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THE GREAT CHAIN OF QUANTUM BEING: WHAT THE PHYSICISTS ARE TELLING US / Louis Gallo listen: there's a hell of a good universe next door; let's go —cummings Max Planck's announcement in 1900 that energy flows in discrete bundles rather than uniformly, as energy "should," did not instantly destroy the foundations of a classical world view that had prevailed since Newton's day. It took physicists nearly a quarter of a century to grasp the full significance of quantum theory. But 1900 is too convenient a date to ignore, and without distorting the history of ideas unduly we can refer to it as the point in time when science launched its relentless assault upon reason and common sense, an assault that continues to this day. This is nothing new, of course. Everyone knows how weird quantum theory is, how it toppled the Newtonian clockwork and so on. The purpose of this essay is to explain in ordinary language, if such a thing can be done, why physicists are saying some of the outrageous things we read about in the popular media. Because new particles, along with new theories to account for them, are being created at such a prodigious rate today, it has become extraordinarily difficult for non-scientists to keep up with the latest breakthroughs. The deluge of popular books on black holes and particle physics, outmoded before they go to press, reflects this information gap. I can hardly expect to beat the popularizers at their own game, but my intention is nevertheless to present a non-technical overview of the great chain of quantum being according to current theory. It can be suggested by way of preliminary assessment that the Theater of the Absurd did not die at some point in the early 1970s; its greatest production is and may always have been our meditations on the cosmos itself. We begin, however, with some thoughts on common sense rather than absurdity. Physicists have traditionally linked common sense with the twin doctrines of causality and determinism. Given thorough enough information about prior conditions, causality guarantees the predictability of all events and states ofbeing. French mathematician Pierre Laplace actually believed that such knowledge could be used to chart the entire history of the universe. Causality, then, is a way of thinking about individual events; determinism, a way of thinking about events 264 · The Missouri Review cumulatively. Both doctrines presume the existence of an objective, quantifiable external world populated by observers (ourselves). One cannot overemphasize the importance of the term "objective." It haunts modern physics at every turn. Indeed, the crucial difference between classical and quantum physics lies in their respective acceptance or rejection of objective reality. The early giants of quantum physics had a hard time accepting the implications of their own mathematics. Max Planck and Einstein—who is not, strictly speaking, a quantum physicist but who contributed much to the theory—refused to accept them. Yet the fate of objectivity may be traced by moving from Planck's position on the subject to that of Erwin Schrödinger, whose work culminated in the late 1920s. This chronology roughly reflects the order in which quantum theory emerged. Here is what Planck had to say in his book The New Science: "A science that starts off by predicating the denial of objectivity has already passed sentence on itself"; and "the quantum hypothesis will eventually find its exact expression in certain equations which will be a more exact formulation of the law of causality." Einstein spent most of his life searching for that "exact expression" and failed. Werner Heisenberg offered a similar but highly qualified version of Planck's statement. In Across the Frontiers Heisenberg says that quantum measurements do in fact measure objective states but also intrude upon those states. "It is," he writes, "no longer the objective states but rather the probabilities for the occurrence of certain events that can be stated in mathematical formulae." Schrödinger, in Mind and Matter, comes right out with it: "Mind has erected the objective outside world of the natural philosophers out of its own stuff." He means this literally, and the equations he contributed to quantum theory imply as much. Bohr...


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