The Quantum Thomist

Musings about quantum physics, classical philosophy, and the connection between the two.
Is it Hatred or Love?


Revision, Revision, Revision.
Last modified on Tue Oct 9 14:53:58 2018


I intend to spend the next few months revising my book What Is Physics. Please send me, either by a comment to this post or a private email, any thing you think could be improved.

Now, I should say a few things. Firstly, I am interested in minor corrections here. I don't want to do a complete re-write. What I want to do is improve the argument, make it more rigorous, fill in any holes I have left in, make it easier to understand.

Secondly, the purpose of this work is to outline the ideas in some detail. As such, it is not intended to be a work that can be read without effort. That is not to say that there isn't a place for an easy version of my thesis, skipping all the technical details. There is very much a place, and if I get time I might even write one. The problem is that if I were to present a shorter summary of my arguments first, people will say, "Yes, but you haven't really proved that, because you skip out a lot of material." And when I present the longer version that fills in the gaps, people will say "This is just what he wrote before, no point in reading it." This book is intended to be the thing I point to when I encounter that objection. It shouldn't skip or simplify anything (of importance).

Thus there are thus several types of comments which I don't want for this exercise:

  1. Your book is complete rubbish from start to finish. That might be true, and if it is I do want to know about it. But it is not an argument for rewriting the book, but for withdrawing it. It is a useful criticism, if it can be backed up with facts, but not for this purpose.
  2. The book is too long and technical. It is intended to be long and technical.
  3. You use British English. I'm British. Deal with it.
  4. Here is some alternative philosophy you should be addressing. I focus on classical philosophy, mechanism and to a lesser extent empiricism in my work. I mention a few others, but not in detail. That is a weakness of my work. But I can't respond to everything, and the book is long enough as it is. My focus was on presenting the positive case, not to eliminate the alternatives.
These are the sorts of comments I do want:
  1. You made a minor error of fact here, this is what things are really like, and here is the reference. It is quite possible that I made a mistake, particularly when straying outside my area of expertise, and maybe even while straying inside it. I want to know about it.
  2. Your reasoning here isn't rigorous. Here is a better way of arguing the point. I might not agree with you, but I would like to know regardless. Or alternatively, I need to add a caveat in place that I haven't answered a certain class of people.
  3. There is a strong and common objection to your argument you missed. This might be the case. I tried to answer most of the major objections I know of in the course of my work, but there might be some I don't know about. (One set of objections I know about but didn't respond to in the book are those of Kenny. I didn't respond to them properly because I wrote enough in that chapter as it was; I might do so here or elsewhere at a later time -- No promises though.)
  4. You didn't define a term correctly. Here I am a little less willing to change. Definitions are, of course, slightly arbitrary, and I make them primarily to be helpful to my argument. My definitions don't quite line up with those of the scholastic or classical philosophers. That is partly because I am trying to tie in classical philosophy with contemporary physics. Clearly, it is very likely that there will need to be at least minor changes to one or the other to make them line up, and I am not prepared to change physics to make it fit the philosophy. My thesis is that those changes to the philosophy are only minor; that is my point of disagreement with the modern world, not that I believe that classical philosophy will work as it emerged from the pen of Plato and Aristotle. So if I have changed some definitions slightly, that might well be deliberate. Or it might just be an expression of my ignorance. What I am concerned about is a) if I presented something as a classical definition when it is either disputed or not classical; and b) if I use my definitions inconsistently.
  5. I didn't explain something clearly. If it that is because my discussion is too technical, I'm not interested. If it is because I found the wrong words to describe a concept, and I could have explained it clearer without being less technical, then I am very interested.
  6. I made a typo, or grammatical error, or error in my algebra. I try my best, but I'm not perfect. It is quite possible that something got through. In fact, I know that things did because I have already found things. In particular, I made the mistake of changing my mathematical font just before publication, and some characters weren't rendered correctly. I picked up on some of these while proofing, but unfortunately a few slipped through.

