Quantum Vacuum and the Cheshire Cat

The book Who’s Afraid of Schrodinger’s Cat? by Ian Marshall and Danah Zohar is subtitled An A-to-Z Guide to All the New Science Ideas You Need to Keep Up with the New Thinking. The publisher says the book “offers clear, concise, fascinating explanations of today’s most advanced ideas: quantum mechanics, relativity, chaos and complexity theories” and other modern science ideas.

In the article Actuality and Potentiality in Quantum Mechanics, the book has the following:

If we can grasp the fact that potentiality is a second domain of existence, and thus that possibilities are to some extent real entities, we can begin to understand the nature of the quantum vacuum and its relationship to daily existence. The vacuum . . . is the underlying, lowest-energy state of all, the source of everything that is. The vacuum does not, however, “ex-ist” [sic] in the strict Latin meaning of the word, which has the connotation “to stand out.” We cannot see, touch, or measure the vacuum. It is a sea of pure potentiality, a kind of preexistence whose excitation gives rise to existence. Thus potentiality is the source of existence, while existence itself is a plethora of actualities or “manifestations.” This kind of thinking is familiar to mystics, particularly Eastern ones, but it is alien to mainstream Western thought and illustrates one of the crucial ways in which quantum physics heralds a new paradigm. (p.42)

Now here I will not argue whether or not the quantum vacuum is some sort of preexistence that gives rise to all that we see today. Nor will I argue whether or not the quantum vacuum is actually an energy state, although I would like to know the causes of these excitations the authors speak about. If modern physicists want to stake their reputations on such concepts, I will not stand in their way nor question them. The authors are university physics professors who appear to be standing behind such ideas.

Other statements in this paragraph are more curious. They claim to know quite a bit about this quantum vacuum, hence the book. Yet they tell us they cannot see, touch, or measure it. This leaves one to wonder about the source of these scientists’ knowledge, if they are explaining to me something they cannot measure.

The authors also tell us that the quantum vacuum is “a sea of pure potentiality.” Something that is potential is not actual, by definition. If such a sea were to be spoken of, and if it is pure potential, then nothing in it would be actual. One again wonders how these authors can know and write so much about this sea of pure potentiality, with nothing in it that is actual, and cannot be seen nor measured.

I begin to be convinced of the authors confusion when they tell me in one breath that the quantum vacuum is pure potential, but yet it has excitations that are actual. If there are excitations in this sea, then something is actual and not purely potential. The university physics professors tell us this quantum vacuum is pure potential with no existence in a Latin sense, but is nevertheless a low energy state. Yet they cannot measure this energy nor see that it is there.

I am convinced they are correct, however, that this type of thinking is familiar to Eastern mystics. Thank goodness it is alien to mainstream Western thought . . . at least outside of some physicists. I do know that if they would have studied Aristotle, he would have told them that potential cannot become actual unless by something that is already actual.

I am reminded of the ancient Greek philosopher Plotinus, who wrote in his book The Enneads:

Generative of all, The One is none of all; neither thing nor quantity nor quality nor intellect nor soul; not in motion, not at rest, not in place, not in time: it is the self-defined, unique form or, better, formless, existing before Form was, or Movement or Rest, all of which are attachments of Being and make Being the manifold that it is. (6.9)

It appears the nonsense of Plotinus was not lost on modern physicists explaining the quantum vacuum, for the contradictions are  a “plethora of actualities.”


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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9 Responses to Quantum Vacuum and the Cheshire Cat

  1. This seems to be representative of so much of the modern denial of reality and the continued need to embrace Eastern religion. That it is happeing in the halls of academic “science” is rather alarming. The overwhelming need to deny anything Western, Latin, and Christian is behind this silliness.

  2. Kevin Valson Jacob says:

    Hi, I am a Masters’ student of Physics in India and a Christian. Firstly, I would like to point out that there is no connection between Eastern mysticism and Modern Physics. The problem arises only when we try to express the mathematical theories of physics in ordinary language. There is no reason to expect that the way nature works can be explainable in English or any other language. Therefore, words like ‘potential’ can be misused or misinterpreted when discussing physics. What the authors mean is that the quantum vacuum has ontology, i.e. it really exists. We know this because we have a consistent mathematical theory which contains the quantum vacuum AND explains other observations. Hence, we indirectly have evidence that the quantum vacuum exists.

