A Review Essay of Wolfgang Smith's
The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key
by Seyyed Hossein Nasr
The presented text does not necessarily in every respect reflect the position of the Islamic Tradition as promoted by this website * living islam - Islamic tradition * .
But it is certainly valuable as such for furthering our understanding of the respective issue. The following short introduction is by Sarmad.
(Professor Wolfgang Smith originally published his thoughts and concerns about the philosophical underpinnings of modern science in 1984 under the title Cosmos and Transcedence. An accomplished physicist and a self-proclaimed follower of St Thomas Aquinas school of philosophy, his initial work draw on his considerable understanding of classical ontology and epistemology to provide an insightful critique of modern science. This original work was quietly ignored by the mainstream and for a time his thoughts and assertions where known only in a small circle of scientists, academics and students. Nonetheless between 1984 and 1990 Cosmos and Transcedence underwent 3 reprints before fading from sight. Then in 1995 Professor Smith published his seminal work, The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key which brought his ideas to the attention of a wider circle of readership.
This work by Professor Smith received the attention of Professor Sayid Hussein Nasr, a foremost figure in the science and religion debate. His review essay initially appeared in the summer 1997 edition of Sophia, a bi-annual journal on classical studies. It is this review essay that I wish to share with the members of this group in 4 parts. Shortly after posting the fourth and final part of this review I will upload the full article to the file section of the group where members will be able to read it in full.
For those of you who are not familiar with Professor Nasr or his work, Nasr is a Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University, Washington DC and is the author of more than 40 books and over 300 articles in 4 languages. His work encompassed a wide variety of subjects beyond Islamic Studies to include comparative Philosophy and Religion, the Philosophy of Art, Philosophy of Science, and the Philosophical and Religious dimensions of the global environmental crisis and issues of global policy. He has delivered both academic and layman lectures throughout North America, Western Europe, most of the Muslim world, India, Australia and Japan. He has a large following in the academic and mainstream world across the globe.
Below you will find a major review of an important book by one of the most eloquent voices in the contemporary Islam and Science discourse.
The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key)
Rediscovering the Corporeal World
What Is the Physical Universe?
Microworld and Indeterminacy
Materia Quantitate Signata
On Whether God Plays Dice
In The Beginning (i.e. final chapter)
Quantum Theory: A Brief Introduction
Index of Names
A Review Essay of Wolfgang Smith's
The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key
by Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Since the beginning of the development of quantum mechanics, different interpretations have been given as to its meaning not only by physicists, especially Bohr and Einstein, but also by a number of philosophers. These interpretations have met with little success however in providing intelligibility for the consequences of what is observed and measured on the experimental level. The present work is the first by a qualified scientist to bring to bear not a rationalistic or empirical philosophy but traditional metaphysics, ontology and cosmology upon quantum mechanics in order to provide the key for the understanding of the real significance of this basic physical science. The result is one of the most important books to appear on the explanation of modern physics in the light of the eternal truths of the perennial philosophy and on the categorical refutation of the scientism and reductionism that characterize so much of the current understanding of modern science. The author, who is well known to students in the field of the relation between religion and science through his early works, Cosmos and Transcendence and Teilhardism and the New Religion, is deeply grounded in traditional metaphysics and theology, especially the school of St. Thomas Aquinas. At the same time he is a notable scientist well versed in the intricacies of quantum mechanics. He therefore writes with an authority which shines through the pages of his book and provides a treatment of the subject which stands at the antipode of the genre of shallow syntheses between modern physics and Oriental metaphysics so common today and especially espoused by certain currents of what is now referred to as "The New Religions".
In his preface the author points out that there is in fact no consistent quantum mechanical worldview despite the remarkable accuracy of predictions on the basis of quantum mechanical theories and models. The situation has become so difficult that it "has prompted one recent author to speak of a 'reality marketplace'."(p. i.) It is to discover the authentic worldview to which quantum mechanics points and which can make possible an intelligible understanding of it that Smith has set out to write this book.
In the first chapter of the work entitled "Rediscovering the Corporeal World" the author points out first of all that despite the radical departure of quantum mechanics from Newtonian physics, quantum mechanics is still based on the false premise of Cartesian dualism and bifurcation [fn1] according to which reality is divided radically into res cogitans, the knowing subject, and res extensa or the objective world. Moreover, this bifurcation involves taking all qualities (or what Galileo called secondary qualities) out of res extensa and reducing them to pure quantity or to a substance bearing only pure mathematical properties. Scientists came to accept a theory which in reality denies the possibility of empirical knowledge (p. 2) because purely mathematical properties cannot be known empirically.
