To me, not.
I had occasion to look up Einstein’s saying “God does not play dice with the universe,” and found Niels Bohr’s reply. What a joy! Bohr thought like me, only better. So, this post!
But first, what Einstein said:
Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the “old one.” I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice. [Letter to Max Born, The Born-Einstein; Letters (4 December 1926) (translated by Irene Born) (Walker and Company, New York, 1971) ISBN 0-8027-0326-7.
Einstein himself used variants of this quote at other times. For example, in a 1943 conversation with William Hermanns recorded in Hermanns’ book Einstein and the Poet, Einstein said: “As I have said so many times, God doesn’t play dice with the world.” (p. 58)
My comment first would be that the idea of God playing dice with the universe would involve an intermediate mechanism, “dice.” What are dice? They are devices for preventing intention from influencing outcome. Behind the statement is an imagination of a mechanistic universe with a random element introduced. God could still create what is intended through such a mechanism (the House creates profit while allowing random individual losses) but I share Einstein’s intuition that something is off about this. However, Bohr’s alleged response is more direct, cutting to the heart of the matter:
Don’t tell God what to do with his dice.
In the rest of this post, I will gloss God with [Reality]. The God concept is a personification of Reality. Put this another way people call Reality, “God.” That gets mixed up with particular ideas about the nature of Reality, but the core concept — and this is very clear in Islam — is that God is Reality, and lesser concepts are “gods,” rejected as being of human manufacture, with no actual power, unless as Reality permits.
So Einstein also said:
Subtle is the Lord [Reality], but malicious He is not.
I have second thoughts. Maybe God [Reality] is malicious.
Both of these comments stem from an idea that Reality is “good” from a perspective of not doing what we dislike. The Wikiquote page provides an interpretation: indicating that God leads people to believe they understand things that they actually are far from understanding
My own ontology has good and evil be of human invention; Islamic theology defines the good as “what Reality does.” There are atheists who have told the story of how they became so: something happened that was so horrible that they could not “believe in” a God that would allow that. It was easier to reject the idea of God, because then the event can be understood as random, not intentional. The ontological and theological error (in my view) is considering that suffering and death, especially of the “innocent,” are bad and wrong, without knowing the ultimate causes and ends of them.
As to Einstein’s later thoughts, maybe God loves a good joke. When we join in laughing about our own arrogances, we move into a higher realm, at least for a moment! So, now, to Bohr:
We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images and establishing mental connections.
Isolated material particles are abstractions, their properties being definable and observable only through their interaction with other systems.
Poetry is of value because of what it inspires, as an expression, “images” and “mental connections.” This is a matter of “effect.” Bohr again:
For a parallel to the lesson of atomic theory regarding the limited applicability of such customary idealizations, we must in fact turn to quite other branches of science, such as psychology, or even to that kind of epistemological problems with which already thinkers like Buddha and Lao Tzu have been confronted, when trying to harmonize our position as spectators and actors in the great drama of existence.
Apropos of that, I was travelling in about 1980 with some followers of AbdulQadr As-Sufi (whom I had not yet met), visiting some remarkable people, and we were walking down the street in San Francisco, and there was Fritjof Capra, more or less the inventor of what they would call, on RationalWiki, quantum woo. I mention this not to praise Capra or necessarily to agree with him — that would have to be point-by-point and detailed –, but to indicate the qualities of some of the followers of AbdulQader, that they would recognize, then, Capra. I don’t recall the conversation.
It occurred to me to see if RationalWiki has an article on Capra. No, but he’s mentioned extensively in the article on Quantum Woo.
RationalWiki is generally interested in What’s Wrong with X. There is critique of Capra there, and some recognition of him as a physicist, but much of what is in the article is straw man. Essentially, a thesis is overstated, and then the overstatement is ridiculed. What is remarkable (a possible synthesis or correlation between quantum mechanics, and certain ancient concepts) is presented in the extreme. To be fair, this article also expresses more balance than I’ve been seeing in RW articles of late. RW wrings its hands when non-scientists don’t understand science, but few RationalWiki editors have a solid understanding, either.
