Quantum physics is arguably the most incredibly precise and wide-ranging intellectual achievement of man (only the theory of general relativity can challenge it). As the name suggests, it is a theory of physics, that is to say that it is a theory of how matter interacts with other matter, how the state of the material universe changes in time, and how the observable properties of matter relate to its fundamental structure. It differs from other physical theories because
- It has different premises.
- It has a different formal structure.
- It has different methods of calculation.
- It agrees far better with experiment.
The development of quantum physics is happening in four stages:
- Quantum mechanics, developed from the early twentieth century, was an attempt, in response to experiment, to combine some of the principles of the quantum world-view with a Galilean conception of space and time. It is a self-consistent theory, but ultimately incorrect. It was, however, useful, in establishing many of the principles and methods of quantum physics, and led to better things.
- Relativistic quantum mechanics, developed in the 1920s and 1930s, was the first attempt to merge quantum mechanics with the hyperbolic geometry used by Einstein's in his theory of special relativity. It is not self-consistent, because it it is still built on some aspects of the philosophy of classical physics, and fails to fully embrace the quantum world-view.
- Quantum field theory is the correct way of merging the quantum principles with special relativity. It was developed from the late 1930s, reaching maturity from the 1950s to 1970s. It fully embraces the principles of quantum thought, is self consistent, and is known to describe every almost material interaction, with the status of gravity still being uncertain.
- Quantum gravity will be the merger between quantum field theory and Einstein's theory of gravity (general relativity). It is not yet known what this theory is, but we do know many of the properties it must have.
The "quantum" part of a quantum Thomist indicates that one's philosophy is inspired, in part, by quantum field theory, and is consistent with at least one currently viable model of quantum gravity.
Thomas Aquinas was a thirteenth century philosopher, best known for his clarity of thought, his commentaries and contributions to Aristotelian philosophy, and his works on philosophical theology. Starting from basic premises concerning the nature and possibility of change, he developed a self-consistent philosophical system that had profound implications for the philosophy of religion, ethics, metaphysics and natural philosophy. Natural philosophy is the branch of philosophy that provides those assumptions about nature which every scientist ought to presuppose before they can begin their studies, take any measurements, or develop any theories.
Philosophers and theologians who build on Aquinas' work are known as Thomists. Although currently greatly outnumbered by modern philosophers, who follow the principles laid down by thinkers such as Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein and others, Aquinas has maintained a small group of devoted followers who believe that the premises Aquinas accepted are (mostly) correct, and that his rivals made numerous mistakes which Aquinas avoided.
A Quantum Thomist is somebody who is knowledgeable about both quantum field theory and Thomist philosophy, and who believes that a variation of Thomism provides the best possibility for a workable philosophy of quantum physics.
Thomas Aquinas' thought is not superstition. It is a logically rigorous philosophy. That is, it starts from various premises, and reasons from them to reach various conclusions. Some of these conclusions have been used to support various aspects of Roman Catholic dogma, and his work has been incorporated into the best of Roman Catholic theology. The point is, however, that these results of his work are conclusions, carefully constructed from premises drawn from the nature of matter, and what it means for matter to be able to change.
The question we should then be asking is this: are those premises and conclusions consistent with modern science?
Most people's instinctive answer to this is "No." Why? Because they believe that medieval philosophy has been disproved by modern science. They claim that the renaissance and early modern scholars thoroughly refuted classical philosophy, and their arguments were confirmed by the emergence of modern physics. Physicists such as Galileo and Newton were inspired by a set of philosophical principles, and those principles both contradicted Aristotle's premises, led to a physical theory which agreed with experiment, while Aristotle's physics, derived from his own philosophical principles, contradicted experiment. The obvious conclusion was that a (perhaps more developed) variation of the mechanical and empirical philosophy of Galileo, Descartes and Newton was correct, and the older classical philosophy was wrong.
Most modern philosophers therefore take a cursory glance at classical philosophy, read and accept the criticisms of it from the renaissance and early modern periods, and consequently move onto other things. Most people who aren't philosophers don't even look at classical philosophy, but just absorb the view of their teachers.
At first glance, this understanding makes superficial sense. But it is wrong.
- The renaissance philosophers in particular, but also their enlightenment successors, only had a very superficial understanding of the best of medieval philosophy. They misrepresented it, and their arguments against it consequently failed. The only good argument they had was how the then experimental consistency with mechanistic physics supported the mechanical philosophy.
