Thursday, November 14, 2013

New Potato Shoots: Time May be an Illusion

An editorial by Jacob Aron in New Scientist reports on new research (that is, new experimental modeling) in which an "Entangled Toy Universe Shows Time may be an Illusion."

Researchers sent "a pair of entangled photons along two separate paths. The photons start out polarised, or orientated, either horizontally or vertically, and the polarisation rotates as both photons pass though a quartz plate and on to a series of detectors." Somehow, and this is not clearly explained, the researchers established themselves (or something) as a "'super observer' that exists outside of the universe, and so measure[d] the quantum state of the system as a whole. From that vantage point, the state of both photons taken together is always the same, giving the appearance of a static universe."

At the conclusion of the editorial, Aron quotes one of the scientists:
"It's a visualisation of the phenomenon, it's not a proof," Genovese says of the experiment. "You should look to the universe itself for that."
Now, consider the following from the on-line Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Wittgenstein's Philosophy of Mathematics
...apparent propositions are pseudo-propositions of various types and . . . all other uses of ‘true’ and ‘truth’ deviate markedly from the truth-by-correspondence (or agreement) that contingent propositions have in relation to reality. Thus, from the Tractatus to at least 1944, Wittgenstein maintains that “mathematical propositions” are not real propositions and that “mathematical truth” is essentially non-referential and purely syntactical in nature. On Wittgenstein's view, we invent mathematical calculi and we expand mathematics by calculation and proof, and though we learn from a proof that a theorem can be derived from axioms by means of certain rules in a particular way, it is not the case that this proof-path pre-exists our construction of it.
Highlight this:

"... 'mathematical propositions' are not real propositions and . . . 'mathematical truth' is essentially non-referential and purely syntactical in nature..."

Next, substitute the phrase/notion "theoretical physics" for "mathematical" and you get this:

"... the propositions of theoretical physics are not real propositions and theoretical 'truth' in physics is essentially non-referential and purely syntactical in nature..."

If you read through the Stanford  article you can trace Wittgenstein's thinking over the years as he drills down into this issue, which concludes with some remarks from Wittgenstein's Philosophical Grammar. The second aphorism is especially amusing, and moreover possesses relevance for creative artists who like to toy with their emanations :
What will distinguish the mathematicians of the future from those of today will really be a greater sensitivity, and that will—as it were—prune mathematics; since people will then be more intent on absolute clarity than on the discovery of new games.
Philosophical clarity will have the same effect on the growth of mathematics as sunlight has on the growth of potato shoots. (In a dark cellar they grow yards long.)
A mathematician is bound to be horrified by my mathematical comments, since he has always been trained to avoid indulging in thoughts and doubts of the kind I develop. He has learned to regard them as something contemptible and… he has acquired a revulsion from them as infantile. That is to say, I trot out all the problems that a child learning arithmetic, etc., finds difficult, the problems that education represses without solving. I say to those repressed doubts: you are quite correct, go on asking, demand clarification! (PG 381, 1932)

No comments: