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On the Commitments Which Frame Physics

Henry Flynt

(c)1996 Henry A. Flynt, Jr.


A. The Vitiating Circle

B. The Historical Perspective

C. Repercussions in Social Science

D. Physical Mathematics' "Menace"

E. The Modern Anticipation

F. Physics' Venture into Phenomenological Psychology

G. The Incongruous Agendas

H. Overturning the Intuitive Arena for the Physical Project?

Appendix A. Special References

Appendix B. Sincerity of the Foundations


A. The Vitiating Circle

My program on physics is largely concerned with rethinking logic, mathematics, the "phenomenology" of lived experience, and the pre-physical quantification of nature. I give relatively little attention to the activity going on in the superstructure of physics--as reported in Physical Review D, for example. Nevertheless, my program calls for occasional reappraisals of the high superstructure. Topics come to the fore which evince the limits of physics, revealing the shakiness of physics as a project. In "Superseding Scientific Apprehension of the Inanimate World" (1990, unpublished), I noted three questions which arise in the high superstructure.

- Did the laws of nature exist before there was anything at all?

- Are laws of nature the sort of information that can be dispersed by entropy?

- Will increase of entropy eventually consume the laws of nature?

Two other topics which are quite sensitive are the incessant references to God in the advanced professional literature; and the prospects of logical consistency as a norm in physics. I expatiate on these topics in Appendix B.


In the Nineties, speculations have appeared which shed new light on the commitments which frame the project of physics. To what extent do the speculations threaten to overturn--from within physics--the intuitive arena for the physical project? (To form a vitiating circle?)

The present essay is a memorandum on these developments. Some or all of the following are involved.

- Locality. E.g. a property of one entity cannot be affected by measurement on another entity a long distance away.

- Unitarity. E.g. a pure state may not evolve into a mixed state.

- Weak Anthropic Principle. The physics we see is as it is because only it affords conditions suitable for intelligent life.

- Strong Cosmic Censorship Principle. No physically realistic collapse leads to a locally naked (i.e. timelike) singularity.

- Causality Protection Principle. There exists a global time function.

- Chronology Protection Conjecture. The laws of physics forbid time travel per se, i.e. closed timelike curves.

- Novikov Consistency Conspiracy. The only solutions to the laws of physics that can occur locally in the real Universe are those which are globally self-consistent. The past cannot be changed.

- Decoherence and which histories are real.


Let me adduce some recent quotations.

Matt Visser, Physical Review D, 47:558

... one could question the naive notion that the "present" has a unique fixed "past history." After all, merely by adding a time reversed "branching event" to our non-Hausdorff spacetime one obtains a "merging event" where two universes merge into one. Not only is predictability more than somewhat dubious in such a universe, but one appears to have lost retrodictability as well. Even more so than time travel, such a cognitive framework would render the Universe unsafe for historians, as it would undermine the very notion of the existence of a unique "history" for the historians to describe.

Such radical speculations might further be bolstered by the observation that if one takes Feynman's "sum over paths" notion of quantum mechanics seriously then all possible past histories of the Universe should contribute to the present "state" of the universe.

Friedman et al., Physical Review D, 42:1915

It is tempting to speculate about possible connections, in spacetimes with CTCs,[1] between free will and the Everett-Wheeler many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Paz and Zurek, Physical Review D, 48:2728

Consistent histories are not "real" in any sense. ... Reality is a subtle concept that has been debated over the years in many physics texts and does not have a clear definition. In Einstein's view, an essential ingredient characterizing it is predictability. In that sense, histories could be considered to be real if, apart from the consistency condition, they are predictable behaving in a stable way.[2]


Let me try to get beyond quotations to envision the new methodological situation. Physics makes the following theses topics of debate--in some cases "threatening" to prove one or more of these theses.

The history we live in is not real.

The real universe is one we don't live in.
The real universe is unobservable.
There are no such things as choices and options. There are no physics experiments.
The world we live in is the product of unreal worlds.
Time is only a derivative phenomenon or an illusion. Time does not exist at the elemental level of being.
Historians describe something which could be made not to have happened.

(I) serves as an explanation for the title of this memorandum. Nothing requires me to acknowledge the "threat" of (I); but I want to acknowledge it. I have not taken an oath of loyalty to physics.--And my project calls for a ruthless exposé of physics' vulnerabilities. [3]

The methodological pose of early modern physics was a tortured one. We have A. d'Abro saying the following:

[modern scientists] will claim ... that the objective world of science is nothing but a mental construct imagined for the purpose of coordinating our sense-impressions. But, once this point is admitted, they will recognize that this mentally constructed objective universe must to all intents and purposes be treated as a reality pre-existing to the observer who discovers it bit by bit. This last expression of opinion is not the result of some philosophical system. It is imposed upon scientists as an inevitable conclusion; for had it been proved impossible to imagine a common objective universe, the same for all men, science could never have existed, since it would have reduced to individual points of view which could never have been coordinated. In other words, knowledge would have lacked generality; and without generality there could have been no such thing as science.[4]

At another place in the same work, d'Abro says:

... a theory of mathematical physics is not one of pure mathematics. Its aim and its raison d'être are not solely to construct the rational scheme of some possible world, but to construct that particular rational scheme of the particular real world in which we live and breathe. It is for this reason that a theory of mathematical physics, in contradistinction to one of pure mathematics, is constantly subjected to the control of experiment. [5]

As we will see, this characterization had a false emphasis, to say the least, even relative to classical physics. Today, with the state of play summarized by (I), d'Abro's abstract of the physical project is pathetically quaint.

* *

B. The Historical Perspective

The enterprise of physics can be surveyed in at least two ways. First, what is the view in a given era of inanimate nature as a totality?--its dimensions, its manner of operation, its purpose? From this vantage-point, Aristotle's Metaphysics is the key to physics in the Hellenic world.

Dreams, hallucinations, and hypnotic "trances" have "occurrences." To have one or another occurrence is not physics, not even remotely. A metaphysics of the "arena" is required before statements about occurrences can be physical. Moreover, such a metaphysics is the direct stimulus for physics' encompassing ideas. (Conservation laws, for example).

Amikam Aharoni, decrying the arrogance of theoretical physicists at N.Y.U. on October 28, 1993, told of a professor from his student days who asked, why does the apple fall? The "correct" answer was that the fall of the apple is a fact, it does not require a theory in order to exist. Seeing the apple fall is an independent occurrence, which stimulates a derivative occurrence, the invention of a theory.

