Ontology and physics

One sometimes wonders what keeps amateur physicists awake. Why is it that they want to understand quarks and wave equations, or delve into complicated math (perturbation theory, for example)? I believe it is driven by the same human curiosity that drives philosophy. Physics stands apart from other sciences because it examines the smallest of smallest – the essence of things, so to speak.

Unlike other sciences (the human sciences in particular, perhaps), physicists also seek to reduce the number of concepts, rather than multiply them – even if, sadly, enough, they do not always a good job at that. However, generally speaking, physics and math may, effectively, be considered to be the King and Queen of Science, respectively.

The Queen is an eternal beauty, of course, because Her Language may mean anything. Physics, in contrast, talks specifics: physical dimensions (force, distance, energy, etcetera), as opposed to mathematical dimensions – which are mere quantities (scalars and vectors).

Science differs from religion in that it seeks to experimentally verify its propositions. It measures rather than believes. These measurements are cross-checked by a global community and, thereby, establish a non-subjective reality. The question of whether reality exists outside of us, is irrelevant: it is a category mistake (Ryle, 1949). It is like asking why we are here: we just are.

All is in the fundamental equations. An equation relates a measurement to Nature’s constants. Measurements – energy/mass, or velocities – are relative. Nature’s constants do not depend on the frame of reference of the observer and we may, therefore, label them as being absolute. This corresponds to the difference between variables and parameters in equations. The speed of light (c) and Planck’s quantum of action (h) are parameters in the E/m = c2 and E = hf, respectively.

Feynman (II-25-6) is right that the Great Law of Nature may be summarized as U = 0 but that “this simple notation just hides the complexity in the definitions of symbols is just a trick.” It is like talking of the night “in which all cows are equally black” (Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, Vorrede, 1807). Hence, the U = 0 equation needs to be separated out. I would separate it out as:

We imagine things in 3D space and one-directional time (Lorentz, 1927, and Kant, 1781). The imaginary unit operator (i) represents a rotation in space. A rotation takes time. Its physical dimension is, therefore, s/m or -s/m, as per the mathematical convention in place (Minkowski’s metric signature and counter-clockwise evolution of the argument of complex numbers, which represent the (elementary) wavefunction).

Velocities can be linear or tangential, giving rise to the concepts of linear versus angular momentum. Tangential velocities imply orbitals: circular and elliptical orbitals are closed. Particles are pointlike charges in closed orbitals. We are not sure if non-closed orbitals might correspond to some reality: linear oscillations are field particles, but we do not think of lines as non-closed orbitals: the curvature of real space (the Universe we live in) suggest we should but we are not sure such thinking is productive (efforts to model gravity as a residual force have failed so far).

Space and time are innate or a priori categories (Kant, 1781). Elementary particles can be modeled as pointlike charges oscillating in space and in time. The concept of charge could be dispensed with if there were not lightlike particles: photons and neutrinos, which carry energy but no charge. The pointlike charge which is oscillating is pointlike but may have a finite (non-zero) physical dimension, which explains the anomalous magnetic moment of the free (Compton) electron. However, it only appears to have a non-zero dimension when the electromagnetic force is involved (the proton has no anomalous magnetic moment and is about 3.35 times smaller than the calculated radius of the pointlike charge inside of an electron). Why? We do not know: elementary particles are what they are.

We have two forces: electromagnetic and nuclear. One of the most remarkable things is that the E/m = c2 holds for both electromagnetic and nuclear oscillations, or combinations thereof (superposition theorem). Combined with the oscillator model (E = ma2ω2 = mc2 and, therefore, c must be equal to c = aω), this makes us think of c2 as modeling an elasticity or plasticity of space. Why two oscillatory modes only? In 3D space, we can only imagine oscillations in one, two and three dimensions (line, plane, and sphere). The idea of four-dimensional spacetime is not relevant in this context.

Photons and neutrinos are linear oscillations and, because they carry no charge, travel at the speed of light. Electrons and muon-electrons (and their antimatter counterparts) are 2D oscillations packing electromagnetic and nuclear energy, respectively. The proton (and antiproton) pack a 3D nuclear oscillation. Neutrons combine positive and negative charge and are, therefore, neutral. Neutrons may or may not combine the electromagnetic and nuclear force: their size (more or less the same as that of the proton) suggests the oscillation is nuclear.  

 2D oscillation3D oscillation
electromagnetic forcee± (electron/positron)orbital electron (e.g.: 1H)
nuclear forceμ± (muon-electron/antimuon)p± (proton/antiproton)
compositepions (π±/ π0)?n (neutron)? D+ (deuteron)?
corresponding field particleγ (photon)ν (neutrino)

The theory is complete: each theoretical/mathematical/logical possibility corresponds to a physical reality, with spin distinguishing matter from antimatter for particles with the same form factor.

When reading this, my kids might call me and ask whether I have gone mad. Their doubts and worry are not random: the laws of the Universe are deterministic (our macro-time scale introduces probabilistic determinism only). Free will is real, however: we analyze and, based on our analysis, we determine the best course to take when taking care of business. Each course of action is associated with an anticipated cost and return. We do not always choose the best course of action because of past experience, habit, laziness or – in my case – an inexplicable desire to experiment and explore new territory.

PS: I’ve written this all out in a paper, of course. 🙂 I also did a 30 minute YouTube video on it. Finally, I got a nice comment from an architect who wrote an interesting paper on wavefunctions and wave equations back in 1996 – including thoughts on gravity.

The End of Physics

There is an army of physicists out there – still – trying to convince you there is still some mystery that needs explaining. They are wrong: quantum-mechanical weirdness is weird, but it is not some mystery. We have a decent interpretation of what quantum-mechanical equations – such as Schrodinger’s equation, for example – actually mean. We can also understand what photons, electrons, or protons – light and matter – actually are, and such understanding can be expressed in terms of 3D space, time, force, and charge: elementary concepts that feel familiar to us. There is no mystery left.