There are several changes that I need to make that I know about. There are also a few areas where my thinking has evolved, and I want to update the text to match my current ideas (I'm looking at you in particular, section 15.9). But, obviously, I want this draft to be as good and complete as possible. If I don't get any comments, that's fine. If I do and they are constructive, that's even better.



Why Is There Something, Rather Than Nothing? (Part 1)


Reader Comments:

1. Joseph
Posted at 22:23:21 Tuesday October 9 2018



1. I can't point out exactly where the grammar mistakes were off the top of my head, but there are a few I noticed. Not on every page, but there were a few. There were also a few instances where a word was missing in a sentence. It was nothing vital to an argument and filling in the missing word was easy but it was noticeable.

2. Who is Kenny? Sir Anthony Kenny?

3. Have you run your whole big idea across some of your peers? To be blunt Dr. Cundy, if you are correct, this might be the strongest argument for God on the market. You'd be dealing a death blow to mechanism that would be hard to ignore, but the scope is so much bigger. Aristotle and Aquinas would be vindicated (with some minor modification), teleology would be re-introduced to science, biology would probably have to reconsider some things. Nominalism is out the window. The universe itself would no longer need to be looked at as a purposeless combination of movement and "stuff".

No pressure, but this could seriously be a game changer. And you have the math to back it up. That is my biggest piece of advice. Quadruple check the math on every page and update what might need to be updated. Philosophical points can be corrected and edited as necessary but if your math is correct, you're more or less demonstrating the validity of a particular metaphysical model. On a (literally) fundamental level, Aquinas would be pretty much correct.

4. I'm not sure if you can actually expand on this in the book, but maybe it could be it's own blog post. You mentioned that due to the physics, there really are different "kinds" of things. What does that mean? Why is that a big deal? Are we talking about kinds in the same way Noah did?

Anyway, please let me know what you think.

2. Nigel Cundy
Posted at 19:25:04 Wednesday October 10 2018



Thanks for your comment.

1) I always have been rubbish at proofreading. I'll try to pick up what I can.

2) Yes, I meant Anthony Kenny's work on the five ways. I saw him mentioned in various places as the definitive response to Aquinas' arguments. When I picked up a copy, I didn't see that much which seemed like a threat, but he still needs to be taken seriously. I have seen that Oderberg, Feser and a few others have responded to some of his criticisms, but I haven't encountered a detailed point by point criticism. Possibly that's just my own ignorance.

3) I agree that, if true, this is significant. I have run the work past a few colleagues, but more physicists at the same level as me than the big hitters. My intention was to make the big push with this second edition. Give me a chance to reflect on it, and come back after leaving it for a year so I can gather a few comments and come back to it with a fresh approach. I'm more confident about the mathematics than the philosophy, in some ways, since that's my area of expertise. And most of the mathematics is taken straight from the textbooks -- it is only really a few sections in chapter 15 which are novel to me. The one area I had doubts about when I first published was the section on gravity in chapter 15 -- I was never happy with what I wrote in that first version. It got the right result, but the I made some poor assumptions along the way. I thought at the time I could resolve the difficulties, so I went ahead. Now I think that flaws in that first approach were fundamental. But I now have something better which I am confident in. But, as you said, proof-read, check, and get other people to check it.

I am sure that my work is going to be controversial once it hits the mainstream. I want to give its critics as little ammunition as possible to try to attack it. And that means getting everything watertight -- both philosophy and the mathematics.

4) You are presumably referring to my discussion of nominalism? I don't mean the same thing as in Noah's ark. I'll have a look at that section when I get to it, and see if I can clarify it a bit better.

3. Joseph
Posted at 03:02:16 Thursday October 11 2018



How has the reception from colleagues been?

As far as Kenny (and the general philosophy) goes, I would ask the Thomism group itself, many people there have read Kenny and found him lackluster. Dr. Gaven Kerr for example. I'm sure they would be more than happy the help you AND would probably be excited for your work, because at least a few of them are thinking along the same line with physics. Please, put yourself out there.

