Friday, June 16, 2006

"The Universe and Dr. Einstein"

Lincoln Barnet

By Richard E. Noble
“The Universe and Dr. Einstein”, by Lincoln Barnett is a great book. I've enjoyed it immensely. I've now read it twice. It has an introduction by Albert Einstein verifying its credibility to the "lay" reader.
Well, from one lay reader to another, I have two criticisms: One is Mister Barnett's conclusion with regards to the existence of a God: and the second has to do with a reference on page 24 to Quantum physics and "freewill".
On page 24 Mister Barnett states that because of a Mister Heisenberg's "Principle of Uncertainty" brought forward in 1927 which hypothetically states the impossibility of determining both the position of an electron and it's velocity at the same time, man may honestly and truly be possessive of a free, undetermined will.
If this seems to you to be a rather drastic jump in logic and common sense, I'm with you. What the possible randomness or even factuality of an electron's position or predictable course, has to do with Man's freewill, I'm at a loss to figure out.
     Mister Barnett goes on to express that the nature of probability in Quantum physics brings into question the notion of Causality and Determinism. I interpret this to mean that because the human race is at the moment unable to technically determine or predict the actual position or future direction of a particular electron, simultaneously, the Universe may truly be without direction, randomly established, and of an unpredictable indeterminable cause.
I would presume that in pointing out this Heisenberg principle, Mister Barnett would be challenging the existence of a God. This is not the case. In the conclusion Mister Barnett uses the third law of thermodynamics, the Hubble notion of an expanding and eventually destructive universe, and Einstein's notion of the non-existence of space (an aether) as a proof of the existence of a God.
     So, Mister Barnett establishes Man's freewill with the Heisenberg principle of uncertainty, and God existence via the third law of thermodynamics, Hubble's expanding and self-destructive universe, and Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. And supposedly Albert Einstein, himself, has read this book and agrees with it. Wow! I'm at a loss for words. Where do I begin?
     First of all, I don't think that you can have it both ways. You can't on the one hand claim that the Universe is without cause, undirected and unpredictable and that therefore man is in charge of his own destiny and totally free; and on the other hand claim that because the Universe is on an inevitable path to its own destruction, that this destruction implies a Creation and the inevitable existence of an all knowing, (non) deterministic God. How can God be in control of the Universe and not in control of Man?
     Freewill is an argument that has two directions. The Philosophical argument has always been with the nature of God and His relationship with Man. How can Man be free in relation to an Omniscient, Omnipotent, and all knowing God? If, as the religious and theological philosophers contend, God must of necessity be "actual" and not "potential", how could He have then created man, with all knowledge of man, and then not in some way be responsible for Man's actions or for Man in general?
The argument is, if there is a God, as defined above, then - Man of necessity must be determined. Man may have the ability to make choices, but whatever his choices, God "knew" or must know the results.
     The second argument with regards to man's freewill deals with his physiological and psychological makeup. Man as we now know has a genetic code (DNA). His physical structure and individual design is pre-programmed to a degree by this genetic code. It is so accurately programmed that we are now experimenting with the notion of "cloning" exact replicas of ourselves. Regardless of this new discovery, the very fact that a man is a man, or a particular thing, as opposed to "any" thing is determination enough to substantiate the notion that man is not self determining, or totally free. Because Man's choices may be indeterminant or even infinite it does not follow that Man is totally free or even possessive of “freewill”. Because a monkey is provided an infinite variety of bananas to choose from, it can not then be concluded that the monkey is possessive of "free" will or even that he is possessive of a will to choose freely. Man is limited by the fact that he is "a" man.
     Psychologically man is as much a formation of his learned “environment” as he is the product of his genetic code. Man is limited by what he is genetically, and also limited by what is made available to him environmentally. So man is "determined" and limited in terms of his genetic makeup and his environment. In this respect man is not possessive of a total freewill even if there is no God. God or no God man is not "free", nor is he in possession of a "free" will.
