractions of cosmic humanism, wildly novel mathematics, or perhaps even time reversibility.


  4. 4
    Viola Lee says:

    In Carlos Rovelli’s 2014 book about Reality and quantum gravity, towards the end he has a section entitled ““FIELDS AND PARTICLES ARE THE SAME THING”. It’s been a while since I read this, but obviously it is not a new idea.

  5. 5
    Querius says:

    Well, the idea might not be new, but it’s been confused. In Reality Is Not What It Seems, Rovelli gushes

    The answer now is simple: the particles are quanta of quantum fields; light is formed by quanta of a field; space is nothing more than a field, which is also made of quanta; and time emerges from the processes of this same field. In other words, the world is made entirely from quantum fields.

    Be still my beating heart.

    In a chapter titled “INFORMATION,” Rovelli, who likes to use all caps, defines all information as Shannon Information, which only relates to representing or compressing data.

    Consider this “information”:

    2 + 2 = 5

    It can be represented and compressed in a certain minimum number of bits.

    Now consider this “information”:

    Two plus two equals five.

    It can also be represented and compressed in a certain minimum number of bits.

    Unfortunately, the numbers of bits aren’t the same in each version and the “information” is (nowadays) arguably “wrong.”


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