Note on the interpretation of modern physics

© May 2005, Graham R. Little

(This note was submitted as a letter to TPM Online)

Interpreting quantum physics it is suggested is one of the currently intractable problems of philosophy. Here, I would like to offer some insights that suggest the real issue is our unrealistic expectations and our general lack of understanding of the very nature of knowledge.

1.        Physics is knowledge, therefore any particular aspects of physics is particular knowledge. It follows that the interpretation of how any aspect of physics relates to that beyond the physics can only be a detail of the general issue of how all knowledge relates to that beyond that knowledge and to which the knowledge alludes or points or in some other way relates. Physics knowledge is knowledge like all other, bounded by the same overall rules, models and propositions. This is a position substantially drawn from Popper, and sees scientific epistemology as most concerned with the relation between knowledge and the objects of that knowledge.

2.        Currently the academic theoretical structure describing knowledge and the relationship between that knowledge and the objects it describes can only be described as somewhere between dreadful and very poor. The only full working model and theory I know of is my own, at

3.        My model explores and proposes that the ultimate and immediate effects of W. Ross Ashby parallel actual knowledge to the degree that they can be substituted for the ‘real thing’, and will create knowledge indistinguishable from the ‘real thing’. In fact the model goes further and demonstrates ultimate and immediate effects as third level conceptualisation tools on a par with mathematics in being able to lead the conceptualization process, and that knowledge produced using the tools of Ashby have known and clear properties to a degree that this knowledge is superior to the ‘real thing’. (Note, that arising from the general theory of the person also at the site, conceptualization emerges as a critical aspect of our psychology, and fully integrates with the general theory of knowledge developed at the site and within which this discussion is being developed.

4.        Using the Ashby tools there emerges a very clear understanding of cause as the relation between classes of relation between classes of event (note, every term has a quite precise definition described at the site): Cause does not need proximity, although this may be a requirement of some mechanism, but does need a communication channel between the items causally linked.

5.        We then postulate: the universe contains no ultimate and fundamental set of immediate effects. This in turn results in the universal mechanistic postulate: there is always a mechanism.

6.        We can then analyse psychology and gain sharper insight into the nature and necessary structure of variables, defining them in terms of their single and multiple extension (property), with those of multiple extensions always being able to be divided into more fundamental ones of single extension (in principle at least).

7.        This structure then describes an object as having the property of rate of change slow relative to the observing species, so it appearing ‘unchanged’.

8.        The model then shows cause as an infinite regress, and because of that we can only ever have ‘sufficient cause’, that is we reach a practical level where further analysis does not really add value to match the cost or effort, or returns of increased understanding.

9.        The clear image of knowledge that emerges is that of knowledge based on constructs (variables that may or may not describe objects) embedded in an unknown background field. We know the construct may have internal structure, but do not know what it is, and we know the background field may have structure relevant to the construct, but again we do not know what it is. We also know from the universal mechanistic postulate, that there are mechanisms beneath the level we ‘see’, but we have no idea what they might be.

10.     We also know that we can use statistical methods to circumvent our lack of definite knowledge and that those methods can be very successful in getting the right answer without in any way describing or offering any insight at all into the mechanisms surrounding and available to the construct.

11.     Example: imagine a horse in a paddock, and imagine its conduct. Now imagine the horse without the paddock, and imagine we knew nothing of paddocks, it is just a white background in which the horse moves within a bounded range.

12.     Given we knew nothing of the background, or the links the horse makes to it, what then would we make of the conduct of the horse? I suggest it would be interesting, speculative, and frequently nothing more than nonsense.

13.     Understanding and explanation depends on the relationship between object and its ground. Remove all ground and understanding fails, we cannot explain.

14.     A photon is exactly as a horse in a completely blank background. In fact QED goes as far as proposing the photon as a point particle so removes potential links with the environment. We are unable to explain what the photon does because we know nothing of its internal structure or the links it might make with its environment. We assume there are none, we are immediately reduced totally to statistical methods, which we then try and use to ‘interpret what is going on’. If you cannot see the sheer nonsense in this, then we remain on different planets, way beyond Mars and Venus.

15.     The model goes further, we can and will eventually come to ‘see’ the photon in its environment in exactly the manner we can ‘see’ the horse in its. And immediately we can so ‘see’ the photon we will come to understand and be able to explain it. What will have then happened is that the level of ‘ignorance’ will have moved down, it will be the conceptual level of say, one below the photon or one below where we are now. And what will that level be like? It will be identical to the one we will have just passed through, only able to be managed with statistics, and devoid of understanding, we will be forced to ‘interpret’.

16.     Knowledge has this structure and there is nothing we can do about it nor can we in any way circumvent it, nor in any way alter it.

17.     Where does that leave science at this lowest level (by lowest, I mean the level closest to the edge, beyond which is nothing that is the true and complete void of knowledge)?

18.     This very root of science, this very root of explanation of all things is and can only ever be a technology, advance made by manipulating the edge of what we can, with real understanding awaiting our pushing past this level to the next down. That is, while we do not understand the photon, we can and do play with the circumstances of it, and can and do produce predictable and reliable results from the manipulation of those circumstances. And when we move past the level we are at now, then manipulating the photon will be as much a ‘technology’ as manipulating the electron is now: And the cutting edge of our technology will have moved down to the next level, and I have not the foggiest idea of what that might look like.

19.     This is how it is, and the state of modern physics is neither surprising nor difficult to grasp. I can only suggest we get used to it and get on with trying to sharpen our technology of it, and get us to the next level – perhaps, when we really understand the photon, can ‘see’ its internal structure, its links to its environment, then we will be able to control nuclear disintegration at the atomic level, and hence some of the stuff today that is so frightening will become obsolete, and while we likely can still kill people, our planet (or parts of it) does not end up uninhabitable for 20000 years.

20.     Above all what modern physics is really bringing us to grips with, as will the leading edge of all such science forever in the future, is that at this edge we are limited, ignorant and vulnerable. We know much, knowledge lies in these answers, but the next questions pitch us headlong into the abyss of the unknown, hopefully facing our limitations we find within us the wisdom to forge better choices today.