Philosophy and quantum leaps

Quine’s understanding of the significance of the quantum mechanics is common:

No statement is immune to revision. Revision even of the logical law of the excluded middle has been proposed as a means of simplifying quantum mechanics.

You’d think that quantum mechanics gave us the first paradoxes on the face of the earth.

Matter has always been an odd thing.  Aristotle defined it in one sense by a series of negations: neither substance nor quantity nor quality, nor any of the other categories that render something particular, nor the negation of these things. Defined positively, matter is a kind of potency, and potency is real without being actual.

What is more to our purpose, Aristotle saw matter as only being knowable by analogy. We had to get at it by comparing it to things we know best. One such way of doing this- the way modern science prefers- is by making models. We use these models as exemplars of various things we know about the atom, without ever needing to identify the atom with any model. We don’t even need to settle on one model. Right now physics has a Bohr model and a quantum model, which live side by side and don’t lead anyone to question the law of the excluded middle.

Things like quantum leaps are odd and hard to understand, but they are made morbid and silly by people who think that matter is every bit as real and proportionate to our understating as the bodily things which we know best. We must never confuse the model with the thing, and the thing with the sorts of things we know best and first call “things”. We are knowing the atom by analogy or comparison to the things we know. Every now and again we will find paradoxical things in the model that aren’t grave enough to call for a revision of the model. Big deal. People will seize on the oddity and try to win tenure, be witty, or sell books by announcing that at long last there is something new under the sun. It will pass.

These same sorts of paradoxes also occur with the things that exceed our understanding and which are also only known by analogy: God, the angels and (fittingly) the essence of our own spiritual nature which is most fully what we are.

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2 Comments

  1. Brandon said,

    April 24, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    You’d think that quantum mechanics gave us the first paradoxes on the face of the earth.

    You mean Aristotle’s sea battle doesn’t count as quantum mechanics?
    :)

  2. a thomist said,

    April 24, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Oh no! Sea battles are coming! Sea battles are coming! Call the present King of France!


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