I’ll resume from the chapter I started here and no, there isn’t going to be any racism in this post. It refers to a “slit experiment” where light passes through a screen with vertical slits in it and then creates a pattern of light and dark bands. Depending on the properties of light, ie frequency, and the number of slits this pattern varies. The book compares it to $100 being divided in many ways in various combination of lower denomination notes like $1, $5, $10 etc. This is where I left last time.
The rest of the chapter is about what it all means. Slit experiment is now taken to represent a principle and then this principle is applied to other areas of inquiry. The full description is broken into two parts – the nature of reality and our method of dividing this reality, ie number of slits. The number of slits then represents our choice of knowing and when this choice interacts with reality we get a representation. Our choice – our division of reality – is not physical anymore but semantic, and this is where we should brush up our memory of semantic tree, symbols, and meanings. I covered this extensively many months ago but it’s still hard to summon that knowledge right away. I don’t want to review that now in hope that the usage is not complicated here.
When we are talking about objects on various levels of the universal tree there’s one theme that stays in common – each object has a meaning and each object can be divided into symbols of that meaning. These symbols, in turn, will become objects to be divided at the next stage of creation, but the book discusses this first step here – diving one meaning into many symbols and choices we can make during this process.
When we describe a meaning in our language then words become symbols arranged in a specific order which depends on our chosen “vocabulary”, though I think “language” would be more appropriate here. This is our choice – what language to represent the meaning in, and this is our equivalent of choosing a different number of slits. Thankfully, without going into “grammer”, as it is often misspelled on the internet, the book rather compares it to representing one number in different counting systems. Like 10 in our decimal system is 10, but written in binary, like a computer code, it becomes 1010. That is 1*8+0*4+1*2+0*1 where 1,2,4 and 8 are place values in four digit binary numbers. In hexadecimal 10 is simply A because a normal sequence of digits there 0123456789ABCDEF, with letters replacing our 10,11,12 etc.
Going back to light for a second – if some information is transported by a set of photons then the meaning and value we attach to each arriving photon would depend on our chosen counting system, or on our slits, and so will be the order in which these photons arrive, and when we decode all this we get a description of reality, or it’s representation as was mentioned earlier.
This process is compared to reading a book. The book is a single object, or a single number being transferred, but its meaning is divided into words and sentences which depend on chosen vocabulary and language. If we change the language then the symbols, ie words, will change, too – I guess if the book is translated on the fly. If we change the book then symbols will change, too, and our understanding will be different each time any of this happens. Let’s skip fidelity of translations for now, the author doesn’t consider it anyway. Instead he says that the key point here is that all words will never be observed because there’s fixed reality and chosen vocabulary.
When this principle is applied to cosmology it becomes hugely important in the way scientists are not prepared to consider – our perception of light and dark areas of the sky, ie stars and space between them, depends not so much on their reality but on our way of decoding it. This patterns tells us absolutely nothing about the distance to the stars like the pattern formed on the screen by slits says nothing about distances.
Our problem is that we are looking at it in a classical, not quantum way. If we interpreted our vision quantum mechanically then we’d come to very different conclusions about the nature of the reality. If one area on the canvas of our vision is brighter it means that this particular symbol appears more frequently, like words “passion” and “love” in a romantic book. Talking about physical distances here makes no sense.
When astronomers take pictures of the sky they interpret them according to wave theory of light discussed earlier instead of quantum theory of light. In a wave theory light spreads equally in all directions so less light means either smaller or a more distant star but in quantum model of light it means there’s less chance of photons hitting this particular spot. Now I think I get the difference.
Just like we don’t interpret light and dark bands in slit experiments as related to distances so we should not interpret different luminosity for stars as them being closer or farther away. Darker stars could be explained by them not transmitting enough photons in our direction (reality) or by our particular method of perception that limits probability of these photons reaching compared to other observers (choice of our slits).
What the author ultimately argues here is that if we interpret the same data, same pictures of the sky, according to quantum theory, and if we treat the entire universe as quantum system instead of classical one, then all our notions about the size of the universe and distances within it will become “vacuous”. This brings us back to a point introduced a bit earlier – data underdetermine theory, which means, may I remind, that same information can be interpreted in different equally consistent ways and it’s impossible to tell which of them is better. In the end we’ll get vastly different models of what reality is.
In the last sentence the author takes a dig at relativity and suggests that quantum theory is superiorto it. Maybe, I’m not the one to argue about this. The issues of unification between various existing and widely accepted scientific theories will be discussed in the next chapter.