Saturday, January 29, 2011

Does the Double Slit Experiment Refute the Primacy of Existence?

A visitor to my website sent me the following question:
I somehow came across your validation text of the primacy of existence, and found it very enlightening and interesting to read. However, it got me thinking of a quantum mechanics experiment I have heard about, the Double Slit Experiment. Have you heard of it? I have studied neither philosophy nor physics but am greatly interested in both, and my intuition told me that the double slit experiment contradicts the primacy of existence. Since you seem very adept at organising thoughts and arguing theories as these, I felt like asking you what you think of this matter. 

Doesn't the fact that the behaviour of electrons, when shot through a double slit, alters from wave-like patterns to particle patterns, through the act of observation challenge the primacy of existence? It is like the electrons themselves become aware of us being aware of them, and therefor alters their behaviour. In other words, they become conscious of our consciousness and changes their existence, meaning their existence becomes relative to our awareness, nullifying their primacy.
The article pertaining to the primacy of existence on my website which the inquirer mentions can be found here.

The inquirer also mentions the so-called Double Slit Experiment. A brief video describing the Double Slit Experiment can be found here.

My response to the inquirer’s question follows below:
Thanks for your question. 
You ask: “Doesn't the fact that the behaviour of electrons, when shot through a double slit, alters from wave-like patterns to particle patterns, through the act of observation challenge the primacy of existence?” 
Yes, I am aware of the double slit experiment, and I have actually written on it, since some folks apparently think its results contradict the primacy of existence. But can you tell me who observes the behavior of particles at the quantum level, and by what means? The double slit experiment is often described as having a different outcome (e.g., a banded pattern as opposed to an interference pattern) when someone “observes” the electrons passing through the slits in the experiment. But who’s doing the “observing” here? No one that I know of can *perceive* an electron with the naked eye. (If you know of anyone, please identify him or her.) It is said that a “measuring device” is used to capture this information, but a measuring device is not the same thing as a human being (or any other biological organism) “observing” what the measuring device is measuring. A fundamental distinction seems to have been ignored in deriving the conclusion that “merely observing” the electrons in the experiment alters the experiment’s outcomes, which – if that’s what has happened – seems very sloppy to me. 
Needless to say, there is no prima facie violation of the primacy of existence occurring when the presence of a physical object has an impact on other physical objects in its immediate vicinity. Whether it’s the earth orbiting the sun because of gravitational pull, or the after wash of a tractor trailer blowing a bicyclist on a road when it passes him, physical objects acting upon other physical objects produce physical effects. So the presence of a “measuring device” in the double slit experiment altering the outcome of the experiment does not in any way suggest to me that the primacy of existence has been violated. 
Now if the behavior of the electrons in the experiment conformed to the scientist’s wishes, emotions, imagination, temper tantrum, or commands, then you could feasibly say that we have an instance of a violation of the primacy of existence. But no scientist that I know of claims that this is what is happening in the double slit case. Nor do I know of any scientists suggesting that electrons possess consciousness, as if the electrons in the double slit experiment are mischievously playing some kind of trick on us. But even supposing the electrons were conscious, and had the capacity of motor control (as we have, such as when I lift my coffee cup to my lips), their behavior would not in any way nullify the primacy of existence. Rather, they would be acting according to their identity, just as I act according to my identity when I take a sip of coffee. In neither case, there is no violation of the primacy of existence so far as I understand the mechanics and procedures of the experiment. 
QM is admitted, by virtually every scientist in the field, to be a realm of mystery. It’s best not to try to shape one’s understanding of philosophy on the basis of a field of science that is still in its infancy. 
I hope that helps. 
Regards, 
Dawson
The inquirer replied to my answer with the following statement:
It seems I was right in asking you about this since you made several things clear to me. I didn't realize how vital the distinction between a measuring device and an observing organism. Neither did I reach the conclusion that should electrons be conscious, would they still not nullify the primacy, but just be acting on their identity. It seems your validation on the primacy of existence was not enough for me to grasp it all but needed this mail conversation as well to realise that physical interference was not a way for consciousness obtain primacy. You've convinced me of the primacy of existence:) thanks again!
Your thoughts, questions, reactions are welcome.

by Dawson Bethrick

Labels: , ,

8 Comments:

Blogger Vagon said...

