How do space, time and gravity emerge from quantum physics?

In an earlier post I wrote how, according to the Copenhagen interpretation, not just matter but time is also created by the measurement.

Today I want to present to you my comments on a particularly interesting interview Steven Strogatz had with Sean Carroll which was published in Quanta Magazine on May 4, 2022. Steven Strogatz is a mathematics professor, Sean Carroll is a quantum physicist who studies quantum gravity. Carroll discusses the creation of time and space.

Einstein’s description of curved space-time doesn’t easily mesh with a universe made up of quantum wavefunctions. Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll discusses the quest for quantum gravity with host Steven Strogatz.

I found Carroll’s statements in this interview extremely captivating. It reveals a lot about the changing view of nature of quantum physicists. I therefore want to comment on some of his statements. You can find the full interview here. He has also published a book on the subject – the emergence of spacetime from the quantum world: Something Deeply Hidden.

Incidentally, Sean Carroll is also an advocate of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics. A hypothesis that is not mine. Read my post “Multiversa and the Double Slit“.

Relativity and quantum physics

To begin with, Carroll puts the importance of Einstein’s theory of relativity into perspective from the position of quantum physics:

C: ‘Yeah, you know, we think of relativity, the birth of relativity in the early 20th century, as a giant revolution in physics. But it was nothing compared to the quantum revolution that happened a few years later’.

Yet the relationship between time and space, between energy and matter became established by the special theory of relativity in an extremely revolutionary way, even though the theory is still considered part of classical physics. Time and space are elastic and relative to the observer. That elasticity can certainly no longer be called classic. The important role of the observer is already apparent, although Einstein has denied it. You could say that relativity has paved the way for the even more shocking message of quantum physics.

Quantum physics is the real fundamental physics – on all scales

C: ‘We’ve accepted that quantum mechanics is a more fundamental version of how nature works. Quantum mechanics is the theory of how the world works. What happens at small scales is that classical mechanics fails. So, you need quantum mechanics. Classical mechanics turns out to be a limit, an approximation, a little tiny baby version of quantum mechanics, but it’s not the fundamental one.’.

Finally someone who says it plainly. Quantum physics is not limited to the world of the atomic, it is a fundamentally more correct description of the world at any scale. Classical physics is the special case, which predicts very well on the limited scale of our senses.

C: ‘And we kind of tend to think of the world in classical terms. Classically, things have positions, and they have locations — positions and velocities. Quantum mechanically, that’s not true.

The experience of the world on the scale of our biological senses determines how we think about the world, about what we can imagine. There are things, permanently occupying a position in space. But it is the wrong picture. The world as we experience it, doesn’t really exist like those permanent things.

There is no procedure that will take you safely from classical physics to quantum physics

C: ‘So there’s supposed to be, in some sense a map from the space of classical theories to quantum theories, okay? The quantization procedure. This is all a complete fake. I mean, it sort of is a kludge that works sometimes, but this purported map from classical theories to quantum theories is not very well-defined’

We are still trying to understand quantum physics departing from a classical basis. That of concrete things. We used and still use a procedure to convert the classical description to the quantum physical, the quantization procedure. For example, physics students learn to translate to quantum physics from the classical basis they have learned before . But it’s not right at all. Quantization produces infinities in your equations. We were able to normalize these with mathematical tricks for the electromagnetic forces. But with gravity, those tricks no longer work. Quantization produces complete nonsense with gravity.

C: ‘But then there’s a whole set of more deep conceptual issues, not only do you not know what to do, you don’t know what you’re doing. Because, with everything else, every other theory other than gravity, it’s very clear what’s going on. You have stuff inside space-time. The stuff has a location, right? It has a point in space, it’s moving through time. Even if you have a field, it has a value at every point in space, etc.’

As long as you continue to use the classical concepts, such as objects in space and time, things will go wrong. You don’t really know what you’re doing. You don’t understand.

Before quantum physics it was obvious what a measurement was

This is where the major pain points are clearly discussed. In classical physics it was not necessary to describe things like observation and measurement, in quantum physics they are necessary, but we are still not in agreement on what exactly these are.

C: ‘So I don’t think that there is any such thing as a position or a velocity of a particle. I think those are things you observe, when you measure it, they’re possible observational outcomes, but they’re not what is — okay, they’re not what truly exists. And if you extend that to gravity, you’re saying that what we call the geometry of space-time, or things like location in space, they don’t exist. They are some approximation that you get at the classical level in the right circumstances. And that’s a very deep conceptual shift that people kind of lose their way in very quickly.’

There are no things with a position and speed. What may emerge from a measurement is not what already exists. That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? But Bohr and Heisenberg had already said this.