The author reminds us that we can, however, experience the world not only as pure quantity. There are objects which have reality beyond their purely quantitative aspects, objects which we can experience and know. The world is conceivable to us and is constituted in such a way that one might say "the world exists 'for us'; it is there 'for our inspection'." (p. 3) However one envisages our relation to the world, we cannot deny the fact that the world is perceivable for us as stated in the famous scholastic dictum esse est percipi ("to be is to be perceived"). It must be remembered, however, that we cannot perceive an object completely but only in part. "In various ways the object displays of necessity the mark of relativity, of being orientated, so to speak, toward the human observer." (p. 5) Perception is also contextual and can never be divorced from the context in which every perception takes place. An object is neither the res extensa of Descartes nor "the thing in itself" or "Ding an sich" of Kant but something that is always perceived in terms of attributes. Nor is the world simply the sum of objects but "an organic unity in which every element exists in relation to every other and thereby in relation to the totality, which includes also, and by force of necessity, a conscious or subjective pole." (p. 7) Perception therefore involves attributes, relations and qualities and not simply quantity.
The author wonders why scientists accept Cartesian bifurcation and answers that a wedding took place between Cartesianism and physics in the 17th century and was sealed by Newton. This marriage has continued to this day and few try to question it as the basis of the view of modern physics. The claim of physics since Newton to be the complete explanation of the totality of the physical world of course also played a crucial role in this affair, for "a totalist physicsa physics that would understand the universe 'without residue' is obliged to accept bifurcation [fn1], almost as a 'necessary evil' one might say." (p. 12) Here Smith makes one of his most important and crucial assertions namely that the totalist claims of physics must be relinquished for not everything even in the physical world can be explained exclusively in quantitative terms. It is strange, as the author points out, that despite the rejection of Cartesianism and its bifurcation of reality by such Western philosophers as Husserl, Whitehead and Hartmann, it has survived in modern science although the complement of bifurcation which is atomism has been replaced to some extent. Smith insists that both ends of this "bad philosophy", that is, bifurcation and atomism, must be given up by modern physics and the integrity of the perceivable object reinstated.
The author also turns to the question of how we perceive and points out that perception is not only sensation but a sensation which catalyzes an intellectual act, the term intellectual being understood here in its traditional sense and not as ratiocination. We perceive an image of something which transcends that image and our perception involves the intellect in an active sense. The author thus points to the question so assiduously avoided in modern physics as to how we perceive and reinstates the central function of the intellect as it would be understood by an Avicenna or the Scholastics in the very act of perception without which we cannot perceive the world and have any science of the physical world.
In our daily lives we experience the world as the sum total of things and events which we then deny in what the author calls our "Cartesian moments". "In short, the Cartesian philosophy has plunged us into a collective state of schizophrenia, a doubtless unwholesome condition, which may well have something to do with not a few of our contemporary ills."(p.20)
Having pointed out the inadequacies of Cartesian bifurcation, the author turns in the second chapter "What Is the Physical Universe?" to another of his most significant and far reaching theses, namely the distinction between what he calls the corporeal world (which is the world that we perceive) and the physical world (which we measure). Throughout the rest of the book this distinction remains central. The author succeeds clearly in showing that what physics studies is not in fact the corporeal world with all its values, attributes and qualities not to speak of its very existence or esse, but the physical world which can be treated mathematically and from which this ontological richness is absent. Furthermore, he sets out to demonstrate the relation between the two, that is, the corporeal and the physical, revealing why the corporeal can never be reduced to the physical and therefore the absurdity of all scientific reductionism.
To understand the world with which modern physics actually deals, it is necessary to remember that this physics is based always upon measurement, that measurement is always with an instrument and that the outcome of measurement with an instrument is always quantity or number. One cannot measure qualities nor can one perceive measurable quantities save through instrument readings. The author asserts that physics "sees" the physical universe through instruments and never by direct perception. And yet the totality of the physical universe or what he calls the corporeal universe cannot be reduced to the purely quantitative and measurable. The perceivable world is not the world of "objects" measured through instruments and the two cannot be identified with or reduced to each other. "No one has ever perceived a physical object, and no one ever will." (p. 24)
There is, however, obviously a relationship between the corporeal body perceived by us and the physical body which is measured. The corporeal body X has physical entities SX associated with it but the two are completely different. Even graphs which are used to describe the state of a body do not reveal a physical system but a function. The observation of a physicist means passage from SX to X but the link between the two is not known to us. What we know is that they have "temporal" and geometric continuity.
Smith insists quite rightly that in physics there are no "mere facts." What is called empirical fact is always combined with a theory and even in the scientific process the intellect plays a role as in the case of the a priori "wisdom" of the great physicists (p. 33) who are originators of enduring theories. It is the universal which bestows intelligibility to the particular and "physics is in reality concerned, not with particular existent as such, but with particulars in so far as these exhibit a universal principle or law."(p. 34) We know an object by recourse to the principle, to representation and to data ensemble. "One and the same principle, thus, is reflected on three different levels: in the physical object, in the data ensemble, and in the model or representation."(p. 35) That is how physicists know an object by means of the principle involved, the principle by means of representation, and the representation by means of the data ensemble. Furthermore, this principle involves an intellective act as well as physical observation. Physicists in fact "see" physical objects in their intelligible aspect. The physical universe after all reflects mathematical forms without which it would not be intelligible from the point of view of modern physics. That is why the physical universe is seen as having been constituted by its mathematical structures.
