Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Trouble with the Standard Model

...is that like many things that appeared between 1790 and 2000, it is correlationist. Quanta and their measuring devices (including sentient beings such as humans) form an indivisible whole, such that it makes no sense to talk about a quantum reality that exists apart from how it is correlated to an observer.

An electron on this view just is a track in a cloud chamber or, even more idealist-ly, a set of relationships, which is how Zizek likes to describe the quantum level.

It's not surprising therefore that some kind of magical particle is sought that would explain the existence of all the others, and why it's proving to be a white elephant. Unless the Standard Modelers want to accept a form of idealism, correlationism forces them into this search for the Higgs (see my previous).

Aaron O'Connell's little experiment, which proves you can see quantum phenomena in a macroscopic (relatively) object 30 microns long, puts a serious dent in the correlationist underpinnings of the Standard Model. That tiny tuning fork was operationally isolated from other phenomena. Yet it was caught in the act of vibrating and not-vibrating simultaneously. And it was way, way bigger than what the Standard Model normally allows.

The fact that a single photon also obeys c, the speed limit of light, also suggests that there is a reality down there, not simply a mirror that shows our reflection.

In other words, there is a reason for entanglement, and it's not the reason correlation gives, which is that until they are observed, photons just kinda sorta don't exist.

And now for a nice piece of correlationist poetry to round out this post, courtesy of T.S. Eliot:

                                                  The roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.

3 comments:

Kris Coffield said...

I think...I disagree with you by half. While Aaron O'Connell's experiment hints at deeper realities, he also maintains that objects are "defined by their interconnections." At the very least, such a view contravenes Bryant's "dark objects," or objects that are more or less completely withdrawn. One could argue, however, that O'Connell is empirically conflating relation and connection, leading to a quantum evisceration of withdrawal. To me, that conflicts with object-oriented thought, which holds that objects cannot be exhausted by their relations and, instead, exist independently of any potential interaction.

Like Levi, I take issue with the "spiritually comforting," but nonetheless idealist concept of inescapable relationality (found in much process theory) from which objects are unable to break with relations, systems, or change, either by themselves or through external interference. I think you're right about the deeper explication of entanglement, and I obviously think metaphysics of any kind needs to grapple with leading scientific theories, but I'm not sure O'Connell's iteration suffices, unless one holds that objects can simultaneously remain universally interconnected and wholly withdrawn.

I'm a little tired, so I hope I'm being clear. Great post, as always.

Timothy Morton said...

Hi Kris. O'Connell does say that, before he says how he isolated the metal strip from all interconnections and observed it “breathing.” I know what you mean. I think he had to kind of emphasize that--it's hard to get along in life without asserting some kind of relationism... : )

Kris Coffield said...

In the TED video I watched, O'Connell's comment about interconnectedness being definitive was his closing statement. Thus, to me, it seemed like a message he was emphasizing, a sort of overarching theme. My post-nap point is that defining any object by its connection to any other object contradict's OOO's insistence on independence-it's merely a recapitulation of correlationism, albeit not necessarily anthropocentric. A sort of object-oriented correlationism, if you will. In a sense, the "breathing" O'Connell mentions describes the chip's relations with itself as much as its relations with, say, temperature and emptiness. Yes, it's tough to get through life without asserting relations, but the ontological being of an object still should not be predicated on any relation or system of relations within which that object is imbricated. Unfortunately, I think the latter is what O'Connell is contending.

On a different note, where does this line of thought lead you personally with regard to experimental physics? I began my academic career as particle physics student, so these topics are of great interest to me. The idea of objects concurrently vibrating and staying still reminds me of string theory principles, where vibrating strings are posited as a universal substance comprising solid matter. Yet, string theories - bosonic, heterotic, or otherwise - are even more hypothetical (and less experimentally verifiable) than the Higgs search you critiqued. I'm slowly working on a post about why OOO'ers shouldn't hastily dismiss string/multiverse theories, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.