Energence of space and time

Then Carroll talks about his idea that spacetime is emergent in the same way that the macroscopic properties of a gas are emergent and arise from the atomic properties, whereby nothing fundamentally new arises during that emergence. That’s called weak emergence. Spacetime emergence is also a weak emergence according to Carroll. That means that there is a fundamentally different reality beneath macro-reality that we have to master first. So, don’t quantize our classic models, but set up something very fundamentally new. We must therefore say goodbye to the classical idea of locality. Which is the message of entanglement. Entanglement violates locality. Carroll then inverts the question of entanglement and locality, why is there so much locality in the universe that we perceive if it is not fundamental?

C: ‘Locality is just the idea that if I poke the universe at one point in space-time, the effects of that poke will happen at that point, and then they will ripple out…. So then, if you believe that locality is fundamental like that, then you’re sort of asking this question, why does the universe almost violate that but seem to not quite? That’s the puzzle that we have. It’s “why is there locality at all?”’

So, this is the question: can we infer reality as we experience it with its locality in space and time from what we know about quantum physics?

C:’ We just have an abstract quantum wavefunction and we’re asking, can we extract reality as we know it from the wavefunction? Space-time, quantum fields, all of those things’
C: ‘So, in the real world, we have, to a very good approximation, the world is run by what we call quantum field theory. Okay, so, the stuff of the world, the particles and the, you know, the forces, etc., all come from fields that spread all throughout space and time and have a quantum mechanical nature.

Space, time and entanglement

Could we perhaps establish the relationship between non-local entanglement and physical distance in spacetime via the quantum wave function?

C: ’Okay, so, the stuff of the world, the particles and the, you know, the forces, etc., all come from fields that spread all throughout space and time and have a quantum mechanical nature. The quantum state of the fields at these two points in space, is it entangled? And then what you can do is take two different points of space-time, at some distance between them, and because there’s still things there, because there still are fields even in empty space, you can say, is there entanglement between these two points of space? And the answer is yes, it is always going to be entangled. And in fact, more than that, if the points are nearby, the fields will be highly entangled with each other. And if the fields are far away, the entanglement will be very, very low. Not zero, but very, very low. So, in other words, there is a relationship between the distance between two points and their amount of entanglement in the lowest-energy state of a conventional quantum field theory. Let me assume, let me put out there as an ansatz [a mathematical assumption], that when the entanglement is strong, the distance is short. And I’m going to define something called the distance. And it’s a small number when the entanglement is large, it’s a big number when the entanglement is small. But the point is that if we follow our nose, if we say we start not with space, but with entanglement, how should it behave? How should it interact?

In short, the more powerful the entanglement between two points in space, the closer they are to each other. That’s Carroll’s hypothesis. In other words, we experience (measure) distance in space and time by quantum entanglement in the non-local quantum field! So, distance in space and time are no longer fundamental concepts. This makes the elasticity in dimensions in time and space experienced by the observer, which follows from the theory of relativity, a lot more comprehensible as far as I am concerned.

I’m curious where the developments are going. I see a paradigm starting to shift.

Materialism and its disastrous consequences

Why materialism is the cause of the catastrophic state of the world and humanity, and what to do about it

At the start of my course in Quantum Physics and Consciousness for students of the Academy of Spiritual Sciences in Utrecht, I made the above statement. At the end of the course, the last lesson, an explanation of that statement was asked – rightly so. This led to a heated discussion that ended not entirely satisfactory because of time constraints, after which I decided to explain my position in much more detail in this blog.

That materialism is leading us to the abyss is my personal conviction. In these times there are many outspoken supporters of hard materialism influencing public opinion on the issue. By hard materialism, also called physicalism, I mean the deep conviction that the world can be fully explained with just matter and all interactions between matter. To avoid misunderstanding, this does not mean that I think that those with such a matter-only view are people with bad intentions. Most materialists are certainly not people harboring malicious intent, but mostly – in my opinion – misinformed. They may very well be very nice, empathetic, responsible and honest people. However, their belief is leading the world in a catastrophic direction.

I will explain below in a number of logical steps where materialism is leading us and why I consider it disastrous.

The materialistic postulate and its conclusions about the world

Pure materialism is based on the postulate that the world can be fully explained with matter and all interaction between matter. This is a postulate that leads us step by step to the following logical conclusions:

  1. Consciousness can only be a product of matter because there exist only matter. Consciousness is therefore an emergent property of a complex brain.
  2. From this follows that a complex material brain is needed for our experience of having a consciousness. Everything that does not have a complex brain, therefore, has little or no consciousness. The less complex the brain, the less consciousness. Man has obviously the most complex brain (on earth) and therefore also the most complex consciousness and is therefore superior to all other forms of life.
  3. Consciousness, being a product of a complex brain, ends with the death of the physical body and its brain.
  4. All interactions of matter are mechanical and without purpose. Each outcome is basically unintentional and therefore purely coincidental.
  5. Life, including consciousness, can only have arisen through purely coincidental combinations and interactions of matter. Life and consciousness are therefore ultimately accidental phenomena in an indifferent universe.
  6. Life is therefore, in principle, a purely mechanically explicable phenomenon.
  7. Heredity, a characteristic of life, is a mechanically explainable phenomenon. Changes in the hereditary properties are only the result of accidental mutations.
  8. Evolution, the gradual emergence of increasingly complex organisms, occurs through mechanical random effects. The best adapted organism has the best chance of passing on its, sometimes altered by chance mutation, hereditary characteristics to the next generation. The hereditary mutations that are less fit for survival do not survive and won’t be passed on to the next generation.
  9. Although very complex organisms can arise in this way, possibly with consciousness, this must ultimately be based on blind chance. There is no other explanation and we don’t need another.
  10. Blind chance, along with the basic properties of matter, are therefore the only real elements in the universe.
  11. Free will is an illusion because each action is the result of mechanically explainable interactions of matter.
  12. There is therefore no purpose in the universe. It’s pointless.
  13. There is also no good and evil in the universe since good and evil are not properties of matter and cannot be derived from it. Ethics, ideas of good and evil, have no material basis.