Aharoni is oddly uninformed about the structure of his own discipline. Neither a falling apple nor anything else is a physical fact without interpersonal cognitive norms--and a total vision of the universe. Only a vision of a totality, of the "arena," and an assurance that this totality has an intentional order, a saturation of causal relationships, can provide a motive to interrogate nature in the manner of physics. The incessant references to God in the professional literature unconsciously pay tribute to this principle. Without the deistic vision, the "world" is a phantasmagoria to which may be ascribed some rationale incompatible with physics. [6]


Another way to survey physics is to inventory the hodgepodge of opportunistic theoretical ventures throughout history which are still commended as achievements today. In order to be enshrined as a success, an ancient venture must allow "exact" pragmatic implementation by us. A purported piece of knowledge has merit iff it has quantifiable instrumental value. That says a great deal about modern culture.

Let me survey some successes.

a. Archimedes' treatment of the lever. I wish to note some of this treatment's peculiarities.

- Idealization. The lever is studied in the absurd case of an infinitely thin weightless plane resting on a knife-edge and supporting massive bodies.

- The deduction of the static moment by pure geometry is, as is well known, a vicious circle.

- Cases of weights of irrational ratio, resting on arm-lengths of irrational ratio, are carefully analyzed: pre-empting the question whether all the points of a complete ordered field are found in nature. Thousands of years later, Archimedes incurs the objection that he created unreal physics out of his mathematics.

b. Astronomy. The changing positions of the celestial bodies are carefully recorded.

- This presupposes a judgment of the shape and extent of the universe. Without it, the observations have no arena in which to fit.

- Time gets measured in "lengths." This conceptualization presumably derives from social observation of diverse occurrences which repeat, with different periods. (And--modern philosophy added--the abstracting of time from the subjectivity of wanting, fearing, doing, gloating, regretting.)

- Astronomy affords a subject-matter allowing non-trivial physics to be done by those without a credible account of substantiality and "influence." [7] A process, which admits exact discernment and measurement, unfolds inexorably, without regard for human choice. Nature's "factors" are solely geometric. The ponderability of the celestial bodies--not to mention the "sky"--will not determine individual trajectories until thousands of years later. The passive observation of the given is sufficient to contribute to physics.

The scope for human action is limited to the selection of vantage-points (and instrumentation) of observation; there is no scope for manipulating the objects. The choices to be made, in turn, require conceptualizations. (Conceptualization of the "arena." For example, identification of the object. Morning star, evening star? Star, planet? Sun, star?)

c. Geometric optics. Euclid and his Muslim successors analyze the path of light rays as a geometric problem without knowing what light is, or which way it travels. Again, the subject-matter allows compilation of non-trivial regularities without a knowledge of substantiality.

Again, a metaphysical picture of the totality is crucial: in this case, it will motivate the action principle.

d. Archimedian hydrostatics.


Not to dwell on the distant past, let me jump to the modern era of Kepler, Galileo, Newton. Now observed motions are notated in exact functional relationships. (Algebra of conic sections.) The equation for the orbit tells you not only where the planet has been, but where it will be at every future time. Galileo: there is a new prospect of terrestrial dynamics, offering time relationships satisfied by released frictionless bodies (independent of mass).

- Physics adds another monumental idealization. It studies dynamics in a world with no "thermodynamics," i.e. with no degradation. Galileo's theses on falling bodies and pendulums are observably false; they become plausible when you factor out the degradation.

- In this idealization, time loses its arrow. Every observable process can be made to occur in the reverse direction.

Newton comprehensively consolidates ponderability, stationary equilibrium, frictionless motion. The stage is set for a deep metaphysical "factor," first studied in Aristotle's Metaphysics, to enter physics explicitly: possibility. The modern physicist performs experiments. That means that rather than passively observing the given, he makes a choice from an array of possible set-ups, and implements that choice. The process which is passively observed to unfold in consequence exists relative to chosen conditions.

This outlook now takes over the meaning of physics' results. Newton's laws do not tell you just what happens. They are infinitely more comprehensive than that.

P 1. Physical laws concern idealizations of the world, not concrete phenomena. They conceive the present as following uniquely from the given past; but they carefully analyze all other presents following from all other possible set-ups. They envision an infinity of futures, which are resolved into unique futures only when humans opt for one or another set-up. In other words, the laws tell you what follows from from all set-ups which humans can possibly will and implement. They give an intricate, determinate structure to everything which could have happened, but didn't. (Every path which could have been taken, but wasn't.)

Newton's laws also give, in a way much more graphic, perhaps, than the theory of the lever or geometric optics, information you wish they didn't give you. They tell you what happens when two point masses meet.--And you discover that you don't want the information.

Indeed, moving point masses are already geometrically inconsistent. [8] Additionally, gravitational attraction between point masses becomes infinite at zero distance. Depending on how you set it up axiomatically, physics is found to be inconsistent.

The laws of nature do not concern what happens. They concern an idealization of all that could happen--all that could have happened but didn't--and they embrace "limiting" cases (but why is the commonplace of contact a limiting case?) which are absurd. One indeed has to be adept at interpretation to extract pragmatically valuable information from these laws. (Remember that in all of this, the universe comprehended is still segregated from all thermodynamic effects. The physicist's time is familiarly rectilinear, but it has no arrow.)

Gerald Feinberg shed additional light on this in Scientific American of February 1970.

In the present state of theoretical physics, there are few circumstances in which theories flatly predict that certain objects must exist. Instead these theories generally enable us to describe various hypothetical objects, and we must determine by experiment which objects exist in reality.
* *

C. Repercussions in Social Science

These developments implicitly force a crisis upon social science.

Should historians seek to ascertain the fate of the Roman Republic in all possible universes, according to laws which give intricate determinate structure for political events which do not happen? (Caesar never crosses the Rubicon, is never assassinated, etc.)

Marx displayed great confusion on this point. He announced that he had written the laws of motion of society. But Marx did not proceed physically at all. Marx did not define an ideal humanity, and discover as many evolutionary paths for it as there were ensembles of initial conditions. He speculated only about the single actual course, and claimed to divine its single future. In fact, his endeavor was worse than that. He refused to acknowledge the differences between cultures at the same technical level, thereby repressing empirically observable variations. Marx wanted prognostication, not science.

