Words and Reality

Words and Reality

A Look at Milo Wolff’s “Schrödinger’s Universe” (2008)

 Four anti-definitions to ponder:

1. Space has no substance hence no reality in and of itself. What is called space is an absence of substance. If it is designated as having limits, it can be denoted as a container or enclosure of some other substance or activity, but it has in and of itself no physical attributes.

2. Time has no substance hence no reality in and of itself. What we call time is a system of measurement used to describe the persistence or duration of objects, events, or phenomena. It exists only in units of measurement such as seconds, days, eons, conveniently derived from our observations and parsing out of regular, predictable events and durations in our world.

3. A dimension has no substance hence no reality in and of itself. What we call a dimension is a quality, a description, a measurement, a characteristic of an object, an event, or a phenomenon that enables us to describe or quantify characteristics of those entities and to communicate those qualities to others in terms such as microns, meters, light-years.

4. A wave has no substance hence no reality in and of itself. A wave is a form, a characteristic, a quality, a description of some substance. Waves can be generated and detected in fluids, as in air or water; and in electromagnetic fields, but they cannot physically exist independent of a carrier medium.

Each of these four words are constructs we use in language to describe and communicate descriptions of real substantive objects, events, and phenomena. They are critical to our understanding of concepts used in physics, the science of real objects, events, and phenomena. But they are not in themselves the real, substantive objects, events or phenomena. They are merely the words we use to describe the qualities, characteristics, forms, of real entities.

So when Einstein describes a hypothetical entity he calls spacetime, a four-dimensional substance that can be bent, curved, distorted, to induce or influence real events, objects, or phenomena, his concept is nothing more than a word game, using descriptors as substitutes for real entities, giving hypothetical substance to what are only words, hence creating a fiction substituting for reality. When a modern physicist like Lawrence Krauss postulates “A Universe from Nothing“, the title of his 2011 book, he bases his conceptual model on hypothetical entities without substance outside of mathematical models. Other authors and theorists are equally guilty of conflating descriptions, second-  or third-order abstractions, substituted for  real point-events or objects. Of course, conceptual models have value, but they also carry a burden of having a direct relationship to the real world.

Physicists of today continue to use expressions such as “the vacuum”, :”the field”, “space”, freely, sometimes interchangeably, without qualification, to describe some entity they use in their conceptual models of the universe, or for submicroscopic physical entities like the profusion of “particles” in the various versions of what is called quantum theory.  When pressed for an explanation, they often qualify their assertions with expressions like, ‘well,  the vacuum is not really empty’, or ’empty space is filled with something’, or ‘it’s a quantum vacuum’, intended to mean that it is actually filled with something called quanta, which is another word originally invented as a descriptor, but which has been miraculously converted to an entity. And they say that perhaps these entities do not really exist, they may be “virtual” or only “probabilities” that something might exist.

What has happened here is that we have invented systems of measurement and description so that we could accurately and consistently discuss, describe, and communicate those descriptions to each other, first in words of a language, then in mathematics, another language that became a useful shorthand for words.

This is all presented as prelude to my thoughts on the work of Milo Wolff, whose book “Schrödinger’s Universe,” was published in 2008 but has only now come to my attention. There is good science here and there is bad science here. I will try to explain.

Dr. Wolff’s book is a presentation of his theory of what he calls the Wave Structure of Matter, or WSM, that he bases on the work of William Clifford (1845-1879), Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), Albert Einstein, (1879-1955) and Paul Dirac (1902-1984). The sum of his argument is that:

1. All of the universe consists , at the smallest scale, of spherical standing waves in space (example, the electron);

2. Energy is the substance of all matter in the universe; and

3. The origin of all of the natural laws of physics lies in the wave structure of matter.

 He asserts that there are no such things as a “particles”, that is, the tiny irreducible units we have clung to since the time of Democritus, out of which all larger units such as protons, neutrons, and the like, are supposedly formed. Rather, it is the standing waves of space, that is, fermions like electron that we confuse with “particles” and that that it is this confusion that leads to the paradoxical and seemingly contradictory assertions of quantum mechanics, such as “entanglement”, “superposition”, and the like.

Dr. Wolff is convinced that his theory, along with Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, constitutes a sufficient and complete unified theory on which to base modern physics. He bases his primary thesis on numerous supporting quotations from his predecessors, mentioned above, who waged a long opposition to quantum theory’s excesses

I have a few quibbles with Milo Wolff. I, like he, am prepared to deny the existence of anything resembling a “particle” as one of the building blocks of nature. In fact the concept of “building blocks” is a false and confusing analogy. We should rather be thinking of the rise and growth of the universe as a process of condensations in a medium, of a gradual, in part stepwise, process of the appearance and growth of our visible, tangible environment, culminating, to this point at least, in our own appearance on the scene. I, like he, am convinced that the origins of all that we perceive in the real world derives from a simple original source. In my own theory, that source is a primal electromagnetic field of very high frequency, out which by resonance, reinforcement and phase transitions has arisen all that we perceive , even to the formation of stars, galaxies, and their clusters; to the progeny of those stars, the planets, and ultimately life as we know it.