Rather, RW tends to rely on rather vague statements about what “most scientists believe,” when, in science, “belief” is generally rejected…. except, of course, as a personal heuristic. “Most scientists” would be a far larger group than those expert on a topic, it is often not better than “most people.”
Opposites are complementary.
Opposition is a human invention, a product of our use of language. There are no opposites in Reality itself. However, we use language routinely in various ways, and a user of language who understands what language does — it invents “stories” that organize memory for efficiency of access, and also that fuel choice and motivation — then may consciously create language that will further choice, and black-and-white thinking is disempowering, because reality is far more complex than either-or. Being able to hold contradictory ideas simultaneously is a developed skill of high utility. Lewis Carrol (Charles Dodgson) says it this way, as the White Queen:
“I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.“
It’s a bit of a trick, depending on ambiguity in “belief.” Alice imagines that possibility is a fixed thing, and belief then depends on one’s understanding of possibility. “Impossible” is not a quality of reality, it’s invented. We think it.
Impossibility arguments, in general, depend on a concept of the impossible thing, but no such concept could be accurate, by definition. So we imagine an impossible thing to reject.
The Queen knows what my trainers knew: we create possibility with language, and when we do this, it is just as valid to say that it is a “real possibility” as to say it is impossible. A “real possibility” (as a prediction) is not yet realized, it doesn’t exist yet! But as a possibility, by declaration, it has become real. “In the beginning was the Word ….”
To create something by saying it would often be considered magic. However, Arthur C. Clarke: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
The technology for creating the “impossible” is, as far as I’ve been able to tell, about how to use the brain. (or another way of stating it is learning how to let the collective human intelligence use us, because this is explicitly, in my training, interpersonal, not isolated.). In the training, we were asked at one point to do ten unreasonable things a day. The purpose of this, as I conceptualize it, is to learn what a straight-jacket the requirement that we be “reasonable” is.
An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field.
It doesn’t have to be painful if one is not attached to being right. Well, okay, if I’m learning to use power tools and I cut off my finger, that will hurt. Key is not to cut off one’s finger too many times. Key to fast learning: take full responsibility for errors. Never say, “I could not have known.” We could have known! When we make excuses, we lose power and we prevent learning.
(“I could have known” — without knowing how, necessarily — is an example of a declaration — it is a stand, also expressed by Harry Truman as “the buck stops here,” that is empowering when made, that doesn’t have to be “true,” or “reasonable.” The stand then creates the mindset that will create the development of power. This is practical psychology. It is an art, not necessarily a science, though some of this could be tested. I have tested it in my life and with others. It works, routinely.
People have asked me, about those declarations, “But what if you are wrong,” as if being wrong were some kind of disaster. And that is how we have been conditions: being wrong is terrible, it looks bad, and we should avoid being wrong, ever. But Bohr is here pointing out that being wrong, early and often, is how one learns a subject deeply. We learn far more by being wrong than by being right, being right may sometimes validate existing knowledge, but it doesn’t increase it. And then there is that pesky confirmation bias!
Hence the scientific method is to attempt to prove our ideas wrong, as thoroughly and as strongly as we can.
“Could not have known” doesn’t exist in reality. (Again, about all these things, we routinely imagine that our interpretations or stories are reality, and what is remarkable — Reality is laughing!, as we learn to do about all this — is that this is how we keep life from being truly satisfying, an experience of wonder after wonder. Instead, we imagine that Reality is something like “Shit happens, and then you die! — and to those whgo believe that, anything different is stupid, Dr. Panglossian woo! And they would rather die in misery than be Wrong! If you want to learn rapidly, lighten up!
We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question that divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct.
In my training, it is suggested that transformation is not found with what we know that we know, nor with what we know that we don’t know, but with what we don’t know that we don’t know, the realm of the unknown. The unknown will seem crazy; if it does not seem crazy, it is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. pushing existing knowledge around. Bohr knew that much was missing from our knowledge, so much that, even with all the successes in predictive power — under some circumstances — something transformative like a new theory, will show the marks of being crazy, a stranger, not normal.