The combination of Marx's claim to have written the laws of history, and the advent of totalitarianism, panicked the philosopher Karl Popper into writing two books attacking the notion that history can manifest "laws." The only alternative to the totalitarian menace, according to Popper, was pure voluntarism. People could take society in any direction at any time.

Popper's "proof" that history has no laws was unexpected. What one expected him to say was that history is the career of actuality. As such, there are no experiments, no branches. A law, which by definition is a regularity cutting across an infinity of options, and which can be tested by comparing the consequences from different set-ups--and indeed, which concerns ideal entities, not concrete things--would not be meaningful for history.

And yet, it is the same thing to say inanimate nature is not a unique actual career as to say human affairs do not comprise a unique actual career. If one takes the "historical" critique of scientific law seriously, it militates as much against physics as against sociology.

But the argument Popper used reached to a different level. He brought in the atomic bomb and the possibility of nuclear annihilation as obstacles to the sociologist. No sociological law could predict what physical scientists would discover in the future; and no law could predict how drastically such discoveries would change society's prospects. Well, of course: sociology has to assume that future scientific knowledge will be a continuation of what we know today. And, that what we already know will not be used in its full destructive potential. (Because society will stop short of willing universal suicide. That is a thesis in social psychology). In other words, sociology abstracts from the apocalypse. But what is Popper's complaint about that? As I have indicated, the method of abstraction is used everywhere in physics. Newton's laws do not have to predict the date on which Einstein's theory supplanted them in order to be considered legitimate and even true.

Hempel suggested that laws could be applied in history in exactly the way one explains a car crash (which is a unique concrete event) by referring it to laws. (Laws about the effect of alcohol on alertness, reflexes and inhibitions--and about traction and momentum--among many others.) Actually, the study of inanimate nature and the study of human affairs are pursued via profoundly different methodologies; but there is no basis in principle to say that inanimate nature is anything but a simpler case, perhaps, than human affairs.

It would be a digression for me to delve further into sociology here. The point is that the physicist's method is to characterize all possible universes in the ideal. Marx and Popper were both confused about what the analogue of this method in sociology would be. Nevertheless, Popper was in a panic that this method might be applied in sociology. What was sauce for the goose was poison for the gander, Popper said.

But the furor over laws in history helps us to see what a strange endeavor physics is. What we want to know is what is. That is rich enough to keep savants busy for a long time.

P 2. We do not really want to know in excruciating detail what is not--unless what is not is viewed as a field for our choices. Even then, when we restrict to actuality, our choices address the future only.

What's done is done. The only use of thinking that I could have cut down a given tree yesterday, for example, is to motivate me to cut down that or some other tree in the future. (Rehearsal for an option which is only open in the future.)

Actually, when "sociology" is brought in, there is another consideration to take into account. There is a continuum between human choices which are merely instrumental (if I wish to test the amount of force required to break "a" toothpick, I may choose which copy to break, which room to break it in, etc. [9])--and choices which constitute biography or history. In the latter cases, we adopt a sort of fatalism even though nothing in science requires it. One is making a world of one's life. To speculate about un-making the world to which I have committed (by reversing actions already taken) is, we learn, useless and unhealthy. If I had played it differently, I might have graduated from the first college I attended. That is an option that I don't want to know about. I didn't leave college as an experiment, I left in order to realize myself in a certain sort of way; I left as a commitment to a certain sort of life. (Popper feared laws of history because to him they said: you can't chose your life, you can only submit.) Here we verge upon the realm in which existentialist theses are proclaimed.

It should have been evident to any thinking person that existential choices and scientific experimentation must be "dimensioned" in the same way. When we consider that this unity of "the existential" and the physical is unthinkable to modern culture, we see the wall of separation between science and "the humanities" which is a fatal delusion.

Let me be more precise about the actual mission of our culture's dichotomization of the totality. Modern culture isolates instrumental decisions, and combines the realm of instrumental choice with the order of the Universe. That composite realm is rigorously segregated from existential choice-making, or life-commitment.

To repeat, Popper's proof that one cannot discover laws of history is first of all aimed against Marx's addled claim to cognize the case as law. And secondly, Popper's proof consists in simply forbidding the abstraction (from apocalypses) which is required to make the problem reasonable. Why Popper is not equally harsh toward physicists is not explained.

Actual historical experience suggests that society can be experimented with; and that law-like determinisms do manifest themselves. Where it gets tricky is that the evinced laws are not what "Marxists" want to believe. There have been a number of attempts to skip capitalism in the twentieth century. New societies have been proclaimed, and millions have been killed in order to advance the new social relations. And yet, the societies in question have all re-united with the capitalist mainstream. What is more, we realize that the capitalism-skipping regimes were not new civilizations, but were rather aberrant versions of capitalism. Political will imposed a centrally mobilized capitalism, achieved some success in modernizing quasi-feudal societies, and called this a socialist civilization. But in the end, both the successes and the competition with the external capitalist mainstream sapped the fanatics' will, or overwhelmed it; and the capitalism-skipping regimes simply emerged to normal capitalism. Anybody interested in the prospects of sociology as a science must find this display of regularity fascinating. By trying to divert us, Popper made himself inimical and irrelevant.

* *

D. Physical Mathematics' "Menace"

Returning to my review of physics, Newton's laws were accepted for centuries as God's truth of the universe. That meant that one could massage Newton's laws mathematically, and whatever fell out could be made to happen, no matter how weird it seemed. If I may express it dramatically, the laws of physics became menacing. They threatened to provide feasible recipes for phenomena so counter-intuitive, or even universe-threatening, that we wouldn't want to see them. I call such phenomena monstrosities. Actually, Newtonian mechanics itself was quite tame. The only instrumental perversities it inflicted on us were centrifugal force, the gyroscope, and the principle of rocket travel, and we can stand that.

There are qualifications of principle to this last observation: the qualifications which physicists avoid declaring, but which I have emphasized above. First, the real world is "thermodynamic"; so that nothing Newton envisions can actually happen. Secondly, Newton's laws become absurd at the "limiting" junctures. One has to know how to look around these embarrassments--an entirely different matter from the monstrosities which we can put in operation, the gyroscopes and the rockets.

