REVIEWSrnBack to Parmenidesrnby John CaiazzarnThe Quantum Enigma:rnFinding the Hidden Keyrnby Wolfgang SmithrnPeru, Illinois: SherwoodrnSugden and Company;rn139 pp., $14.95rnI t is reported that when one ofrnPythagoras’s followers revealed thernPythagorean brotherhood’s deepest secret,rnthe discovery of irrational numbers,rnhe was killed. The discovery of irrationalrnnumbers came about as a direct result ofrnthe Pythagorean theorem, for the hypotenusernof a right triangle whose legsrnare one inch equals the square root ofrntwo; but the square root of two cannotrnbe represented either by a whole numberrnor a fraction composed of whole numbers.rnSuch irrationals, as they are called,rnseemed a contradiction to the Greekrnworldview, a hole at the heart in thernPythagorean effort to understand thernuniverse from a mathematical point ofrnview; for the discovery of irrationals wasrnthe result of one of the ultimate productsrnof Greek rationality, plane geometry.rnThe discovery of quantum indeterminacyrnin the 1920’s and 30’s may be saidrnto have had the same effect on modern.rnEnlightenment culture as the discoveryrnof irrational numbers had on ancientrnGreek culture. Like irrational numbers,rnquantum indeterminacy was discoveredrnas a direct result of the most representativernactivity of our culture, empirical science,rnthe ultimate product of Enlightenmentrnrationality. The indeterminaternphysical processes discovered by quantumrnmechanics exist at the subatomicrnlevel, the atoms of Democritus havingrnbeen dissolved by modern empirical sciencerninto a quagmire of particles andrnforces whose motions and interactionsrndefy the usual notions of scientificrncausality. Matter at this level more closelyrnresembles the “prime matter” of Aristotlernthan it does the billiard balls ofrnDemocritus or Newton, providing sciencernand the human intellect in generalrnwith a series of frustrations as it attemptsrnto compass quantum phenomena withrnthe mathematical laws of Newtonian orrneven Einsteinian physics. Quantumrnphysics is thus one of the events that hasrntransformed modern culture into postmodernrnculture.rnThe Quantum Enigma: Finding thernHidden Key by Wolfgang Smith, a retiredrnprofessor of mathematics, is an excellentrnbook which reaffirms traditional andrneven ancient concepts of knowledge,rnself, and the world; combining, as didrnSmith’s first book {Cosmos and Transcendence,rn1984), the author’s state-of-theartrnknowledge of physics with a deeprnknowledge and understanding of Ghristianrnmetaphysics. The book is short,rnwell-written, and intellectually rigorous,rnyet it is approachable by anyone with anrninterest in metaphysics or the history ofrnmodern science. (An appendix providesrnan introduction to quantum physics forrnthe general reader who has a high schoolrnknowledge of mathematics.) Unfortunately,rnthere is not much writing of thisrnsort done about science today, especiallyrnin popular writing of which the naturalismrnof Cad Sagan and Stephen J. Gouldrnis about the best one can expect. Of thernphilosophy of science, one must eitherrnread pieces so highly technical that theyrncannot be understood outside a narrowrnslice of academic philosophy, which evenrnthe scientists cannot understand, or feministrnand multicultural attacks that betrayrngross ideological prejudice and veryrnlittle understanding of science itself.rnSmith’s book avoids all that, even asrnhe deals with the difficult subjectrnof quantum mechanicsâ€”the mostrnfundamental theory in contemporaryrnphysicsâ€”dealing as it does with thernproperties of matter at the bottom of thernreductive pyramid. Smith is at ease amidrndifficulty and controversy, finding thern”hidden key” to the “quantum enigma”rnin an updated version of Platonic metaphysics.rnHe is an Idealist in the philosophicalrnsense, and one of the surprisesrnof quantum mechanics is that it offers arnscientific basis for the revival of this classicrnmetaphysical doctrine. At the level ofrnsubatomic physics, experiment and observation,rnnot subsequent interpretation,rnhold that physicists cannot separate thernobserver from the phenomena, much tornthe dismay of classically trained physicists.rnThis enigma of quantum mechanicsrnsurpasses the problems of statisticalrnmechanics, in which the sheer practicalrnimpossibility of determining the path ofrnevery molecule in a gas, for example,rnmeans that sampling and statistics mustrnbe relied on by the physicist, just as a politicalrnscientist relies on polling techniquesrnto predict the outcome of anrnelection. Rather, the enigma of quantumrnmechanics is as if preelectionrnpolling itself determines the outcome ofrnan election (even granting that pollingrnsometimes does affect the outcome ofrnelections).rnUnlike scientists such as Heisenberg,rnSmith thinks that the solution to thernquantum enigma characterizes the cpistemologicalrnand metaphysical issues ofrnall of science, and he refuses to isolaternsubatomic phenomena from the rest ofrnthe known universe, i.e., the “micro”rnfrom the “macro” world. Smith arguesrnthat his characterization of quantum observationrnin terms of classical metaphysics,rnas the reduction of potency tornactuality, applies to scientific observationrnof the macro worid as well. To thinkrnthat there is an intrinsic difference betweenrnthe micro and macro worlds, asrnHeisenberg does, is to assume that “thernpassage from potency to actuality couldrnbe effected simply by joining together arnsufficient number of atoms.” One couldrnrespond, however, that the subworld ofrnquantum physics resides in a qualitativelyrndifferent epistemological realm. Werncan observe the baseballs and bats,rnplanes and parachutes of the macrornworld, but such laws as we derive fromrnour observation and experience will notrnnecessarily fit the micro world of quantumrnphenomena, because the subworidrnof atomic physics is beyond our immediaternexperience.rnSmith’s general argument proceedsrnfrom the specific problem of quantumrnobservation to the philosophy of nature.rnHis principal criticism is of the Cartesianrnbifurcation of nature, as Whitehead famouslyrncalled it, and he upbraids classicalrnphysicists for assuming that theirrngeneral model of realityâ€”mechanical,rnreductive, monochromatic, and denudedrnof all aspects typical of common experiencernâ€”was reality itself. The bifurcationrnwas first accomplished in modernrnscience by Galileo, who sundered socalledrn”physical” reality from the lived re-rn38/CHRONICLESrnrnrn

January 1975July 26, 2022By The Archive

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