Also, as far as I understood the section on gravity, it's speculation no? Detailed speculation but still the most uncertain part of your book mathematically. So re-vamping it is totally understandable! The rest of the math is more or less air tight right? See, I can understand the conclusions being controversial, but if the math backs them up what can they really say?

4. Philip Rand
Posted at 04:06:59 Thursday October 11 2018

Dr

In your blog you make this statement:

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.

I wish to point out an anomaly. The Bible never uses is-ness terminology. Is-ness grammar is strictly Aristotelian & Thomist.

This suggests that your above statement should be read rather (with particle & wave-duality in mind):

It appears that causality constrains material substances by certain instruments and immaterial substances by other instruments.

3. Scott Lynch
Posted at 06:16:33 Thursday October 11 2018

Some Suggestions

Dr. Cundy,

Unfortunately, I have not read your book (it is on my reading list), so I cannot offer corrections.

However, I would like to make some general comments that you may or may not find helpful.

1. Have you sent a copy of your book to Dr. Edward Feser? I know you are a fan of his, and he is currently writing a book on philosophy of nature, so his comments would be better than anyone’s. A review by him would likely increase your readership. Furthermore, you can find some replies to Anthony Kenny in Dr. Feser’s Scholastic Metaphysics as well as in his talk on SoundCloud by the Thomistic Institute titled “The Distinction of Essence and Existence”.

2. Likewise, another great writer with a good background in science, mathematics, and history of science and philosophy is Daniel Castellano at the website arcane knowledge.org. He has a B.S. in engineering from MIT and did some graduate studies in physics, but it looks like he ended up receiving a masters in history at Boston College. He has some very bright insights on the applicability of Aristotelian metaphysics to the discoveries of modern science from Descartes to Shrodinger. I would highly recommend you peruse his blog. If you are able to contact him, he may be able to read and review your book. It’s worth a try.

3. Dr. Stephen Barr is a Catholic theoretical particle physicist with a familiarity of Thomas Aquinas. You may want to reach out to him as well. I am not as familiar with his work, but I have heard great things about him and have listened to a lecture or two by him.

4. Finally I would reach out to the folks at Catholic Answers and Ignatius Press Publishing. I know you are not Catholic, but you both obviously have Thomistic sympathies. I think they could connect you with a lot of editing resources. Dr. Stacey Trasancos has a PhD in chemistry and a working knowledge of Thomistic philosophy. I am sure she could give you some helpful criticism and probably has the mathematical knowledge to actually check your work.

I would also recommend that, if not as a section in your book, I would at least make some blog posts addressing and refuting some of the philosophical claims made by popular atheist physicists such as Sean Carrol and Lawrence Krauss. As a specialist in QFT, one of your greatest services is to be a counterbalance to smug atheists who simply reference a particular scientist’s being atheist as a vindication of atheism. The atheist can claim that a philosopher just doesn’t understand the underlying mathematics or physics well enough to judge their arguments, but that is not the case with you.

Anyways, I’m sorry my comment was not more helpful. I am sure I will have read your book in time for your third revision. I know will make use of your work when I eventually start my own writing on philosophy in about ten years (I have little ones, so ten years may be optimistic).

God bless, and keep up the great work!

5. Philip Rand
Posted at 10:19:48 Thursday October 11 2018

Your main issue with regard to physicists & thomism

The biggest hurdle you have to overcome is that the elementary particle is not an individual; it cannot be identified, it lacks sameness.

Clearly, this fact must be known to you...BUT it is NEVER given prominence is surveys by non-specialists, i.e. Prof Feser, Dr Pruss

Technically, if you wish to boot-strap Thomism to QM/QFT you are going to have to come up with a necessary origin of a probability density function that covers the individuation of particles, etc. This will be the ONLY way to retain atomism and not to deny ultimate constituents of matter (which clearly is what Thomism is about).

6. Nigel Cundy
Posted at 00:44:00 Friday October 12 2018



Thanks to everyone for your comments.