* *

E. The Modern Anticipation

At the beginning of the twentieth century, experimental regions are reached which demand a major emendation of classical physics. In conjunction with this emendation, a further extraordinary step is taken. The Correspondence Principle is announced. Perhaps Newton is inadequate; perhaps there is a better law. But:

P 3. Any law added to physics to replace an old one must reduce in functional form to the old law in the range in which the old law agrees with observations.

Crudely, that means that any replacement for Newton's theory of the universe is restricted to adding terms which become significant in ranges for which Newtons' laws diverge from experimental observation. This demand not only protects the observations already made. It protects the mathematical machinery already developed.

Of course, to reiterate, Newton's laws always diverge from observation for the reasons I have already noted, but one looks around that. So it is the ability to look around the theory's absurdities that establishes the physical universe as something cognized.

Physical laws are jumped-up empirical laws which are irrevocably nailed to the pictures, the conceptual choices, of previous centuries. Actually, the loyalty to the past goes beyond the Correspondence Principle. There is a custom in physics that you model new phenomena with mathematical apparatuses previously developed for other realms of phenomena. (Geometric optics is transferred to mechanics; wave descriptions are transferred to light; etc. Today, the energy-stress tensor is studied for the fluid case, for example.)


Physics arrives in the first half of the twentieth century at four theories which become sacrosanct. I call them the Master Theories. They are special relativity (SR), general relativity (GR), quantum mechanics (QM), quantum field theory (QFT). There are no significant challenges to the Master Theories. Physicists are concerned with the Master Theories, and with various conjectures about unfinished corners of an envisioned total picture (such as quantum gravity); and their work consists in the ornamentation of this subject-matter.

The Master Theories in fact consist of unsolvable generalities. The work of physics is to construct cases whose mathematics can be simplified enough for concrete results to be inferred.

The Master Theories project infinite possibilities, and from one or another corner of these possibilities, the theorist can extract monstrosities, in the sense explained above. The actual work of mathematical physics becomes the massaging of the Master Theories to infer monstrosities. (Tachyons, worm holes, time machines, and as many other examples as you please.) The monstrosities need not ever be realized by us. They may be options from the universe of possibilities which would be realizable by a civilization commanding energies and durations beyond our reach.

Sometimes the monstrosities do get realized experimentally, and prove to be pragmatically important. Quantum field theory, for example, allowed energy density to be negative locally, and that was implemented as the Casimir effect. It is equally likely that the monstrosities will tend to discredit the Master Theories. (Hawking evaporation of a black hole.) Then the theoretical structure is doctored in order to neutralize the monstrosities.


As soon as modern physics was proclaimed, around 1930, the suggestion appeared that the familiar notions of space, time, and causality would be rebutted by results from within physics. That brings me to the threshold of my principal topic. I indicated the intuitive arena for the physical project as follows.

P 1. Physical laws concern idealizations of the world, not concrete phenomena. They conceive the present as following uniquely from the given past; but they carefully analyze all other presents following from all other possible set-ups. They envision an infinity of futures, which are resolved into unique futures only when humans opt for one or another set-up. In other words, the laws tell you what follows from from all set-ups which humans can possibly will and implement. They give an intricate, determinate structure to everything which could have happened, but didn't. (Every path which could have been taken, but wasn't.)

P 2. We do not really want to know in excruciating detail what is not--unless what is not is viewed as a field for our choices. Even then, when we restrict to actuality, our choices address the future only.

Now it was suggested that this arena might be overturned from within physics.

It is artificial to analyze the damage modern physics had done by 1930 to the intuitive arena for the physical project. Modern physics undergoes a seamless development in which implications of the earliest of the new premises are not seen until decades later. In conjunction with SR, it was carefully established that the speed of light in a vacuum was the limit velocity in the universe. That was ironic, because it subsequently became a fashion to think about faster-than-light particles, and faster-than-light transmission of "effects." QM was strenuously opposed by Einstein, who said that it had God playing dice with the universe. The debate over early QM and the Copenhagen interpretation grew into an entire subdiscipline, Measurement Theory. In 1949, Gödel showed that the mathematics of GR allows time travel, a result which dismayed Einstein. Whether GR allowed a global time function became debatable. As I just mentioned, Feinberg showed that the mathematics of SR allows faster-than-light particles. QFT, which achieved the status of a Master Theory, was an effort to cross-relate SR and QM. Today, it is being debated how significant the violations are of Unitarity, an early principle.

The point, then, is that it is arbitrary to inventory the assaults modern physics had made by 1930 on the intuitive arena for the physical project. Nevertheless, let me note some examples.

First, in general, physicists such as Einstein and Heisenberg proposed to configure physics around observability. Names for unobservable phenomena such as the ether must be ejected from physics.

But there is something very misleading about this. Again Feinberg, writing on tachyons in Scientific American, February 1970.

The possibility that tachyons exist but do not interact at all with ordinary particles need not concern us, because if they do not interact with the objects that compose our measuring instruments, we have no possible way to detect them, and for our purposes it is the same as if they do not exist at all.

This is not really the robustly empiricist declaration which it may appear at first reading. Feinberg is saying that SR may allow existing entities which are unobservable. We don't have to worry about them. But that's not good enough. What are they doing in SR at all? Where is the principle of keeping unobservable realities out of theory? As we will see below, unobservable realities become more and more central in physics.

Another sensitive aspect of physics may be mentioned in this connection. Concomitantly with classical mathematics, physics easily allows all sorts of infinities in the physical universe. In fact, continuing with Feinberg (and anticipating), a tachyon can move with infinite velocity for one observer and at a finite velocity faster than light for another. One wonders why the insistent doctrine of "observability" did not make the notion of infinity suspect in physics. The answer, of course, was that infinities were everywhere in the available mathematical tools.

Let me look further at SR.

Measurements are made with physical devices, and changed physical circumstances can affect their behavior. A physical theory should give an equally physical answer for any possible vantage-point.

The speed of light in a vacuum is an invariant for all nonaccelerating frames of reference.

There cannot be instantaneous causations (e.g. the "reach" of gravity) because no effect can be propagated faster than light.

An event is simultaneous for all observers because it is a single point in the continuum. But two "simultaneous" events are not simultaneous for all observers, because a speedy observer will not find the two event-points in the same time plane.

For a hypothetical faster-than-light frame, time is transformed by an imaginary-number factor.

Human consciousness must age at the same rate as the body's physiological processes. Otherwise consciousness could detect absolute motion.

