Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Does quantum physics really mean there is no solid reality?


Here’s A physicist’s defense of reality, despite quantum physics:

He explains why Eddington’s solid table really IS solid, even if, at the highest resolution, it is mostly empty space…

So the space isn’t “empty” after all; it is occupied by the probabilities of electrons operating according to the laws of quantum physics (often called quantum mechanics or QM). The particles are very much there, though not, perhaps, in the way we are accustomed to think.

There’s another aspect to this question as well. There is no reason to consider our perceptions to be illusions unless there is a more correct perception that we could have at the same level of resolution.

Consider, for example, a decoy duck, floating in the water. The decoy is not an illusion on account of the fact that its atomic composition is not perceived by our senses. It is an illusion because — at a distance — we believe it to be a live duck. That is, there really is such a thing as a live duck and the decoy looks like a live duck without being one.


Takehome: There is no reason to consider our perceptions to be illusions unless there is a more correct perception that we could have at the same level of resolution.

You may also wish to read:

Can a materialist consciousness theory survive quantum mechanics? Quantum mechanics requires that the observer be part of the measurement; thus quantum measurements must include consciousness. If quantum measurements must include consciousness, the dualists are correct, says philosopher Angus Menuge: Consciousness exists in its own right.


In quantum physics, “reality” really is what we choose to observe. Physicist Bruce Gordon argues that idealist philosophy is the best way to make sense of the puzzling world of quantum physics. The quantum eraser experiment shows that there is no reality independent of measurement at the microphysical level. It is created by the measurement itself.