1) I agree that I should respond to the likes of Krauss, Stenger, Hawkings and Carroll. I don't think they are worth answering directly in my book (although I do indirectly challenge some of their philosophy). Hopefully I will be able to get round to it at some point.

2) I'm aware of Feser's mentions of Kenny (I think) in Aquinas and Scholastic metaphysics -- I think that I even cited them. I've also seen a good article by <A HREF="https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7SKlRTfkUieN3dGVkhNTi1SQUU/view">Oderberg</A> on the first way. I'm not aware of any detailed refutation of the whole book, though, but that could just be my ignorance. The main reason I brought Kenny up was that I discussed Hume and Kant's objections to what they claimed was the cosmological argument at some length (since Hume and Kant are frequently cited as having refuted it, so I wanted to get that out of the way before I started, and taking out Hume also takes out most of the New Atheists as well who largely repeat his straw man), but was somewhat ashamed that that left me with only a couple of lines to discuss Kenny's objections (which are probably cited just as much in the more academic literature, if not the popular responses).

3) No, I haven't sent a copy to Feser (or even Oderberg, who is a bit closer to me). I probably should, although I know that Feser is even more ridiculously busy than I am (I don't know how he does it all). He was certainly an influence on me. I had already come up with the core of my idea before I first read his work, but his blog and books have certainly helped me refine a lot of the details. It's been a while since I read Barr's book, but it was certainly good. But thanks for the suggestions.

4) I don't spend as much time participating with the Thomism group as I should. It is a great resource, but I rarely check into facebook these days, and haven't posted anything for a while.

5) Philip Rand, I'm not sure I quite understand your points. Could you expand them? I would certainly agree that the nature of the links of the causal chain are going to be different for immaterial and material beings. As a physicist, I tend to focus on the physical causation, since that's what I know about the most (and -- although I will emphasise this point better in the revised version -- I try to argue on the basis of the physics that the start of the chain is a per se sequence, which allows us to extend beyond the mere physical causes). Also discussions of wave-particle duality are a little bit out of my focus. That was more an issue when people were first constructing QM. Excitations of quantum fields are neither classical waves nor classical particles, but something different. As to introducing concepts that go beyond the Bible, I'll plead guilty. But with a purpose. Obviously, particularly as an Evangelical, I believe the Bible is central and the ultimate aim is to get people to that point. But, in this day and age, that isn't going to happen unless we can sweep away the barriers stopping them from reading the Bible. The first step of that is to use arguments from science and philosophy, then look at the history, and finally people might start taking the Bible seriously. If introducing terms from an A/T philosophy is the best way of doing that preliminary work (and, of course, true), then that's what I'll use. With regards to your next comment, I agree that Feser and Pruss often disappoint me when it comes to the physics. Their illustrations tend to be taken at a more macroscopic level, which is good in some respects, but not in convincing people who say "but didn't Newton etc. explain all that without resorting to all this incomprehensible stuff about act and potentiality." Then, when they do turn to quantum physics, they have made mistakes (not always, but sometimes). But I am not sure what you mean when you say that the elementary particle is not an individual. I agree that the particles are indistinguishable (that forms a part of my wider argument), but that's not the same as them not being individual. But they can be identified. Tracks of individual particles are seen all the time in collider experiments. Or we can think about the classic two slit experiment with electrons: drop the intensity enough, and you see the electrons hitting the screen one at a time, albeit building up the classic diffraction pattern. As for having the the Fock amplitudes emerge from an AT framework; well, I do my best in chapter 15.

7. Philip Rand
Posted at 10:29:06 Friday October 12 2018

Sameness

I am thinking in a much more general conception of QM

In QFT the state vector is holistic; it describes the system as a whole and does not refer to any particular location. Its role undermines the defining feature of fields, which is that they are spread out over space-time.

So, what would be required from your theory is a Thomistic explanation of the state vector and field, i.e. what does hold them together.

