Saturday, June 20, 2015

'Science is a method for finding truth'

By George Templeton
Gazette Columnist
“God moves in a mysterious way / His wonders to perform; / He plants His footsteps in the sea / And rides upon the storm.”  William Cowper (1731-1800)
I earned my living, spent my life, trying to see that which cannot be seen.  Understanding creates lost innocence even when clouds have a silver lining.  Science makes no excuses when it finds mysterious ways.
Farmer John was in a quantum dither.  His oak tree “knew” when it was the season for planting.  It signified that by sending forth green shoots, but climate change was not helping.  If John did not improve yields he would lose his farm.  Should he rotate crops, fertilize differently, or irrigate more?  It would take too long to examine these things one at a time.
John’s ability to learn from past experiences would not be helpful.  They created a false illusion of validity.  A computer helped John plan simultaneous modifications during a single season.   It found what mattered, the optimum, and whether any of the changes depended on the others, but it required just enough imagination to guess.  Solutions might be hidden from view.  Too many variables would take John in circles.
His wells could run dry.  Nature was aiming at a target, but she was not a good shot.  John’s personal situation was the only reality and it might turn out to be atypical.  John wanted to be confident.  The computer gave him its estimate of the upper and lower bounds that modifications could bring.  The only problem was that they widened whenever he asked for more certainty.
Length, width, and height are the only dimensions that John could visualize, but the mathematical model created by his computer had more.  There was one for every variable!  John contemplated the mystery of life.  If he knew everything, what would the point of living be?
John wondered what would have happened had he taken the other road.  He wrestled with his decision.  He had to move forward dealing with its consequences because he could not move backward, but could he move sideways in boundless reincarnation?  
In 1957, Hugh Everett’s doctoral thesis explained that we live in a universe of hidden dimensions. Whenever we make a choice between the high road and the low road, an unseen but correlated copy of us takes the other path.  Everything that can happen does.
Unseen worlds are impossible to prove or disprove and immensely complex; however, John had to remember that all his actions did not involve choices.  It is also very complicated to think that everything that occurs is under God’s control.  John suspected that he was an accident, but is possibility an adequate explanation for the entire universe?
If John’s not in control of his life, what is?  Things didn’t turn out exactly as he planned.  Was destiny only an illusion?  In classic mythology, it was explained by the Moirae whose duty was to see that each person’s fate, assigned at birth, was carried out.  In the arts, fortune was depicted as a spindle, scroll, and scissors or pair of scales.
It is a question as old as thought.  Is a universe which is infected by uncertainty but follows laws just a machine?  We experience the joy and sorrow of the consequences of what our choices create, and we discover ourselves as much as the world that was our past and will be our future.  Isn’t the fuzzy logic of what could be as real as truth or falsity? 
Science is a method for finding truth, not a body of absolute truth.  John was reluctant to “just believe”. He knew that science knows what works!  Was science exceptional because other forms of human endeavor were so lacking in objectivity?  Were questions that science could not answer flawed?  Was science objective or prejudiced when it explained the unseen?  Was it factual when it understood the micro-cosmos and macro-cosmos as more of the same?  Was it true that John could only directly affect that which he could touch?  John was trapped within a web of truth that did not satisfy his doubts.  He turned to applied science and its roots in the two hole experiment hoping to come to grips with the reality of possibility.   
Two Holes
A wobbly target shooter slowly fires at two spaced holes in a bullet-proof armor plate.  Most of his bullets are stopped by the armor, but some get through.  A few ricochet or diffract slightly from the edges of a hole, but those that pass go one at a time.  Their impact on the target behind is abrupt, at a point, and can be counted, but it’s the pattern that matters, not hitting the bull’s eye.
In the very tiny world, a single indestructible bullet can go through both holes simultaneously, as long as no one is looking!  When more shots are fired, the bullets land in bands, exactly like those caused by wave reinforcement and cancellation, and not always behind a hole.  There are places on the target where many hits accumulate when either hole is open, but when both holes are opened those hits go towards zero instead of increasing as expected. 
Each bullet “knows” whether or not the opposite hole is open or closed.  It is only when both holes are open that the bullet’s point of impact is deflected in an uncertain, but probable way.  Each individual bullet appears to simultaneously pass through both holes getting in the way of and interfering with itself.  But the bullets do not split apart.  They seemingly start as a particle, travel as a wave, become two interfering waves after passing through the two holes, and miraculously collapse to once again become a particle making a single point of impact. 