All moments of time exist together. There is no flow of time or privileged direction of time. Our experience of the flow of time, our sequential perception of the instants of time, must be an illusion produced by our underdeveloped nervous system. As d'Abro says:

...there is no room for free will, since everything is already predetermined and pre-exists in the future.[10]

Let me add QM before offering any commentary.

Physical magnitudes not known to have an a substratum of discrete entities nevertheless take discrete values only.

"Uncertainty." Non-commuting observables are not simultaneously measurable.

Identical conditions produce different outcomes; the regularity is statistical only.

To expand the above: the universe unfolds in mixtures of mutually exclusive states. "Our" act of observation is what renders a phenomenon determinate, giving a property a value. Reality is relativized to where we choose to look.

This last juncture is an obscure one indeed. J.S. Bell characterized it in 1987 as follows:

... from some popular presentations the general public could get the impression that the very existence of the cosmos depends on our being here to observe the observables. I do not know that this is wrong. ... The only 'observer' which is essential in orthodox practical quantum theory is the inanimate apparatus which amplifies microscopic events to macroscopic consequences. ... the theory which [the founding fathers] established aimed only to describe systematically the response of the apparatus. ... The 'Problem' then is this: how exactly is the world to be divided into speakable apparatus...that we can talk about... and unspeakable quantum system that we can not talk about? How many electrons, or atoms, or molecules, make an 'apparatus'? The mathematics of the ordinary theory requires such a division, but says nothing about how it is to be made. In practice the question is resolved by pragmatic recipes which have stood the test of time, applied with discretion and good taste born of experience. [11] [italics added]

A last "assault" is due to GR.

The orthogonality of time to space is blurred.

The question, again, is how severely the preceding results eroded the intuitive arena for the physical project. Actually, the effect of the "assaults" was limited; the important extrapolations did not come until later. Nevertheless, some aspects are extremely significant and should not be glossed over. First, SR allows the notion of an imaginary-number time-axis. And GR allows the orthogonality of time to space to be blurred. Physical time is divorced from temporality with a previously unimaginable artificiality.

Secondly, SR is implacably hostile to any notion that the future is open. We do not remember the future in addition to the past because of an organic impairment or because of some secondary physical consideration. That does not just militate against a romantic notion of freedom. It proves that physical experimentation is impossible. Thus, notwithstanding the quote at the beginning about "the control of experiment," physics has never been subjected to a single experiment. What is more, the framing of physics in terms of nonactual options is a fallacy for which there is no excuse, it would seem.

At the same time that Relativity is being explored, the many-worlds interpretation of QM arises. Many physicists speculate that many-worlds provides for free will.

Obviously, the Master Theories are different corners of some unrealized picture. They have not really been squared with each other.

No matter how much of a furor there was over QM's destruction of causality, the intuitive arena for the physical project was not much challenged by QM. The probabilistic microworld passed over to the causal world at the human scale. Only Wigner's friend--considered an eccentric speculation--transferred the mixture of mutually exclusive states into the physicist's arena of doing.


There is a crucial qualification to all this which may be difficult to comprehend. No matter what novelties were concocted, there was never a question of jettisoning Newtonian physics. Physicists had to bob and weave. Newtonian physics was absolutely upheld at the human scale. Classical physics remained the physics by which apparatus was manufactured. But it was more than that. Newtonian-era mathematical apparatuses had to be the backbone of subsequent formalisms.

This state of affairs is so profound that I must underline it, even though it is off the topic of this essay. Physicists are irrevocably committed to a view of physics' destiny. Historically, science is a series of installations of mathematical apparatuses which, once they are installed, are endlessly elaborated, but never discarded. One builds on Newton, Maxwell, etc., by recycling them; one never repudiates them.

Two citations will serve to illustrate the consensus. First, Charles W. Misner.

Physicists expect to continue teaching the old, immutable, infallible myths of Newtonian mechanics, special relativity, and Maxwell's equations while searching for failings in the theories that have supplanted these. I want no suggestion here that the myth of Newtonian mechanics is false or inadequate. It is an example of the most certain and permanent truth man has ever achieved. Its only failing is its scope: it does not cover everything. But within its now well-recognized domain it conceptualizes its portion of external physical reality better than its successors, and that is why it continues in use.[12]

The second illustration comes from Jeremy Bernstein, writing on how to spot a crank physicist.[13] One of the signs of a crank submission is that it does not uphold the sequence of previous mathematical apparatuses insofar as they were right (in just the sense we have seen in the Misner quote). Noting that 1905 relativity was manifestly not a crank theory, Bernstein says:

It connects solidly with the physics that preceded it. It explains, among other things, the connection between electricity and magnetism ...

(What Bernstein means is that relativity mathematically united the received mathematical pictures of electricity and magnetism.)

In this perspective, novelties in science only arise on the platform of previous tenets and mathematical models, and are only the affair of the most specialized professionals. I hold that this scientific consensus is a prescription for an enslavement which can only become more and more deleterious. As opposed to new gimmicks in the high superstructure, I call for replacement: reaching all the way to the common sense which precedes and orients the mathematical sciences. That is what I said in the opening sentence. To pursue this topic, however, is beyond the scope of this manuscript.

Returning to the oddities which were extracted by modern physics, collectively they remained different corners of some unrealized picture. They were never really squared with each other. Folklorically, physicists only addressed this corner, or that corner. They continued, as before, to speak of idealizations allowing different futures: relative to choices of set-ups, and to hypothesized ensembles of conditions.

* *

F. Physics' Venture into Phenomenological Psychology

Let me continue with implications which were drawn from the Master Theories. Physics purports to obtain numerous results in phenomenological psychology.

II.1 Free will is subject to local constraints imposed by the standard, local laws of physics. (Meaning that you can walk anywhere in the room, but cannot levitate? Friedman et al. don't explain themselves. [14])

II.2 The psychological arrow of time is defined as our subjective sense of time, the fact that we remember events in one direction of time but not the other. This arrow can be shown to be a consequence of the principle that entropy is increasing in one direction of time. (Thermodynamic arrow.)

II.3 As we saw above, SR propounds that human consciousness must age at the same rate as the body's physiological processes.

II.4 As we saw above, SR propounds that all moments of time exist together. There is no flow of time or privileged direction of time. Our consciousness is what moves; it extends itself along our body's world-line. Our experience of the flow of time, our sequential perception of the instants of time, must be an illusion produced by our underdeveloped nervous system. We do not remember the future in addition to the past because of an organic impairment or because of some secondary physical consideration.