Having made this assertion, Smith warns of the danger of reifying "physical supports" for mathematical structures as one sees in various forms of mechanical philosophy. In the micro-world of quantum mechanics such a reification is in fact impossible although such a tendency still exists among many materialistic philosophers and scientists on the macrolevel. And this leads the author to another of the most basic assertions of his book: "It has yet to be recognized that there is an ontological difference between the physical and the corporeal domains, and that the gap cannot be closed through the mere aggregation of so-called articles."(p. 42) The author is of course referring to the mainstream scientific community and the general scientistic worldview dominant in the modern outlook for which reductionism is an unquestionable tenet. Smith insists, however, that a body perceived by us is not simply the sum of atomic particles studied mathematically and detected only indirectly through instruments. There is an ontological and not simply quantitative difference between the two so that the simple quantitative addition of particles does not result in an object which we perceive in the corporeal world, not to speak of life, consciousness and intelligence. With powerful arguments the author destroys the whole basis of so-called scientific reductionism while doing full justice to the tenets of quantum mechanics.
Having made the clear distinction between corporeal and physical objects and the role of measurement in the study of objects by physics, the author turns in chapter three entitled "Microworld and Indeterminacy" to some of the intricacies and difficulties of quantum mechanics. He first distinguishes between a generic physical object such an electromagnetic field and a specific physical object such as the planet Jupiter. Although there are degrees of specification, the distinction between these two types of object in physics is "crucial" and must not be forgotten. Objects studied in physics are entities which can be and are already observed. To specify an object by an empirical act in physics is called by the author "specification" and he reminds us that an object is not specific "until it has been specified." (p. 43)
Having made this point clear, Smith then asserts that according to quantum mechanics one cannot determine a physical system completely by way of specification. "There is no such a thing as a fully determinate physical system (one for which exact values for all observables can be predicted)." (p. 46) This is due to a residual indeterminacy in every physical system, an indeterminacy which becomes negligible for most large systems. Smith adds a very provocative statement by saying that this residual indeterminacy may not, however, be negligible for living beings and that "it is not unlikely that quantum indeterminacy plays a vital role in the phenomena of the biosphere."(p.46) He reminds the reader that the strangeness of quantum mechanics comes from confounding the physical and corporeal planes and seeking to reduce the corporeal, including living beings, to the physical.
Smith then turns to the meaning of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle which, he insists, refers not to the macroworld but to its measurement and "thus to a transition from the physical to the corporeal plane."(p. 49) Tossing a coin does not make the coin undetermined but only the result of head or tail which remains probablistic. To quote the author, "What quantum theory hinges upon is the fact that the state vector [fn2] or equivalently, the physical system though it does not, in general determine the results of individual measurements, does in any event determine their statistical distribution."(p. 50) Here amidst the discussion of some of the most abstruse aspects of quantum mechanics Smith succeeds in charting a path for the non-specialized reader without having to take recourse to mathematical formulas and in general he is quite successful. It is only unfortunate that here where he begins to discuss the state vector he does not describe it fully first rather than coming to it a few pages later. In any case the author distinguishes between determinacy in quantum mechanics and in classical physics and insists that quantum mechanics has not forfeited determinism but rather is strongly opposed to rejectionism and the idea current in modern science since the advent of classical physics that "the corporeal world is 'nothing but' the physical. Quantum physics operates perforce on two planes: the physical and the empirical; or better said, the physical and the corporeal, for it must be recalled that measurement and display terminate necessarily on the corporeal plane. There are, then these two ontological planes, and there is a transition from the physical to the corporeal resulting in the collapse of the state vector," (p. 52) which the author reminds us again is due to the discontinuity between the physical and the corporeal planes. Prevalent reductionist bias fails, however, to recognize this truth. Smith reminds us of Heisenberg's saying that micro-physical systems are in potency in relation to the actual world and are reminiscent of the Aristotelian potentia. State vectors are states of a physical system and "weighted sums of state vectors correspond to an actual superposition of states."(p. 53) Through measurement a particular element from the ensemble of possibilities becomes "actualized". This, however, is only part for the system still remains an ensemble of possibilities. It is therefore not a thing or fact but a potentia. It is needless to say of great significance that the traditional concept of potentia, so central to Peripatetic natural philosophy, is reintroduced at this stage. Smith in fact takes the assertion of Heisenberg and develops it in light of traditional metaphysical and cosmological doctrines.
