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Rob Sheldon weighs in on the fundamental building blocks of nature – particles, fields, or …

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Recently, we’ve been discussing Charles Sebens’s view that there are no particles, only forces, and Max Planck’s thoughts on the force behind the universe.

Our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon offers some thoughts on the “fields vs particles” debate:

In his autobiography, John Archibald Wheeler (1911–2008) 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?

See also: At Aeon: To understand fundamental building blocks of nature, one must think beyond physics In a debate with four other philosophers of physics, Sebens argued that there are no particles, everything is fields.


Max Planck on the force behind the universe. A friend now writes to remind us that physics great Max Planck had quite immaterial views on the nature of the universe.

Rob Sheldon is the author of Genesis: The Long Ascent and The Long Ascent, Volume II

Rob Sheldon has quite an impressive CV. I happened to notice that he taught secondary school classes using Conceptual Physics, which is a wonderful approach. Why is there such reluctance among many--but not all--physics and science popularizers to acknowledge information as fundamental? Eminent physicists researching quantum mechanics have remarked on the indications that information lies at the root of all physical existence. While the concept of fields seems non-controversial, information immediately sends many people into either hiding behind complex mathematical models, swallowing a camel load's worth of cosmic humanism, or desperately diving for some emergent materialistic effect as the actual cause of reality. It's been repeatedly demonstrated that waves and fields consist of ephemeral mathematical probabilities that interact with each other and collapse when consciously measured or observed. Researchers in quantum mechanics also know that quantum effects seem to violate time, impassible barriers, and impossible distances instantaneously. According to eminent physicists, what we choose to observe or measure seems to be fundamental to reality and complementary variables seem to indicate that the amount of information that we can extract is limited between them. Chaos theory drags people unwillingly away from determinism and the origin of space-time and low entropy drives them into denial. How can Everything (i.e. existence) be the result of Nothing (non-existence)? So, they hide behind impossible infinities and egregious violations of parsimony with unobservable and unmeasurable universes of possibilities and universes in fact. And then with eyes tightly shut, they claim to "follow the science," clinging to an obsolete 19th century theory about species and races, while consciousness, information, and design remains invisible to them. But why?
"Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. -Matthew 24:20 (NIV)
-Q Querius

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