Unfortunately, physicists have completely lost it: they have multiplied concepts and produced a confusing but utterly unconvincing picture of the essence of the Universe. They promoted weird mathematical concepts – the quark hypothesis is just one example among others – and gave them some kind of reality status. The Nobel Prize Committee then played the role of the Vatican by canonizing the newfound religion.

It is a sad state of affairs, because we are surrounded by too many lies already: the ads and political slogans that shout us in the face as soon as we log on to Facebook to see what our friends are up to, or to YouTube to watch something or – what I often do – listen to the healing sounds of music.

The language and vocabulary of physics are complete. Does it make us happier beings? It should, shouldn’t it? I am happy I understand. I find consciousness fascinating – self-consciousness even more – but not because I think it is rooted in mystery. No. Consciousness arises from the self-organization of matter: order arising from chaos. It is a most remarkable thing – and it happens at all levels: atoms in molecules, molecules forming cellular systems, cellular systems forming biological systems. We are a biological system which, in turn, is part of much larger systems: biological, ecological – material systems. There is no God talking to us. We are on our own, and we must make the best out of it. We have everything, and we know everything.

Sadly, most people do not realize.

Post scriptum: With the end of physics comes the end of technology as well, isn’t it? All of the advanced technologies in use today are effectively already described in Feynman’s Lectures on Physics, which were written and published in the first half of the 1960s.

I thought about possible counterexamples, like optical-fiber cables, or the equipment that is used in superconducting quantum computing, such as Josephson junctions. But Feynman already describes Josephson junctions in the last chapter of his Lectures on Quantum Mechanics, which is a seminar on superconductivity. And fiber-optic cable is, essentially, a waveguide for light, which Feynman describes in very much detail in Chapter 24 of his Lectures on Electromagnetism and Matter. Needless to say, computers were also already there, and Feynman’s lecture on semiconductors has all you need to know about modern-day computing equipment. [In case you briefly thought about lasers, the first laser was built in 1960, and Feynman’s lecture on masers describes lasers too.]

So it is all there. I was born in 1969, when Man first walked on the Moon. CERN and other spectacular research projects have since been established, but, when one is brutally honest, one has to admit these experiments have not added anything significant – neither to the knowledge nor to the technology base of humankind (and, yes, I know your first instinct is to disagree with that, but that is because study or the media indoctrinated you that way). It is a rather strange thought, but I think it is essentially correct. Most scientists, experts and commentators are trying to uphold a totally fake illusion of progress.

Mental categories versus reality

Pre-scriptum: For those who do not like to read, I produced a very short YouTube presentation/video on this topic. About 15 minutes – same time as it will take you to read this post, probably. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJxAh_uCNjs.

Text:

We think of space and time as fundamental categories of the mind. And they are, but only in the sense that the famous Dutch physicist H.A. Lorentz conveyed to us: we do not seem to be able to conceive of any idea in physics without these two notions. However, relativity theory tells us these two concepts are not absolute and we may, therefore, say they cannot be truly fundamental. Only Nature’s constants – the speed of light, or Planck’s quantum of action – are absolute: these constants seem to mix space and time into something that is, apparently, more fundamental.

The speed of light (c) combines the physical dimensions of space and time, and Planck’s quantum of action (h) adds the idea of a force. But time, distance, and force are all relative. Energy (force over a distance), momentum (force times time) are, therefore, also relative. In contrast, the speed of light, and Planck’s quantum of action, are absolute. So we should think of distance, and of time, as some kind of projection of a deeper reality: the reality of light or – in case of Planck’s quantum of action – the reality of an electron or a proton. In contrast, time, distance, force, energy, momentum and whatever other concept we would derive from them exist in our mind only.

We should add another point here. To imagine the reality of an electron or a proton (or the idea of an elementary particle, you might say), we need an additional concept: the concept of charge. The elementary charge (e) is, effectively, a third idea (or category of the mind, one might say) without which we cannot imagine Nature. The ideas of charge and force are, of course, closely related: a force acts on a charge, and a charge is that upon which a force is acting. So we cannot think of charge without thinking of force, and vice versa. But, as mentioned above, the concept of force is relative: it incorporates the idea of time and distance (a force is that what accelerates a charge). In contrast, the idea of the elementary charge is absolute again: it does not depend on our frame of reference.

So we have three fundamental concepts: (1) velocity (or motion, you might say: a ratio of distance and time); (2) (physical) action (force times distance times time); and (3) charge. We measure them in three fundamental units: c, h, and e. Che. 🙂 So that’s reality, then: all of the metaphysics of physics are here. In three letters. We need three concepts: three things that we think of as being real, somehow. Real in the sense that we do not think they exist in our mind only. Light is real, and elementary particles are equally real. All other concepts exist in our mind only.

So were Kant’s ideas about space and time wrong? Maybe. Maybe not. If they are wrong, then that’s quite OK: Immanuel Kant lived in the 18th century, and had not ventured much beyond the place where he was born. Less exciting times. I think he was basically right in saying that space and time exist in our mind only. But he had no answer(s) to the question as to what is real: if some things exist in our mind only, something must exist in what is not our mind, right? So that is what we refer to as reality then: that which does not exist in our mind only.

Modern physics has the answers. The philosophy curriculum at universities should, therefore, adapt to modern times: Maxwell first derived the (absolute) speed of light in 1862, and Einstein published the (special) theory of relativity back in 1905. Hence, philosophers are 100-150 years behind the curve. They are probably even behind the general public. Philosophers should learn about modern physics as part of their studies so they can (also) think about real things rather than mental constructs only.