- The medieval physics was based on the medieval natural philosophy and some additional assumptions. It was those additional assumptions, not the philosophy, that led to the predictions that the experiments disproved.
- Galileo and Newton's physics has been shown to be wrong. So if Aristotle's philosophy was abandoned when his physics failed, why wasn't enlightenment philosophy abandoned when its physics failed?
- Almost all of the premises behind the mechanical philosophy directly contradict the findings of quantum field theory.
- Almost all the premises of medieval philosophy are consistent with quantum field theory. The parts of physics used to challenge medieval philosophy were those very aspects overthrown by the quantum revolution.
We no longer live in the nineteenth century. The basis of nineteenth century philosophy has been overthrown. Why do people superstitiously revere the modern philosophers, when the foundations of their thought has been so completely undermined?
- One of the premises of the mechanical philosophy is that the laws of physics operate independently of God.
- This naturally leads to either deism or atheism.
- Deism is the belief that God forged the laws that govern the universe, and then sits back and lets them run.
- Atheism contains the belief that the laws of physics need no divine explanation.
- If the laws of physics operate independently of God, then as our knowledge of them is refined so that more and more of reality is demonstrated to come under their purview, there is less and less of a role for God in the universe.
- God's only remaining possible functions are to construct the laws and set the universe in motion.
- If the laws of physics are a fundamental feature of nature, and the universe has no beginning, then God plays no role, and may as well not be there.
- It is necessary that there is a first principle that starts the chain of causality, establishes the abstract structure that is a part of material substances, and which directs matter towards fulfilling certain tendencies.
- This first principle cannot be part of the material universe (or the material universe as a whole), and exhibits all the attributes of a mind. It is thus an immaterial, uncausable, mind, which we call God.
- A consequence of classical philosophy is that God is active in every aspect of the universe.
- The laws of physics are a description of how God sustains the universe (in the absence of any special circumstances).
- The laws of physics therefore inherit from God their properties of universality, constancy, simplicity, indeterminacy, applicability to everything material, and existence outside of the world of matter.
- This describes (mono-)theism.
If the mechanical philosophy is consistent with science and true, God is absent, and atheism is (ignoring the observational evidence for God) philosophically reasonable, and theism irrational.
If classical philosophy is consistent with science and true, God is ever-present, and atheism is unscientific and irrational.
And if neither philosophy is correct? What then?
- Ethics is the study of goodness, and its practical applications.
- Goodness is best defined as being fit for purpose, or having no internal barriers preventing the fulfilment of one's natural tendencies.
- One of the premises of the mechanical philosophy is that there are no intrinsic purposes or tendencies in matter. Goodness is, in this view, undefinable. There is no such thing as objective morality.
- One of the conclusions of classical philosophy is that the different kinds of being are defined by their inherent tendencies. There is therefore in this philosophy, an objective sense of goodness, and an objective morality which is discoverable through reason.
- The question is, do our values conform to objective moral fact?
- Can we be happy while rebelling against what we by nature are?
For many people, philosophical disputes seem dry, boring, abstract, speculative, and wholly divorced from their day-to-day lives. Endless debates about the details of intellectual systems which are wholly unproven to be true. There is a reason they seem like that: most philosophy is dry, boring, abstract, speculative, and detailed. But it is not irrelevant.
- We unconsciously absorb our views and values from our culture.
- Before the nineteenth century, most people in Western Europe unconsciously adopted the dominant philosophy of the time, Christian theism. And (most of them) lived their lives accordingly (to a certain extent).
- During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the mechanical philosophy started to dominate the universities.
- It spread from the philosophy department to all other areas of study, each of which tried to adopt the `scientific' viewpoint.
- In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the mechanical philosophy and its children dominated academic culture.
- The next generation of teachers, politicians, and journalists then absorbed the philosophy, just as the physicists were starting to undermine the foundations on what had been built.
- From the 1950s and 1960s, these views started to permeate and then dominate the general population.
- Because the views are taught universally, and because in-depth philosophical study is regarded as dry and boring, people absorb the opinions of the philosophers of three generations ago without giving them careful thought.
- The dominant beliefs in our culture today, the foundations of our ideas concerning morality, politics, economics, religion, education and the nature of science, reflect philosophical fashion from thirty to sixty years ago.
- If that academic fashion was wrong, then we we also be wrong, about many things which affect us deeply. And we, and our society, will suffer on account of that.