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Thread: Quantum Physics?

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    Quantum Physics?

    Vannakkam,

    I happened to have a beautiful discussion the other day with one of my lecturers. We were discussing about the ancientness and splendour of Hinduism, as well as of its deep spiritualism. She's a devout Hindu too.

    She mentioned that while studying back in Wales, a Jewish friend of hers believed in something called Quantum Physics. I understand that it has something to do with the sciences.

    Now how does Quantum Physics work and are its adherents considered atheists?


    Aum Namah Shivaya

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    Re: Quantum Physics?

    Quantum physics is considered a science, just as many physicists and chemists believe in god so do many quantum physicists. Alot of the quantum physics phenom help shed light on unnatural things people may not have believed at one point, which lends to dharma like hinduism quite well.

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    Re: Quantum Physics?

    Namaste,
    What a question! Perhaps our resident expert on quantum physics, Sanjay Can help.

    Quote Originally Posted by Equinox View Post
    Vannakkam,

    Now how does Quantum Physics work and are its adherents considered atheists?


    Aum Namah Shivaya
    satay

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    Re: Quantum Physics?

    Quote Originally Posted by satay View Post
    Namaste,
    What a question! Perhaps our resident expert on quantum physics, Sanjay Can help.
    Heh, only if astronomer counts as physicist. Nonetheless I appreciate your confidence in me Satay.

    So Equinox, the first thing I should clarify is that quantum physics isn't a belief, on the contrary it is a legitimate branch of physics. More than that, it is perhaps the most well tested branch in all of physics, more accurate even than the Newtonian physics which describes the motions of celestial bodies such as the planets.

    To make a long story short, in physics we have this idea of waves. Any phenomenon which exhibits oscillatory, periodic motion can be described as a wave. Such examples include sound, water waves, and even light. In the early twentieth century many physicists believed that the subject of physics was a complete science, capable of describing everything. However there turned out to be many phenomena which defied the established laws of physics. Such phenomena can be easily explaned by invoking the idea that waves and particles are interchangable. The quintessential example is the blackbody emission spectrum, which describes the intensity of light emitted by a body emitting thermal radiation (e.g. a lightbulb, the Sun, etc.). Classical physics predicted that at large frequencies, the radiation flux should approach infinity, and clearly this is an impossible result. The impossibility of the classical result was, of course, also contradicted by the observed blackbody spectrum. By assuming that radiation is emitted in discrete packets rather than continuous frequencies, the experimentally-observed result was able to be derived theoretically. It turns out that equating waves with particles explaned other experimentally-observed results as well, such as the photoelectric effect. Going the other way, physicists assumed that the newly-discovered electron, a particle, could be thought of as a wave. By doing so, many of the electron's properties, such as the observed spectrum of the hydrogen atom, could be accurately predicted. Further properties of the hydrogen atom such as the spin-orbit coupling (fine splitting) and spin-spin splitting (hyperfine splitting) were likewise predicted and observed.

    There were many other results predicted by quantum mechanics, including the existence of two classes of fundamental particles called fermions and bosons. The latter, I might add, are named after the Indian physicist Satyaendera Nath Bose. There are many interesting quantum effects which can be observed in macroscopic examples of matter, such as the Bose-Einstein Condensation in which the nuclei of super-cooled gasses settle into their ground state and transition into a superfluid phase. All of these discoveries are only explained by quantum mechanics.

    So to reiterate: quantum physics is not philosophy. It is in no way profound or spiritual, nor is it something that religious people have the option to believe and reject as we would various aspects of Vedic theology. It is empirically-verified fact, and we can no more disbelieve it than we can reject gravity. I would strongly advise that one not base one's religious views on the results of quantum mechanics.

    Having said that, the indisputable theory does have some philosophical implications. Because particles are equated with waves, we describe them by a wave function. The very concept of a particle being localized in a particular position is abandoned, and instead the wave function describes the probability of finding a particle at a particular spot. At an epistomological level, this places limits on what we can know about the universe, since our world is fundamentally probabilistic. Mind you, the world still follows predictable rules. But predictability is not to be confused with determinism. At its most basic nature, the universe works by means of God throwing dice (to borrow words from Einstein).