He explains the idea by drawing a parallel with the actualization of geometric forms from "the void" of the plane. According to the traditional understanding of Euclidian geometry in fact geometric construction is like cosmogenesis. "It imitates or exemplifies the creative act itself within the mathematical domain."(p. 56) Returning to quantum mechanics, Smith states that measurement is the actualization of a certain potency which is represented by the uncollapsed state vector containing within itself the full gamut of possibilities, like the drawing and actualization of a particular geometric from the "void" of the plane containing all the different possibilities of geometric construction. Measurement signifies determination and that takes place on the corporeal plane. On this plane there is actuality and below it potentiality while the transition from one to the other is unknown to modern physics. While admitting this lack of knowledge in all honesty, Smith adds that there is nevertheless this certainty that to go from potentiality to actuality requires a creative act or actuality which itself cannot belong to the physical level that is be in potentia as has been made clear by traditional philosophers from Aristotle to Avicenna to St. Thomas Aquinas. The consequence of all this discussion is the realization that quantum mechanics can only be a complete theory of the physical world and not the corporeal world.
As for the fundamental mathematical forms of the atomic and subatomic worlds which are made to order for physics, they are in fact "the bona fide archetypes of the microworld, and thus of the physical world at large." (p. 61 ) This view is, however, not accepted by most contemporary physicists who are drawn to nominalism while "being at heart realists."(p. 61) But as Smith notes quite justly the microworld can only possess reality if the Platonic concept of mathematic forms is accepted. Atoms and subatomic particles are real only to the extent "that mathematical forms are bona fide archetypes" (p. 61) which, one might add, do not "belong" to that realm but are reflected therein.
Within various philosophical interpretations of quantum mechanics Smith finds that of Heisenberg closest to his own interpretation of the ontological state of atomic and subatomic particles and the status of their mathematical structure. Wherein Smith differs from Heisenberg is in that the latter does not make a clear distinction between the physical and the corporeal. Smith, however, continues to insist on the discontinuity between the two going to the point of asserting that objects of even classical physics are "potential" like atoms and must not be confused with corporeal objects. In making such a distinction and in clarifying the sense in which atoms and subatomic particles are in potentia, Smith has made a contribution of the utmost significance to an authentic philosophy of quantum mechanics.
Smith has entitled the fourth chapter "Materia Quantitate Signata", using the famous Scholastic formula which links "matter" with quantity. He begins by mentioning the saying of Heisenberg that physics deals not with nature in itself, but with our relation to nature. Instrumentation in physics sets up a query which then elicits a response from nature. Consequently the response of nature depends upon the questions we pose to it, a basic truth that is too often neglected by those who wish to absolutize the view of nature as presented by modern physics.
Smith then turns to the relation between a particular physical phenomenon and the whole, stating that physical objects are not so many independent entities but diverse manifestations of a single reality which was called nature by Heisenberg and unbroken wholeness by Bohr, a reality which is transcendent but manifests itself in physical objects. In the quantum mechanical worldview the physical world points to a reality beyond itself which the author, following Heisenberg, also designates, although tentatively, as "nature". He thereby establishes three realms: nature, corporeal body and physical body. One only wishes that he would have delved more fully into how those three realms are related to each other. Does nature stand "above" the corporeal and the corporeal above the physical? Or does nature stand beyond both, manifesting both realms of reality in such a way that the corporeal stands ontologically "above" the physical as the actual stands above the potential?
The author points out further that in relativity the distinction between container and content is overcome and reality is no longer seen as being contained in space and time. Rather, reality "contains" space, time as well as matter. Physics cannot deal with this reality but points to it. A clear example can be found in Bell's interconnectedness theorem which points to a reality beyond the space-time continuum. Unbroken wholeness of the reality transcending concrete physical objects can explain the behaviour of photons A and B, where the influence of one upon the other is instantaneous without there being the need of having recourse to superluminal transmission. "Nature" lies beyond space and time but manifests itself in space and time. Smith insists, however, that this is not in a Kantian sense but in a realist one. The reduction of reality to the manifested, so much a part of the modern mentality, becomes ever more difficult to sustain in light of quantum mechanics. To quote the author: "It is always possible, of course, to cling to the widespread belief that reality coincides with the space-time continuum and its multiple contents... Physics today militates against this constrictive Weltanschauung-, 'Everything we know about Nature,' says Stapp, is in accord with the idea that the fundamental process of Nature lies outside space-time...'"(p. 71)
