From an Age of Reason to an Age of Quantum Entanglement
During Daniel Dennet’s – What is Life? – lecture in Dublin during September 2018 he makes the following observations on the fundamental nature of evolution-
“When problems are difficult blurt something out and then you have something to try and fix – and that’s the first maxim of oversimplification…. You then have something you can look at, study, think about, fix and throw away … that’s what evolution does. Oversimplify and then self monitor…
This eloquent insight sums up the central challenge for every living organism in surviving, evolving and thriving in a world of complexity and entropy (uncertainty).
Since the beginning of time we have been in a perpetual dance with Reality through the interplay between our mind, body, and environment.
Through our entanglement with the world we begin to attempt to make sense of reality through our agency and interaction with the environment (sensemaking), constructing simplified models through inference and abstraction to respond and evolve.
Our minds are essentially prediction engines that are in a perpetual state of minimising the free energy of the uncertainty — entropy — that arises from complexity.
To live is to flow and evolve.
Through oversimplification and building models of our world we begin to edge closer to understanding the nature of reality.
The emergence of Classical Models of Reality through abstraction and logic
In ancient Greece, Aristotle outlined in his six part book – The Organon – the concept of logic.
He had developed a set of basic rules from which an entire system of logical reasoning was shaped.
An abstract framework to describe how an idealised, rational person ought to think in their attempt to navigate the world.
In attempting to make sense of reality his central observation was that validity (truth) was dependent on their logical structures which could be separated from the non-logical words involved.
For example –
John is a human
All humans have brains
Therefore, John has a brain
His fundamental methods shaped Euclid’s – Elements – which despite its focus on geometry – became the quintessential textbook for deductive reasoning and causation.
By the 1630s Descartes built on these foundations to illustrate how the geometric ideas represented through spatial diagrams could be further abstracted through algebra.
A shift in the dominate field of mathematics from diagrams to formulas which subsequently led to the development of calculus by Isaac Newton.
Self taught English Mathematician, Philosopher and logician — George Boole — extended this logical abstraction through his Laws of Thought to create a new domain of Mathematical (Boolean) Logic.
Classical abstraction, rational reasoning and causation literally changed our world, disrupting our truths & beliefs, generating new knowledge & technology and unbundling complexity – mitigating uncertainty.
Isaac Newton embraced these tools to build new theories anchored in logic & mathematics.
In Principa, Newton formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation that formed the basis of Classical Physics and which became the catalyst for the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial & Scientific Revolution that followed.
The emergence of Science as a knowledge of nature with the declared purpose and value of producing wealth and inventions that would improve human lives.
By gathering facts through observation, embracing logic and causation, applying linear thinking we shaped a new human consciousness.
We were no longer at the centre of the Universe.
A binary world of logic, causality, mathematics, reason, truths and certainty that led to an explosion of new knowledge, technologies and economic prosperity.
20th Century German, Philosoper, Linguist & Poet — Jean Gebser — describes this evolutionary form of human consciousness as a Mental Structure – a model of the world anchored in the mind, rationalism, mathematical logic, causation and the scientific methods.
A shift beyond the previous evolutionary frameworks of human consciousness of the archaic, magic and mythic.
A model that remains the dominant way of making sense of our world – shaping our truths & beliefs and knowledge – despite what was about to unfold.
The return of Uncertainty
By the early 20th Century, these classical tools of deductive reasoning, abstraction and logic culminated in the emergence of a new theory – Quantum Mechanics – that described the patterns and behaviour of the smallest known particles to the largest systems in the Universe.
It radically shifted our prism of reality – no longer was matter seen as continuous (eg water, light etc…) – but it now consisted of atoms and sub-atomic particles that were the quanta of matter – discrete systems displaying both wave and particle like behaviours at the same time — wave-particles.
With such wave-particles you could never simultaneously know the exact position and speed because everything in the universe behaves simultaneously as a particle and a wave.
A wave does not have a single position but has a wavelength which is related to its momentum (mass x velocity).
A particle has a position but it does not have a wavelength so we dont know its momentum.
This theory once again disrupted our mental models re-introducing Uncertainty — Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle — and System Thinking into a world that through Classical Abstraction & Logic had increasingly been viewed as a mechanical predictable machine made of discrete parts from the Industrial Age.
It was now through probabilities, observations & patterns of Reality — correlation vs causation — that we could mitigate uncertainty and determine the movement of particles as they hopped from place to place.
Quantum Mechanics challenged our understanding of the Universe. A theory of all scale, large and small.
It represented a shift in scientific inquiry from Reductionism to System Thinking.
A paradox emerged between our ability to predict and observe.
Between 1925 and 1927 Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg developed the Copenhagen Interpretation as a way of attempting to reconcile the nature of Quantum Mechanics and our observations .
Quantum Mechanics was highly effective in predicting the probability of possible results and behaviours – however the act of attempting to measure the system saw the set of probabilities collapsing into one of the possible values immediately after measurement (a wave function collapse).
A paradox of deductive reasoning/causation and Human perception – a collision of Classical Models of Abstraction, Certainty, Causation, Linear Thinking & Logic with the Quantum behaviours of our world.
We were no closer to explaining the nature of Reality as our logic and mental models collided with the uncertainty of quantum systems.
Or can the Copenhagen Interpretation and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle be simply explained by our Classical Aristotelian Logic of Consciousness ( our prevailing perception of reality) – originating some 2300 years ago – colliding with the Quantum Mechanics of Reality?
The limits of logic that Kurt Gödel outlined in 1931.
Will we move from the Age of Reason to an Age of Quantum Entanglement?
A shift from reductionism to System and Complexity thinking.
A recognition of the interdependencies of all life as it navigates and resists Uncertainty (entropy).
An awakening to the limitations of Formal Logic and our current human consciousness – Mental Structures – Model of the World.