REL-205, Sec. 1541
Religion and Modern Culture
One Christian's Perspective on Quantum Mechanics
Can the practice of biblical Christian principles be helpful in understanding the conceptual implications of Quantum Mechanics?
I believe the answer to this question is a resounding "Yes!" The Bible says nothing about Quantum Mechanics, of course, but it does set forth principles that are useful in the study of this subject. In this short paper I'll sketch some of those principles and then give an example of a conceptual insight that is very helpful for understanding Quantum Mechanics. But first, what is Quantum Mechanics?
"Quantum mechanics" is the description of the behavior of matter and light in all its details and, in particular, of the happenings on an atomic scale. Things on a very small scale behave like nothing that you have any direct experience about. They do not behave like waves, they do not behave like particles, they do not behave like clouds, or billiard balls, or weights on springs, or like anything that you have ever seen. . . . Because atomic behavior is so unlike ordinary experience, it is very difficult to get used to, and it appears peculiar and mysterious to everyoneboth to the novice and to the experienced physicist. Even the experts do not understand it the way they would like to. . . . We know how large objects will act, but things on a small scale just do not act that way. So we have to learn about them in a sort of abstract or imaginative fashion and not by connection with our direct experience. (Feynman, R. P. Vol. 3, 1-1)
Answering this question from a biblical perspective is important. First, no satisfactory, generally accepted conceptual interpretation of Quantum Mechanics has ever been found, despite eighty years of intense debate and discussion of the subject. Any useful insight on this mystery, from whatever source, would be quite welcome.
Second, the science of Quantum Mechanics is itself important in our technological society. Advances in semiconductors, computers, communications, lasers, medical diagnostic equipment, and many other things depend heavily on its application. It is definitely something we need to understand.
Third, the question of the conceptual implications of Quantum Mechanics has never been given serious treatment in a biblical context. Christians have usually focused on issues like Evolution versus Creation, or on cosmology (the age and origin of the Universe, etc.). Indeed, these seem to be questions that could naturally and reasonably involve the Bible. But Quantum Mechanics? Physics? If the Bible can somehow be legitimately applied in these fields, then we have much new territory to explore. Surely we will learn something important.
Physicist Feynman says that we have to learn about the behavior of atoms "in a sort of abstract or imaginative fashion and not by connection with our direct experience." Christians have the same sort of problem when learning about God. Fortunately, the Bible offers an important principle about perceiving the invisible:
"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. . . . The things which are seen were not made of things which are visible." (Hebrews 11:1-3, NKJ)
Biblically defined faith is clearly not just a belief based on blind credulity or trust in authority. It is based on evidence from actual, observable facts. The methodology used by Christians is thus very similar to that used by physicists.
Christians are also given an important clue about the Universe we live in:
"What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualitieshis eternal power and divine naturehave been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:19-20, NIV)
When correctly understood, the Universe is, at a minimum, supposed to be free of paradoxes and conceptual impossibilities. Additionally, we look for simplicity and elegance.
God even invites mankind to study his works:
"He seals the hand of every man, that all men may know His work. . . . Stand and consider the wonders of God. Do you know how God establishes them?" (Job 37:7, 14-15)
Christians are also practiced at sorting out conflicting information:
"Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good." (1Thes 5:21)
"Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings" (Hebrews 13:9)
"Test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1John 4:1-3)
So here is our task: formulate a simple concept that can be inferred from factual evidence which can explain the conceptual difficulties of Quantum Mechanics.
One such concept could be what I call "temporal motion." It differs from ordinary spatial motion in that the motion is in coordinate time (time with three dimensions) instead of coordinate space. When you roll a marble across your desk, you are seeing an example of spatial motion. It has a starting point, an end point, and a trajectory that connects the two. But if you could impart temporal motion to an object, instead of spatial motion, what sort of picture would you see then?
Temporal motion, by definition, is not motion in or through space. Hence, from the spatial standpoint, and from our common way of thinking, it is necessarily some sort of "motionless motion."
Furthermore, temporal locations are "non-local" or "de-localized" in a spatial reference system. A location of 12 o'clock in the kitchen is also 12 o'clock in the living room. Locations in time appear anywhere/everywhere in space. Motion from one point in coordinate time to another point in coordinate time would be "trajectory-less" and infinite in extent as seen from the spatial standpoint.
Does anything act like that? Yes. Physicists are quite familiar with them. They call them "force fields." A gravitational force field is the simplest example. It is non-directional. That is, the force, or "motion" if we want to interpret the effect that way, is spherically distributed. It is motion that is "towards", but not towards any particular direction. It is also infinite in extent (at least out to the quantization limit). And, in and of itself, the effect has no path, no trajectory. It fits our strange description of temporal motion.