    Randomness could possibly be responsible for our universe being the way it is today. In our world, random probabilities tend towards predictable results, and that's why our world is predictable on a macroscopic scale. But cosmologists have found that our universe originated from the so-called Big Bang. Nature loves symmetry, and so it doesn't make sense that our universe is assymetric, consisting of clumps of galaxies, dwarf spheroidal objects, black holes, and so forth. More to the point, it doesn't make sense that there is more matter in the world than anti-matter. Cosmologists today now have good reason to believe that in the first fractions of a second of the universe's existence, quantum fluctuations were magnified via the Big Bang so as to create the assymetries necessary to produce the universe we now live in.

    What does this mean for Hindu philosophy? Less than one would hope, unfortunately. But I don't believe quantum physics has nothing to teach us at a theological level. Scriptures tell us that men are lost in God's Maya, and only the Lord is able to enter it without being subject to it. Personally I think this is equivalent to the epistomological problems posed by quantum mechanics, specifically that there is a physically-imposed limit to what we can know. Furthermore the Vedas tell us that God may or may not have known what happened at the moment of creation. And this sound suspiciously similar to modern cosmology's statement that our universe arose out of random quantum fluctuations in the vacuum.

    Having said that, I would end with a caution against viewing quantum mechanics as some sort of spirituality. It is rock-solid, testable science, no less than what we know from biology and chemistry. Indeed it is probably on firmer empirical foundation than any other science. All science has philosophical implications which I think can be explored in a Hindu context, but one should not vieq quantum physics as more spiritual than other fields of science.

    Finally, to answer your earlier question: there are no "adherants" to quantum mechanics any more than there are adherants to electromagnetism. No scientist rejects quantum mechanics, as it is virtually the foundation of most other physical sciences (especially chemistry, despite chemists' general ignorance of the topic). So your question can be better phrased as "are scientists atheists?" For better or worse, the majority of us are. I personally am not, as I believe in Hinduism. But the scientific community tends to be a haven for atheists, and statistics on scientists personal beliefs reflect this. This is a whole other topic, but one I would be happy and eager to discuss in another thread.

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    Re: Quantum Physics?

    Quote Originally Posted by Equinox View Post
    Now how does Quantum Physics work and are its adherents considered atheists?
    In my opinion, a research-oriented academic career is very demanding. Many of the folks that work in quantum physics, math, economics, etc. simply do not have time to read up on scriptures. Their tenure clock is ticking and within a period of 6-9 years, they need to show a decent amount of publications - else they are out on the streets. But good publications (more precisely, publications that appear in "top tier" journals) have a strenuously long review period before being published/rejected. Thus, many of the folks in academia do not tend to be very well read when it comes to scriptural issues. That may be the reason why they call themselves atheists because they simply are not that well versed in scripture OR in the little time they may devote to scripture, the scripture does not make any impact on them.

    Additionally, the committee that takes tenure decisions is usually a small circle or network of individuals. In many cases, the tenure committee asks the faculty member provide a list of faculty members in other universities who may be asked to provide reference. So, you are hoping your referee gives you an objective reference. But if your referee does not like your views AND you make your beliefs/lack of beliefs in God too loudly known (academia is a small network, after all), it MAY happen that the reference report is not good.

    So, not many people in academic make their views on God known. After all, years of research and a lifetime opportunity of employment without chance of being fired, are pretty high stakes!

    That said, here is an earlier post of mine talking about religious beliefs of mathematicians.

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    Re: Quantum Physics?

    Vannakkam Sanjaya,

    A very detailed answer, exactly what I needed! I definitely understand Quantum Physics much better now thanks to you. I can also see how it's connected to physical chemistry. You didn't let down Satay's confidence in you after all.

    the scientific community tends to be a haven for atheists, and statistics on scientists personal beliefs reflect this.
    Yes definitely. They probably feel that science has the answer to every single phenomena in the universe, and if they can prove that, I wouldn't say they're wrong for not believing in God.