PaV @15, Nice experiment. -Q Querius
William J Murray @14, What you're describing is called causality. Without causality, we don't have science, which is the rigorously structured study of cause and effect. So I agree with you. Without causality, one indeed cannot ask any "sound questions." But such a position is the intellectual equivalent of giving yourself a frontal lobotomy. -Q (and I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy) Querius
Now there's this from Nature: Visualizing the electron’s quantization with a ruler PaV
Querius @13 asks:
So before humanity and human consciousness became involved, what do you think was occurring with wavefunctions in the universe?
I think the experiments have shown that our idea of being in some kind of universal linear cause-and-effect time-frame is a misconception. When you can literally alter the past in the now, or decide the past in the now, you've not only blown up determinism and materialism, but you've dismantled linear time as a cause and effect framework. So, IMO, that question is posed from a no longer useful conceptualization of time and causality. Consciousness in the now is apparently causing the now; it appears consciousness in the now also causes whatever "past" appears to have led up to the now. So, is it a sound question to ask what was going on "before" human consciousness? I don't think so. William J Murray
William J Murray @7, Very nicely stated! So before humanity and human consciousness became involved, what do you think was occurring with wavefunctions in the universe? -Q Querius
KF, Indeed. Additionally, the philosophical impact is profound. The experimental results in quantum mechanics falsify deterministic materialism and realism.
Prior to measurement, objects have no defined properties or location. The act of an observer creates the existence of the physical objects and the properties they entail.
Recent experiments lead by a group at the University of Vienna, Austria, provide the most compelling yet that there is no objective reality beyond what we observe.
Quantum Physics Debunks Materialism (v2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wM0IKLv7KrE It’s profoundly astonishing that our free-will choice of whether to observe something can result in the instantaneous appearance of an electron out of nothing physical. Furthermore, our ability to collapse wave functions can also prevent radioactive fission from occurring (the quantum Zeno effect) or to transcend time (quantum erasure). These are nothing short of miraculous God-like powers at a small, but fundamental scale. The response among most philosophers, academic pedants, and science popularizers over the last 90 plus years has been to simply ignore the implications of quantum mechanics as if it had never been discovered. -Q Querius
The issue is, we have a more dynamic understanding of how solidity works. kairosfocus
Thanks, Pav. The point is that the strip was put into superposition, which changes depending on whether it's observed. Plus, I'd go a step further using the double-slit behavior: A mathematical probability wave, passing through a double slit results in constructive and destructive interference that manifests itself as a diffraction pattern on a target screen . . . that is, until the slits are measured/observed in which the probability wave collapses into mass-energy, forming two bands on the target screen instead. This is true for photons, electrons, and even molecules consisting of hundreds of atoms. So does mass-energy become "real" when we measure or observe it? Or are mathematical probability waves just as "real" as we are? I sometimes wonder whether gravity is the manifestation of movement into an orthogonal linear dimension rather than space-time deformation. We just don't know. -Q Querius
Querius: Here's a quip from a New Scientist article you're probably referring to in your given example of a paddle in a superposition: Aaron O’Connell and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara, did not actually produce a cat that was dead and alive at the same time, as Erwin Schrödinger proposed in a notorious thought experiment 75 years ago. But they did show that a tiny resonating strip of metal – only 60 micrometres long, but big enough to be seen without a microscope – can both oscillate and not oscillate at the same time. Alas, you couldn’t actually see the effect happening, because that very act of observation would take it out of superposition. So, you "couldn't actually see the effect happening" is the bottom line. Mass is, so to speak, 'condensed' energy, and when condensed to a significant degree, can seem "solid." This is a sensation we have. We have sensations of gravity as well. But, if we keep chasing after reality and go to the smaller and smaller length scales, then we, I believe, reach a point where mass--as condensed energy, results from the curvature of space itself. You can study John Wheeler's notion of 'geons,' if you like. That's the basic idea. If all of this is true, then we are essentially left with space--which is invisible, and energy, which, too, is invisible. Now we can ask the question: is there anything 'solid' here? We're left with a riddle. PaV
@BA77 @WJM Thank for the response both were very useful and informative! AaronS1978
