Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cosmology vs. Modern Physics: A Piece of War

The disciplines of Theoretical and Applied Physics took a dramatic turn in the 20th Century.  Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the birth of Quantum Mechanics revolutionized our understanding of the universe.  These theories are ridiculously complex and fundamentally weird:  Einstein introduced 4-dimensional space that bends, and in the Quantum World an electron can travel the entire universe simultaneously in any moment.

As weird as the world becomes through the lens of these theories, they have been proven over and over again by experiment.  Modern Chemistry and Astronomy are confined by Quantum Law, and could not proceed without them.  Nuclear reactors, synthetic materials, and every one of the over 10 quintillion transistors manufactured each year owe their existence to applications of modern Quantum Physics.

What conclusions must a philosopher (qua cosmologist) draw from these seemingly incomprehensible scientific notions?  Some have argued that the scientific community has gone rogue against rational metaphysics.  One might object that space cannot “bend” because “space” is a concept we use to describe the lack of existence, but concepts do not bend – they are tools of cognition.  There is no such thing as actual empty space; it is only a conceptual reference.  All that exists is existence.  Should the cosmologist then advise the physicist to abandon such mental constructs as bending space and an expanding universe?

Or: if electrons are confined by the Law of Identity, how can they teleport to multiple locations simultaneously?  How could they be in two locations at once, traveling every possible route to their destinations, at the same time and in the same respect?  Quantum theorists would have us believe that particles flick in and out of existence in a regular, but partially random way.  This too may bristle the cosmologist’s sensibilities.

The history of Quantum theory in particular often seems an exercise in madness.  Great geniuses, playing tetris with the known and unknown, formed a bizarre set of notions that was both internally consistent and confirmed through experiment.  Heisenberg and others explicitly cleaned their cosmological slates.  There were to be no conceptual restrictions on scientific modeling.  Physicists use models of bending space, expanding existence, and thermo-dynamics interchangeably when they are mathematically equivalent (as they are in the case of black holes). 

Just as literature or auto repair ought not be made the handmaiden of philosophy, so neither should the sciences.  Theoretical Physics is the use of mathematical (and sometimes oddly conceptualized) models to broaden the known universe.  The cosmologist can help the physicist better explain and organize his conceptual tools, but he is not qualified to regulate the choice of tools – given a shared respect for observational evidence.

The exuberant cosmologist may insist that existence cannot spring out of non-existence, that it cannot expand or collapse into non-existent nothingness, that the universe must be a boundless, seamless plenum, that it may not be random, etc.  But the rational scientist can and should ignore such conceptual restrictions.  Modeling tools will be examined, integrated, re-verified, and updated as necessary – based ultimately on perceptual evidence.  This is not pragmatism, but scientific achievement at its best.

Observational evidence confirming Quantum Mechanics and Relativity continues to pour in.  Every day, we are discovering black holes, neutron stars, and the origins of an exploding universe exactly where physicists told us to look for them.  We are beginning to understand the micro world – the world of energy and particles -- with similarly increasing clarity.  These discoveries have no bearing on metaphysics and epistemology, and are not in opposition to them.

There is and ought not be a war between cosmologists and modern physicists.  Both can enjoy the expanding universe of knowledge in the mind of man.

--Dan Edge    

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Atlas Shrugged Movie Review

I got the Atlas Shrugged movie on DVD for my birthday last month (thanks Heather), and watched it with interest.  I also reviewed commentary from director, writer, and producer.  I was touched by the “I am John Galt” video montage.  Many of the faces were familiar to me.

The movie was of admirable quality considering the shoestring budget.  Many participants essentially donated their time to make it happen.  They wanted to be a part of the legacy of this masterwork by a properly revered author.  Their hard work mirrors the character of the dramatic subjects portrayed. 

Many negative reviews of the movie were unjust, from both critics and Objectivists.  Director, writer, producer, actors, and special effects team produced an admirable result given time restraints.  Atlas Shrugged is now on the big screen, even in my small hometown of Greenville, SC.  Honor is owed to those who helped make this happen.

I look forward to Part 2, with realistic expectations.  Viewers will be driven to read the book for the full story – a satisfying result.  Atlas Shrugged continues to sell in ever increasing numbers.  All benefit.

I venture that the production of this movie does more to advance reason and freedom than does the combined efforts of all rational participants in the recent Presidential election.  Ideas move the world, and the Atlas Shrugged movie project succeeds in presenting rational ideas to the populous.  As such, I honor and sanction it  


--Dan Edge