QR1.6.2 The Assumptions of Physical Realism

Science began when Aristotle concluded that, for all practical purposes, physical events caused physical events, so matter was assumed to be the primal substance. Modern physics adds energy to the term “physical” because light is massless, and also time and space. All this to support the 2,000-year-old idea that the physical world is real, where “physical” is taken to mean matter, energy, space and time.

The belief that only the physical world exists is based on four assumptions about it, namely that it is:

1. Conserved. A physical world that is all there is must be conserved. It can transform, as clay turns into a bowl, but must always exist. Unfortunately, the failure of steady state theory to compete with big bang theory last century cracked this pillar, as what began from nothing isn’t conserved. The physical realism patch is the speculation that our universe oscillates in a big bounce.

2. Continuous. A physical world that is all there is needs a continuous space and time to exist in but continuity creates infinities that contradict this assumption, so physics invented the mathematical patch of renormalization, a technique that Feynman called a “dippy process“.

3. Complete. A physical world that is all there is implies that everything has a physical cause but random events like atomic decay have no physical cause by definition and quantum theory adds that every physical event is random to some degree. The many-worlds fairy-tale that every quantum event creates an entire new universe was a patch that caught the public imagination.

4. Fundamental. A physical world that is all there is implies fundamental particles that need nothing else to exist but quantum theory states that physical events only occur when quantum waves are observed and the evidence supports it. Physics pasted over the quantum observer crack by the patch that virtual particles appear from nowhere to explain whatever an observer sees

Figure 1.7 The Four Pillars of Physical Realism

Figure 1.7 shows the four pillars of physical realism, their cracks and the resulting patches. The implications of these assumptions are that if the physical world is always:

1. Conserved, then it must be eternal,

2. Continuous, then it must be all-pervading,

3. Complete, then it must be all-powerful, and

4. Fundamental, then it must self-exist.

That the physical world is conserved, continuous, complete and fundamental equates to saying it is eternal, all-pervading, all-powerful and self-exists, all properties attributed to God in religious times. Physical realism dresses up the properties of God in scientific terms and applies them to physical reality so it is more an ideology than a conclusion of science.

Oddly enough, the assumptions of physical realism have never been subject to scientific scrutiny. No experiments contrast them with an alternative because none has ever been credible. They are accepted based on tradition but current physics can’t prove its assumptions about physical reality any more than religion could prove its assumptions about God. If the physical world is always conserved, why did it begin? If the physical world is continuous, why are there Planck limits? If the physical world is complete, why does quantum randomness occur? If the physical world is made of fundamental particles, why is the observer necessary in quantum theory and relativity?

To believe physical realism today one must believe that physical matter came into existence by itself, that a mathematical trick can deny the infinities of continuity, that every photon event spawns a new universe and that virtual particles routinely pop out of empty space to make things happen. To say that physical realism has shaky foundations is an understatement, so it is time to consider another paradigm.

Quantum realism denies all the assumptions of physical realism. A virtual world that is created from nothing in that world isn’t always conserved. A virtual world made of pixels presented in quantum cycles isn’t continuous. A virtual world output by quantum processing isn’t complete. A virtual world that requires an observer can’t be fundamental. To attribute the properties of God to a virtual reality that began at a past instant and is generated by quantum events at every moment is pure foolishness.