II.5 Wigner's Friend. A human could exist in a mixture of life and death until a friend resolved the state by observation.

II.6 It cannot be excluded that QM says that reality is brought about by our observations of observables.

II.7 The many-worlds interpretation of QM is hypothecated to be connected to free will. (E.g. by Visser; by Friedman et al.)

II.8 The appearance of consciousness presupposes a certain range of physical circumstances. (So that consciousness rigorously has a physical inverse image.)

II.9 The reality we see is the one chosen by consciousness' physical needs.[15]

II.10 The Novikov Consistency Conspiracy decrees that intelligent beings cannot change the past. This affects the philosophical notion of free will for humans and other intelligent beings. Any being who tried to change the past would be prevented by physical law from making the change, i.e. the free will of the being would be constrained. [16]

These are a lot of results for a discipline which rigorously excludes the notions of consciousness and free will. (Indeed, physics rigorously excludes comprehended meanings and comprehended truths from its object.) Physics reaches over its limits; and that should not be glossed over.

* *

G. The Incongruous Agendas

A feature which became notable in connection with tachyons and with the Gödel universe comes to have greater and greater importance at century's end. Phenomena allowed mathematically by the Master Theories may not be physical. Phenomena may exist which are absolutely unobservable. Histories may not be real. There are four different agendas:

- physical mathematics
- physicality
- observability
- reality.

The fact that each of these has to be inserted into the others by hand is not seen as a methodological fault by physicists.

Let me note some remarks in the literature.

Stanley Deser. Is it possible to characterize those mass distributions allowed by physical mathematics which are unphysical (because they mathematically support time travel)? What is physical is a global question and cannot be answered locally.

a. How is it possible to say when a property is real or an event has happened (without relying on the idea of measurement)? Answer: when a system interacts with its environment, the density operator becomes diagonal. (Z decoherence.)

b. physical realism means: well posed initial data set

dominant energy condition

Paz and Zurek, Physical Review D, 48:2728
Consistent histories are not "real" in any sense. ... Reality is a subtle concept that has been debated over the years in many physics texts and does not have a clear definition. In Einstein's view, an essential ingredient characterizing it is predictability. In that sense, histories could be considered to be real if, apart from the consistency condition, they are predictable behaving in a stable way.

* *

H. Overturning the Intuitive Arena for the Physical Project?

Arriving finally at the recent speculations, they give the impression that the intuitive arena for the physical project may be overturned--from within physics. A nonsense will be made of P 1 - P 2. Notwithstanding, all of the speculations in question come from massaging the Master Theories mathematically. Physicists only address this corner, or that corner, of an unrealized picture. Folklorically, they continue to speak of idealizations allowing different futures: relative to choices of set-ups, and to hypothesized ensembles of conditions.

There is never a question of eradicating Newtonian physics. The Correspondence Principle requires Newtonian physics to be preserved. And it goes beyond that. Classical mathematical apparatuses are demanded to be the backbone of subsequent formalisms.

The "improprieties" arise in different corners of an unrealized picture. The corners are never really squared with each other. The favored conclusion is that whenever improprieties can be extracted from the Master Theories--whenever physical mathematics allows monstrosities--an unnoticed effect jumps out from some other corner and pinches out the impropriety. This situation is called "physicality."

The Protection Conjectures are supposed to save us from an insane reality. Nevertheless, the more reckless researchers, such as Visser or Gott, pose the "threats" which I grouped at the beginning as (I). Or, at the least, they say that (I) is meaningful enough that we have to worry about it. Again,

The history we live in is not real.
The real universe is one we don't live in.
The real universe is unobservable.
There are no such things as choices and options. There are no physics experiments.
The world we live in is the product of unreal worlds.
Time is only a derivative phenomenon or an illusion. Time does not exist at the elemental level of being.
Historians describe something which could be made not to have happened.

Obviously, the catch in proving that the world we know is not real is that the world we know is the only inspiration and warrant for the Master Theories. Beyond that, the new developments undercut the boldest claims made for the enterprise of physics in the early twentieth century. Let me repeat the quotation from d'Abro:

... a theory of mathematical physics is not one of pure mathematics. Its aim and its raison d'être are not solely to construct the rational scheme of some possible world, but to construct that particular rational scheme of the particular real world in which we live and breathe. It is for this reason that a theory of mathematical physics, in contradistinction to one of pure mathematics, is constantly subjected to the control of experiment. [17]

Today, this is pathetically quaint.

The formation of early modern physics was purportedly guided by the precept that a theory should not contain terms for unobservable phenomena. The new developments have exposed the insincerity of that precept. A theory which says that we cannot observe the real universe would be legitimate physics today.

A third precept which physics purported to uphold was cognitive parsimony. Here I have not treated the developments in this area; let me just say that cognitive parsimony, also, is fading rapidly. The recent response to the proliferation of incompatible pictures in measurement theory has been to allow all respectable competing pictures to be "true" in alternation--much like tax-exempt religions in democratic society.

At the beginning of this century, philosophy pictured physicists as valiants driving the imps of superstition from the face of the earth. That claim--that physics militated in a secular, naturalist, rationalist direction--must now be judged a misrepresentation. A further lesson is provided by the complete absence of regret as rationalism fades into oblivion. Physicists are not really dedicated to rationalism.


Foundations of Mathematics provides an instructive parallel to the developments in physics. Foundations of Mathematics arose from a belief on the part of mathematicians that they could prove our right to do elementary arithmetic as we do--and that they could settle strictly philosophical questions--by making obscure mathematical calculations. (E.g. the Gentzen consistency proof.)

Theoretical physics has taken on the same character. That is so even though, in physics, the charge is led by the "trouble-makers," and the "apologists" are in a reactive mode. (In Foundations of Mathematics it was the other way around.) Results which come from massaging this or that corner of the Master Theories place the intuitive arena for the physical project under attack; and they have to be pinched out by "protection agencies" (Hawking's phrase).

I hold that Foundations of Mathematics has been an enormous diversion, which has speciously superseded philosophy, and shielded elementary arithmetic from extra-cultural scrutiny and replacement. The physical speculation does not have apologism as its purposive axis, the way Foundations of Mathematics did. The developments in physics muddle physics' direction, in a pretentious way.

