Financial Mathematics Text

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Our Relationship to Nature from Classical to Quantum Physics

...we have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning. Our scientific work in physics consists in asking questions about nature in the language that we possess and trying to get an answer from experiment by the means that are at our disposal.
-Werner Hesienberg. Physics and Philosophy.

Here, I don't think, from this brief distinction it is clear that there's a difference between classical and quantum physics and our view of what scientific inquiry amounts to. The emphasis that is later noted is that "we ourselves are both players and spectators." It is this that seems where quantum physics view of the relationship between the observer and the observed is different from the classical picture. Nature has a set of potentialities which are only actualized when an observation is made. I would like to sketch a metaphorical description of this relationship.

In the view of classical physics, nature has a set of predetermined answers. When we ask nature a question, it searches her database of predetermined answers and finds one that is appropriate. In some cases, none exist so we are forced to ask a different question. The crucial aspect is that the answers are already set in place and it's just a matter of nature finding the answer appropriate to the question.

In the view of quantum physics, nature doesn't have a set of predetermined answers. Rather, when we ask nature a question it is as if it first reflects upon the question and then answers the question. It's almost as if we are asking questions which nature had not considered before and it's compelled to consider the question and answer.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Myth of Purpose

It is often supposed that, at least some, human activity is a product of "reflection" and that actions are motivated by having purpose or seeing some end involved. I would like to suggest (as an exploratory hypothesis) that this is not the case and give a rough sketch on how it could have arisen that we think in these terms.

Growing up we are trained into a linguistic practice and part of the practice that we have come to possess includes the question "why". I recall from my days of learning Spanish that the question "why" translates literally "for what". We might think of it as "for what reason" did you do such and such an action. We are seeking an explanation of an event in terms of what ends one pursued which in some way caused the actions in question.

Part of being trained in a linguistic practice is learning to give appropriate responses. It's not just that I am asked "why" but I'm required and expected to give an appropriate answer, even if there was no reason. This last part is important. It can very easily be the case that there was no "conscious reflection" on my part when I was acting. I may have had no reasons in mind at all when I acted. But since I have been trained in linguistic practice and since "no reason" is often not accepted as an appropriate response, I create a reason. I give an interpretation, after the fact, of what my reasons for acting were even if there was no actual reasons there to begin with.

This possibility seems to raise the question whether or not there are such things as "reasons" at all, that are not mere ad hoc creations after the fact. Part of this may be to observe the etymological roots of such words relating to this issue ("why", "reason", "purpose", etc) but also to explore societies who do not possess "purpose language".