Smith draws an example from Euclidian geometry to demonstrate this relation. "Nature" is like the plane of Euclidian geometry and physical systems like figures of classical geometry. A single relativistic quantum field theory would accomplish for physics what the axiomatization of the Euclidian plane has accomplished for classical geometry and Smith believes that this may happen soon. But to understand "Nature" itself one must have recourse to metaphysics, (p. 73) Smith then turns to the theory of hylomorphism to explain what constitutes a complete theory of nature. After explaining hyle and morpha in classical philosophy, the author points out why materia cannot be applied strictly speaking to the Newtonian matter which is vague and unintelligible, hence the groundlessness of what is called the materialistic philosophy associated with science. Relativity succeeded in moving to a structuralist interpretation of physics from a materialistic one. Although this was a correct move, structuralism by itself is also insufficient and cannot provide a complete philosophy of nature any more than can materialism. "In the final count," Smith states, "there can be no visible ontology which does not, in one way or another, invoke the hylomorphic paradigm... And this explains why corresponding notions [of materia and forma] are to be found in the major ontologies, from China and India to Greece and ancient Palestine."(p. 76)
A subject of great interest to which the author turns in the latter part of this chapter is the epistemological dimension of the question of form and matter. He mentions, following traditional teachings, that to know is an intellective act and implies the union of the intellect and the object of knowledge. But such a union requires a tertium quid which is none other than morpha. The morpha, however, is separated from the object by something one could call X and this X is none other than materia. Smith adds that Nature cannot be the materia prima which lies below manifestation but is the materia quantitate signata of the Scholastics. It possesses a form which it passes to the whole universe as universal law and principle of order. This interpretation of Nature appears somewhat problematic to us. In most traditional cosmologies Nature is a principle standing above the corporeal and therefore also physical realms. As for matter signifying quantity, one might say that in accordance with the Hermetic principle "that which is lowest reflects that which is highest", a principle that can also be applied to segments of the cosmic hierarchy, the material quantitate signata lies below the corporeal level while reflecting the arche-typal realities of mathematical form and quantities. This is a delicate aspect of Smith's exposition which one hopes will be elucidated and clarified further in later editions of this book.
The author mentions that the corporeal world comprises both quantities, such as cardinality and extension, and qualities but corporeal realities cannot be perceived without qualities. But the physical world possesses no qualities but only quantities which are treated mathematically. Physical objects are, however, only potencies vis-a-vis the corporeal world and existence begins properly speaking with the corporeal world. Below this world is only potency. Moreover, the qualities of the corporeal world are not accidents but come from the essence of corporeal objects which is not mathematical. Herein lies the key to the understanding of the significance of the traditional sciences which are precisely the sciences of the essence and attributes of corporeal objects, such sciences as that of the five elements or bhutas in Hinduism. In contrast quantitative and mathematical sciences in the modern sense refer not to the essence but to the materia or material substratum of things. In this bold manner Smith destroys the stranglehold that modern scientism has exercised upon the traditional sciences since the 17th century when these sciences became interpreted as crude antecedents of modern science, a view propagated later by the mainstream of Western history of science which had its origin in the positivism of the last decade of the 19th century and the beginning of this centuries in the hands of E. Mach and G. Sarton. Henceforth those interested in the traditional sciences of nature can pursue them as the sciences they are in reality, namely sciences dealing with the qualitative aspects of corporeal objects related to the very essence and attributes of these objects and providing a knowledge of the corporeal world. This knowledge is, therefore, not in any way abrogated by the findings of modern physics which deals with another level of reality, ontologically speaking, namely the physical world in the sense Smith uses this term and which he distinguishes from the corporeal world.
Needless to say this point is yet again a most important result of the remarkable exposition of Wolfgang Smith.
To emphasize the enormity of the consequences of the rejection of quality by Descartes and Galileo, the author writes, "In light of these considerations we are able, at last, to perceive the full magnitude of the Cartesian deviation. For it appears that in rejecting the qualities or so-called 'secondary' attributes, Galileo and Descartes have cast out what is primary: the very essence of corporeal things."(p. 81) Once this deviation is fully understood, the limits of physics also become clear. Physics is a science concerned only with the quantitative aspect of things. But this limitation is rarely fully understood and therefore it is difficult for many caught in the web of reductionism to see that the reduction of the corporeal realm to the physical renders the physical itself ontologically incomprehensible. The result is the loss of grip upon reality about which some contemporary physicists have complained. To quote Smith, "Strictly speaking, one knows neither the corporeal nor the physical, nor has any clear conception of what physics is about. Is it any wonder, then, that physicists should have (in the words of the physicist Nick Herbert) lost their grip on reality ?"'(p. 83).
"On Whether God Plays Dice"' is the title of the fifth chapter in which the author discusses the debate between Einstein and Bohr on whether the universe is deterministic or not. In this chapter the considerable philosophical acumen of the author becomes quite evident. It is in fact as a philosopher in the traditional sense that Smith declares that this issue cannot be solved on a scientific and technical plane. There are complex issues arising from physics itself which relate to this question such as the fact that the notion of locality in classical physics has to be abandoned. The very question posed by Einstein as to whether God plays dice with the universe itself reveals that this is a metaphysical and not scientific question.
