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In our world, there are rules that govern the way we study science. There are also groups of people who doubt those rules and replace them with the idea of chance. Chance is the capacity for something to happen truly randomly, in a way that is not attributable to any outside forces, at least that we know of. A key factor in this debate is whether or not humans are capable of knowing as much as we think we are in the present. Throughout history, the things that humans thought were scientific fact have been discovered to be incorrect when we made new observations. The reasons behind the laws of nature are actually beyond our knowledge, and therefore not concrete facts or law at all. Quantum mechanics supports this argument because of how we are not able to know both the location and movement of quantum particles simultaneously and how quantum particles behave differently when they are observed. The fact that the mere act of observation or measurement changes the outcome of the way in which particles behave shows that humans at this point in time are not capable of knowing the truth scientifically. Additionally, the scientific knowledge we have gained from studying quantum physics makes other scientific facts that we thought were certain, uncertain instead. Newton’s laws of nature gave way to quantum mechanics and the world spiraled into uncertainty, or the arguably more likely case: chance. All of the things that humans measure may be that way simply because we measure them, and only in the moment that those particular things are measured. This creates space for an abundance of uncertainty and takes validity away from cosmological forces. The more humans learn and study about science and quantum mechanics in particular, the more we realize we do not actually know, what at this point we might not be able to know, and what we think we know but are actually wrong about. Although there are laws that govern quantum mechanics, these laws could be broken sometimes. They are nothing more than man’s attempt to explain chance occurrences that could happen in an infinite number of ways. The laws of nature are actually beyond our comprehension, so they are merely explanations of what usually happens rather than concrete laws. Chance is the primary governing body of the universe, but it operates in patterns that we attempt to explain.
Quantum mechanics was developed alongside Newton’s laws of physics, but was not as easy to comprehend and therefore underaccepted. Newton claimed that “[e]very object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it,” that “[f]orce is equal to the change in momentum per change in time,” and that “[f]or every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” (<www.grc.nasa.gov/eee/k-12/airplane/newton.html>). We can see that these laws are accurate based on what happens most of the time. When something else happens, we call it extraordinary or exceptional. “Newton, justly satisfied with his physical principles, disclaimed metaphysics” and closed the door for quantum mechanics to be publicly established or to explain the unexplainable (Whitehead, 10). The reason Newton was so much more influential than quantum physicists is because his “it favored stable and political orders and the modern idea of democracy, weakening arguments for absolutism” (Crease). People wanted to believe Newton because they craved answers. Curiosity about the way of the universe and how things work is a fundamental element of the human mind, so “Newton’s achievement exerted an almost cultlike fascination on the public; it provided insight into the operations of the universe that previously had been reserved for religious authorities and mystics” (Crease). This insight, being supported by evidence, was new for mankind, and it gave Newton’s laws a strong foothold in the scientific community. In the 1600’s, “[m]ost people could fathom only a little of the world, which seemed like a supernatural organism with several parts” (Crease). Now they knew the parts, and the organism, that is, the universe, was significantly easier to handle and consider. Despite the fact that Newton’s laws provided answers and explain the nature of physics in the present, they do not shed any light to how things will operate in the future. We can assume that it will be the same, but there is not a way to know for sure. This is because Newton, in fact, did not actually explain the present but rather merely provided a scientific observation of how things happen most of the time. So, “the future is not determined in terms of a complete description of the present, but that in the nature of things the present cannot be completely described” either (Crease, 147).
We cannot ignore the breakthroughs that were and still are happening in the study of quantum mechanics during and after Newton. Everything that Newton discusses is dependent on its initial state, which he assumes as inert matter without potential energy until acted upon in some way by some other outside force. “These finely tuned systems are exquisitely sensitive to their precise initial state; so in practice it is impossible to make any sensible predictions” about how other things with other initial states would behave (Allday, 54). Newton’s theories are beginning to be replaced by more complicated theories ad hypotheses about quantum relationships, just as Newton wholly replaced his predecessors’ theories. “The fate of Newtonian physics warns us that there is a development in scientific first principles, and that their original forms can only be saved by interpretations of meaning and limitations of their field of application” which evolve over time (Whitehead, 10). This means that in each stage of scientific inquiry and discovery, humans are capable of knowing more, but are simultaneously limited by different factors. Despite Newton’s laws of physics, quantum particles can and do behave in ways that we do not understand, which supports chance occurrences and randomness.