This is not any kind of proof that something is true because it’s crazy! Transformation in physics tends to arise when people who know it very well allow themselves to escape the restrictions of reasoning from the known to infer the unknown. That process can be useful, to be sure, but it is not where transformation comes from. (Einstein, if I’m correct, did that kind of reasoning and so was, to my mind, more conservative. Still a great thinker. He merely saw some consequences of what was known that were not usually noticed. At least that’s how I understand it. His inferences seemed very strange to many and were rejected on that basis. Time dilation? What?)
How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.
I was in my early twenties, and I had occasion to meet a Zen Master, the Abbot of Nanzenji, and I remember sitting in a small room packed with people. I was sitting on a window ledge above him, and I asked him a question: “People say that zen koans are paradoxes, but my understanding is that to the enlightened man, they are not paradoxes. Is this so?”
He looked up, and he saw me and I saw him. He said, “To the enlightened man, koans are not paradoxes.” I just looked up and recognized the name of the master, Shibayama Roshi, who died in 1974. I met him in roughly 1968 or 1969. From a book that recounts another meeting, by Pico Iyer, The Lady and the Monk, page 23, which is also where I found the name of the Roshi, he had an impact on others as well. (My meeting with him validated my insight, which was later confirmed by other masters. I did not “deserve” it, in the sense of investing the normal years of training, back then. My understanding also lacked depth in certain ways, a product of, then, being untrained. It was not easy to transmit, because I did not know how I had obtained it. It simply fell on me and I accepted it. I was very young.)
In the Rinzai school, koans are used to test insight for training purposes. Coming back to Bohr, a paradox is generally a sign that something is not understood, or more to the point, perhaps, something is “understood” that is not so or is incomplete. Hence the paradox is an opportunity. The “ordinary mind” will instead think that there is an error, and when it comes to comparing some new idea with older, established ones, the assumption is ready that the error is in the new idea.
Two sorts of truth: profound truths recognized by the fact that the opposite is also a profound truth, in contrast to trivialities where opposites are obviously absurd.
It is the hallmark of any deep truth that its negation is also a deep truth
“Truth” in these comments must be understood as “statement.” There are statements we make where we can be certain of the truth, beyond any reasonable doubt. And there are interpretive statements, where this may not be so, and my ontology suggests that true certainty is not a legitimate quality of interpretive statements. As well, ordinary true statements are not, in themselves, “profound,” though they may support profound interpretations. “Profound” is is a human interpretation, associated with interpretations.
This may all seem quite abstract, but the distinction between “what happened” — true statements that can be reported with certainty — and “what we made it mean” — which includes the entire realm of emotional reaction and its impact on our thinking, often creating a feedback loop — has high import for deep learning about how to live powerfully and with clarity and peace of mind.
Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.
No, no, you are not thinking, you are just being logical.
Bohr is aware of the non-logical or intuitive operation of the detached mind. Logic will be confined to what fits the held assumptions. The mind is capable of far more than that. Then begins the enterprise of science, which will not accept mere intuition but wants to test it. Sometimes this is possible, sometimes not, but that testing is extraordinarily valuable. Pseudoskeptics, however, reject intuition because it is “not logical.”
A more sophisticated approach understands what is logical, proceeding from accepted premises, and what is an idea or impulse from one knows not where or how. People with intuitive skill will simply “do the right thing” without knowing how. The common mind thinks of intuition as a thought we have, which can be intuition, but which is just as likely to be reaction, imagination, which can lead to obsession. Intuition does not worry if it is “true” or not. Intuition functions poorly with a worried mind.