In a discussion which is at once brilliant and creative, Smith approaches the problem of determinism and indeterminism by taking recourse to the yin-yang symbolism of the Far East in which complementarity is the mutual indwelling of one member of the pair in the other or what is called technically perichoresis. Physics may be said to deal with the mathematically intelligible form or yang which is deterministic but amidst it appears yin or the indeterministic. Thus the principle of uncertainty appears at the heart of the most accurate physical theory ever devised. The interplay of determinism and indeterminism in quantum mechanics is exactly what the yin-yang theory demands and reveals.
The author points out that historically with the waning of the the Middle Ages and the rise of modern science with Descartes, Galileo and Newton, determinism came to be emphasized and in fact became supreme and totally dominant. This trend continued until Max Planck when the importance of indeterminacy began to set in. There is no reason, according to Smith, why there should not be both, why there cannot be elements of intelligibility as well as unintelligibility. The great mystery is the coincidentia oppositorum at the heart of things wherein reside both freedom and necessity as one also sees in art where freedom is combined with constraint and limitation. The author quotes here the famous saying of Goethe "In der Beschränkung zeigt sich der Meister" (In delimitation does the master artist show himself).(p. 93)
Continuing his drawing parallels between art and science, Smith reminds us that artistic creation involves not only the two elements of hylomorphism, but four factors corresponding to the material, formal, efficient and final causes of Aristotle. Even if we combine the efficient and final cause together in the artist, we are still in need of an agent or active principle in the creation of any work of art in addition to the material and the formal. In the natural world this active or agent principle is natura naturans [= the form-bestowing principle] which cannot be reduced to natura naturata whatever evolutionists may claim. In fact natura naturans may be identified as a Name of God. "And so, in the final count, the fact remains that natura naturata does presuppose natura naturans: the natural presupposes the supernatural - distasteful as this truth may be to some. And as the Scholastic term 'natura naturans', it constitutes of course a nomen Dei: it refers to God, as the 'given of forms'."(p. 94) One can also say that continuity is associated with the substratum or natura naturata and discontinuity with natura naturans.
The author concludes this chapter with yet another of his central and crucial remarks, namely that the quantum mechanical discontinuity or the state vector collapse betokens the action of natura naturans which means that our every act of observation of the perceptible world is based upon the action of the Divine Agent who is the bestower of forms upon all things and all processes of nature. "There is a certain transition from potency to manifestation from the physical to the corporeal plane and such a transition can only be effected by the creative or 'form bestowing' principle, which is natura naturans."(p. 96) Moreover, what determines or selects (the measured value of X from the spectrum of possible outcomes) (p. 96) does not come from the natural process itself but from "on high". This thesis is so significant both metaphysically and cosmologically that one hopes the author will turn to it in a future study and develop it more fully as a separate work.
The concluding chapter of The Quantum Enigma is entitled "In the Beginning" and deals with the implications of what has come to be known as the "Big Bang" theory which, as the author indicates, is indicated by various types of evidence and both Einstein's general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. But as Smith points out quite rightly, the "Big Bang" theory deals with the expansion of the universe but cannot deal with t=0. The initial singularity or border of the space-time continuum is in fact not an event but the absence of an event. The author asserts that one cannot speak of the universe beginning in time because time is something that transpires within the universe, echoing in almost the same words the statement of lbn Sina (Avicenna) a thousand years ago. The author insists that it is futile to search for the origin of time in time because the origin of time resides in eternity. Although some physicists such as Hawkins are trying to devise a "closed" or singularity free model of the universe, Smith believes that such attempts will never succeed because metaphysically speaking the cosmos cannot be a completely independent order of reality. Moreover, the ultimate "boundary" or initial state of the universe which scientists are seeking to trace backward can never be reached by physics. Or to quote the author, "There is in reality no such thing as a first or initial state of the universe. What ultimately limits our backward extrapolation, therefore, is not an initial state, but a transcendent bound; and that bound is indeed the Beginning."(p. 105)
Speaking as a metaphysician as well as physicist, Smith asserts that the beginning of the universe is an ontological one and not a temporal one, echoing again Ibn Sina and certain Scholastics. Moreover, this beginning is not in the past but is ever present as vertical causation for all whens and wheres in accordance with the Biblical saying "He that liveth in eternity created all things at once."(p. 107) Smith concludes therefore that the early universe loses in this way its privileged position as having "directly descended from the Hand of God."(p. 107) This assertion is, however, open to questioning because it negates the universal doctrine of cosmic cycles and the greater perfection of the earlier periods of cosmic manifestation in relation to the later. The profound doctrine of the presence of the Transcendent Cause of all whens and wheres, or what in another context the Sufis call the renewal of creation at every moment (tajdid al-khalq ft kulli anat), does not in fact negate either the doctrine of the beginning and end of this world and with it cosmic time or the qualitative distinction of various periods in a particular cosmic cycle in relation to the Origin of that cycle.