Aaron @2: It's not that reality doesn't exist; it's just that reality is not what people have thought it to be. "What exists" is consciousness <the observer) and information (what is being observed.) Probabilities and possibilities described by he math of quantum physics is information, which is real and exists. Consciousness is a fundamental quality; it not generated by that information, but rather it is that which experiences the information. In conjunction with the abstract information, the observer's choices (deliberate or not) or mental perspective is that which selects from the available pool of information and processes that information into the experience of an external, physical world. To avoid solipsism, we must assume that the other people in our lives also represent individual consciousnesses just like ourselves. There is much, much more that a conscious being is "choosing" than just the appearance of a physical world "around them." There is much more that is necessary for a conscious being to "choose" to experience (consciously, unconsciously, subconsciously) in order to maintain a consistent self-aware identity as a sentient, thinking, rational being. To give one example and not go too deeply into it, such a being must exist in an environment where they are aware of self and other and have sequential, comprehensible experiences. To be able to identify and comprehend their experiences, there must be an order and a consistency to their experiences. Also, in order to be able to recognize and communicate with other consciousnesses, we must share the same, or at least nearly the same, consistent, ordered, comprehensible "environment," which means we must be accessing much of the same information as others around it and processing it into pretty much the same experiences, at least when it comes to the experience of the shared environment information. There is much more to how consciousness manifests what we call both our internal life and our external environment than just whether or not things exist when we're not looking, or the explanation of whys we appear to age. For example, if consciousness is fundamental, and consciousness collapses information into stable, consistent sets of experiences including our own physical bodies, the birth of a baby cannot represent a "new" consciousness. Consciousness would be fundamental, not contingent. At the other end of the spectrum, death cannot represent the end of consciousness. William J Murray
Reminds me of that old QM joke I just made up: If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? No, but it tastes yellow. drc466
For those who believe that "Quantum Physics really mean[s] there is no solid reality", here is the major weakness in such a belief: measurement cannot change the type of what is being measured. When we perform a quantum entanglement experiment on a photon, we cannot choose for the photon to become an electron. We cannot change wave-function lead into particle gold. Aaron's parents don't become Aaron's siblings if measured by a different individual. Not all possible options are made available by quantum measurement: 1) Can be "not there" - check 2) Can be at position a or position b - check 3) Can be a wave-function probability - check 4) Can be converted from matter/energy type a to matter/energy type b - uncheck This certainly implies limits to the influence of the observer, if not complete reality independent of the observer. There must be some reality independent of observation. drc466
Aaron when you ask, "Does somebody else’s measurement of me make me exist or do I make everybody else exists around me(?)", you are falling into the Solipsism trap (of note: Solipsism is the view that only one's own mind is sure to exist.). Don't feel alone Aaron, you are in good company, Eugene Wigner himself fell into the Solipsism trap.
"In a lecture of 1982, he (Wigner) then regards the issue of solipsism as a sufficient reason to repudiate his earlier views on measurement in quantum mechanics (pp. 73–74, and also p. 230). In order to avoid solipsism, Wigner considers it to be necessary to admit state reductions independently of an observer’s consciousness." - Essay Review - Wigner’s View of Physical Reality
That Eugene Wigner would fall into the Solipsism trap is interesting for two reasons. Number one, Wigner was a Jewish man who had converted to Christianity, (shortly after WWII no less), and who appears to have therefore, at least 'mildly', believed in God.
"So the Wigners easily became Lutherans. Today I am only mildly religious. When I attend church it is with the protestants.,,, I found Karl Marx quite unconvincing. And Lenin was even worse." - Eugene Wigner - Recollections - page 39 - 1992
The second reason that it is interesting that Eugene Wigner fell into the Solipsism trap is because Eugene Wigner is the one who came up with the 'Wigner's friend' thought experiment in the first place. The 'Wigner's friend' thought experiment made its first appearance in this 1961 paper where Wigner stated that, "It will remain remarkable, in whatever way our future concepts may develop, that the very study of the external world led to the scientific conclusion that the content of the consciousness is the ultimate universal reality"
Remarks on the mind-body question - E.P. Wigner (1961), Excerpt: "It will remain remarkable, in whatever way our future concepts may develop, that the very study of the external world led to the scientific conclusion that the content of the consciousness is the ultimate universal reality" - http://www.projects.science.uu.nl/igg/jos/foundQM/wigner.pdf
Moreover, regardless of the fact that, in 1982 because of Solipsism, Wigner rejected the view that he had championed for years, (along with Von Neumann), that 'consciousness causes collapse',
Von Neumann–Wigner - interpretation Excerpt: The von Neumann–Wigner interpretation, also described as "consciousness causes collapse", is an interpretation of quantum mechanics in which consciousness is postulated to be necessary for the completion of the process of quantum measurement. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neumann%E2%80%93Wigner_interpretation
Regardless of the fact that Wigner himself had rejected his, (and Von Neumann's), view that 'consciousness causes collapse', experimental science itself could care less about Wigner's personal opinion, (just as experimental science could care less about anyone's personal opinion) In particular, the Wigner's friend thought experiment, as of 2019, has now been physically realized. As the following article states, “measurement results,, must be understood relative to the observer who performed the measurement”.