One quantum study in particular sheds light on how little we actually know about the behavior of particles. “Clinton Davisson and Lester Germer at Bell Laboratories in the United States and published in 1927 [conducted an experiment] shows that Newton’s intuitive picture of the world is wrong” (Cox, 20). This experiment became known as the double-slit experiment. It has been repeated in several different ways. Davisson and Germer measured “[t]he intensity of scattering of a homogenous beam of electrons of adjustable speed incident upon a single crystal of nickel… as a function of direction” (Cox, 20). In general, “[t]he experiment consists of a source that sends electrons towards a barrier with two small slits (or holes) cut into it. On the other side of the barrier, there is a screen that glows when an electron hits it” (Cox, 20). The scientists all measured the pattern that the electrons made once they hit the screen on the other side of the barrier with the slits. Common sense would suggest that the electrons would cluster in two groups since they have to pass through the slits. However, “we never find that an electron launched… and detected… has taken the left slit [or] that the same electron has taken the right slit” (Mohrhoff, 235). The pattern that appears is wave-like; the “electrons also produce an interference pattern, [and this] is very difficult to understand. According to Newton and common sense, the electrons emerge from the source, travel in straight lines towards the slits, pass through with perhaps a slight deflection if they glance off the edge of the slit, and continue in a straight line until they hit the screen. But this would not result in an interference pattern – it would give the pair of stripes” that we expect (Cox, 23). Scientists, puzzled by these results as they appear to challenge the established Newtonian laws of physics, tried to explain the phenomenon by saying that a single electron split and went through both slits. However, “[s]aying that an electron went through both slits can only mean that it went through [the left and the right combined into the single unit:] L&R – the cutouts in the slit plate considered as an undifferentiated whole” (Mohrhoff, 235). This is something that science cannot explain at this time. Additionally, the wave pattern is strange because it occurs in such close proximity from the electron launcher to receiver, and a “wave, by its very nature, spreads over some region of space. And it is not easily compressed to a small domain” (Ford, 195). This double-slit experiment is an example of something that not only challenges Newtonian theory but also reveals the lack of scientific answers that we currently have.
This study becomes even further complicated by the observation effect and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. The observation effect is when a particle changes the way it behaves when it is being measured. The same thing happens with people; “That observing changes human behavior is a truth known informally to attentive human beings since ancient times and formally to contemporary psychologists” (Crease, 152). In quantum mechanics, a particle behaves differently when it is being observed than when it is not. In other words, “the noetic-noematic correlation: what an object shows of itself to us – the noema – depends on how it’s being observed – the noesis. As each changes so does the other” (Crease, 183). This renders measuring anything about a quantum particle virtually impossible because we just end up with information about its behavior while being measured. This goes along with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which outlines that “[t]he more precisely the position [of a particle] is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa” (Ford, 197). The problem is that the measurement of the particle takes it out of its wave-pattern and makes it stationary for the moment it is measured. While it is entirely possible to use a slope to determine position, “this looks like a dangerous thing to do because if we make a measurement of the position of a particle too precisely then we are in danger of squeezing its wave packet, and that will change its subsequent motion” (Cox, 81). In other words, “an electron (or any quantum system) spreads through space as a wave, and when a measurement is performed, revealing a specific location or other property for the particle, the wave function ‘collapses’” (Ford, 260). It is therefore impossible to know both the position and movement of a particle with certainty. Scientists can make predictions of “the probability that a particle will be found in a particular place if [they] look for it. More than that, [they] can predict with absoluter precision how this probability changes with time” (Cox, 44). However, this still allows room for chance. The predictions would only explain what happens most of the time, so a particle can still be anywhere with any momentum at any time. This is why “Heisenberg insisted that the quantum realm was unvisualizable” (Crease, 123).
Quantum mechanics has and is taking the place of Newtonian physics, as well as revealing uncertainties that show us that there is room for chance rather than concrete law. Scientists agree that quantum mechanics creates an awareness of the fact that humans cannot know how particles operate. Human observation is not reliable anymore because we know that observation changes the behavior of particles, so “[o]bservable events ‘are no longer enmeshed in a deterministic network,’ Margenau writes. ‘Like mushrooms, they may crop up anywhere’” (Crease, 105). This does not mean that quantum mechanics does not provide society new scientific information. Mohrhoff says that “what quantum mechanics predicts are measurement outcomes. Moreover, with the exception of measurements that have finite sets of possible outcomes, no real-world experiment has an exact outcome” (Mohrhoff, 77). We end up with a list of probabilities and predictions that are more accurate than taking laws of physics at face value. Chance governs the universe and the behavior of its particles, not explanatory laws. “The breakdown of this kind of predictability is a key feature of quantum theory: it deals with probabilities rather than certainties, not because we lack absolute knowledge, but because some aspects of Nature are, at their very heart, governed by the laws of chance” (Cox, 7). Scientists are looking for answers and finding instead that humans are not able to have the answers, at least not at this time. As a human race we dove headfirst into quantum physics and we are looking around at a world that is less explainable than it ever has been, but we also see more than ever before: quantum particles acting like waves, changing the way they act when we look at them, even entanglement of particles on opposite sides of the world. We see more scientifically impossible phenomena, and “after all this time, the Quantum Moment is murkier and more unsettled than the Newtonian Moment it succeeded, and its shape is still being worked out” (Crease). Perhaps God does not want us to know His secrets, so he gave Newton something that He thought would be sufficient, but we naturally wanted more, so now He has to warp reality into something incomprehensible.
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