Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Metaphor of Quantum Physics

Our universe operates based on a system of carefully defined laws. For instance, gravity, the most popular force we know of, can be defined like so:

FN = Gm1x m2 / D2

All of these laws cannot be broken.

And if you think this way, then there is no such concept of free will. How can there be? Our universe is defined by laws; so at the moment of the big bang, the moment of creation, the laws of physics took over everything. Planets were attracted to stars, to black holes, dust clouds formed galaxies, and empty space remained just that: empty. Chemicals cannot bond in ways that violate the laws of chemistry, and so organic compounds will only form under certain situations and in certain conditions, and react with a set amount of chemicals and no others.

To put it simply: time is written in stone. Everything you will do and every thought you will have is determined by the laws of physics and how chemicals react in the big squishy mass of proteins that is your brain.

That is a thought I have been grappling with for some time. I thought simply accepting that time is written in stone was enough, but I knew there was more to it. I don't have any issues with the idea that free will does not exist, and that all of life and all of time has been predetermined, but for some reason, the idea would just not leave my head.

I also knew something else: that life was full of probability. I also knew that we do have free will, and that life is not written in stone. It is difficult to explain such a duality, but it's something I just knew.

And then I remembered that physicists disagree with eachother on a massive scale.

Quantum physics defies all the laws of conventional physics.

For example, a very popular experiment in quantum physics is the double slit experiment. Basically, a physicist fired a beam of atoms at a plate with two slits in it. The results of the experiment were absolutely amazing. The pattern one would normally expect on the other side of the slit is a simple pattern reflecting the slits; essentially it would be like a beam of light through a window, where all you see are the beams that pass through the slit. But what came instead was an interference pattern.

The beams of atoms weren't just choosing one slit, or the other. They were choosing both at the same time. As the beams passed through the slits, they were interfering with themselves.

But when the physicist attempted to observe what was happening, the beams began to react just as you would predict: they choose a path. But when you do not observe them, they choose both.

Essentially, in quantum physics, all logic is defied. Before you directly observe an atom, it exists in every state possible all at the same time.

When I began to think about that, I realized that our unvierse is built on these unpredictable atoms. They have even been proven to be in more than one place at the exact same time. I realized that our world is built on laws and probability, equations and mathematics. We can accurately chart the course of planetary bodies for thousands, and even millions and billions of years. We can predict exactly what will happen when two chemicals combine, and what the products will be.

But all of that is built on atoms, and quantum physics.

And in the world of quantum physics, nothing is certain, and everything exists in every state possible all at the same time.

So yes, time is written in stone... at a certain level. We are the unpredictable atoms, existing in all states at once. And all the layers above us are the layers that operate on laws and cannot be changed.

Or can they?

No comments:

Post a Comment