I suppose one would have to say in Thomistic terms that the state vector is the actual and the field is the potential… but, this is where Aristotle & Aquinas get very non-formal... and frankly, I don't think it adds up... you have your work cut out for you... it is possible to directly relate the Bible to physics without recourse to any metaphysics (the problem being, metaphysical interpretations are not delimited...so, why insist on Thomism?)... (I just mention this because you commented on being evangelical)

8. Nigel Cundy
Posted at 00:56:39 Saturday October 13 2018



Dear Philip,

1) Is it possible to directly relate the Bible to physics? Here I would say "Yes and No." There are numerous attributes of God that we can read off directly from scripture, for example Hebrews 1:3 and he upholds the universe by the word of his power, from which we can deduce God's role in sustaining and upholding nature, i.e. playing the same role that scientists attribute to the laws of physics. Then Malachi 3:6 For I the Lord do not change indicating God's constancy, and Psalm 139, indicating God's omnipresence, Romans 9:18 indicating God's free will, Matthew 19:26 indicating omnipotence, and so on. These are some of the premises which I use in construction of the relationship between God and Physics. But can we get all the way I need? I'm not so sure. The Bible is not intended as a handbook to physics, but instead it focusses on describing our need for God and how we can be saved from our sins. Of course, there are plenty of points related to science in there, and lots of hints we can use, and which historically were used as modern science grew out of late Medieval Europe. But its not as systematic or complete as we need (because that's not what the Bible is trying to do).

2) Why seek metaphysics as an intermediary between Christianity and Physics? Because one group of people I am writing for are atheists and agnostics. Even if I can't convince them, at least to give them some food for thought. Obviously, I can't just go citing the Bible at them, because they don't accept it and would ignore it. So first of all, I would need to demonstrate the reliability of the Bible. The best way of doing that it to argue from the authority of Jesus. That needs to be demonstrated. Well, we can point to the evidence for the resurrection, for example. But an atheist won't accept that because they believe Hume's etc. arguments against miracles. So we need to show Hume's argument false, which means showing that his premises fail. His premises are taken from his empiricist world-view, so we need to show that is false, as well as the alternative world-views that could be put in its place and still have his argument work. But that's not good enough either: we need to put something in its place, which does admit to the miraculous and the existence of God, and which is consistent with science, because that's the only evidence the atheist admits -- and to show that the atheist's world-view is inconsistent with science. Obviously, the sort of arguments I advocate won't lead to Christianity itself. But they can remove the intellectual barriers stopping people from reaching Jesus. Once they stand at the empty tomb, then we can introduce the gospel using the standard apologetics, and then we can start deploying Biblical arguments. My task is to get them there. And I hope that I can also help shore up the faith of Christians who might be swayed by atheist propaganda about science.

3) Why Thomas? Well, first of all, I am not the purest Thomist. I will gladly change what I need; my aim is not to vindicate people who have been dead for 700 years, but to reach the truth. And that is the primary reason why I use Aquinas as a basis: I'm looking for the truth. I find the basic premises of Thomistic thought to be consistent with contemporary physics. Of all the philosophical systems I have studied, they make the most sense to me. Plus there is the bonus that it is a framework whose consistency with Christianity is well established. There are plenty of well-tested arguments for me to plagiarise, knowing that the objections to those arguments are already out there for me to find and answer. Obviously, there are parts of Thomas' writings which, as a Protestant, I don't agree with. But there is a great deal that is shared between protestants and Roman Catholics -- and, of course, the early reformers, except those who abandoned all philosophy, generally started from scholasticism as their basis; just trimming away those parts which seemed to them to be more special pleading to justify what they saw as post-apostolic additions to the faith than based on reason and the scriptures. [Whether that is true or not is not a debate I want to get into here. There will be a time and a place for an intellectual re-enactment of the thirty years war, but this isn't it.]

4) With regards to your question with regards to act and potency, I combine a Bayesian interpretation of quantum physics with insights from Heisenburg. To be brief (there are complications from superposition which go beyond what I can describe in a blog comment), I identify the eigenstates of the Hamiltonian or effective Hamiltonian operator as being related to the potentia. After measurement (the general case gets more complicated than this, but remember this is just the over-simplified version) the quantum state is in one of the eigenstates of the Hamiltonian. That state is actual.

