Thursday, February 19, 2009

Serene Nonlocality

It's always nice to hear - as one does every couple of years - that the foundations of physics have been shaken. This article explains the latest shaking. It is lucid, long and - maybe this is just me - strangely bracing. The 'nonlocality' of the world induces a certain serenity.  I suppose this is contemporary theology, but, like all the best theology, it reflects experience. 
PS And you probably need to read this as well.


  1. Roger Penrose's brilliant 1990 account of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen thought experiment in 1935, and how Bell's Theorem and Aspect's experiments with photons in Paris in 1986 had just found in favour of quantum theory, I found immensely exciting nearly twenty years ago, reading The Emperor's New Mind. Penrose refined his own suggestions of how physics needed to be rebuilt in Shadows of the Mind in 1994. But nobody has created a consistent reformulation that can be tested experimentally - not yet - so the situation is pretty much as it was in 1986. We don't know how special relativity can be saved; we also don't know what will take its place.

    It's always worth coming back to these fundamentals though. Better than banking, that's for sure. How it all interrelates with theology has been a fertile field for many thinkers the last twenty years. But some grasp the physics better than others. John Polkinghorne was doing maths at Cambridge with guys like Penrose and Atiyah - Atiyah being wrangler and Polkinghorne coming in second. So Polkinghorne's reflections since he gave up being Cambridge Professor and was ordained in the Church of England may be worth more consideration than most.

    The other stream of note is AN Whitehead early in the 20th century and the growth of process philosophy, giving rise to process theology, which Polkinghorne isn't afraid to acknowledge as an important influence. This then plays into more recent American scholars like Greg Boyd in what's now called open theism. A lot of these ideas were anticipated by another Cambridge mathematician of the Penrose vintage who switched to theology on being converted to Christianity, Roger Forster, who still leads a church in London.

    Some names you may not have known or expected to read early one Thursday. Wikipedia will probably help some, if interested.

  2. Any chance of anyone explaining all this in 100 words or less.

    From my very limited understanding of all this, Penrose is saying (or seems to be) that different things work on different levels?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Have your tried the article that triggered this? Bryan calls it lucid and I'd agree it's a good primer. I was taking slight issue with the idea you might get from it that the problem is new. Non-locality seems to be fact fully confirmed by experiment in 1986.

    What's also both fascinating and instructive is how Einstein devised the most sophisticated attack he could on quantum theory in 1935 and it was exactly this that led, 51 years later, to perhaps its greatest ever experimental triumph.

    A current scientist made brilliant use of this recently in taking aim at the so-called climate consensus:

    Albert Einstein and Nils Bohr spent decades debating quantum mechanics. Neither side tried to criminalize the other. Einstein's stubborn skepticism actually led to spectacular new findings. Skepticism turned out to be one of his great gifts to the world.

    Today's public attack on skeptics should trigger loud alarm bells in the minds of scientists. It is indecent as well as dangerous.

    Penrose's Emperor's New Mind is still worth an attempt if you'd like to know more about all of modern physics, including this crucial moment. None of us understands but the serenity Bryan writes of is to be admired!

  5. Post 3 removed because of the dreaded apostrophes-turned-to-question-marks problem recently discussed elsewhere. The most annoying thing about it is that the Preview function gets it right (or wrong, depending on one's point of view): it shows the little critters happily sitting in the text you've copied from elsewhere looking just like apostrophes. The real rendering engine only does its dirty work when you press publish. Gets me every time!

  6. Passer by:
    Relativity: Action at a distance happens in time.
    Quantum Theory: Not necessarily.
    All you need to know.

  7. Nice one. Or:

    Einstein: nothing can travel faster than the speed of light

    photon (1986): my polarisation decision just did

    von Neumann: not that that broke causality, exactly

    photon: big deal

    The authors of the article are right that it's taken a while sink in

  8. Thanks Bryan, Richard. So there is a revolution on and I never even noticed.

    So the odds on time actually being a "real thing" have just diminished sharply?

  9. My answer would be: there is something in our experience that we call time that is very real. How that relates to anything we can measure with our instruments is much more tricky.

  10. Why should it be very real? God might be the evil deceiver? A trick of the mind maybe? And if you have infinite infinities to measure that is sure to be more than problematic?

    Bryan is right theology and physics are really not that far apart from each other.

    Theology at best enlightens our minds, physics at best enriches our bodies. There is a strange dualism about it all?

  11. And another thing...

    If god does play dice, and he/she/it/big gas has the ultimate casino, (infinite times, infinite spaces, infinite die,ect) is there a point when everything becomes more than random but certain?

    I suppose the strange thing is we are able to ask the question?

  12. I have a solution but it won't fit in this margin ...