I feel very much like Dirac: the idea of a personal God is foreign to me. But we ought to remember that religion uses language in quite a different way from science. The language of religion is more closely related to the language of poetry than to the language of science. True, we are inclined to think that science deals with information about objective facts, and poetry with subjective feelings. Hence we conclude that if religion does indeed deal with objective truths, it ought to adopt the same criteria of truth as science. But I myself find the division of the world into an objective and a subjective side much too arbitrary. The fact that religions through the ages have spoken in images, parables, and paradoxes means simply that there are no other ways of grasping the reality to which they refer. But that does not mean that it is not a genuine reality. And splitting this reality into an objective and a subjective side won’t get us very far.
I notice the realization that language may be understood by its effect rather than some presumed “truth” incorporated in it.
It is possible to lie with the truth (that is, to deliberately create a false impression by selective conveyance of cherry-picked fact), and it is possible to convey a truth with false statements, taken literally, that nevertheless lead the listener to a direct comprehension of truth. A myth may be literally false, but convey profound truth, connecting the listener with reality.
And then one disputed quote:
Of course not … but I am told it works even if you don’t believe in it.
(Reply to a visitor to his home in Tisvilde who asked him if he really believed a horseshoe above his door brought him luck, as quoted in Inward Bound : Of Matter and Forces in the Physical World (1986) by Abraham Pais, p. 210)
I could write a book about this one, but … not today…
One thought on “Bohring?”
Abd – great post!
A big problem with describing what happens at subatomic level is that we need to use words and concepts we can understand, so we use the concepts of particles because we can hold a ball in our hand and throw it at the wall, and we use waves because we can see them working in a tank of water. The reality seems to have the qualities of both at the same time, but likely has more qualities that we don’t yet understand, either because there is no analogue at human scale or because we currently have no way of measurement that will reveal them. In order to measure something, at base we have to hit it with something else and see what the end result of that collision produces through a chain of other collisions that comprise our instrumentation. We don’t know what anything actually is, but we can describe how it interacts with something else. The description of particles and waves is a useful fiction that enables our minds to construct a story that will (hopefully successfully) describe what the results of such interactions will be.
If something does not interact with our instruments, we can’t see it (and thus can’t measure it). String theory is mis-named, really, since there is no conceivable way of confirming it by measuring such a string – it’s too far smaller than any of our instrumentation or measuring devices. Such strings vibrate in a set of dimensions we can’t measure, either. I only have a hazy idea of the concept, since our 3-dimensional world with time as a semi-dimension does not seem to allow us to access those extra 6 or 7 dimensions.
The equations of particle interactions are not simple, and we need powerful computers to simulate them. It may take weeks of computer time to simulate a few microseconds of such interactions or to map out the energy levels in a substance. As far as I can tell, though, the particles we are simulating do not have such computing resources available to them. They must therefore react solely to the conditions they experience at any point in time. It thus seems likely, to me at least, that the complex equations of motion are an emergent property of some far simpler interactions, and that thus maybe we don’t understand the composition of those particles and the forces that they experience. The particle (or whatever it actually is) should logically exist in a perpetual NOW!, and respond only to what it sees at this moment and not what will happen in future. Despite the successes of the concept of spacetime where time becomes just another dimension to space, time is different in that there can be no going backwards. Relativity tells us what we will measure to happen, and not what is actually happening, and the two will not be the same thing. Our measurements use light as our yardstick, and so we couldn’t measure any variation in its speed anyway.
An understanding of the White Queen took me a very long time. As a student in physics I was presented with Truths that were incompatible with each other, and it wasn’t explained at the time that the theories were incomplete but were each close enough for computation within their applicable ranges. Even the idea of applicable ranges was not discussed. I think we were left to achieve our own satori without any guidance as to how to achieve it. In my working life I then dealt mainly with computers and electronics, without much time for reflection on the paradoxes. Still, I did learn to use experimental data as the guiding principle and to take the descriptions as a useful aid to prediction providing I knew their limits. I learned to tread carefully when it was asserted that a theory had no such limits to its applicability.
Paradoxes are fun. Part of my intentions when moving to a vineyard in France was to get the time to think further on them and maybe resolve a few. Reality just is. Can we achieve a better description of it?