Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What individuals and quantum particles may have in common

The world is a complex place.  The interactions between individuals are as chaotic as the interactions between quantum particles.  This may just be an interesting comparison, but it could also be much more.  

Physicist Freeman Dyson once stated that:

Mind is already inherent in every electron, and the processes of human consciousness differ only in degree but not kind from the processes of choice between quantum states which we call 'chance' when they are made by electrons.  

Simply put, mind and matter do not share a causal relationship; rather they are both irreducible and simply exist.  Nothing causes them to exist...they just do. Our brains operate as they do, not because matter as we know it in the Newtonian sense causes it to operate, nor does it operate and produce ideas in an ideational sense where the idea causes the matter (see Chopra and all those guys), but the two are mutually independent.

Or, perhaps there is no connection whatsoever between the human mind and quantum physics.

 Political Scientist Dimitris Akrivoulis stated that this kind of debate could lead to "an innovative, quantum post-modern reading of world politics".  But he seems to lean on the side that this is really just interesting parallel.

But, it could be more.  Quantum mechanics may or may not explain some degree of operation with the human mind, and if that is true than what possible basis do we have for a newtonian (Poppernian?) conception of positivism?  If the human mind is truly chaotic in the same way that quantum stuff is chaotic than how can we even assume that rational models will hold up in any way beyond immediate, common (instinctual?) sense?

But, here's where I drop back into the cold dark clutches of positivism.  As behavioral researches have noted from their peak in the 60's, human action need not be predicted at the individual level.  The model is not going to work in such a clear, inductive fashion.  Rather it is only necessary to predict human behavior at the aggregate level.

Well,  if you have some knowledge of quantum physics and the concept of decoherence than this might sound a bit familiar.  From my laypersons understanding, decoherance in particle physics is basically the concept that the interactions (chaotic as they may be) between particles adds up to something really predictable at levels larger than the particles (keep in mind that particles are incredibly tiny...much, much smaller than the atom)...but these interactions, at the macro level (atomic or molecular even) are really, really predictable).

You mix compound a with compound b and you will always, always, always get the exact same result.  But, beneath the surface all kinds of stuff is happening.

Well, is society not really something similar?  Jacky might do something crazy, but it doesn't matter because the other million people will average out her crazy and as a whole everything is clockwork.  Perhaps the only difference is that we are talking about vast numbers of particles in physics, but only small numbers (billions) with people.  Perhaps if we were to add a dozen zeros to the total human population, the actions of the population would be just as predictable as chemical reactions.

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