0. Context and Review:
This post continues from the last one. In the last post, we saw that the same perceptual evidence (involving two moving grey regions) can be conceptually captured using two entirely different, fundamental, physics ideas.
In the first description, the perceived grey regions are treated as physical objects in their own right.
In the second description, the perceived grey regions are treated not as physical objects in their own right, but merely as distinguishable (and therefore different) parts of the singleton object that is the universe (the latter being taken in its entirety).
We will now try to look at some of the implications that the two descriptions naturally lead to.
1. The “Many Objects” Viewpoint Always Implies an In-Principle Empty Background Object:
To repeat, in the first description, the grey regions are treated as objects in their own right. This is the “Many Objects” viewpoint. The universe is fundamentally presumed to contain many objects.
But what if there is one and only one grey block in the perceptual field? Wouldn’t such a universe then contain only that one grey object?
The fact of the matter is, even in this case, there implicitly are two objects in the universe: (i) the grey object and (ii) the background or the white object.
As an aside: Do see here Ayn Rand’s example (in ITOE, 2nd Edition) of how a uniform blue expanse of the sky by itself would not even be perceived as an object, but how, once you introduce a single speck of dust, the perceptual contrast that it introduces would allow perceptions of both the speck and the blue sky to proceed. Of course, this point is of only technical importance. Looking at the real world while following the first description, there are zillions of objects evidently present anyway.
Leaving aside the theoretically extreme case of a single grey region, and thus focusing on the main general ideas: the main trouble following this “Many Objects” description is twofold:
(i) It is hard to come to realize that something exists even in the regions that are “empty space.”
(ii) Methodologically, it is not clear as to precisely how one proceeds from the zillions of concrete objects to the singleton object that is the universe. Observe that the concrete objects here are physical objects. Hence, one would look for a conceptual common denominator (CCD) that is narrower than just the fact that all these concrete objects do exist. One would look for something more physical by way of the CCD, but it is not clear what it could possibly be.
2. Implications of the “Many Objects” Viewpoint for Causality:
In the first description, there are two blocks and they collide. Let’s try to trace the consequences of such a description for causality:
With the supposition that there are two blocks, one is drawn into a temptation of thinking along the following lines:
the first block pushes on the second block—and the second block pushes on the first.
Following this line of thought, the first block can be taken as being responsible for altering the motion of the second block (and the second, of the first). Therefore, a certain conclusion seems inevitable:
the motion of the first block may be regarded as the cause, and the (change in) the motion of the second block may be regarded as the effect.
In other words, in this line of thought, one entity/object (the first block) supplies, produces or enacts the cause, and another entity/object (the second block) suffers the consequences, the effects. following the considerations of symmetry and thereby abstracting a more general truth (e.g. as captured in Newton’s third law), you could also argue that that it is the second object that is the real cause, and the first object shows only effects. Then, abstracting the truth following the consideration of symmetry, you could say that
the motion (or, broadly, the nature) of each of the two blocks is a cause, and the action it produces on the other block is an effect.
But regardless of the symmetry considerations or the abstractness of the argument that it leads to, note that this entire train of thought still manages to retain a certain basic idea as it is, viz.:
the entity/actions that is the cause is necessarily different from the entity/actions that is the effect.
Such an idea, of ascribing the cause and the effect parts of a single causal event (here, the collision event) to two different object not only can arise in the many objects description, it is the most common and natural way in which the very idea of causality has come to be understood. Examples abound: the swinging bat is a cause; the ball flying away is the effect; the entities to which we ascribe the cause and the effect are entirely different objects. The same paradigm runs throughout much of physics. Also in the humanities. Consider this: “he makes me feel good.”
Every time such a separation of cause and effect occurs, logically speaking, it must first be supposed that many objects exist in the universe.
It is only on the basis of a many objects viewpoint that the objects that act as causes can be metaphysically separated, at least in an event-by-event concrete description, from the objects that suffer the corresponding effects.
3. Implications of the “Many Objects” Viewpoint, and the Idea of the “Empty” Space:
Notice that in the “many objects” description, no causal role is at all played by those parts of the universe that are “empty space.” Consider the description again:
The grey blocks move, come closer together, collide, and fly away in the opposite directions after the collision.
