You may well not have heard about it, but we are living through the greatest ‘scientific revolution’ of all time. This is when the discoveries of science transform our understanding of how reality actually works and hence our view of nature. With everything we have got going on at the moment it might seem that this is not exactly a high priority, but it turns out that this produces the solution to a lot of the big problems we are facing, particularly climate change and war.
As the remarkable physicist Heinz Pagels wrote:
We live in the wake of a physics revolution comparable to the Copernican demolition of the anthropocentric world – a revolution which began with the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics in the first decade of this century and which has left most educated people behind. (1982)
It was Nicolaus Copernicus who set in motion the first great scientific revolution. He established that the Sun is the centre of the solar system, and thus the Earth was never the centre of the universe. Scientific infancy was over. Isaac Newton brought about the radical shift in our perceptions of the world with three fundamental equations that showed that the universe operates in a completely predictable and rational manner. Charles Darwin initiated another tremendous shift in society’s views about nature by demonstrating the evolution of species, and thus vast tracts of time in the past.
Now the new physics, the physics of relativity and quantum theory, has ushered in a further new age of scientific enlightenment, but this revolution is incomplete because our view of nature is not updated. The science is superb, but no one knows what it really means. As the great physicist, bongo drummer, safe cracking hobbyist and all round genius Richard Feynman said:
Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, “But how can it be like that?” because you will get “down the drain,” into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that. (1965)
This, of course, is a bit of a major setback for the noble pursuit of knowledge about physical reality. As physicist Nick Herbert wrote in Quantum Reality:
Wrenched out of centuries-old thought patterns, physicists of a century ago found themselves compelled to embrace a new metaphysics. The distress which this reorientation caused continues to the present day. Basically physicists have suffered a severe loss: their hold on reality. (1985, 15)
So what’s the problem? In a nutshell, quantum theory tells us that the world is only real when it is observed, and relativity means there is no such thing as the passage of time. This is what we get if we take the new physics at face value. It means that if we take the physics at face value, our ideas about the world are have to be deeply wrong. As the philosopher of physics Michael Lockwood wrote, :
… the foundational work of John Bell and others has now revealed that any realist construal of quantum mechanics, if it is to reproduce the predictions of the conventional theory, must inevitably conflict with deeply rooted and intuitively appealing principles of classical physics or of common sense. (1996)
I am proposing that the current impasse about the meaning of our best science is brought about by our clinging to common sense, a perfectly understandable position. The world just can’t possibly be as weird as the physics describes, but it just is. I have done a systems analysis of the new physics, looking at the processes and the dynamics as if they were those of a virtual-reality computer game. The answers that emerge are as simple as they are astounding. As I will describe in a series of posts, we can retain all the existing physics and its intuitively appealing principles. What has to change is not just one but two of our fundamental common sense assumptions: the identity of the observer, and the world the observer inhabits. It is the understanding of the subjective perspective that has defeated our attempts to grasp the meaning of the new physics. Quite unexpectedly, this leads to the solution to the tremendous global problems facing our human culture. Please stay tuned!