     So, what does Heisenberg's indeterminate, unpredictable electron have to do with Man's freewill? How does an unpredictable electron suppose an undetermined individual man?
     What does Heisenberg's unpredictable electron have to do with the theory of causation?
The implication seems to be that if Man can not predict the course or position of a particular electron then nothing is predictable, or he can make no predictions about anything? And therefore, since everything is unpredictable man himself is therefore totally undetermined and consequently without limits in his ability to choose – and therefore possessive of “freewill”.
     Does the unpredictable path of an electron have any bearing whatsoever on the atom that it is involved with? Does the course that this electron eventually chooses, have any bearing on the structure or known and predictable properties of the atom it is involved with? Does this electron's position or direction make for any changes in the atom involved? Does this electron's unpredictableness have any relationship to this particular atom's other myriad of relationships?
     If this electron jigs left as opposed to right is an atom of gold changed to an atom of silver? If nothing of any consequence is changed, then for all practical purposes couldn't Heisenberg's Principle of Uncertainty be placed right along side the “aether” as in Einstein's theory – in other words, of no consequence?
     David Hume supposedly dealt with the principle of causation a few centuries ago. But without even reading David, I am sure that he did not make the notion of causation untenable. He may have destroyed the notion of establishing an efficient cause or a primary cause, but not the notion of "causes". Without the notion of causes, even if they be varied and multiple and difficult to pinpoint, we could establish no theories and certainly no principles or facts of nature.
     Without causes and our ability to determine them, we have no knowledge, nor do we have the hope of ever having any. All science and all of our accumulated theories and knowledge are dependent on our ability to determine events by studying causes. Without this little trick our search for knowledge is condemned to perpetual ignorance, and all that we now claim to be knowledge is unfounded.
     How does Heisenberg's theory question the foundation of causes? Isn't Mister Barnett in fact using Heisenberg's theory of Uncertainty as a "cause" in establishing his theory with regards to Man's freewill? If the theory of causation has been challenged or compromised by Heisenberg's Principle of Uncertainty then how can Mister Barnett establish Mister Heisenberg's Principle as a "cause" in his establishment of his own theory of Man's freewill?
     What has this electron got to do with one's belief or non belief in the existence of God?
     A believer in God, Mister Berkeley, for example, would simply say that whatever choice this electron makes, you can be sure that God knows about it. There is also the theological notion of spontaneous creation. This notion explains the Universe as God's work in progress. God, in effect, recreates the universe moment by moment, instant upon instant - thus not only accounting for "change" but miracles also.
     On the other hand from the non-believer viewpoint; is predictability of the habits or idiosyncrasies of Mother Nature a proof that the Universe has a Creator, or merely an observation that the Universe is, at present, conforming to certain predictable physical phenomenon? If certain physical phenomena are permanent, unchangeable, repeatable and infinite, would this imply anything more than the fact that these phenomena are permanent, unchangeable, repeatable and infinite. And if the reverse were the case would the conclusion be any different? To point to something that "is" and say that it "is" only because of something that isn't, is not reasonable - God being viewed in this case as an unconfirmed suspicion or an illogical impossibility.
     In conclusion, with relation to God, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle changes nothing. The unpredictable Heisenberg electron neither verifies nor disproves the existence of God.
With regards to causation and determinism the philosophical arguments still remain as they have always been. There are causes. Determinism is still a philosophical and theological paradox - inevitable when combined with the existence of an Omnipotent God.  
     Freewill is not a paradox. It is confusion in terms. There is no "freewill" as such, but this does not negate man's ability to make choices or to make selections between what is perceived as either good or evil. The case for Man's genetic determinism and his psychological and environmental determinism in this regard certainly cannot be dismissed for the convenience of society and/or religion – civil or Divine Justice. The Cosmology of the Universe remains indeterminate with or without Heisenberg's wayward electron.

