Observing Mathematics: Objectifying Theology, Myth, History
2013 07 23 I posted a news report:
|Bizarre ‘Schrödinger’s Cat’ comes alive in new experiments, http://www.nbcnews.com/science/bizarre-schrodingers-cat-comes-alive-new-experiments-6C10713858
The strangeness of the world of the very small that allows a particle to be in two states at once may extend to larger scales, two new studies reveal. If the research proves true, that would bolster the validity of a thought experiment suggesting that a cat can be both alive and dead at the same time.
The idea, called Schrödinger’s Cat after the physicist Erwin Schrödinger, who proposed it in 1935, goes like this: Put a cat in a box with a vial of poison gas. The vial opens when a tiny piece of radioactive metal emits an alpha particle (the nucleus of a helium atom) as it decays. Emitting an alpha particle is a quantum-mechanical process, which means that whether it happens in any given stretch of time is basically random.
Quantum mechanics says that it’s impossible to know whether the radioactive decay has happened (and the cat is dead) unless one measures it — that is, unless the alpha particle interacts with the environment in some way that an observer can see. Until that happens, the alpha particle can be thought of as being emitted and not emitted at the same time. The cat is both dead and alive, a state called superposition.
Opening the box is a measurement — one sees the effect of an alpha particle as the dead cat, or the absence of an alpha particle as a live one.
I said I’d comment in a post on Observing Mathematics: but what I can’t resist today, though related to that concept is blatantly related to my usual obsessions: man, myth, truth.
Schrödinger’s followers put the cat in a box, meet the other requirements, rocket the box beyond Pluto, out of the solar system … There’s no radio for the cat to report over, the cat is immortal: it will never die of old age or boredom or perversity, the only way to kill it is for the alpha particle to be emitted. So we’re left with probabilities regarding the cat’s existence.
Schrödinger’s Wave Equation
Great. That’s the kind of thing humans do, funded by a kleptocracy, advancement going to those both skilled and docile, not an easy requirement: bright, but not too bright: an Aquinas, not an Abelard. That’s a thought experiment. Here’s another:
New Thought Experiment:
Schrödinger’s Scapegoat (or God’s Schrödinger)
|Imagine God salting the universe with billions of Jesus-in-a-box. Most land in barren places, bodies where life didn’t take hold, or at least where sentience failed yet to develop. That still leaves millions of places where the Jesus-box lands and meets “people” in this or that stage of development. Some of those boxes will land on a planet where people have overpopulated as a result of agriculture (any mono-economy really). The combination of competition and cooperation that got them there gets replaced by a hierarchical centralized authority: or maybe a double hierarchy: both Rome with its Caesar (soldiers, Pilat, etc) and a Temple (Herod, a king, bunch of priests, etc). The Jesus preaches toning down the competition while shinning up the cooperation. The Caesar, the Pilat, the Herod, the Caiaphas, sandbag Jesus, terrorize the people, crucyfying the god: “See God? This is what we do with good advice. We stomp on it, crush it under our heel.”|
Now, to be scientific God has to observe the results. But he’s free to imagine the probabilities in the meantime, can guess at results all he wants. What will the distribution of observations look like? Some Jesus-boxes may land on a environment hospitable to sentience: the people may say, “Oh, that’s good advice: let’s chuck all our old superstitions, kings, parliaments, Boss-Tweed democracies: let’s be nice to each other, be convivial, live like human beings, live like Christians!”
Other Jesus-boxes may land on a planet with this or that sentience developing, but where the species don’t respond to this bilaterally symmetrical mannikin: say the “people” are kin to squid, clams, octopi: the Jesus gains no audience, doesn’t get crucified, whether the octopi cooperate or kill each other.
Other Jesus-boxes land in Galilee-of-what-ever-name, grow up, assemble disciples, walk to Jerusalem under-what-ever-name.
What I like is that there’s always a point
where your writing goes completely insane!
Now what the Jesus of Earth, this Earth, the Jesus of two millennia ago, told me (partly by partly telling Ivan Illich) was that man’s best chance could come only by reversing the hierarchical centralized authority of agriculture-launched civilizations. On Earth Caesar and his minions where able to trump God. Herod, Pilat had the power to arrest Jesus, to lock him up, to turn him over to thugs for scourging, to other thugs for crucifying. Herod / Pilot knew that Jesus’ friends would chicken out, betray him, deny him … that Mary, told by the angel to tell the disciples that he was risen would run home and hide, say nothing to no one … (Check out our oldest Ms of Mark, our oldest gospel Ms.)
Illich and I offered a simple headless internet, voluntary data bases, not government or church-controlled. Cybernetic Christian (Tolstoyan, Gandhian) anarchism.)
We got stomped.
(Do not confuse this egregious internet with what Illich proposed and I labored to actually operate and grow. Our Jesus-inspired internet was intended as a stumbling block to censorship; here the powers censor with more power than ever.)
Of course Illich had already been stomped: that’s how (in part) I recognized him as a fellow disciple of Jesus: my elder, my superior. Of course I too had already been stomped: that’s how come Illich only heard of me because I wrote to him, those who had stomped me made sure that there was no way through kleptocracy-controlled channels.
i love this, I’ll add as I can
That’s a concept that has cracked ice at K. for decades. Today’s impulse to expatiate on Schroediger’s Scapegoat knocked it aside: so let me fetch it back before I lose it.
First notice: it’s an oxymoron: mathematics is imaginary, intensional; observation is actual, pure extension.
Where would science be without math? (Where would science be without observation.) But even good scientists, even great teachers, like Isaac Asimov, would play fast and loose with their differences.
I paraphrase an Asimov illustration from my reading of the early 1980s. Asimov wrote about getting a “boy” to “count” some large number of things, a google, or to calculate a googolplex of things. Asimov requires this “boy” to make a calculation a second, never making a mistake, for twelve thousand years, centuries, eons …
Where did Asimov find this boy? Is the boy protected by a union? Where does observation fit into it? No time for sleep, no days off, never eats, goes potty …
Ooo, I gotta interrupt myself: just this morning I promised my darling that this evening I’d read her some familiar Robert Browning, then I’d tell her something unfamiliar:
The year’s at the spring,
OK, great. Everyone knows that, everyone loves that. I’ve known and loved it all my life.
But I was in graduate school, or the army, an adult somewhere, before I learned of Browning’s context for that poem:
Browning’s Pipa is a child, a young girl, a silk-winder. Pipa works from early to late, everyday, no time off: except for new year’s day! (The pictured ideal is ironic.)
But it too is imagined, not observed. Now bring me an actual girl with only one morning off a year.
illustration by Elizabeth Siddal
I was just telling Jan: the medievals argued about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Finally some wag said “Bring me a pin, bring me some angels: we’ll start counting.”
I want to introduce the Pipa you find to Asimov’s counting boy.
OK: Now: apply all that to our common mythology: we have all these stories about God, about Jesus, about Mary … Which of them were observed? Can any be duplicated?
I think Asimov’s boy and our Pipa already met Schroediger’s cat.