The significance of quantum physics for philosophy
Author: Ronald Engert
Issue No: TV 96
At a transdisciplinary symposium of the Existential Consciousness Research Institute (ECR) in Kränzlin near Berlin, fifteen scientists from several countries met from 30.09. to 02.10.2022 to discuss the phenomenon of coherence. Among others, quantum physicists, philosophers, psychologists and medical doctors were present. It turned out that coherence across all levels of life is a suitable category to better understand the connection between mind and matter. In the following contribution, some aspects from quantum physics will be related to philosophical reflections on ontology and language.
The quantum physicist Prof. Dr. Giuseppe Vitiello reports that in the world of quantum physics the relationships between particles are richer than we imagine in our usual understanding. Take two particles, T1 and T2, for example. T1 can act on T2 by a force and vice versa, as we normally imagine. In the quantum world, however, there can also be, or only be, a phase correlation between T1 and T2 without a force acting between them, i.e. under favourable conditions they can share a kind of syntony, like two musicians playing in unison in an orchestra. Physicists call such a phase division between the particles T1 and T2 ‘entanglement’.
The so-called Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox refers to this entanglement phenomenon. Let us assume that an elementary particle decays into two photons. These ‘twin photons’ then exhibit the phenomenon of entanglement, i.e. they remain connected to each other even over great distances, and if the state of one photon is changed by an action of an observer, this immediately affects the state of the other photon. If the change were transmitted by a messenger, it would have to travel faster than the speed of light.
However, a speed faster than the speed of light is impossible. Albert Einstein therefore called this quantum phenomenon “spooky action at a distance”. This connection cannot be described with special relativity as being transmitted by a messenger. This is why quantum physics has terms like ‘non-local’ and ‘non-causal’ to describe these effects.
Vitiello also pointed out that isolated entities do not exist in quantum physics because they suggest ontological isolation, which is not observed at this level of reality. In quantum physics, only open systems exist. For this reason, the approach that starts from fields would be necessary and also sufficient, because this is an approach that includes the entities, their environment and their mutual relationship.
Fields imply openness and not isolated entities.
The entanglement phenomena have been experimentally tested in the quantum world but have not yet been observed at the macroscopic level, i.e. the laws of quantum physics only apply to the subatomic level. They do not apply to the macroscopic realm, although there are macroscopic systems, such as crystals, magnets and superconductors, whose macroscopically observable properties cannot be explained without recourse to the underlying quantum dynamics, which is why they are called macroscopic quantum systems. We note that the behaviour of these systems is macroscopic precisely because the value of Planck’s constant h is not zero (which is a different phenomenon from the classical limit obtained when h approaches zero).
There are indeed scientists like Vitiello who are looking into the question of the extent to which quantum effects could also be relevant in the macroscopic realm, for example in the correlation between neurons in the brain or even between brains, i.e. between different living beings. Are there quantum theoretical indications for this?
These considerations are also interesting for philosophers, because they ask themselves how reality works. For example, what happens in communication between living beings, or even more fundamentally: what is a living being?
According to this paradigm, could two people relate to each other without exchanging messengers, as in the case of twin photons? Normally we think that we have to use some means to interact.
But are there other ways to relate to each other coherently, without means, without forces?
After all, what is the meaning of ‘culture’ or ‘cultural atmosphere’ if not the sharing of a common thought that binds a community of people together?
Limiting relations between people to those mediated by forces and neglecting cultural traditions, common views and behaviours has led and continues to lead to unfortunate disputes. The recipe of the ancient Romans to dominate other peoples was “divide et impera”, i.e. divide, break the community and the culture of the people in order to dominate them. Unfortunately, this is a recipe that is still widely adopted today. In contrast, one should consider that cultural coherence between people or groups can emerge through the development of resonance phenomena – phase correlation, as one would say in quantum language.
The importance of developing a common cultural environment lies in the fact that each actor has its own vibration, its own phase frequency, but that there is always an in-between in these open systems.
Metaphorically, one could imagine this in-between as the segment between its two extreme points A and B, which describe the beginning and the end of this segment. The segment does not exist without its defining extreme points A and B, but neither do A and B exist as extreme points without the segment.
For the philosophical consideration of human beings, this means that human beings are not isolated beings that could exist on their own.
Language between human beings would then not just be an arbitrary means of transmitting a piece of information. Rather, we are in a sense language and meanings. We only become individualised entities (A or B) when we correlate with the others, that is, when we show ourselves to the outside world and are perceived by the other. This individuality is dynamic and not static. It changes depending on the cultural framework in which we move. (Our absolute identity would then only be given in relation to the absolute relationship with God).
We not only use language, but are language, if language is understood in a broader sense in which form, colour and movement are also considered language, as the philosopher Walter Benjamin elaborated in his theory of language. According to him, language is not a means, but an immediacy, a kind of magic. Knowledge of the Other and coherence with it is immediate. In quantum theoretical terms we say ‘discrete, non-local, non-causal, non-mechanistically describable’. Philosophically, we show ourselves in language, and without language we would not exist.
About the author:
Ronald Engert, born 1961, 1982-88 studied German studies, Romance studies and Philosophy, 1994-96 Indology and Religious Studies at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University Frankfurt/M. 1994 co-founded the journal Tattva Viveka, since 1996 publisher and editor-in-chief. 2015-22 Studied cultural studies at the Humboldt University of Berlin. 2022 Master’s thesis on “The Magic of Language in the work of Walter Benjamin”. Author of “Gut, dass es mich gibt. Diary of a Recovery” and “The Absolute Place. Philosophy of the Subject”.
This article was originally published on the German website: Die Ogdoadische Tradition