Well stated on the identity angle, even if an electron as a wave is following all possible paths, it is still following its identity.

I am however confused as to the criticism of measuring devices (in this case a screen coated with phosphor) in observation. All measurement is effected by observation. An eye itself is a biological measuring device with its own impacts on observation, in particular that it can only register certain wavelengths of light.

My own explanation would suggest that observation with an eye is (generally) not subject to any noticeable impact of its own measurement where as zooming down to the quantum level creates greater variances in observation right up to Planck length.

We cannot know an electron's path substantial impact from measurement. If someone claims they can let them defend it. Until such time to suggest that this is grounds for the primacy of conciousness is arbitrary.

January 30, 2011 9:25 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Vagon,

Thank you for your comment.

You wrote: “I am however confused as to the criticism of measuring devices (in this case a screen coated with phosphor) in observation.”

The point I was trying to make, and hopefully it was clear enough, is that the “measuring device” used in the experiment (as described in the video I linked to) is illegitimately equated with “observing.” The “device” used to measure the behavior of electrons is not itself conscious, or even a form of consciousness. And yet, the supposition that the double slit experiment’s outcomes pose contradictory implications for the primacy of existence assumes, either wittingly or not, that “observation” (i.e., a conscious activity) is what causes the observed difference in the experiment’s outcome. In fact, contrary to this assumption, some *inanimate* “measuring device” (e.g., “a screen coated with phosphor”) is likely responsible for the difference in outcomes, not mere “observing.”

You wrote: “All measurement is effected by observation. An eye itself is a biological measuring device with its own impacts on observation, in particular that it can only register certain wavelengths of light.”

The human eye, because of its nature, does in fact limit the distance, scope and scale of our ability to measure what we perceive. It limits what we can perceive to begin with. Indeed, that is why I asked the inquirer if he could tell me who can “observe” activity at the level of an electron. (I’m reminded of the old Disneyland ride called “Inner Space” – do you remember that one, where you sit in a bucket that takes you through the stages of a shrinking process, right down to the size of an atom… Neat stuff!)

In the case of the double slit experiment and the argument that its outcome somehow refutes the primacy of existence, the claim seems to be that observing as such somehow alters what is being measured. Before the “measuring device” was implemented, the experiment resulted in an interference pattern; while with the “measuring device” it resulted in a double band, i.e., not an interference pattern. You’ll notice in the video I linked to that it is when the electron was “observed” that its behavior is said to have changed. Of course, this is not something I’ve ever experienced. I can at no point recall something changing (or its effect changing) simply upon my observing it. In fact, they seem to be equivocating “measuring device” with “observing.” And I think that’s what trips up those who are seeking some way to use the double slit experiment to bolster their denial of the primacy of existence.

I hope I’m making sense here. If I seem entirely off, or off just a little, please let me know.

Regards,
Dawson

January 30, 2011 10:48 PM  
Blogger Vagon said...

Your argument is perfectly clear and correct, I wanted to check whether you were in agreeance with the inquirer when he/she said:

"I didn't realize how vital the distinction between a measuring device and an observing organism."

Which seems like providing preference to purely biological observance over that assisted by tools.

The distinction between measuring device and organism (in this matter at least) is not "vital".

The vital emphasis should be on the effect of the measuring device - whether that be eye, phosphor screen or a ruler.

January 31, 2011 3:28 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

When I read the inquirer’s response, including the statement you quoted, I understood it in the context that “measuring device” was intended to denote an inanimate object (such as one which is capable of monitoring activity at the quantum level) and not human awareness. That’s the difference in play on my reading of the double slit experiment, and the one which I tried to highlight in my response to the inquirer’s question. Whether we want to call this distinction “vital” or not, it is an essential distinction, particularly in the context of the question as to whether the double slit experiment poses negative implications vis. the primacy of existence, since the issue is whether or not merely observing something alters the nature or activity of what’s being observed. If the “measuring device” indicated in the double slit experiment is not even conscious to begin with, this is a deciding factor so far as I can tell. Consciousness isn’t even involved at the quantum level, so it’s a non-starter as a counter-example to the primacy of existence.