* * *

Appendix A. Special References

Physical Review D

Physical Review Letters

Physics Letters B

Michael Redhead, Incompleteness, Nonlocality and Realism (1987)

Proceedings of the 25th International Conference on High Energy Physics, ed. K.K. Phua and Y. Yamaguchi (World Scientific, 1990)

Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information, ed. W.H. Zurek (Addison-Wesley, 1990)

Quantum Cosmology and Baby Universes, ed. S. Coleman et al. (World Scientific, 1991)

Physical Origins of Time Asymmetry, ed. J.J. Halliwell et al. (1993)

* *

Appendix B. Sincerity of the Foundations

1. The divine agency

There is an intellectual question as to whether the enterprise of physics inherently posits a divine agency. But before we come to that, we must ponder how the deference of lay publicists to the physics profession allows the latter to play the laity for fools.

In the Seventies, physicists began to scream that their discovery of the origin of the universe in finite past time had precipitated a God crisis in physics. What we must struggle to understand is that the profession itself manufactured the God crisis--connecting its technical deliberations to popular supernaturalism. First thing you know, the educated laity was dancing to the God crisis. (Martin Gardner, "Physics: the End of the Road?" The New York Review of Books, June 13, 1985, pp. 31-34; John Updike, Roger's Version.) Then the physicists produced a raft of theories which avoid the need of a creation from nothing. (Energetic vacuum; no-boundary; etc.) It seemed that they were casuistical solutions, motivated, no more and no less, by the wish to evade the God crisis. There was no independent referee. The God crisis had been valuable because "working scientists" had said that it was. By the time Bryan Appleyard's Understanding the Present appeared, the physicists had turned the crisis off, and the laymen who had rushed to the call looked like fools.

Every time you turned around, physicists had another observation or another theory which found God or discarded God. It was now a technical question inside physics. All the while, "God" books authored by physicists poured forth. It was precisely the renowned physicists who were raking in the profits by writing God popularizations. (Or lending their names to publisher-created books?)

To give some cases in point, Misner avowed that physics proves the existence of a divine governor in "Cosmology and Theology." [18] Hawking implied in A Brief History of Time that he was on close personal terms with God. Einstein had said that he would feel sorry for God if his equations were false. In J.S. Bell, Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics, and Stewart and Golubitsky, Fearful Symmetry: Is God a Geometer?, the female pronoun was pointedly introduced for God.

The professional papers are strewn with lines referring to a divine governor. H.B. Nielsen had a paper in Particle Physics 1980 (1981) entitled

"Did God Have to Fine Tune the Laws of Nature to Create Light?"

In Hawking's paper in Physical Review D, 46:603, he says,

It seems there is a chronology protection agency, ... [italics mine]

A paper by Hawking and two co-authors, in Physical Review D (47:5343), says

The view has been expressed that the boundary conditions for the Universe are not a question for science, but for metaphysics or religion. However ...

In Matt Visser's paper in Physical Review D (47:555), there is the line

assuming such primordial wormholes to have been built into the multiverse by the "first cause."

Later in the same paper (p. 557), Visser imagines the character of spacetime to be established by a divine decree.

Stanley Deser, speaking about the self-destruction of the universe which prevents a Gott pair from becoming a time machine in a spatially closed universe,[19] called the agency in this case

the long arm of Justice

If scientists were challenged in public on these references, they would call them jokes, insinuating that the challenger was a fool for making an issue of them. But only in that circumstance would they say that. As long as they were assured of the deference of lay publicists, they would coyly encourage this mystification--because it is their banner. That would be especially evident if one asked them what was the scientific status of their introduction of the female pronoun for God.

Physicists crusade for "our," politically conducive, superstitions. Only if they were challenged in a certain way would they retreat into nonchalance.

Examine the rather sensational illustration of The Creation accompanying Gardiner's "Physics: The End of the Road?" What, indeed, does this picture portray? Challenged in this way, the fraternity would call the illustration a joke. But what does it mean if a citadel of authority constantly promulgates images which it would have to disavow if a serious opponent could penetrate the arena of discourse? It means that the institution needs to bedazzle the credulous, and to appease fads outside the gates.

When Roger Penrose gave the N.Y.U. physics colloquium on April 24, 1986, I asked him at the reception about the existence of the laws of nature before there was anything at all. He gave me a look of loathing and launched into a fatuous answer about how science should strive to go as far as it can. He said nothing about the no-boundary proposal: that answer was not in the repartee kit in 1986. And: loathing or no loathing, Penrose's own "survey of the all" book, The Emperor's New Mind, was in the stores by 1989. The back cover of the paperback has this plaudit from Nature:

Penrose's book is the testament of a brilliant man wrestling desperately--and unabashedly--with the deepest problems of metaphysics.

Let me turn from the sociology of science to intellectual content. Faith in a divine governor is not the end-result of physics. It is is the precondition and wellspring of physics. Only a vision of a totality, of the "arena"--and an assurance that this totality has an intentional order, a saturation of causal relationships--can provide a motive to interrogate nature in the manner of physics. Leibniz was forthright enough about God's role in establishing a cognizable nature.[20] We have seen that the lesson is equally explicit today.

As one of Hawking's quotes illustrates, physicists imagine that the principles of cosmic housekeeping which they have announced in the last twenty-five years are roles for God. They imagine the initial set-up of the universe to have been a choice of God's. Physicists reply to the accusation that they are in competition with theology: thus honoring the accusation. Physicists imagine their equations to be transcriptions of God's thoughts.

In the early twentieth century, the impression was created that one has to pass an atheism test in order to become a physicist. That was deeply misleading as to physicists' loyalties. The positivists pictured physicists as valiants driving the imps of superstition from the face of the earth. That claim that physics militates in a secular, naturalist, rationalist direction was a profound misrepresentation. Physics has a coy boundary between itself and supernaturalism--the boundary which walks right off the page at the end of Fearful Symmetry: Is God a Geometer? That boundary is indispensable to physics. It will remain an asset only if the profession can maintain the deference of the lay publicists.

A lesson of the utmost importance is implicit here. In the era of classic German philosophy, supernaturalism lost the authority of the inescapable. It came to be thought of as gratuitous--as a "fun lie." When the opportunity arose to disconnect the fate of physics from supernaturalism, a number of schools eagerly seized the chance. The door between physics and superstition was nailed shut. Carnap derived physics upward from profane ground-data (even if he could not say what the ground-data were).

