Weirdness in Physics
Its not turtles all the way down
Physics has always been one of my favourite topics. Once I thought I would become one but life took a different course. I like physics because it talks about reality shorn of social conventions or expectation.
It talks about reality as it IS.
Whatever that means.
And the more we learn the weirder what we learn seems to be.
I've been used to the weirdness of physics since I was studying it in University 50 years ago On the one hand you had the weirdness of relativity and on the other hand the weirdness of quantum mechanics. And though both have experimentally verified to extreme precision and the really weird thing is that they are completely incompatible with each other.
Of course there have been attempts to resolve that incompatibility but those just appear to be even weirder.
String theory proposes strings vibrating in 11 dimensions as the basis of physical reality (how weird is that?) and still leaves open the reductionist question of "what are the strings made of?"
And this is a theory that's been worked on for decades now and as far as I know has produced no test that would verify it.
Another attempt called loop quantum gravity is based on the idea that reality is some sort of cellular automaton.
I like that idea quite a bit because I've done quite a bit of playing around with CAs there's even "a new kind of science" based on them.
But that runs straight into the reductionist issue of what sort of reality would support that? The CA's I work with are code running on a computer that produces an image on a screen. How can reality be visualized as being like that?
This article discusses the issue in terms of "the naturalness problem".
The Higgs boson has been discovered but it is very very much lighter than it "should" be - that is, it is unnaturally light.
Long story short (and the article has much more detail) but this turns out to be related to the incompatibility of relativity and QM.
Relativity applies to matter on the scale of galaxies and superclusters and solar systems.
QM applies to matter on the scale of electrons..
Reductionism implies that there is a direct connection between things that happen on each scale - that somehow the rules that govern galaxies can be reduced to the rules that govern electrons and photons.
Perhaps this assumption is mistaken.
Consider a fluid like water. It has properties like viscosity that emerge from the atomic details of water. But nobody who is concerned with a river deals with those atomic details in their work.
It seems that the macro and the micro are levels of reality that are disconnected to each other.
So maybe we can say that the weirdness in physics is an artifact of our assumption that reality can be reduced to fundamental components that will behave in ways we expect from out experience of a macro world.
The micro level certainly is real. We've measured it and use it in our tech - but it doesn't fit expectations built in a lifetime dealing with cars and buildings and other people.
I'm trying to understand this weirdness on a level that doesn't involve our expectations.
Is it significant?
Perhaps it is, and perhaps significance can illuminate the issue a bit.
When a river erodes a course down a mountain things like the speed of the water are significant and the details of quarks are not.
And if you are looking at quarks you are not looking at anything like a river.
What do you think?