Perhaps despite his assertion on p. 107 quoted above, Smith also accepts the qualitative differences in the various stages of cosmic history for he adds that the early universe is like a light cloud, symbolically speaking. It is, one could say, "at the edge" of our universe and does transmit "the glory of the Lord in the form of blinding light, a radiance beyond compare."(p. 109) Smith also compares the initial singularity to sunyata or ex'nihilo understood metaphysically and calls the initial singularity a bone fide reflection of the metacosmic Center on the scientific plane. On the microcosmic level the collapse of the state vector represents the same "transcendent Center". "One could go so far as to say that by its inducible discontinuity the collapse of the state vector 'renders visible' an action of natura naturans. The "instantaneity' of the collapse, I submit, manifests the 'instantaneity' of the true Beginning, and mirrors the 'punctuality' of the metacosmic Center itself, "(p. 111). Smith concludes therefore that God as a cause is not related to the past of the cosmos but to the present now, the nunc stans of the Scholastics, which one should add does not negate either the Quranic assertion that God is the First and the Last nor the saying of Christ that he is the Alpha and the Omega.
The author concludes this work by reminding us that the cosmos in its totality is no more self subsistent than a grain of sand. The collapse of the state vector, which is an act of natura naturans, is that preternatural phenomenon which reveals before our eyes the utter ontological dependence of the cosmos upon its Principle. The transition from the sub-existential to the corporeal plane is instantaneous and without secondary causes and is none other than the cosmogenetic act. It reveals "vertical" causation acting "outside" of time, a causation derived fog, the metacosmic Center. In other words we are witness here to "an act of God". And Smith concludes, "we must however remember that God acts 'but once' as Meister Eckhart points out; which is to say that multiplicity pertains, not to the transcendent Cause, but to the created effects, precisely. Once again: Qui vivit in aeternum creavit omnia sirnul. And thus, what we are in a sense witnessing is not simply 'an act of God', but indeed 'The Act of God'. The unique and indivisible Act of creation. And therein, finally, lies the miracle of state vector collapse."(p. 113)
Thus ends the main body of one of the most remarkable works written in recent decades on the metaphysical interpretation of modern physics. Smith is the first physicist to our knowledge who is also deeply rooted in traditional metaphysics in general as well as traditional Catholic theology in particular and his work is the first to interpret quantum mechanics in such a way as to be able to integrate it into the scheme and hierarchy of the traditional sciences. In a sense he has achieved for quantum mechanics what Guenon accomplished for infinitesimal calculus in his Les Principes du calcul infinitesimal.
Smith also has provided a philosophy for quantum mechanics, drawn from traditional ontological, cosmological and metaphysical doctrines, to replace the prevalent Cartesianism which still underlies modern science despite all the changes brought about by quantum mechanics. By doing so he has removed the contradictions apparent in quantum mechanics as viewed ordinarily and has made the subject intelligible from the point of view the philsophia perennis. His clear distinction between the physical and corporeal, which is one of the main contributions of the book, has situated the ontological status of the subject matter of modern physics in the universal hierarchy of being. He has also freed the prevalent understanding of the corporeal world and the qualitative sciences associated with it over the ages from the stranglehold of a purely quantitative science, and has destroyed once and for all scientistic reductionism which is one of the pillars of the modern and post-modern worldviews.
The Quantum Enigma is of great significance not only for the philosophy of science, but also for the whole domain of human knowledge and should be disseminated as widely as possible. It marks the first encounter in depth between traditional ontology and quantum mechanics in the mind of a person who is a master in both domains and is able to provide a metaphysical understanding of modern physics, its achievements and limitations. It is in fact a counter-weight to so many works which move in the other direction by interpreting millennial metaphysical teachings of East and West in light of modern physics.
The work under review is clearly written, the technical mathematical treatment of quantum mechanics being confined to an appendix which can be consulted by those with the necessary background. The work itself, however, does not require technical knowledge of mathematical physics but addresses all those who seek an understanding of the world about them and the meaning that modern science has in both explaining a particular dimension of this world and veiling its qualitative aspects from modern man. All those overwhelmed and distraught by reductionism, scientism and excessive pretensions of a purely quantitative science and who are at the same time aware of both the achievements and ambiguities of quantum mechanics will be grateful to Wolfgang Smith for having produced a work of exceptional significance in destroying the extravagant, yet unravelling, claims of scientism and at the same time the enigma of quantum mechanics in light of perennial doctrines which have always provided the means for solving the enigmas and riddles of human existence and thought over the ages.