    Aum Namah Shivaya

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    Re: Quantum Physics?

    Vannakkam Wundermonk,

    In my opinion, a research-oriented academic career is very demanding. Many of the folks that work in quantum physics, math, economics, etc. simply do not have time to read up on scriptures. Their tenure clock is ticking and within a period of 6-9 years, they need to show a decent amount of publications - else they are out on the streets. But good publications (more precisely, publications that appear in "top tier" journals) have a strenuously long review period before being published/rejected. Thus, many of the folks in academia do not tend to be very well read when it comes to scriptural issues. That may be the reason why they call themselves atheists because they simply are not that well versed in scripture OR in the little time they may devote to scripture, the scripture does not make any impact on them.

    Additionally, the committee that takes tenure decisions is usually a small circle or network of individuals. In many cases, the tenure committee asks the faculty member provide a list of faculty members in other universities who may be asked to provide reference. So, you are hoping your referee gives you an objective reference. But if your referee does not like your views AND you make your beliefs/lack of beliefs in God too loudly known (academia is a small network, after all), it MAY happen that the reference report is not good.

    So, not many people in academic make their views on God known. After all, years of research and a lifetime opportunity of employment without chance of being fired, are pretty high stakes!
    Haha, can't really blame them huh?

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    Re: Quantum Physics?

    Or we could discuss the beliefs of scientists in this thread.

    Quote Originally Posted by wundermonk View Post
    In my opinion, a research-oriented academic career is very demanding. Many of the folks that work in quantum physics, math, economics, etc. simply do not have time to read up on scriptures. Their tenure clock is ticking and within a period of 6-9 years, they need to show a decent amount of publications - else they are out on the streets. But good publications (more precisely, publications that appear in "top tier" journals) have a strenuously long review period before being published/rejected. Thus, many of the folks in academia do not tend to be very well read when it comes to scriptural issues. That may be the reason why they call themselves atheists because they simply are not that well versed in scripture OR in the little time they may devote to scripture, the scripture does not make any impact on them.

    Additionally, the committee that takes tenure decisions is usually a small circle or network of individuals. In many cases, the tenure committee asks the faculty member provide a list of faculty members in other universities who may be asked to provide reference. So, you are hoping your referee gives you an objective reference. But if your referee does not like your views AND you make your beliefs/lack of beliefs in God too loudly known (academia is a small network, after all), it MAY happen that the reference report is not good.

    So, not many people in academic make their views on God known. After all, years of research and a lifetime opportunity of employment without chance of being fired, are pretty high stakes!

    That said, here is an earlier post of mine talking about religious beliefs of mathematicians.
    I'm quite amazed at your level of knowledge concerning the tenure process. Most laypeople have no idea what tenure is, to say nothing of the procedure involved in obtaining it. I'm guessing you're a fellow academic, Wundermonk?

    Quote Originally Posted by Equinox View Post
    Vannakkam Sanjaya,

    A very detailed answer, exactly what I needed! I definitely understand Quantum Physics much better now thanks to you. I can also see how it's connected to physical chemistry. You didn't let down Satay's confidence in you after all.



    Yes definitely. They probably feel that science has the answer to every single phenomena in the universe, and if they can prove that, I wouldn't say they're wrong for not believing in God.


    Aum Namah Shivaya
    Thanks, glad you found it helpful! As for why scientists tend to not believe in God, one major factor is certainly the seeming ability of science to answer so many questions that used to be answered by belief in God. This is more a problem for Abrahamic faiths than it is for us, since we don't typically impose the constraint of historicity on our Scriptures. But the lack of any religion to explain the world around us is a problem, nonetheless. Maybe I am too sympathetic to the atheists, but I don't entirely fault them for their lack of belief.

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