Why do identical bullets in the same situation behave so differently?  Hidden probability waves are an answer.  No one has ever seen one and they never actually do anything.  They are a tendency, a proxy for the bullet’s behavior, instead of a disturbance in a propagating medium.  They predict, but don’t give values, just chances.  They depend on the shooter, bullet, armor, target, and observer.  They are all together.
If one looks to know which hole the bullet passed through, the interference pattern goes away.  It makes sense because there is only one bullet.  It cannot pass through both holes interfering with itself. 
Perhaps bullets have no deep external reality.  Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753) saw God as the patron observer of our sensible universe.  He realized that it was impossible to know something that is not an idea.  Consciousness contemplates itself to know that it exists.
But what if the bullet did not pass where the observer was looking?  A bullet that is not there cannot be molested by measurement, but it gives information that changes probability.  Probability is not a solid object like a rock or tree.  New information changes it.
A single bullet’s behavior can be confounded by closing a hole and interposing an additional adjustable two hole screen behind the first after the projectile is already in flight.  It shows that the bullet is neither wave nor particle.  Observation determines instead of finding which, but what makes any observer a special participant in creation?  Nature will not allow her possibilities and predictions to be constrained by certainty.
Information is never lost, but there is a trade-off in the simultaneous knowledge of complementary dynamic properties like locality and momentum.  They will always be dispersed and describable only in terms of probability.  Perfect knowledge of one means complete ignorance of the other.  Is it a forest or trees?  It all depends on how you look at things.
A thought experiment called Schrodinger’s Cat, gave John a clue about the line between the tiny world and everyday experience and how possibilities become transformed into actualities.  
Imagine that there are two cats in adjacent boxes connected by thin airtight sliding central partitions that can be closed to completely block the passage between the cats.  We have introduced a single molecule of cyanide gas in the center that must be closer to one or the other cat box.  In each box there is a super sensitive detector that will find that molecule if it is present and release more killer gas.  When the sliding doors are closed there is a fifty percent chance that the molecule could have drifted to either box and its probability wave eventually spreads equally through both boxes.  Like the bullet that passes through both holes, the cats are simultaneously dead and alive.
Next we take the separated cat boxes on an airplane trip to opposite sides of the earth where an observer will open his box to check out his cat.  When he does that, both probability waves magically collapse into the reality of their cat’s condition.  The ghosts of the simultaneously alive and dead cats evaporate.
If the observer in Beijing looks first and finds a dead cat, it means that the observer in New York, for certain, will find a live cat.  The Beijing observer instantly determines the reality of the New York observer, though the connection between the two events is unseen.  From each observer’s point of view there is only one universe and he lives in it.  But life and death have split into parallel universes and the cats are mates to the end of time and space as long as they remain undisturbed.
Is it a change in knowledge or cat health?  A bullet that behaves as wave and particle is more than just believing.  Worse yet, we could be unwittingly, inadvertently responsible for what happens at the opposite side of the earth.
An instantaneous connection between events on opposite sides of the universe is disturbing.  Who controls when and what?  Because we are all in motion, with respect to one another, it allows “B” causing “A”, instead of the opposite.  It leaves open the possibility of time travel into the past.
What is an observer?  Imagine John was in the box along with his cat and I asked him if it was simultaneously dead and alive.  He would answer no.  The probability wave would not collapse into my actuality because he had not told me which.  For me, the cat’s life or death remains equally probable.  His observation could be reversed if I looked, and he would have to forget how he saw his cat.  This can be explained if John, the molecule, and the cat are all in limbo, but then we are talking about things that are larger than atoms and he still saw the cat as dead or alive, not both.  What if somebody was watching me and so on, watching the watcher to infinity, stopping only at an omniscient creator who experiences no uncertainty?  
The line between probability and reality is a fuzzy one.  Tiny uncertainties propagate into highly entangled lives.  The butterfly in Beijing that caused the hurricane in Florida by flapping its wings reveals a process that is very sensitive to initial conditions, but this is a long and twisted path that is difficult to see.     
John knew that he could not go through life without being influenced by other observers.  He was the one who was nonsensical, not nature.  It was more about how his brain was wired for thought than what he knew.  That was the mystery.

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