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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Epistemology, logic, and a quantum universe

I stumbled on this old blog post about people who argue that not reducing something to self-evident truths is equivalent to having a foundationless theory of circular logic that doesn't explain anything.

Philosophically, we observe something nice about the universe: symmetry. That is, if I observe some kind of process, then set up the same process some time later (or in some other galaxy somewhere) and observe it again, there won't be any difference. Observed phenomena are invariant in space and time: our universe is consistent. This is great because it gives us the power of prediction - without it, Tom Hanks could never say that "Tomorrow, the sun will rise!"

We need that to do anything in science, and, as I argued in a philosophy essay, symmetry combined with entropy could give rise to deductive logic (a "learned" trait among animal species, perhaps not instinctual?). That gives us the power of evidence and hence experimental science. Maybe other people perceive a different reality (hell, with enough shrooms, you can't count on anything being consistent in the world), so as I said in the last post, the question of who's right is open.

The point I want to bring up is the origin of the universe, because such a scenario requires two assumptions (regardless of the theory used to generate it): quantum fluctuations and symmetry. Symmetry allows, by Noether's Theorem, all the a priori laws of mathematical physics (such as conservation of energy) to hold. But how are we so confident in the quantum nature of reality? I'd just look to the axioms of QFT for inspiration: anything that's not forbidden is required, or, you might say, "Sorry, but while you weren't looking, everything that could possibly happen, happened!"

I imagine the pre-universe to be completely undefined (because any definition means something specific is there), so of course there's symmetry in every metric you want (in any number of dimensions). Now it's just a matter of having something appear out of nowhere, and we have mountains of experimental evidence supporting the notion of a quantum reality. It's philosophically "nice" to have a free lunch appear in a blank-slate universe.

It's not a Q.E.D. moment, but I keep wondering what's Latin for "From nothing, everything," or perhaps more appropriately, "Science: it works, bitches!"

Note my possible circular logic: we observe symmetry, incorporate it in our logical thought, and then assert that it must always exist.

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