Posted on: 16 August 2015
© Institute of Semantic Information Sciences and Technology, Berkeley/Mumbai 30 June 2015 (www.insist.ac.in)
‘Science’ is generally thought of as an ‘objective’ study of the world of matter. Perhaps, a bit more cautiously (since the subject/object division is fundamental to science), science can be thought of as a study of the contribution of matter to the arising of observation experiences under well-defined experimental conditions. The advantage in thinking of science this way is that it will emphasize the experiential character of science, and yet be objective, without foreclosing our options within science regarding the nature and role of the subject in creating those observation experiences.
Physics is the most fundamental of our sciences. The next most fundamental field, chemistry, is taken to reduce to physics in principle. A clear expression of this came from Dirac in an influential paper.1
"The underlying physical laws necessary for the mathematical theory of a large part of physics and the whole of chemistry are thus completely known, and the difficulty is only that the exact application of these laws leads to equations much too complicated to be soluble. It therefore becomes desirable that approximate practical methods of applying quantum mechanics should be developed, which can lead to an explanation of the main features of complex atomic systems without too much computation."
That is to say, if physics were to be fully developed, then whatever is explained in chemistry using chemical terms – such as bonds, periodicity and valency, to name a few -- will be fully replaceable in physics terms.2
Biology too, having become predominantly molecular, is taken to be reducible to chemistry, and in turn to physics. So, with all other fields of science.
From this reductionist viewpoint, it is reasonable to think of ‘science’ in the singular.
However, Niels Bohr introduced the viewpoint of complementarity within physics via quantum mechanics (QM), though in somewhat vague philosophical terms. He related it to fields beyond QM too. Not all quantum physicists have bought into the Bohr’s view of complementarity. Nevertheless, a formal, working definition of complementarity can be given that all quantum physicists are likely to accept as being at the core of QM: Unlike classical mechanics, where in principle all of the dynamical properties of a particle can be measured in principle in a single experiment, QM guarantees that there will always at least be a pair of observables for which the corresponding properties cannot be simultaneously measured, because the experimental arrangements for their measurements are mutually exclusive. The formal reason is that the operators corresponding to the observables for these properties do not commute. Position/momentum is a canonical example of such a pair of complementary or mutually exclusive properties.
Thus, an ‘electron’ with a definite position and an electron with a definite momentum are, effectively two different ‘objects’. We will not go into the deep conceptual issues here, which continue to be the subject of hot debate, a century after the development of QM.
Complementarity then, can be said to be the situation wherein two scientific viewpoints that do not contain each other, can be both true descriptions. They constitute a complete description only when held together by us. This situation marks a fundamental departure from reductionism, since no one viewpoint is held sacrosanct within science.
Clearly, complementary thus conceived is an epistemic perspective. Again, we shall not go into those details here. Plenty of literature is available on this topic.3
The work at InSIST is focused on extending an ontological role for complementarity within quantum mechanics by working toward a new approach to applying QM to the macroscopic regime.
Current approaches to macroscopic quantum mechanics seek to extend current microscopic quantum mechanics to the macroscopic regime.“Quantum physics has intrigued scientists and philosophers alike, because it challenges our notions of reality and locality — concepts that we have grown to rely on in our macroscopic world. It is an intriguing open question whether the linearity of quantum mechanics extends into the macroscopic domain. Scientific progress over the past decades inspires hope that this debate may be settled by table-top experiments.”4
In contrast, the director of InSIST, Prof. Ravi Gomatam, is moving to apply the Schrodinger equation directly to the macroscopic realm independent of, and in a manner complementary to, the current microscopic quantum mechanics.
In this new approach, the ontology of matter is putatively “objective semantic information” (OSI), as opposed to the mass/energy in classical physics and current QM. This is the envisaged ontological status for complementarity within physics. This is a long-term research program.
At InSIST, our expectation is that idea of OSI can lead to further new complementary insights to influence chemistry and biology, etc. This could render each of the sciences – physics, chemistry, biology, and thereon – to be autonomous, and yet related to each other within the integrative ontology of OSI. In this way there can be multiple sciences that do not reduce to one. There can be unity of sciences, without reduction.
Hence, the term “sciences” in the plural in the name of the institute.
1. Dirac, P. A. M. (1929) Quantum mechanics of many-electron systems, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A, 123:792 p.6
2. For recent views in philosophy of chemistry, opposing ‘reduction of chemistry to physics’, see Brakel, J. (2000) Philosophy of Chemistry: Between the manifest and the scientific image, Leuven University Press: Leuven, Belgium.
3. See for example, Gomatam, R. (2007), Niels Bohr’s Interpretation and the Copenhagen Interpretation-- Are the two incompatible? Philosophy of Science, December, 74(5), pp. 736-748
4. Arndt, M. and Hornberger, K. (2014), Testing the Limits of Quantum Mechanical Superpositions, Nature Physics, 10, 271-277