Notice how this entire description is anchored only to the grey blocks. Whatever action happens in this universe, it is taken by the grey blocks. The empty white space gets no metaphysical role whatsoever to play.
It is as if any metaphysical locus standi that the empty space region should otherwise have, somehow got completely sucked out of itself, and this locus standi then got transferred, in a way overly concentrated, into the grey regions.
Once this distortion is allowed to be introduced into the overall theoretical scheme, then, logically speaking, it would be simple to propagate the error throughout the theory and its implication. Just apply an epistemologically minor principle like Occam’s Razor, and the metaphysical suggestion that this entire exercise leads to is tantamount to this idea:
why not simply drop the empty space out of any physical consideration? out of all physics theory?
A Side Remark on Occam’s Principle: The first thing to say about Occam’s Principle is that it is not a very fundamental principle. The second thing to say is that it is impossible to state it using any rigorous terms. People have tried doing that for centuries, and yet, not a single soul of them feels very proud when it comes to showing results for his efforts. Just because today’s leading theoretical physics love it, vouch by it, and vigorously promote it, it still does not make Occam’s principle play a greater epistemological role than it actually does. Qua an epistemological principle, it is a very minor principle. The best contribution that it can at all aspire to is: serving as a vague, merely suggestive, guideline. Going by its actual usage in classical physics, it did not even make for a frequently used epistemological norm let alone acted as a principle that would necessarily have to be invoked for achieving logical consistency. And, as a mere guideline, it is also very easily susceptible to misuse. Compare this principle to, e.g., the requirement that the process of concept formation must always show both the essentials: differentiation and integration. Or compare it to the idea that concept-formation involves measurement-omission. Physicists promote Occam’s Principle to the high pedestal, simply because they want to slip in their own bad ideas into physics theory. No, Occam’s Razor does not directly help them. What it actually lets them do, through misapplication, is to push a wedge to dislodge some valid theoretical block from the well-integrated wall that is physics. For instance, if the empty space has no role to play in the physical description of the universe [preparation of misapplication], then, by Occam’s Principle [the wedge], why not take the idea of aether [a valid block] out of physics theory? [which helps make physics crumble into pieces].
It is in this way that the first description—viz. the “many objects” description—indirectly but inevitably leads to a denial of any physical meaning to the idea of space.
If a fundamental physical concept like space itself is denied any physical roots, then what possibly could one still say about this concept—about its fundamental character or nature? The only plausible answers would be the following:
That space must be (a) a mathematical concept (based on the idea that fundamental ideas had better be physical, mathematical or both), and (b) an arbitrary concept (based on the idea that if there is no hard basis of the physical reality underlying this concept, then it can always be made as soft as desired, i.e. infinitely soft, i.e., arbitrary).
If the second idea (viz., the idea that space is an arbitrary human invention) is accorded the legitimacy of a rigorously established truth, then, in logic, anyone would be free to bend space any which way he liked. So, there would have to be, in logic, a proliferation in spaces. The history of the 19th and 20th centuries is nothing but a practically evident proof of precisely this logic.
Notice further that in following this approach (of the “many objects”), metaphysically speaking, the first casualty is that golden principle taught by Aristotle, viz. the idea that a literal void cannot exist, that the nothing cannot be a part of the existence. (It is known that Aristotle did teach this principle. However, it is not known if he had predecessors, esp. in the more synthetic, Indic, traditions. In any case, the principle itself is truly golden—it saves one from so many epistemological errors.)
Physics is an extraordinarily well-integrated a science. However, this does not mean that it is (or ever has been) perfectly integrated. There are (and always have been) inconsistencies in it.
The way physics got formulated—the classical physics in particular—there always was a streak of thought in it which had always carried the supposition that there existed a literal void in the region of the “gap” between objects. Thus, as far as the working physicist was concerned, a literal void could not exist, it actually did. “Just look at the emptiness of that valley out there,” (said while standing at a mountain top). Or, “look at the bleakness, at the dark emptiness out there between those two shining bright stars!” That was their “evidence.” For many physicists—and philosophers—such could be enough of an evidence to accept the premise of a physically existing emptiness, the literal naught of the philosophers.
Of course, people didn’t always think in such terms—in terms of a literal naught existing as a part of existence.
