General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics: Unity through Metaphysics?

Within the physics community, there seems to be a problematic mode of thought, in trying to figure out how to unify quantum mechanics (QM) and general relativity (GR).  Moreover, this mode is pervasive, unfortunately.  The thinking goes like this: Given QM’s overwhelming success —it is often hailed as the most successful physical theory, to date— GR must be forced into a theoretical and mathematical vessel that exactly reflects QM.  The subtlety contained in this thinking is that the interpretation of QM is independent of the endeavor to unify QM and GR, and, therefore, all problems completely reside in “fixing” GR.  The problem with this mode of thought is that, among all problems, the greatest disparity in the realities of QM and GR resides in the mathematical divide, namely, that non-commutative algebras run rampant in one realm, whereas the other exclusively adheres to commutative algebras.  As it is right now, there seems no plausible way to force these realities to agree mathematically, let alone conceptually.  In addition, one can outright dismiss any possibility that there is some sort of gradation scale, where, in conjunction with the ever decreasing dimensional scale, the mathematics slowly shift from commutative to non-commutative.  That is, it is virtually inconceivable that a particular scale will be considered thirty percent commutative and seventy percent non-commutative.  That wouldn’t make sense on any level.  Thus, my proposal is that the distinction occurs instantaneously, when one reaches an appropriately small scale.  Though this does not agree with the tacit sentiments of the physics community, I’d like to propose a different approach.

Let me first say that I am a fan of the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM, but, as is known by anyone who follows my work, I will often propose ideas that run contrary to my own position.  That is what I would like to do here.  The suggestion that observation affects the outcome of an experiment is something that appeals to my intuition as a Kantian.  However, it seems equally reasonable that this brand of interpretation of physical phenomena is nothing more than an ersatz interpretation, presented in lieu of a theory for describing how and why observation alters observation.  That hopes of a deterministic understanding of QM have been spurned, effectively by the formulation and adoption of the Copenhagen Interpretation, seems dishonest.  Perhaps, strictly within the realm of physics and mathematics, one might find it difficult to proceed with experimentation, without some working interpretation; and this understandable, but a serious look at metaphysics must be given, as a solution to the problem.

When quantum events are said to be statistical, they are not statistical in the same way that the behavior of putative atoms in a gaseous state, within a box, is statistical.  If we could place a camera on each atom, one would see that the behavior and (non-quantum) events are completely determined, mostly governed by Newtonian laws; it is purely due to impracticality and the lack of knowledge (of the particulars of all factors) that we employ statistics for such molecular or atomic systems.  The last thing anyone wants to do is engineer a detector small enough and sensitive enough to detect the state of each atom or molecule.  Instead, we use statistical mechanics, and call it a day.  A question arises: Do all systems that adhere to laws of large numbers (id est, subject to statistics) arise purely through determinacy?  The answer given by the Copenhagen Interpretation is no, but why is that?  Is it just because science has, with a defeatist attitude, accepted that the unobservable realm cannot be observed without actually observing it?  It sounds fair enough, but, as a matter of fact, science has achieved statistical knowledge of an unobserved world; so, while the previous sentence is tautological and commomsensical, it is defeated.  Therefore, we do, in fact, have knowledge of something that is going on when we are not observing.  On this basis, we proceed.

The proposal I would like to advance is the possibility of building a philosophical, conceptual foundation for the unification of GR and QM by doing two things: 1) turning GR into an neo-classical theory, which does not mean trying to make GR properly quantum mechanical, in the modern sense, and 2) developing an interpretation of QM that admits of underlying determinacy, even if metaphysical.  Turning GR into a neo-classical theory means talking about space in terms of quantized lengths, which come as individual parcels.  In effect, I suspect that the proper formulation of this neo-classical (particle) form of GR will entail solving the conceptual problems in Newton’s bucket experiment, explaining how space can be rotationally absolute and translationally relative.  As for turning QM into a deterministic, rather than an indeterministic theory, I think a particle theory, perhaps somewhat like Bohm and de Broglie’s, must be developed, where a working theory of quantum observation may be developed.  In addition, the wave function, in such a model, would be representative of metaphysical behavior, and not some physical actuality of goings-on that occur when the observer is not looking.

The project proposed would do a couple of things.  It would eliminate the mysticism that has become so strongly associated with QM, and provide a more physically consistent view of the world.  Second, the neo-classical approach to GR would, I expect, create a mathematical schema with emergent properties, permitting for (probably instantaneous) transition from non-commutative algebras to commutative algebras, at some scale or other.  Personally, I am convinced that jamming GR into QM’s box will not work, and it has not worked for the mathematical reasons noted.  The only additional concern, in my view, is whether it’s GR, alone, that needs altering, or QM, too.  The conspicuity seems to be ever increasing, and I think it is time to send out the jury.


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Filed under Philosophy of Science, Physics

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