Philosophy and more by George Sowers

Follow Twitter Icon LinkedIn Icon Amazon Icon

Examine My Experience With Physics

I trained in the field of theoretical physics. After earning my Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Georgia Tech in 1980, I went to Colorado and landed a job with Martin Marietta doing trajectory analysis for Titan rockets. Despite enjoying the rocket biz, I had a deep desire to find out what the world was like at the most fundamental level. I left Martin and enrolled in the doctorate program in theoretical physics in Boulder, Colorado. Boulder had the side benefit of allowing me to pursue my other passion at the time, rock climbing.

During my studies, I found general relativity to be the most beautiful example of a physical theory. I was moved by its geometrical elegance. To me, it was (and is) sublime. It is an example of how the world must be at the most fundamental level. On the other hand, I  was baffled and appalled by quantum mechanics. Although I became a perfectly competent practitioner of the theory, it didn't make any sense to me. I could follow the recipe and get the right answers but found it was a conceptual mess. Twenty-two years later, it still is. No progress has been made in addressing the conceptual issues. I spent much of my mental energy during those years trying to unravel the quantum Gordian knot, but with only limited progress. My best friend during those years, Ed Gillis, wrote his thesis on the topic. Meanwhile, I did something more practical. I developed algorithms to do quantum field theory predictions on the computer. I have thought much about the topic and his writings on it are as follows:

• Monte Carlo Algorithms for Fully Interacting Lattice Gauge Theory
• A Prolegomena for a Quantum Reformation

• Physics in The Philosophy for the Future
• Geometric Unification

Geometric Unification

After publishing my book, I spent some time and energy re-engaging the problems in physics, in particular, some of the ideas introduced in the last part of Chapter 4. I reached out to Chris Fuchs, who was the leader in Bayesian interpretations of QM. We had a limited, though lively email exchange. Chris sent me a lot of stuff to digest. Chris didn't seem much interested in my ideas, but I learned a lot about the current state in QM interpretations. At the time, I started some notes on my nascent program, which I hoped some bright young physics graduate student will stumble upon. From time to time, I add to the notes as something new occurs to him.

Mountain Top

Physics in The Philosophy for the Future

There is a lot of physics in The Philosophy for the Future. Chapter 3 contains a section titled The Nature of Scientific Theories. It discusses some of the general mathematical principles underlying physical theory.

In general, physical entities, attributes of the physical world, must be invariant with respect to transformations of those aspects of our representations that are not aspects of the physical world. Coordinate systems are but one example. I will call this idea the principle of representational invariance.

This principle leads to many of the deep symmetry principles embedded in our physical laws. It also highlights one of the chief difficulties of theoretical physics, distinguishing attributes of our subjective experience and mathematical representations from attributes of the real world. This is probably at the root of the difficulties of quantum mechanics (QM).

Chapter 4 is entirely devoted to my view of the current state in modern physics and the worldview it implies. I imagine it is a difficult read for those not versed in the jargon of physics, but to whet your appetite, here is the next to last item in the chapter:

We have reached the end of a long and sometimes very technical chapter. We have surveyed a great part of the spectrum of modern physical theory. From thermodynamics and the mystery of time to cosmology and the structure of the universe; from relativity and the theory of gravitation to quantum mechanics and the theory of the subatomic, this grand body of knowledge forms the foundation of the scientific worldview. On this basis, almost all humanly accessible phenomena can be explained, and from this basis I will extend this worldview of science, known as physicalism, outward to envelope life and humanity.

I admit, even relish, that the foundation of physics is incomplete. Great mysteries remain: the arrow of time, the quantum measurement problem, the problems of cosmology. The great problem of unification overshadows all of them. Even as I write, these problems are under attack by the relentless soldiers of science, armed with the cold steel of the scientific method.