A Little Armchair Philosophy

A Little Armchair Philosophy

This 'chapter' is neither philosophy nor quantum anything,
its purpose is to address a common silly, waffly and unfocussed question and
to reorient a particular habitual aspect of your common sense view of things.

That is all!

It is only an outline of an argument which no doubt could be refined even further, still at at least it's short!

It is necessary though, to deal with this kind of waffle once and for all so as to get it out of the way so that we can get on to less waffly things!
"How did it all begin? "

That's often a question people have.

In our familiarity with everyday phenomena, we all have a concept of "cause and effect". Our question "how?" is really a request for an explanation of the "causes" of things.

We know that there's such a thing as causality, that just seems to be the way things happen. So our question "How did it all begin?" is really the question: "what caused causality?"

It is sometimes said that "there's no such thing as a stupid question" but surely this one qualifies!

If anything could have "caused" causality to be the way things happen in the universe, then causality would have preceded causality!
It's like asking "what happened before time began", in other words; before a time when there was no "before".

The question itself is self-contradictory and meaningless!.

A better question to ask is: "Now that causality does seem to be the case, what keeps it being the case, instant to instant?"

Because, either causality "causes itself to continue being the case" (whatever that means) or causality itself rests on some acausal foundation.

Either way, in other words, whether you like it or not, there is an "acaual" aspect to existence as well as a causal aspect!

Quantum mechanics, which is fundamentally probabilistic, addresses precisely this aspect of the universe.

But there are many who are not quite comfortable with this, who feel in other words, that there's something "missing" in a "merely" probabilistic theory, who would like a more causalistic theory.

There isn't one!

But getting comfortable with this fact is relatively easy.

The law of "conservation of Energy" is simply a formal quantitative statement of what the rest of us would call "causality", being concerned with the actual quantitative "amount" of causation.

If I drop a glass on the floor, the amount of causation that causes the pieces of shattered glass to move in little parabolic paths as they scatter on the floor etc, when all added up, exactly equals the amount of causation that caused the glass to hit the floor with exactly the speed that it did in the first place. The total energy (causation) at the end is exactly equal to the total energy at the start.

The law of "conservation of Energy" isn't really saying anything more profound than simply: "everything has a cause"!

anyway... The realm of the acausal is the realm of the very small.
The law of conservation of energy belongs to the realm of the causal (the realm of the big, our realm, the macroscopic).

There being no causality in an 'acausal realm' (obviously),
there is therefore no such thing,
  in the realm of the acausal
as the law of conservation of energy either!

If you were to shrink down to the size of an atom and take a football down with you and gave it enough kinetic energy to make it go 100 meters per second,

(even though this is not like what happens: all we can know is that, at or about, a certain time t, there is such and such a probability of finding a particle at or about x)

then after a second, it wouldn't necessarily be 100 meters distant, it could be 5000 meters distant,
then after another second it could be back where it started
then it could be 281 meters away etc.

in other words there is no correlation whatsoever
between any 'energy' you give it
and where it is at time t.
except one:

the "most probable" positions of the ball move according to the familiar conservation of momentum and energy, not the ball itself.
A bit like this:

  Energy is a quantity that is conserved only "on average", not necessarily in individual events in an acausal realm.

To not understand this is therefore to make the same kind of error
as applying the concept of "average" to individual events.

"Average" is a concept that only applies to collections of things.

In this respect, trying to 'understand' individual quantum events in 'causalistic' terms, is therefore putting the cart before the horse!

To further elucidate:
Imagine tossing a pair of dice in the air and noting the outcomes of how they land. All outcomes are equally likely, all happen equally often, but there are more WAYS to get 7 than to get any other number from a pair of dice.
If you plot the frequency of each total, you get a curve, symetrical about the maximum frequency of 7.

'7' happens on average 6 times out of 36.

now Imagine that during the spinning of the dice, every time a particular face, say, a 'six', became face up, you gave the dice a poke to push that face down (assuming you could spin the dice in slow motion enough to do this ), then putting such a biassing force on the dice would skew the results!

In other words the outcome of the dice roll can only have the predictable outcome that it does have... in the absence of any such biasing causalistic forces.

That is, if all outcomes of dice rolls are equally likely.

There's nothing 'forcing' the outcomes to be what they are, its just that there are more ways to get the particular most frequent / probable outcome than to get other outcomes.

In other words it is the very absence of causality in the realm of the acausal that enables what we know as "causality itself" to emerge in the statistically predictable the way it does!

Here's a crude simulation:

Number the dimples 1 to 360 on four golf balls and use them as 360-sided dice. ( assuming 360 dimples per golf ball )

Roll the four golf balls.

Use the first two golf balls to give you the radial distance r, of a peanut from a point "p".
( r = the sum of the two numbers that land face up )

Use the third and fourth golf balls to give you the spherical angles θ1 and φ1 respectively.
Put the peanut at the position in 3D space indicated by r1, θ1 and φ1.

Take a photograph.

Roll the four golf balls again.

Move the peanut to the new position (r2, θ2, φ2).  

Take another photograph. and so on.

Do this a billion times.!

Each time the peanut is at a different random position in 3D space.

String all the photographs/frames together so as to make a video of them.

Play it at ten million frames per second.


What you see is a "sphere of peanut". There is a spherical probability density distribution of "peanutness".

The probability density is most dense in a spherical shell with radius equal to 361.

That is, there is a radius (namely r = 361), at which it is more likely that, if you stick your finger there at any particular instant in time, you'd encounter a peanut.

When you DO put your finger on the peanut, it is just one peanut at one place at one time. ( an eigenpeanut!  :) )

By contrast, the probability of finding the peanut, is a distribution that exists over all the relevant 3D space at all times.

Although this is not exactly a hydrogen atom and is entirely classical:
( eg. the range of r-values goes from a minimum value of 2 and stops abruptly at a maximum value of 720 distance units! ),

it DOES show how, "in principle", one can use probability to simulate macroscopic stuff.

You could imagine having a whole bunch of these "peanut spheres" and with the addition of a few probability rules and algorithms, simulate playing a game of pool with them!


to reiterate, trying to 'understand' individual quantum events in 'causalistic' terms, is therefore putting the cart before the horse!

It is to make the same kind of error as applying the concept of "average" to individual events.

So, far from being the absolute, all-embracing concept you might have believed it to be...

causality itself is an emergent 'property'!... the statistically predictable macroscopic outcome of an acausal quantum universe!

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