5) As you said, in QFT the state describes the entire system. However, we can still identify individual excitations of that state. Each of these excitations I take to represent (at least in part) the form of an individual substance (the matter isn't captured by the mathematical representation). I then notice analogues to efficient and final causality in how we work out amplitudes for transitions between states. I then look at effective Hamiltonians to consider compound substances, and again see similarities with how this is described in AT metaphysics, and so on. I notice then that much of AT metaphysics is consistent (after minor modification) with contemporary physics, while the main philosophies which atheists have historically relied on aren't.

6) I'm not claiming that all of Aquinas' premises have parallels in physics in this way. But we have the key ones needed for his arguments for God, for the attributes of God and for his ethical system. Then it is straight-forward to demolish the traditional arguments against miracles, from evil, and so on, and leave the path clear to Jesus.

7) When I was originally planning out my book, I was intending to then go on to discuss the resurrection of Christ, the reliability of the New Testament, the reliability of the Old Testament, the usefulness of the early church fathers in resolving any ambiguities in interpretation (as an Anglican, I still have a high regard for Church Tradition, albeit not quite as high as our friends from across the Tiber), and from there to the full gospel. However I noticed that a) I had already written far too much before I got to that point; and b) I was moving further away from my area of expertise, and I didn't want people challenging what came next (i.e. discussions on the minutiae of form criticism and OT archaeology) to undermine the credibility of what I had already written. Plus, of course, there are plenty of other works detailing all that better than I can, by people who are specialists in those fields.

8) So while I would have loved to have used more Bible-based arguments than I did (I still managed to sneak a few in as responses to objections and historical background), I felt that it would distract my intended readers more than it would help them.

9. Philip Rand
Posted at 06:07:41 Saturday October 13 2018

Chi test

Then... I would suggest that you attempt to shorten the text and insert a chapter detailing a chi-square test of the hypothesis.

This would have a benefit; it would tell you that you are on the correct path and it would provide evidence for your readers concerning the veracity of the thesis.

10. Christopher
Posted at 08:41:56 Wednesday October 17 2018



Hi again Dr. Cundy,

Really looking forward to buying your second edition, though I am still working through the first. I have a few suggestions though they may or may not be of much value. First, of all the new-atheist physicists, I think Carrol is the most sophisticated - and this paper would be his best attempt at arguing that we don't need God - https://arxiv.org/abs/1802.02231 He argues that the Wheeler De-Witt equation can help solve the something from nothing question; while even I as an undergrad can challenge some of his philosophical assumptions, his command of the physics could use to be challenged by someone of your expertise. Specifically, he is the best (out of the new-atheist types) at using physics to argue that brute facts are the best way to explain the universe. More importantly though, he has (in his debate with Dr. Craig) argued that Aristotelian notions about causation are outdated and has even gone so far in his popular book (The Big Picture)to argue that causation doesn't really exist. I am not persuaded that his arguments are good ones, but he is considered the only atheist to really have done great in debate against William Lane Craig. I would imagine refuting Carrol would both be useful for students of Thomism like myself but also help win you a wider audience since he is a respected big name guy right now (He even presented at the Gifford lectures on natural theology). Finally, though this is not a suggestion for correction, you might try talking to Aron Wall about some of your arguments, given that he is a Christian and works in theoretical physics. His blog is here - http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/

11. Nigel Cundy
Posted at 19:47:09 Wednesday October 17 2018



Dear Christopher,

Thanks for sending me that article. On a quick reading, it seemed to me as though he skipped over several important points (although in a short article that's not too surprising). He was arguing for a "brute fact" (a feature of reality that has no further explanation) start of the universe essentially as a termination of the sequence of explanation. However he didn't mention the various arguments outlining what the nature of the termination of that sequence is, and its attributes. It is those arguments which allow us to identify the termination of the cosmological argument with God as classically conceived. But I will read over the paper more carefully, and try to post a better response later.



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