Friday, 9 May 2014

Christianity and physics

I came across a new blog recently, written by a man whose username is "Salt and Light": naclhv. He posts about Disney's "Frozen", about physics, about Christianity and salvation, and the future of science. Makes for great reading... go have a look!

What I want to focus on here is his predictions about science, based on a Christian world view. Among other statements, he declares that people are special - that we're more than just bags of chemicals or sophisticated neural algorithms. I want to go one further: This universe was built for people to observe. Yes, this entire universe has us as its focus - we are the pinnacle of God's creation, and as such, we are central to everything that this world, this solar system, this galaxy, this universe, has to show us. The heavens declare the glory of God, but it's to us, and not to animals or rocks or computers, that they declare it.

(Caveat: I am not a scientist, and some of the details of the science here may be wrong. Most of my "research" has just been reading Wikipedia. This is not meant to be a scientific analysis, but a philosophical one.)

What does that mean for science? Start with the well-known double-slit experiment: whether something's a wave or a particle depends on whether you're looking or not. Even more so, it's possible to "un-observe" between when the equipment sees something and when a person does. That is to say, it's not enough for a photon to pass through a known location based on which slit it went through; that state has to be collected and understood by a person.

In theory, it should be possible to construct an experiment in which the which-way information can be observed by a human, or by a monkey, or by a rock, or by a computer - and that, in each case, the other three entities will be unable to know which slit the photon went through. I predict that a human seeing something will collapse the quantum state, but the other three will not. That is how we are special: it is only a human's observation that "counts". Yes, this is a bald claim without any scientific basis. I might be proven wrong, but that's what science is all about anyway - make a prediction, see if you're right :)

This is similar to how virtual worlds are often built. Ray-tracing would be infinitely complex if every photon of light were simulated, so instead the simulation works backward, seeing what could possibly reach the observer (camera). In a MUD, it's common to represent connected users (observers) as primary references, and then quietly drop from memory anything that isn't referenced (directly or indirectly) from one of them; so, for instance, the room you're sitting in has to exist, because you can see it, and objects in that room have to exist in order to compose that room, but an art gallery with nobody looking at it (that's most of them, right?) could be flushed from memory and loaded the next time someone walks in. Maybe this universe is the same - if nobody's looking at that particular photon, it doesn't bother to collapse it, but if someone is, well, it needs to properly exist.

Adam's sin cursed the entire universe; if there were anything else as important as we are, then it'd be horribly unfair on it/them to have been tarred with our brush. We're not simply the next evolutionary level after monkeys, and we're definitely not just another evolutionary step along the way to an even better type of being; we are the masters of this universe. This isn't man's universe, but it's a universe for man to be king of; and it would make logical sense for the universe to take some shortcuts when it won't affect its king.

Maybe I'm right, maybe I'm wrong (more likely, a combination of both); but this is what my understanding of God leads me to expect of the universe, and that, at its heart, is science.

1 comment:

naclhv said...

Thank you for your link back to my blog! The experiment you propose is actually surprisingly tricky - in fact the nature of wavefunction collapse as a whole is one of the wide-open questions of quantum mechanics.

I don't think I'd make the same prediction you made, but it's great that we're doing science, and using hypothesis testing to improve our understanding of the universe. Like you said, you might be proven wrong, but even then you learned something, about nature and its Creator.

And your insights from computer science are very valuable, which I'm glad to hear about.