Until the end of the 19th century, at least some people also thought in terms of “aether.”
The aether was supposed to be a massless object. It was supposed that “aether” existed everywhere, including in the regions of space where there were no massive objects. Thus, the presence of aether ensured that there was no void left anywhere in the universe.
However, as soon as you think of an idea like “aether,” two questions immediately arise: (i) how can aether exist even in those places where a massive object is already present? and (ii) as to the places where there is no massive object, if all that aether does is to sit pretty and do nothing, then how is it really different from those imaginary angels pushing on the planets in the solar system?
Hard questions, these two. None could have satisfactorily answered these two questions. … In fact, as far as I know, none in the history of physics has ever even raised the first question! And therefore, the issue of whether, in the history of thought, there has been any satisfactory answer provided to it or not, cannot even arise in the first place.
It is the absence of satisfactory answers to these two questions that has really allowed Occam’s Razor to be misapplied.
By the time Einstein arrived, the scene was already ripe to throw the baby out with the water, and thus he could happily declare that thinking in terms of the aether concept was entirely uncalled for, that it was best to toss it into in the junkyard of bad ideas discarded in the march of human progress.
The “empty” space, in effect, progressively got “emptier” and “emptier” still. First, it got replaced by the classical electromagnetic “field,” and then, as space got progressively more mathematical and arbitrary, the fields themselves got replaced by just an abstract mathematical function—whether the spacetime of the relativity theory or the function of QM.
4. Implications of the “Many Objects” Viewpoint and the Supposed Mysteriousness of the Quantum Entanglement:
In the “many objects” viewpoint, the actual causal objects are many. Further, this viewpoint very naturally suggests the idea of some one object being a cause and some other object being the effect. There is one very serious implication of this separation of cause and effect into many, metaphysically separate, objects.
With that supposition, now, if two distant objects (and metaphysically separate objects always are distant) happen to show some synchronized sort of a behavior, then, a question arises: how do we connect the cause with the effect, if the effect is observed not to lag in time from the cause.
Historically, there had been some discussion on the question of “[instantaneous] action at a distance,” or IAD for short. However, it was subdued. It was only in the context of QM riddles that IAD acquired the status of a deeply troubling/unsettling issue.
Let me take a bit of a digression into philosophy proper here, by introducing Ayn Rand’s ideas of causality at this point [^]. In OPAR, Dr. Peikoff has clarified the issue amply well: The identity or nature of an entity is the cause, and its actions is the effect.
Following Ayn Rand, if two grey blocks (as given in our example perceptual field) reverse their directions of motions after collision, each of the two blocks is a cause, and the reversals in the directions of the same block is the effect.
Make sure to understand the difference in what is meant by causality. In the common-sense thinking, as spelt out in section 2. of this post, if the block `A’ is the cause, then the block `B’ is the effect (and vice versa). However, according to Ayn Rand, if the block `A’ is the cause, then the actions of this same block `A’ are the effect. It is an important difference, and make sure you know it.
Thus, notice, for the time being, that in Ayn Rand’s sense of the terms, the principle of causality actually does not need a multiplicity of objects.
However, notice that the causal role of the “empty” space continues to remain curiously unanswered even after you bring Ayn Rand’s above-mentioned insights to bear on the issue.
The only causal role that can at all be ascribed to the “empty” space, it would seem, is for it to continuously go on “monitoring” if a truly causal body—a massive object—was impinging on itself or not, and if such a body actually did that, to allow it to do so.
In other words, the causal identity of the empty space becomes entirely other-located: it summarily depends on the identity of the massive objects. But the identity of a given object pertains to what that object itself is—not to what other objects are like. Clearly, something is wrong here.
In the next post, we shall try to trace the implications that the second description (i.e. The One Object) leads to.
A Song I Like:
(Hindi) “man mera tujh ko maange, door door too bhaage…”
Singer: Suman Kalyanpur
Music: Kalyanji Anandji
May be an editing pass is due…. Let me see if I can find the time to come back and do it…. Considerable revision done on 28 April 2017 12:20 PM IST though no new ideas were added; I will leave the remaining grammatical errors/awkward construction as they are. The next post should get posted within a few days’ time.]