More Than One Reality Exists (in Quantum Physics) By Mindy Weisberger – March 20, 2019 Excerpt: “measurement results,, must be understood relative to the observer who performed the measurement”. https://www.livescience.com/65029-dueling-reality-photons.html
And in 2020, the Wigner's friend 'paradox' was further verified to be real, i.e. "Now, researchers in Australia and Taiwan offer perhaps the sharpest demonstration that Wigner’s paradox is real. In a study published this week in Nature Physics, they transform the thought experiment into a mathematical theorem that confirms the irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of the scenario. The team also tests the theorem with an experiment, using photons as proxies for the humans."
Quantum paradox points to shaky foundations of reality - George Musser - Aug. 17, 2020 Excerpt: Now, researchers in Australia and Taiwan offer perhaps the sharpest demonstration that Wigner’s paradox is real. In a study published this week in Nature Physics, they transform the thought experiment into a mathematical theorem that confirms the irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of the scenario. The team also tests the theorem with an experiment, using photons as proxies for the humans. Whereas Wigner believed resolving the paradox requires quantum mechanics to break down for large systems such as human observers, some of the new study’s authors believe something just as fundamental is on thin ice: objectivity. It could mean there is no such thing as an absolute fact, one that is as true for me as it is for you. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/quantum-paradox-points-shaky-foundations-reality
Thus regardless of the fact that Wigner himself had rejected the 'consciousness causes collapse' view of quantum mechanics because of Solipsism, his very own Wigner's friend thought experiment has now been experimentally realized and the Wigner's friend 'paradox' is now found to be a real effect. Personally, I think that much of Wigner's confusion over Solipsism could have been avoided if only Wigner would have realized that it is not our own personal consciousnesses that are collapsing the wave function, but that it is the infinite mind of God that must be collapsing the wave function. In other words, while our own personal consciousnesses, (via our individual free will choices of what to measure), might be a necessary condition in order to complete the measurement process, our own personal consciousnesses are not a sufficient condition in order to explain the collapse of the quantum wave itself. The reason why our own personal consciousnesses are not sufficient to explain quantum wave collapse is easy enough to understand. The quantum wave, prior to collapse, is mathematically defined as being in an 'infinite dimensional' state,
Wave function Excerpt "wave functions form an abstract vector space",,, This vector space is infinite-dimensional, because there is no finite set of functions which can be added together in various combinations to create every possible function. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave_function#Wave_functions_as_an_abstract_vector_space Why do we need infinite-dimensional Hilbert spaces in physics? You need an infinite dimensional Hilbert space to represent a wavefunction of any continuous observable (like position for example). https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/149786/why-do-we-need-infinite-dimensional-hilbert-spaces-in-physics
Moreover, it also takes an infinite amount of information to properly describe the quantum wave prior to its collapse,
Explaining Information Transfer in Quantum Teleportation: Armond Duwell †‡ University of Pittsburgh Excerpt: In contrast to a classical bit, the description of a (quantum) qubit requires an infinite amount of information. The amount of information is infinite because two real numbers are required in the expansion of the state vector of a two state quantum system (Jozsa 1997, 1) http://www.cas.umt.edu/phil/faculty/duwell/DuwellPSA2K.pdf
To point out the obvious Theistic implications in all this, in order to adequately explain the collapse of the quantum wave we are forced to appeal to a 'sufficient' cause that has the capacity within itself to explain the collapse of the 'infinite dimensional/infinite information' quantum wave. In other words, we are forced to appeal to the omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent Mind of God in order to give an adequate explanation of quantum wave collapse.
Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence Omnipotence means all-powerful. Monotheistic theologians regard God as having supreme power. This means God can do what he wants. It means he is not subject to physical limitations like man is. Being omnipotent, God has power over wind, water, gravity, physics, etc. God's power is infinite, or limitless. Omniscience means all-knowing. God is all all-knowing in the sense that he is aware of the past, present, and future. Nothing takes him by surprise. His knowledge is total. He knows all that there is to know and all that can be known. Omnipresence means all-present. This term means that God is capable of being everywhere at the same time. It means his divine presence encompasses the whole of the universe. There is no location where he does not inhabit. This should not be confused with pantheism, which suggests that God is synonymous with the universe itself; instead, omnipresence indicates that God is distinct from the universe, but inhabits the entirety of it. He is everywhere at once. https://study.com/academy/lesson/omnipotent-omniscient-and-omnipresent-god-definition-lesson-quiz.html
