One of the proofs of God’s existence given to us by our good saint Thomas Aquinas is the argument from essential causal chains. (We have met this many times in our Summa Contra Gentiles review.) This proof has deep implications for physics.
The classic example is a man using a stick to move a stone. The stone’s movement is caused by the stick. The stick’s movement is caused by the hand and arm. But inside the hand and arm are muscles, and these are moved by individual cells. The cells are “moved”, i.e. changed, by the chemicals in the cells. The chemicals in the cells are changed or moved by the protons, neutrons, and electrons in them. These particles are themselves moved by quarks. The quarks are moved, some say, by strings. The strings are moved by possibly something underneath them.
And so on. But not and-so-on forever. This simultaneous chain of essential causes has to bottom out somewhere. It cannot proceed to infinity, or no movement would ever get started. There has to be a base first cause in this chain. Without (again) going into the details, it turns out this first cause has to be the same first cause in all change. And, as the man says, we call this first cause God.
Hold that in mind and let’s next recall a version of an EPR experiment. Two entangled photons are released, one heading north and the other south. According to quantum theory, neither of these photons has a single state of polarization, but each photon has all possible polarizations, represented by its wave function. Eventually, the northward bound photon is interacted with, or “measured”, which causes its wave function to “collapse” to a definite polarization. This interaction “causes”—the scare quotes are justified—the southward bound photon to take the opposite polarization instantly, even if the photons are so far apart that no signal could possibly communicate between them in time.
This fact about the world bothers many, because it doesn’t appear there is any theory involving ordinary essential causes that can explain it. Bell even proved no such essential cause can exist, not if one embraced locality. And locality is definitely out: there’s just no way for the photons to talk to each other.
Not if you heed exclusively to what Wolfgang Smith calls “horizontal causality”, which is the type of causation ordinarily encountered in physics—the science, that is. However, if you allow “vertical causality”, a metaphysical concept as is ordinary essential causality, the problem of how those photons can talk to each other goes away.
Smith does not mention the stick-moving-stone type of “horizontal” causal chains, but these chains, which are in every movement or change everywhere and everwhen, point to a simple “vertical” cause that is omnipresent, like we met above, a cause not in space or time, a cause not limited by locality, because, as it were, all points and all times are available to this vertical cause always.
Physicists can’t see this cause in their metaphysics, which excludes the spiritual and what Smith calls the corporeal world. If in your science all you have is a yardstick, then all that can exist is length. All other properties vanish, or rather are invisible. It would be an obvious fallacy to say that these other properties have no existence because they cannot be measured in your yardstick science. But that is the central mistake Descartes built into physics when he separated the world into two domains, res extensa and res cogitans.
The first, res extensa, is the realm of the yardstick, the second, res cogitans, is the playground of the mind, where all those things that cannot be measured live. That is, the non-length properties are only in the mind, or are a projection of the mind, and are not in things themselves. The opposite philosophy is realist: it is the corporeal world of experience that is tangible, and it is the mathematical abstraction of the corporeal world’s measurable or physical properties which is not. In other words (and regular readers will recognize this), the modern science of physics rests on the Deadly Sin of Reification.
You can only get so far with horizontal causality. It nicely explains many measurable phenomenon of interest, but it can’t explain everything. It can’t, for instance, explain us, our thoughts. No yardstick or probe can ever exist to measure vertical causality, but we can still prove it is there. Prove it to yourself: that stone never would have moved by the stick if you didn’t first will it. Will moves by vertical causality.
We also know the qualities the corporeal world are there, because we experience them, even if they cannot be measured. Of course, we have met many examples of attempts to quantify the unquantifiable—how sanguine are you on a scale of -42,003.7 to eπ2?—and we have seen how they all ultimately come to grief.
Smith’s latest book (his last?) is a culmination of his life’s work, with each chapter referring to his more detailed earlier writings. It is, if you like, a teaser. This is to its advantage. For instance, he introduces hylomorphism, giving its outlines but not bogging the concept down with excessive detail, which would distract new readers. There are plenty of other texts that provide formal proofs of these concepts (see anything written by Ed Feser). Smith gives enough material to allow the reader a grip, and then moves on.
Of which there is plenty. In a way, this is a shocking book. Shall I tell you of geocentrism, or leave the idea dangling? Does he dare call into question Einstein himself? Does he really have a solution to quantum mechanical measurement? How about free will?
Yes, all this and much more, all in a hundred and twenty some pages! So that’s—-
—-what’s that? You’d like a little more detail? Okay.
There are many proofs our minds are not machines. The simplest is that machines have no self-awareness. We do. Some attempt an escape by saying our awareness is “illusion”—not grasping that it takes self-awareness to be able to have illusions.
One that will be new to some is that visual perception requires a “transcendence of temporal bounds.” We do not see movement like a camera, frame by frame, but “all at once“. See is doing double duty here. Parts of the body process the images, if you like, but it still takes a mind to see the images, and understand them for what they are.
There is a neat explication of Gödel’s theorem, which again shows that we need a mind to see, and thus we are more than “collections of particles”. I quote it in full because it is familiar territory for us.