Now the rational solution has collapsed. The transmission between physics and supernaturalism is once again undeniable. It doesn't mean that a new domain of evidence has been validated; it means that the old vulnerabilities and embarrassments are back, with nothing to mitigate them. Physics is seen to be interdependent with "fun lies." The feminists who raged against physics because it did not allow them to have their little fairy tales underestimated the institution's ability to overtake them. Like a priesthood, the academic fraternity can co-opt every fad outside the gates.

With the growth of technology, physics has come to seem immensely formidable. And yet, its interdependence with superstition has surfaced anew. Physics never was a nuts-and-bolts enterprise. It did not begin by watching the apple fall. It began by conceiving the entire universe as a thing and asking what purpose the universe embodies. Physics lives at the high end. Once again, it is overtly vulnerable there. One who holds that physics is a despicable mythology which ought to be destroyed will be heartened by these developments.


2. Consistency

A second foundational topic which needs to be followed carefully is the vicissitudes of consistency as a requirement on physical theories. In the positivist era, consistency was presented as the primary requirement of any theory. An example of the posture was provided by d'Abro, writing about Relativity.[21]

Any inconsistencies would be fatal to a rational construction and would denote either errors of reasoning or the presence of some fundamental contradiction in our basic premises. If, therefore, when analyzing any given example in Einstein's theory, we proceed to follow our deductions by adopting successively two different alternatives in our point of view, both of which would be consistent with the premises of the theory, and if we finally compare the results thus obtained and find them to be contradictory, hence inconsistent,[22] the theory of relativity could never survive. ... the theory of relativity is the work of mathematicians, for whom, more than for any one else, accurate and consistent reasoning is the indispensable condition of research.

An exhaustive response to this posturing has to be as broad as my program on physics. Even to begin a rigorous response would be far beyond the scope of this memorandum. Let me only mention that I wrote a study of the normative role of consistency in physics in 1986: "Grades of Inconsistency in Physics" (unpublished). That study cites many positions similar to d'Abro's.

Echoes of my argument in "Grades of Inconsistency" have appeared in this memorandum. I hold that physics fails to be consistent long before the point at which students are told that there is a problem. Physics becomes inconsistent with infinitely thin weightless levers, with point masses, with the value of gravity at zero distance, etc. (And, some would already say, with the allowing of irrational lengths and weights, etc.) Of course, inconsistency in a theory is somewhat negotiable, since an inconsistency can sometimes be removed simply by denying axiomatic status to the assumption contradicted by the result.

Physicists intimate that there is a court of logic in which theories are tried once-for-all, so that a theory convicted of inconsistency is banished. That is entirely misleading. "Wave versus particle" was clearly understood as an inconsistency in the early twentieth century; then, when it became evident that the inconsistency had no resolution, physicists simply redefined it as a new principle. (Complementarity.) Physicists look around inconsistencies; or put consistency in by hand (renormalization). The no-go theorems were inconsistency proofs--which were negotiated away. [23] The whole point of quantum gravity was that at face value it was a juncture of inconsistency between GR and QM.

The career of Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen[24] could serve as a case study. The original paper was framed as an inconsistency proof. The example was further refined by Bell to show that faster-than-light transmission of influence was unavoidable. Seemingly, one had a clear contradiction with SR. And yet it was explained away: the instantaneous influence was not a signal. The topic continues to attract obsessive interest. Physics students are docile. They stolidly accept "it's false, it's true, it's false, it's true ... ." But this is the management of contradiction by casuistry--a venerable maneuver. If physics were "the simple truth," all this bobbing and weaving wouldn't come into it.

I have a logic of contradictions which encompasses various rudimentary investigations. The enterprise is a vast one, since I have to invent new logical methods; while at the same time providing exposés of received mathematics, "common sense" as a propositional system, etc. In my terms, physics is a disguised biased inconsistent theory. That is, it is an inconsistent theory whose unwanted results are blocked by meta-theoretical controls; at the same time, physicists sporadically declare consistency to be the primary virtue of their ideas.

My outlook leads me to expect that the glorification of consistency in physics will simply fade; it will be withdrawn without apology or explanation. (There is lately a fad in the history of science which has physics "driven by paradox." That is very narrow, and also an attempt to convert the embarrassment to a showpiece of postmodernism.)

But let me be clear that physicists do not have anything like a doctrine which justifies inconsistency, and purports to assimilate it in a productive way. To embark on a research program equivalent to my logic of contradictions would be unthinkable.

In the literature to which this memorandum is devoted, consistency is occasionally mentioned as a norm. For example, Stanley Deser: [25]

we can be assured that mathematical analysis, correctly carried out, will provide a consistent physical picture ... Recent investigations of physical processes ... confirm that unexpected but not self-contradictory results are found

Matt Visser mentions the Novikov Consistency Conspiracy as an answer to the menace of time travel.[26] "No matter how crazy things get, the universe is a conspiracy which pinches out contradictions wherever they try to surface." Physicists invoke what amounts to a divine agency which does nothing but protect consistency. Visser is dubious about the prospects for this neutralization of time travel.

Again, we must understand that recent physics unfolds in a perspective of elaboration of the Master Theories. Deser is not speaking, as earlier methodologists may have, about whether consistency is abstractly a virtue in theory. He is claiming that the Master Theories, specifically, would receive a favorable verdict if tried once-for-all in a court of logic. It is a risky claim.--And I suggest that it expresses a bygone attitude, or an attitude due to disappear shortly.


3. Physics as collective mental play-acting

As I have sketchily argued, physical ideas have been characterized by absurdities from the beginning: whether Archimedes' levers, or Newton's point masses and their attractions, or the dichotomy of mechanics and thermodynamics, or the dichotomy of wave and particle, or the contradiction between SR and QM regarding "freedom," or renormalization--or any other example you please. The physicist looks around most of the absurdities, worrying about selected difficulties only when it is professionally expedient to do so. Physicists bob and weave around the contradictions; and around the incongruous pieces comprising physics: all the while proclaiming that physics is assured a favorable verdict in a court of logic.

The ability to look around theory's absurdities is what establishes the physical universe as something cognized. In my essay "Personhood II," I expounded what I called collective mental play-acting (a consenting sham, for short). Collective mental play-acting, I hold, is the principle on which the physical universe ultimately rests.