I think what you’re saying is that, since (on your view) a human eye, or human perception (a type of conscious activity) qualifies as a means of measurement, and therefore can feasibly be subsumed under the rubric “measuring device,” the distinction between a measuring device and an organism is not necessarily one of exclusion, but rather inclusion (having a genus-species relationship), and therefore not vital. Is that what you’re thinking? If so, it’s truth depends on the definition of ‘measuring device’, and this could probably go one of several ways. But again, my assumption was that it was understood that “measuring device” denoted some inanimate object that is not identical to some type of conscious activity.

Hope I’m not beating the horse to death here. Just trying to resolve the outstanding question. If I’m way off, let me know.

Regards,
Dawson

February 01, 2011 4:12 PM  
Blogger Vagon said...

No beating going on, if anyone is it is probably me.

To rephrase, you wanted to address that conciousness is separate from the non-concious measuring device and, as such, conciousness is not the implementer of the change upon the electron.

You summed it up eloquently with:

"Consciousness isn’t even involved at the quantum level, so it’s a non-starter as a counter-example to the primacy of existence."

I only wanted to confirm that the emphasis was not on a purely biological vs mechanically assisted observance, but more that the agent of interference was not conciousness. I also wanted to note that to try and address the overall concern with any accuracy is an exercise in arbitrary opinion. We (including to my knowledge current theoretical physicists) cannot get an observance with out interfering greatly with that observance.

February 02, 2011 2:42 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Just correcting whoever asked the question observing doesn't "change" the outcome, it defines it to our reality.

October 19, 2011 5:09 AM  
Blogger ibnus salam said...

Peace be upon on you.

Fyi,
From double slit experiment we got information
1/. existence require an observer.
2/. if an observer stop observe, the existence will be quickly disappeared.

this information is already written 14 centuries ago. in the future all existence will be quickly disappeared “twinkling of the eye”.

see link below.

http://www.asso-lerappel.fr/index.php/islam-multimedia/ecouter-et-telecharger-le-coran?surano=16&ayatno=77&action=display

December 04, 2013 4:58 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Ibnus wrote: “From double slit experiment we got information 1/. existence require an observer. 2/. if an observer stop observe, the existence will be quickly disappeared.”

This is simply ridiculous. And no, the double slit experiment does not show this at all.

Notice how your interpretation of the experiment’s implications simply leads inexorably to an interminable infinite regress: if existence requires an observer, the observer needs an observer in order to exist, and that observer needs an observer to exist, etc., etc., etc.

Theists apparently want to believe that the double slit experiment, so interpreted, serves their theistic faith commitments. But the implications drawn here are clearly not compatible with a form of theism which begins with a god (e.g., an observer) and then posits that it is the source of everything else. For the implications here would mean that even the theist’s god would need an observer beyond itself in order to exist, and that observer would need an observer, and so on and so on.

That theists do not recognize this simply tells us that they are not looking at the issues involved here very closely, or at all honestly.

Also notice that the theist is secretly employing the primacy of existence principle – the very principle which he seeks to unseat – when he makes the statement “the double slit experiment shows…” He’s essentially saying that this is what the experiment shows *regardless of what anyone thinks, feels, wants, wishes, imagines, hopes, etc.* In other words, he’s saying that the results of the experiment, whatever they may be, are what they are independent of anyone’s conscious activity. That’s the primacy of existence. And yet he’s trying to tell us, one way or another, that the double slit experiment means that consciousness holds metaphysical primacy.

Again, the theist simply contradicts himself performatively.

Game, set, match. You’re out.

Regards,
Dawson

December 04, 2013 3:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home