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Why or why not?

asked Oct 05 '10 at 17:22

Cherman's gravatar image


edited Oct 07 '10 at 15:45

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

I'm not sure what experiment you're talking about. There's no experiment where consciousness plays a role in the outcome of whether a photon behaves as a wave or a particle. There are plenty of experiments where measurement plays a role in the outcome of whether a photon behaves as a wave or a particle. But measurement requires physical interaction. Whether or not you measure an attribute of a photon changes the experiment.

Don't confuse the act of measuring something with the act of being conscious of the measurement.

(Jan 02 '12 at 20:17) anthony anthony's gravatar image

The delayed choice quantum eraser experiment is the real experiment. One thing which seems to be left out of the thought experiment is the "coincidence counter", which I suspect is where the real quantum weirdness is taking effect. So far as I can tell all quantum eraser experiments to date have involved the use of a coincidence counter.

(Jan 07 '12 at 20:22) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Quantum physics is a legitimate field of study and as such it is reliant on reason (and of course compatible with Objectivism). The domain seems quite strange and counterintuitive, but new and strange phenomena don't conflict with reason per se -- everything we now rationally understand started out as new and strange, after all.

We need to distinguish between quantum fact and quantum interpretation. The quantum facts seen in experiment are solid and not in dispute. However, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum fact (currently quite fashionable) is the source of what I suspect you are asking about: the widespread notion that quantum scientists have demonstrated that things in the world are somehow radically dependent upon consciousness for their identities and very existence (that an "observation" will "collapse the wave function" to use their lingo, transforming some patch of existence from an indeterminate statistical fog into something concrete and determinate). Or that reality is inherently contradictory (an implication drawn from "wave-particle duality" and other quantum phenomena) -- or that causality doesn't hold or can work in reverse, etc. These ideas would certainly be in conflict with Objectivism, but Objectivists brush them aside as mistakes (mistakes that can be reliably identified by non-physicists, much like a non-lawyer can reliably identify a bad legal argument if it involves a logical fallacy). The Copenhagen interpretation is only an expression of bad philosophy masquerading as science.

The key to seeing this lies in understanding how science as a discipline is an outgrowth of and utterly dependent on a certain metaphysics -- one which at least implicitly recognizes the philosophical axioms Rand explicitly identified as Existence, Identity (including Causality), Consciousness, and the essential relationship they entail of the primacy of existence over consciousness (i.e., consciousness as fundamentally the grasp of facts, not the creation or shaping of them). When someone cites scientific results as overturning philosophical axioms, he is engaging in a logical fallacy called "concept stealing" and inverting the relationship between philosophy and science. You can observe the symptoms in how the scientists who think that the Copenhagen interpretation follows from their work are essentially saying that they have identified facts which violate identity; that they have observed the effects of experiments which invalidate causality; and that they have studied the facts of existence and grasped the (mind-independent) fact that facts are are created by consciousness. Notice the consistent pattern of relying on what is being questioned or denied.

Objectivists are of course not threatened by this kind of confusion. Indeed, in clarifying the basic relationship between philosophy and the special sciences, Objectivism provides a powerful tonic against unproductive blind alleys like the Copenhagen interpretation of QM, even putting scientists in a better position to do great science.

For further discussion of this inversion of the relationship between science and philosophy, you can watch this lecture (available free online): "The Crisis in Physics -- And Its Cause" by David Harriman, an Objectivist philosopher and physicist.

answered Oct 05 '10 at 18:03

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

edited Mar 14 '11 at 13:29

First, it is important to understand that philosophy and the special sciences (such as physics) operate in different domains.

Philosophy deals with the most general questions regarding the nature of existence (metaphysics), methods of knowledge (epistemology), and human choices (ethics) -- using knowledge that would be available to humans in any era. The special sciences investigate much more detailed questions than philosophy does, and they often require specialized experimental and conceptual tools.

There are three important points to remember regarding the relationship between philosophy and the special sciences:

  1. There should be no conflict between the two, if each is based upon rational ideas.
  2. Philosophy cannot dictate scientific conclusions -- so long as those conclusions are narrowly scientific and not intruding upon the domain of philosophy.
  3. The special sciences cannot be used to originate, prove, or disprove philosophical ideas -- because philosophy sets the general terms upon which the special sciences operate.

Quantum physics, if properly understood as a scientific theory integrating and predicting experimental results, has no conflict with Objectivism.

The problems occur when quantum physics is taken to prove sweeping claims about reality or knowledge as such. Popular examples include any denial of absolute reality, any denial of certainty in general, or any claim that consciousness creates reality rather than perceives it. (These notions, in fact, undercut the philosophical base of science itself, which is based upon the idea that there is an external reality that we can understand using a particular method.)

Objectivism has no conflict with quantum physics properly delimited as a scientific theory. Objectivism may, however, have conflicts with particular physicists who attempt to use quantum physics as a springboard for promulgating irrationalist philosophy.

answered Oct 05 '10 at 18:06

Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦

As with any true science, all of which involve observations and measurements, the science of quantum physics is clearly compatible with reality, and therefore with Objectivism.

What's not compatible are the conclusions that various would-be philosophers jump to on their basis of their mistaken interpretations of quantum physics, leading to justifications about how and why the world works as they think it should. Subjectivists, in particular, seem to love this approach.

One example is the phenomenon of a wave transforming into a particle when it's observed. That is often mistakenly interpreted to mean that some consciousness had to be the observer, which is not correct. The observation can be made by objects (such as measuring devices), and the transformation still happens.

answered Jan 08 '12 at 01:50

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Rick ♦

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Asked: Oct 05 '10 at 17:22

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Last updated: Jan 08 '12 at 01:50