However, he, like other physicists, assumes that space has substance, without defining it as such. His space, is something he calls a quantum medium, in other places, a wave medium, of unspecified origin, form, substance or content. He tells us that the energy of this medium derives from the cumulative mass of all of the matter in the universe, which energy then enables new electron formation, and so on. This contradiction is, of course, a circular argument, that the mass of the matter of the universe provides the energy that enables the formation of mass in the universe. How this miraculous process began is left to speculation. He is free with the word quantum, while never telling what he means by this. (In Wikipedia, quantum is defined as a measure: “In physics, a quantum (plural: quanta) is the minimum amount of any physical entity involved in an interaction.”)

He proposes a spherical form for the wave structure of an electron without identifying the source or mechanics of the energy required for the in and out vibration pattern he postulates for its creation. He adopts the language and with it the conceptual errors of the quantum theorists. And he relies on General Relativity to explain gravity and molecular structure forces. General Relativity, of course, requires that time and the other three dimensions be substantive. His waves of no substance are of quantum space, a medium of no substance. While I can agree with some of Dr. Wolff’s general premises, his case is weakened by these linguistic and logical inconsistencies. One example will suffice. In Section III, Solving Enigmas with a Wave Structure of Matter, Wolff, in defining time, explains its nature in this way:

“In the WSM, the unit of time is the period of one oscillation of the electron space resonance. This period depends solely on the density of space. Thus everywhere(?) in the universe depends on space. Space determines time just as it does the measure of length. Later we will see that the density of space is determined by quantum waves from  all the matter of the universe. Accordingly, all matter is inter-connected!”

(Underlining by this writer. Some of the underlined terms are defined(described?) in the “Terminology” section but are unexplained in the text of the book.)

 Dr. Wolff is on the right side in his dismissal of the concept of “particles”, something that should have been abandoned a century or more ago. He is on the right side in postulating a universe and a physics based on a wave theory, but they must be waves of something. He is on the right side in his attribution of varying “energy densities” in space (my own “field distortions”) as the source of what Einstein  calls the curvature of space, as the actual cause of gravitational effects such as the bending of light paths. He is on the right side in questioning the quantum paradoxes and contradictions we have lived with since the 1920’s. And he is on the right side in questioning  other accepted but barely supportable concepts like “the big bang,” “black holes,” and the like, that all grew out of  first, unexplainable astronomical observations, then suppositions as to their possible causes, then supposed explanations from the equations of general relativity and quantum mechanics. But the answers he proposes to replace those doubtful concepts still carry too many of the fingerprints of the old models, their language, and their conclusions, to be convincing on their own.

Ultimately and unfortunately, the vagueness and insubstantiality of Dr. Wolff’s concept of the structure of the larger universe leads him into the realm of what we have seen too often, assertions that this means that we are all “connected,” that electrons (intelligently?) communicate with each other, that they “know” what nearby electrons are doing, and the like. In short, WSM depends too much on postulated relationships between non-real substances and non-real entities and leaves too much of what should be hard science to unsupportable speculation to meet any known reality test.

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About Charles Scurlock

Charles is a recently retired architect/planner and generalist problem-solver with a lifelong interest in science, physics, and cosmology, and the workings of the human mind. He has started this blog in the interest of sharing his ideas with others of like-(or not so like) minds.
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2 Responses to Words and Reality

  1. Phil Allsopp says:

    Chuck:

    I’ve ordered Milo’s book.

    An odd piece of serendipity occurred this morning while I was reading over some of Christopher Alexander’s work in “A Timeless Way of Building”. In the chapter on “Patterns of Space”, on page 99, Alexander turns to Chemistry and Complexity. I thought this snippet of what he wrote was quite apropos:

    “….It is true that our conception of these atoms has changed repeatedly – far from being little billiard balls we once thought, we know that they are shifting patterns of particles and waves – and that even the most “elementary” particle – the electron – is itself a ripple in the stuff of the universe, not a “thing.” However, all these changing views do not alter the fact that at the level of scale where atoms occur, they do occur, as identifiable recurrent entities. And even if vast changes occur in physics, and we one day recognize that these so-called atoms are also merely ripples in a deeper field, the fact that there are entities of some kind which correspond to the things we once called atoms will remain….”

    Thought you’d get a smile from Alexander’s musings (1979).

    All the best

    Phil

    • Thanks, Phil. It is amusing to hear from the distant past and from Alexander in particular. I met him a few times when I was in school and always considered him a pseudo-intellectual, probably unfairly. Sort of a post-modernist deconstructor of architecture. He never seemed to deal with the actualities of buildings, only the abstract qualities. But he was a thinker. It appears that a lot of people had these musings but never put them together in any meaningful way.
      I have enjoyed a couple of interesting things lately. I discovered that several visitors to my blog got there from a Wikipedia site. When I went there it turned out to be a dispute resolution site discussing concepts of time and one of the participants had referred to a post of mine in defense of his position. Great fun.
      Chuck

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