I hope that you understand that the above statements are contrary to my beliefs. They are logical derivations from the materialistic postulate. The same beliefs can be found in the publications of Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) and Daniël Dennet (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea). You will also find them in the beliefs of many neuroscientists like Dick Schwaab (We Are Our Brains) and Sebastian Seung (Connectome).

Everything is allowed – in the materialistic perspective

From the last three statements – 11, 12 and 13 – which are fully endorsed by the said adherents of the materialistic view of the world – I then deduce:

  • Each individual organism is therefore completely free to determine and achieve its own goal. However, if other organisms get in the way, bad luck for them.
  • In other words: everything is allowed. If other organisms suffer as a result, it is only important for the organism that causes their suffering when itself suffers a disadvantage as a result of the suffering of its victims.
  • Love, empathy are nice but not necessary, they are just a luxury.
  • Rampant sociopathy, lust for power, greed, depletion of natural resources, wars, oppression, exploitation, exclusion of the other and even the torture or the killing of the other organisms are all justifiable from the above explained purely materialistic perspective. Matter is indifferent to suffering.

These conclusions may well disappoint you. Good thing, too. But are they not illogical from the materialistic viewpoint? They do, in my opinion, support the rampant greed that is increasing and causing social inequality and the concentration of capital in the world and that is becoming increasingly alarming.

The Matter with Things – Materialism is no good

This eloquent, almost poetic quote from ‘The Matter with Things‘ by Iain McGilchrist therefore seems to me very appropriate here:

The business of life then becomes like a dance watched by a deaf person: puzzling, pointless and somewhat absurd. Death becomes just the meaningless end of a life itself without meaning. Goodness becomes mere utility, and suffering just frustration of utility. Eros becomes just lust; longing just want; sleep and dreams an inefficiency that we should do away with if we could; art a toy; the natural world a heap of resource; and wonder merely a measure of our failure, rather than, as I believe it to be, a measure of our insight.

Therefore: Materialism is no good.

Above that: It has not been demonstrated experimentally. It’s a dogma. An unproven belief.

It is not only a belief, but it is also severely shortsighted. Materialism offers no credible explanation for quantum phenomena such as the observer effect at the double slit, entanglement demonstrated in all Bell experiments and the influence of the mind on quantum random generators (QRNG) by the observer’s intention. Anyone who reflects on hypotheses such as decoherence, multiversa, superselection and spontaneous collapse with an open mind, and is willing to let go of the materialistic view of the world, will be able to see that none of these are very credible attempts to save the materialistic view. Incidentally, the materialistic view has also no real explanation for the evolution of life, which is becoming increasingly painful in view of the recent discoveries in heredity research where organisms, unicellular and multicellular, appear to adapt actively and intelligently their own hereditary properties, their own DNA, in response to the challenges of their environment.

Again, that doesn’t mean that materialists are bad. Most people are good, even when they cherish materialistic views. But this does say something about what this image of the world invites to. Is it any wonder, then, that we are on the brink of catastrophe today, despite all the good intentions of most people?

But isn’t primary consciousness also just a hypothesis?

Indeed. The assumption of primary consciousness is also a hypothesis and because it cannot be proved experimentally it is as much a postulate as the postulate of materialism. However, consider that the postulate of primary consciousness offers excellent explanations for quantum physical effects that are incomprehensible by the materialist view. That’s why it’s my preference. A hypothesis that offers no understandable explanations for experimentally observed effects is, in my view, a poor hypothesis.

Quantum physics has repeatedly confirmed that the information that an experiment can provide determines where the object under investigation will appear, how it behaves and how it has behaved. Reality does not act materially in its fundaments but much more like a dynamic and interactive field of potential. Information including its meaning is typically something that resides in consciousness. That effect, the observer manifests the observed by his observation, can only be properly explained if consciousness is much more than an emergent phenomenon of matter.

When we assume that consciousness is primary and that matter is very probably an expression of that consciousness, a very different picture emerges. Materialism loses its current persuasive power and hopefully we can start to create a world that is not – as it is doing at the moment – crashes into the abyss.