     Now for Mister Barnett's eschatology.

     In the last two chapters of Mister Barnett's book he goes from being a very interesting and astute scientific type into a complete irrational theologist and apologist. These last two chapters involve some of the most twisted and inane logic on the part of a believer to "spin" the facts or theories of science into a substantiation of his mystical conceptions and prejudiced beliefs that I have ever read.
     First of all, in discussing the cosmology and eschatology, the probable beginnings and endings, of the Universe, one is dealing in speculation based on speculation. These theories although fascinating are very much in the category of Star Wars. These areas involve theoretical science at its wildest. But still, I think that we should at least try to maintain our "faith" in reason and not our reason for faith.
     Mister Barnett puts scientific notions, I think, as follows.
     Relativity establishes that there is no absolute time and there is no space. The Universe is now entirely composed of matter and all of matter is a product of man's perception or mis-perception. He alludes to Hegel and establishes that due to man's varied and interminable and inconsistent perceptions "Pure Being and Nothing are the same." Pure Being philosophically defined as God, we now have the hypothesis that God is Nothing. So therefore not only do we have the concept of Nothing as possible, it is, in effect, the cause and fundamental principle of the Universe. From here we devolve philosophically from Hegel via Hume to Berkeley, around about Plato and end up with Saint Augustine and his notion that God created all things from Nothing. Not only did God create all things from Nothing, He is, in fact, Himself, Nothing. We close the book with Saint Paul who tells us that "the world was created by the word of God so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear." Amen
     I have the very strong felling that if Mister Barnett were to have continued with this text we would be "scientifically" lend to the establishment of the Blessed Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus, the Transubstantiation, the Virgin Birth, the Assumption and the Miracles at Lourdes.
     Most interesting is how we have been brought back to the establishment of Nothing being the real stuff of the Universe. But, of course, Mister Barnett as with St. Augustine informs us all that mysteriously behind all of the inevitable Nothing of the Universe there is that "Somethingness" contained all too realistically in that Nothingness we term as God. Though this entire Universe has been derived from Nothing, everything is based in an inevitable reality, which is God, who is synonymous with Nothing. If you think that this is all "Double Speak" you are absolutely right.
     To my way of thinking there is either Something, or there is Nothing. If Nothing were the Primary source of the Universe and ourselves, then we would not "be". The fact that we "are" and the Universe "is" (whatever it is) is a priori proof that Something is, and always has been and forever will be, whether we like it or not. Nothing therefore ISN'T, never has been and never will be. My opinion is that if you or anyone else comes to the conclusion that Nothing is responsible for Something you must review your logic because unless you are not here, you must be wrong. Nothing by definition is what is not and has no capacity to become.
Anyone who says that in reality, there is no reality - is equally in the wrong. Our perceptions of reality may be wrong, inaccurate and even deceptive but this does not change the reality of reality, whatever that may be.
Another point of Mister Barrett's has to do with Uranium, Hubble's expanding universe, the third law of thermodynamic and entropy. This is a good one.
     "The unvarying rate at which uranium expends its nuclear energies and the absence of any natural process leading to its formation indicate that all the uranium on earth must have come into existence at one specific time, which, according to the best calculations of geophysicists, was between four and five billion years ago." This notion is coupled with Hubble's notion of the red shifts and blue shifts which supposedly explain to us that the Universe is expanding. Cosmologists calculating this rate of expansion have traced the rate of expansion backwards and estimate that the universe began five billion years ago. So now we have two different groups verifying that the universe not only had a beginning but that this beginning happened five billion years ago.
     But to be more specific, the one group is establishing that uranium appeared or came somehow into existence approximately five billion years ago. The second group claims that the "expanding" of the Universe probably also began five billion years ago. This does not tell us when the "unexpanding" universe came about or for what period it existed before it got to expanding. But in any case we have this probable date for the beginnings of our expanding universe or the Big Bang.
     The Big Bang is the present day explanation for where our expanding universe got its energy and impetus to expand. The expanding universe is the result of a cosmic egg or atom explosion.
     Now we have the third law of thermodynamics. This has to do with the notion of an irreversible natural transference of heat to cold. With regards to the universe, Mister Barnett says that everything is cooling down. The "law" of entropy is taking over. The end of the Universe is in the making. The heat from the Big Bag is entropying. One day everything is going to stop spinning; all the suns in the Universe will have expended all of their heat; the Universe will turn cold and all motion with stop.
     And then what?
     Will all the stars and planets fall from the heavens? Where will they fall to? Will they contract? Where will they get the energy to do so? All energy has been dissipated, or dispersed, or entrophied, you will remember. So, I guess God will have to come out from behind a cloud and give everything a goose, once again - now we're back to Isaac Newton.
     But what if there is truly no such thing or entity as God? Then what?
     Well, things really become interesting now. If we go back to the cosmic egg explosion idea; where did the heat that exploded the egg come from? If entropy is implying that the inevitable state of heat is cold and that heat spontaneously occurring from cold is impossible. Then in the beginning there could not have been a "hot" egg. There could have been a very cold hard boiled egg, but not a hot one.
     If it is true that in the beginning there really was a "hot" egg then the third law of thermodynamics and the rule of entropy are 1) not true 2) may apply to beans in a bag, but not to a system as large as the Universe. 3) are being misinterpreted or misunderstood.
`     If the energy of the universe is truly being used up or undergoing an irreversible process of transference into cold this would not be consistent with our understanding of the laws of conservation with regards to matter and energy.
     If hot is merely an agitated condition of cold then there must be an agitating agent that produced heat in the first place. If motion is heat, then are we back to Aristotle vs. Galileo - is "a body that is in motion tends to remain in motion" the primary state of matter in the universe, or is the notion that "a body at rest tends to remain at rest" the primary state of matter? If motion is the primary state of matter then we need no Big Bang. If a body at rest tends to remain at rest is the primary state of matter, then we're in trouble. We have no explanation then for motion or heat and a miracle as to how they could possibly have evolved.
     If the Universe started out with "fire" and then ends up dying in "cold", we are left with an unexplainable initial fire. We have a mystical paradox once again, or we have a mistake in our laws and hypotheses.
     If we presume that there is no interfering God in the Universe, and that heat can not arrive spontaneously from cold, does this not lead us all to conclude that heat and motion are primary and cold secondary?
     In the beginning then, there was heat and motion. Could heat and motion then somehow be irreversibly transformed into cold and inert?
     It seems to me that nature conforms to the laws of conservation of matter and energy. If these laws are correct. Then heat and cold must somehow be interacting and interchangeable in the Universe.
     It could also be very, very possible that Hubble's expanding Universe is not correct, and that there was never a Big Bang type start to the universe.
     So then, how did the Universe begin?
     It didn't. It always was. It always will be. It is self regulating and self perpetuating. Instead of looking for beginnings and ends to the Universe, it would then make more sense to be searching for explanations in the direction of a self perpetuating ever evolving Universe, and questioning anything to the contrary as a possible mistake.

[If you are interested in the subject matter of this blog, click onto Search This Blog and find A History of God, Intelligent Design, God, Yes or No, or St. Anselm of Canterbury. These all deal with  the debate of God’s existence or non-existence]


Morrigan said...

Very interesting to read your blog. So many thoughts and reflections to ponder upon. Each time I stumble on an intellectual blog as yours, I rejoyce.
Good luck and continuation, I'll be visiting your pages.

Richard Edward Noble said...

Thanks for stopping by. I'm happy you found something of interest. I do my best and thanks for the well-wishing. The Hobo Philosopher.