    • humblesmith says:

      Did you not just explain it in English? If so, your statement is self-refuting. But if we cannot explain it in English, then why should I listen to your explanation?

      If we know it exists, then it has existence actually, and is therefore not purely the potential to exist. The statements are contradictory, and the authors invoke Eastern mysticism to try to get around the logical contradictions in their statements.

    • humblesmith says:

      Further, even if true, it leaves unresolved how the quantum vacuum came to be, or how it changes to become reality. Only something that is actual can take potential and make it actual.

  3. Tarren says:

    “The overwhelming need to deny anything Western, Latin, and Christian is behind this silliness.”

    Actually William, the ‘Big-Bang’ model was derived from religious reference, specifically Christian theology. Perhaps you might be referring to scientists’ desire to interpret the ‘Big-Bang’ model through QM?

    “There is no reason to expect that the way nature works can be explainable in English or any other language…”

    “Did you not just explain it in English?…”

    Maybe Kevin meant nature cannot be ‘fully’ explained in English or any other language… ‘any other language’ also to include mathematics.

    It just seems to me that mathematical physicists tend to love their equations. So much so, ANY variable used to solve them invokes a placeholder’s ‘existence’. Once ‘existence’ is demonstrated in the math, they then set out to interpret and justify the placeholder’s existence by any means necessary. Seems more like rationalization rather than justification, but I’m no expert.

  4. “…. Actually William, the ‘Big-Bang’ model was derived from religious reference, specifically Christian theology. Perhaps you might be referring to scientists’ desire to interpret the ‘Big-Bang’ model through QM?…..”

    Tarren, I’m not a physicist, but as I recall from my college days (early 80’s!) it was the discovery of the nature of the cosmic background radiation by Hubble and others that led to the idea of an expanding universe, and this led to further discoveries re. the origin at the “Big Bang”. I think Hubble was a Christian, but I am not sure how you would claim that his discovery was derived from his faith. Of course his findings are very consistent with Creation by God.

    My point is just what I think is pretty obvious in academia – the great and often convoluted extents that otherwise intelligent people will go to to avoid a Creator. This and the great popular fad of (in its American bastardized forms ) Eastern thought and religion has created some of the illogic that we see in this post.

    I think of theories such as the “Many Worlds, which seems like pure speculative nonsense to me, but it is often taught as fact. This is a bizarre idea that tries to get around the fine tuning of the universe which points to a divine, loving intelligence. Some of the theories can be rather humorous, such as James Watson’s (no dummy) extraterrestrial seeding of planet Earth by Martians or whatever, to explain the origin of humans. This is in response to the lack of a fossil record, modern DNA research, etc., which is refuting Darwinian macroevolution and pointing to a Creator.

    Sorry this was so long. Gotta get back to my book now!


  5. Tarren says:

    Thanks for the reply, Bill.

    Actually, the big bang theory was first proposed, yet referred to as something else, by a Belgium Catholic priest named Georges Lamaitre. Probably to lend scientific credence to the creation story in Genesis, but that is just my opinion. Its a common misunderstanding to attribute BB theory to Hubble as its originator.

    And I would agree that BB does provide for an explanation for CMB. However, CMB is not a necessary derivation of the BB theory; it can merely account for it. This could be, and in some physics circles not covered by PBS documentaries, merely a correlation that might be mis-attributed to BB, whereas there could be another reason for the observation of CMB. Please don’t get me wrong, I am just saying BB may not be the only reason why we have observed CMB, though it can account for it.

    And I have always thought people postulating “many worlds” and alien seeding as just pushing the origins-question back just one step. ‘Great, so where did the other worlds/aliens come from?’… ‘We don’t know because we cannot measure it’… Seems awkward to me, these questions are even considered science. They can’t be measured, nor the conditions recreated and verified. In fact, I’m not even sure if ‘Big-Bang’ theory is anything more than just a historical event, that requires historical evidence to demonstrate its occurrence.

    Anyway, thanks again for the reply. Hope to see more of your posts.


  6. The source of the excitation is consciousness. Physical reality does not “exist” unless it is measured (observed). I think this scientific theory has some pretty profound philosophical implications.

    • humblesmith says:

      Since I am not conscious of your comment, it does not exist and is therefore meaningless.. The only comments I am aware of are ones that agree with me, that’s why everyone does.

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