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.”