That God is collapsing quantum waves to all of our own individual choices, and that we each therefore, because of our free will, necessarily inhabit 'our own little worlds' as it were, should not be that surprising to learn. Much like we each can each choose, (via our free will choices and within reason), to live anywhere that we may so desire to live in this world, so to is this principle present in Quantum Mechanics in that we, via our free will choices, can choose what type of reality gets presented to us. As Wheeler himself put the situation with quantum mechanics, "this is a participatory universe."
"I, like other searchers, attempt formulation after formulation of the central issues and here present a wider overview, taking for working hypothesis the most effective one that has survived this winnowing: It from Bit. Otherwise put, every it — every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself — derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely — even if in some contexts indirectly — from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes or no questions, binary choices, bits. It from Bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — at a very deep bottom, in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation; that what we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe." - John Wheeler
So thus Aaron, hopefully you can now see that Solipsism is not as big of a hurdle as you, (and Wigner), have falsely imagined it to be. Verse:
Colossians 1:17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Reality is based on entities that are not "solid" matter but mathematical probabilities called wave functions that collapse into mass-energy when observed or measured. The experimental verification of quantum mechanics has been staggering and some quantum effects have been observed by the naked eye including a tiny paddle that's both vibrating and not vibrating at the same time. Quantum effects are responsible for fusion that makes the sun to shine, lets lasers work, facilitates photosynthesis, and limits the miniaturization of microelectronics as a few examples. Einstein had profound trouble accepting quantum mechanics and spent the rest of his life trying to disprove it. Here's a famous quote from him on the subject:
I think that a particle must have a separate reality independent of the measurements. That is an electron has spin, location and so forth even when it is not being measured. I like to think that the moon is there even if I am not looking at it.
But quantum mechanics is probably the most thoroughly tested area in all the sciences and has been validated up to 10 parts per billion. Max Planck, who’s considered the father of quantum mechanics stated the following in a speech delivered in Florence, Italy in 1944 titled The Nature of Matter:
As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear-headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.
Yes, in 1944. Science has struggled with the interpretation of these phenomena and philosophy has ignored them ever since. Why your parents are usually observed as you expect them to be has to do with their relative size. But down at the smallest levels, reality doesn't emerge from particles but from information, observation, and measurement. -Q Querius
OK OK I have a question for everybody when you say that reality does not exist unless you are looking at it i.e. measuring it Why is it then I know that when I am not looking at my parents and measuring them they exist They are there every time I go to visit them Am I misunderstanding this concept Because theoretically we shouldn’t age because I wouldn’t measure that or have that perception and I can control that But we do Does somebody else’s measurement of me make me exist or do I make everybody else exists around me Personally I think we take quantum mechanics a little too far when we make those comments but they are honest questions and I don’t know how to answer them other than that just can’t be the case AaronS1978
Some quotes from physicists are in order here . . .
The results of the Australian scientists’ experiment, which were published in the journal Nature Physics, show that this choice is determined by the way the object is measured, which is in accordance with what quantum theory predicts. “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,” said lead researcher Dr. Andrew Truscott in a press release . . . “The atoms did not travel from A to B. It was only when they were measured at the end of the journey that their wave-like or particle-like behavior was brought into existence,” he said. Thus, this experiment adds to the validity of the quantum theory and provides new evidence to the idea that reality doesn’t exist without an observer. - News report, June 3, 2015
It is more than 80 years since the discovery of quantum mechanics gave us the most fundamental insight ever into our nature: the overturning of the Copernican Revolution, and the restoration of us human beings to centrality in the Universe. And yet, have you ever before read a sentence having meaning similar to that of my preceding sentence? Likely you have not, and the reason you have not is, in my opinion, that physicists are in a state of denial . . . - Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness, Richard Conn Henry, Professor of Physics, John Hopkins University
What we perceive as reality now depends on our earlier decision what to measure, which is a very, very deep message about the nature of reality and our part in the whole universe. We are not just passive observers. - Anton Zeilinger
Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the illusion of material reality (which has in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism. - Richard Conn Henry & Stephen R. Palmquist
-Q Querius

Leave a Reply