What does that have to do with Quantum Mechanics? Well, space and time are quantized. That means that atoms can approach each other no closer than one unit of space. With the spatial component of the motion fixed at one unit, any further motion must be in coordinate time. And that means temporal motion again. Which again means motion with no trajectory and which is infinite in extent. These are recognizable features of the mathematics of Quantum Mechanics.
The mathematics for Quantum Mechanics have "infinite reach." Schrodinger's wave equation has an infinite number of solutions, and requires the imposition of "boundary conditions" to get the particular solutions of interest. The same can be said of Heisenberg's infinite matrices, and of Feynman's "sum over all paths" method of Quantum Mechanics. Forces, velocities, and trajectories are generally not very useful in Quantum Mechanics. Instead, potentials and total energy are the quantities that are most useful (expressed in the so-called "Hamiltonian"). And these are clearly non-path, non-trajectory constructs.
So the picture that evolves is this: Newtonian Mechanics describes spatial motion. Quantum Mechanics describes temporal motion. Put the two together and all the mysteries, paradoxes, and conceptual difficulties that bother physicists can be made to disappear.
Here is a short list of what I think can be explained:
The EPR paradox: Two photons originating in the same event will separate in coordinate space, but not in coordinate time. An action imposed on one photon, will instantaneously produce a complementary action on the other photon, even though that photon might be light years distant (spatially) from the other.
Single photon interference: A single photon has a single spatial location and a single temporal location. The latter, however, has multiple incarnations of itself as seen from a spatial reference system (much like one's image in a house of mirrors). These effects combine to produce the "matter wave" interference pattern of Quantum Mechanics.
The nature of gravitation: Gravitation is clearly a temporal motion. A little thought will also show why it is an accelerated non-directional motion (a characteristic that causes us humans to be pressed against the Earth irrespective of our location upon it).
Why the gamma correction factor is used in Special Relativity: Solving the gamma equation for c, instead of for gamma, shows that temporal motion has an inverse and Pythagorean relationship with spatial motion.* In the truest, most complete descriptions of physical phenomena, both types of motion must be taken into account. (*meaning: c2 = c2/g + v2 where the dimensions are t/s for g and s/t for v)
Issues in General Relativity that are clarified include the Shapiro time delay, gravitational lensing, gravitational redshift, gravitational time shift, the constancy of the speed of light, how Quantum Mechanics could be unified with General Relativity (which has so far been an intractable problem), and several lesser known issues in cosmology.
Now if all that can be achieved with the concept of linear temporal motion, we should ask, "What could be achieved with the concept of rotational temporal motion?" Such concepts might lead to exactly what NASA is seeking in its Breakthrough Propulsion Physics program. I hope other investigators, Christian or not, will pursue the implications.
We can now return to the original question: Can the practice of biblical Christian principles be helpful in understanding the conceptual implications of Quantum Mechanics? The answer is clearly, Yes! The Bible, of course, says nothing directly about physics or Quantum Mechanics. But it does say plenty about perceiving the invisible, about the Universe being accessible and understandable, about correct and careful reasoning, and about sorting through contradictory and confusing information. Christians become highly practiced in these methods and, as "mature men with minds trained by practice to distinguish between good and bad," they will find these skills useful in physics too. (Hebrews 5:14, JB).
It is just as God has said: "He will teach you all things." (John 14:26)
Feynman, R. P., R. B. Leighton, and M. Sands. The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Menlo Park: Addison-Wesley, 1965. Vol. 3, p. 1-1 under "Atomic Mechanics"
The Holy Bible. Scriptures cited are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted by the following abbreviations:
JB Alexander Jones, ed., The Jerusalem Bible. Garden City, New York; London: Doubleday; Darton, Longman & Todd, 1966.
NASB New American Standard Bible, Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1977
NIV New International Version, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984
NKJ Arthur Farstad, ed., Holy Bible: The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1982
Other Links (not in the original paper):
For a forum discussion about concepts similar to those in this paper visit: http://www.fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/294
(forum essay itself is at http://www.fqxi.org/data/essay-contest-files/Fraser_NatureOfTime.pdf )
For my thoughts about the evolution/creation issue in the K-12 schools visit: http://telicthoughts.com/blind-faith/#comment-225829
http://telicthoughts.com/blind-faith/#comment-225908 a reader's response
For more fascinating insights in quantum mechanics visit Intuitive Concepts in Quantum Mechanics .