Traditional ontology applied to quantum questions,
July 12, 1999 from amazon.com
Reviewer: A reader
In this little book, Wolfgang Smith argues against Cartesian bifurcationism, which distinguishes sharply between the inner realm of perceptual phenomena and the external, "noumenal" world. Bifurcationism, says Smith, lies at the very heart of the ontological paradoxes of quantum theory which have prompted many leading scientists to concur with Richard Feynman's cry that "...no one understands quantum mechanics." It is not the mathematical formalism, but rather the prevailing Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, that renders quantum "strangeness" ontologically incomprehensible. Hence, Smith replaces bifurcationism with an ontology that has its roots in Aristotle and Aquinas, showing how such an ontological overhaul can dispel quantum mysteries such as those exemplified by the Schrodinger's cat experiment. I found this book to be a refreshing and insightful challenge to methodological orthoxody in physics, and it offers a very helpful appendix in which Smith (former UCLA and MIT professor of math) gives a somewhat technical but readable introduction to quantum formalism. Smith's ideas are too sophisticated to be dismissed--he forces a reconsideration of this traditional ontology by showing how it contextualizes scientific hypotheses in such a way as to bolster their explanatory power, especially at the quantum level. I highly recommend this book.
A review of Quantum Engima,
August 10, 1999 from amazon.com
Reviewer: David J. Kreiter (Iowa City, Iowa USA)
In this scholarly, yet accessible book, Wolfgang Smith draws a distinction between his own philosophical views and those of Werner Heisenberg's. Believing that quantity and scale alone do not distinguish the quantum world from the everyday macro world of classical physics, Smith rejects Heisenberg's view and aligns himself with the philosophy of Niels Bohr who once made the assertion that there is no quantum world. Rather, Smith arbitrarily divides the world into three separate categories: The corporeal, the subcorporeal and the transcorporeal. The corporeal world is that which we perceive with our senses, our everyday reality of sight, sound, touch, and smell. Corporeal objects Smith maintains are not anything like the physical world, but merely occupy the same space. Though most idealist and representationalist philosophers beginning with Descartes and John Locke and continuing to the present consider secondary qualities such as taste, sight, and sound subjective attributes imparted by the observer, Smith considers these qualities just as objective as mass and quantity, while maintaining, if not incredibly, that even the red color of an apple is an objective quality independent of observation. This corporeal world of the senses is presented by the physical or subcorporeal world--Plato's universal forms (nature in and of itself)--perfectly described by mathematics yet imperceptible to the senses. Atomic and subatomic particles--the transcorporeal world--can never be perceived and must be measured by a subcorporeal measuring device, such as a geiger counter, or bubble chamber. These devices, in turn, make a presentation of themselves by making a transformation into the corporeal world of perception. There is no indeterminacy as suggested by Heisenberg, nor is there any wave/particle duality or quantum measurement problem as described by Bohr. Smith maintains that the state vector collapse does not happen at the level of the atom, but occurs the moment a subcorporeal object passes into the corporeal domain. Macroscopic objects of classical physics are every bit as "potential" as subatomic particles and it is measurement that actualizes the "potentia" from the physical into the corporeal level of reality. As a result, Smith believes that there is no mystery in the Schrodinger's Cat paradox. It is not necessary he claims, for the observer to peer into the box to determine if the cat is dead or alive, since the cat, which belongs to the corporeal world, collapses its own state vector. Just how the transition from the subcorporeal to the corporeal world is achieved isn't addressed directly, but once must infer from statements such as "the entire universe is created for us," that he is an adherent to the strong anthropic principle. As a result, the quantum measurement problem is not solved but instead, is merely shifted from the quantum domain to a supposed transformation between the subcorporeal and corporeal domains under equally mysterious circumstances. Smith believes that "God plays dice" and that it is only an averaging effect of large numbers at the classical level of nature that accounts for the deterministic appearance of reality. In the end Smith disappoints somewhat by reverting to a deity to explain what is at present still misunderstood, betraying his rational sensibility.
fn1: A definition of bifurcation: the act of splitting into two branches, in Descartes case, that reality is divided radically into the knowing subject, and the objective world. From above.
As a new basis for certain knowledge Descates appealed neither to the Intellect as it functions in the heart of man and as the source of reason nor to revelation, but to the individual conciousness of the thinking subject. (KS41)
Franz von Baader who did not make an absolute distinction between the natural and the supernatural, and saw in nature a reflection of the sacred, which official theology had confined strictly to the supernatural realm answered Descartes this way:
cogitor, ergo cogito et sum, I am thought [by God], therefore I think and I am. (KS60 fn105)
KS: Knowledge And The Sacred, Seyyed Hossein Nasr; NY. 1989
From The Nature Of Sacred Knowledge at: livingislam.org
fn2: A definition of a state vector: Put simply, it's where an orbiting object is and where it is going at a given instant in time.
Or: In the mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, each system is associated with a complex Hilbert space such that each instantaneous state of the system is described by a unit vector in that space. This state vector encodes the probabilities for the outcomes of all possible measurements applied to the system. As the state of a system generally changes over time, the state vector is a function of time. The Schrödinger equation provides a quantitative description of the rate of change of the state vector.