By virtue of Part I [showing that proofs in an axiomatized math can be numbered], we may assume that there exists a function P(m,n), defined for all natural numbers m and n, such that, for every m, P(m,n) is a propositional function of n (an algebraic statement depending on n, which may be true or false) and a function Π(k) which orders all mathematical proofs in the given axiom system.
We now define the following propositional function: “There exists no k such that Π(k) proves P(w,w).” Since our enumeration P(m,n) of arithmetical propositions is complete, there must exist a natural number s such that P(s,n) is the aforesaid function. Now consider the proposition P(s,s): the first thing to note is that this proposition is unprovable (since our construction entails that “there exists no k such that Π(k) proves P(s,s)”; and the second is that P(s,s) is true: for indeed there exists no k such that Π(k) proves P(s,s).
Now if you can see that—comprehend it, grasp it, own it—you can also see that no computer ever can. It involves infinities of thought, which is impossible for any computer, which would be set chugging along never to realize the answer. Never as in never.
Like I always say, Gödel did it the hard way. We already knew there are true but unprovable statements in any axiom system. The axioms themselves. These are propositions everybody believes, but for which there is no proof. Not in the ordinary sense of that word. Again, we need to touch an infinite mind to know what cannot be proved by ordinary methods.
Hold onto your black holes. Smith really does put some difficult questions to Einstein. “Either Einstein is right and the equations of classical mechanics need indeed to be revised, or the equations of classical mechanics are correct as they stand, and it is actually his ‘relativistic’ mechanics that prove to be false.”
Here, dear reader, I am on less stable ground, not knowing as much about relativity as quantum mechanics, so I am not in a position to intelligently critique Smith. Einstein rejected the idea of absolute rest: Smith does not. Smith’s argues Einstein assumed too much: given the Mchelson-Morley experiment did not find a orbital velocity of the earth, yet Einstein still assumed it was there, and so forth.
But it didn’t stop with m&M. Others have since at least claimed to measure orbital velocity by, for instance, looking at Doppler shifts in starlight as (it is presumed) the earth moves. However, it is a possibility that the earth sits still and stars move. The measurements would be the same.
What I wish to emphasize is that Einsteinian relativity is actually predicated upon the assumption that there can be no such thing as an immobile reference frame, a K0 “at rest”: it is this denial that leads quite naturally to at least the special theory of relativity. But given that there exist not a shred of empirical evidence in support of that denial, one sees that Einsteinian physics cannot but be based ultimately on ideological grounds.
Well, what about that “not a shred”? Empirical verification of relatively must involve very sensitive measurement, given the effects are almost completely negligible for most things. “Misconceptions aside, the question whether special relativity has passed empirical muster proves an incurably technical issue. And no wonder, if at a speed of 1000 km/hr one needs to differentiate between 1 and 0.99999945!”
From here, Smith provides details of experiments (starting with the 1913 Sagnac experiment) showing anisotropy in light speeds. “Ruyong Wang et al. conducted an experiment in 2003, in which the ‘Sagnac effect is also obtained on a two-way linear path, by reversing a light beam sent out on a straight line on a moving platform and measuring the difference in return time.’ What the Wang experiment indicates is that the speed of light is not in fact c in every inertial reference frame, as Einsteinian physics demands.”
He has more, but I leave it here for those more familiar with the territory. If Smith is right, then there is a point in the universe that is at rest. I’ll let you guess where this point is. If he’s not, then it’s not of direct consequence to the rest of the book.
Smith’s resolution to quantum mechanical measurement is much easier, relatively speaking (he punned). This is to return to the beginning, to Aristotle and Heisenberg, to the idea that substances are composed of both potentiality and actuality. Even you, dear reader, have the potential to be somewhere other than where you are now, and it takes something actual to get you there, something actual to actuality the potentiality in you. This potentially is part of you, in a very real sense.
The quantum world is unfamiliar because it is composed of objects with much more potentiality than actuality. There is no wavefunction “collapse”, but a potentiality becoming an actuality by something actual—that interaction or measurement. We spent a lot of time with this elsewhere, and there is no reason to repeat it here. Read “Quantum Potency & Probability” for more detail on this.
Smith’s big idea, and one we share, is the return of the spiritual to scientific discourse. We all know it’s there. “The first point to be made is that this reduction of the animate to the inanimate—of the living to the merely ‘complex’—so far from being based upon scientific fact, is actually a groundless assumption, which gains strength from the fact that it is beyond our means to grasp whatever it may be that distinguishes the two.”
One moment your crazy uncle is raving about BLM, the next moment he is not. His soul has departed. Living beings are more than their constituent parts working together, just like water is more than just hydrogen plus oxygen. “This soul-generated [vertical causation] constitutes in fact the life force or élan vital of the organism, which both ‘produces’ its body or ‘corporeal sheath’ and renders it animate.” Any science that does not acknowledge this, and many other like things, is incomplete.
It is probably clear by now that vertical causality, unmeasurable in the traditional sense, is “what gives rise to horizontal causality.” Look: you knew this was true before you here today. All the gloried “laws” of physics and the nature of the world had to come from something. They could not make themselves. And we all know what this something is. Every attempt by scientists to explain this uncomfortable truth away has been an embarrassment. And always will be.
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Categories: Book review