“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Further Thoughts on Quanta and Biology

It doesn't seem unreasonable to suppose that lifeforms are sensitive to quantum-scale phenomena in ways we haven't yet seen. If in the course of a few months quantum phenomena can be observed in photosynthesizing molecules, in a bird's eye and in a fruit fly's sense of smell, it should be quite likely that we'll find more fairly shortly. (See my previous for the links concerning these phenomena.)

If something like Bohm and Hiley's ontological interpretation of quantum theory is valid, it means that there are quantum fields throughout the Universe that act as radio-style guidance systems for quantum objects such as electrons and photons. These fields would be nonlocal, that is, they would not be subject to space-time, which may be an emergent property of interactions between objects at a higher scale. Peter Horava of Berkeley has recently been suggesting something like this. Life forms then might be susceptible to these fields and there might be some kind of information exchange between quantum scale phenomena “in” the lifeforms and “outside” them.

Maybe then Sheldrake's morphogenetic fields might have something in them. These are nonlocal fields that influence the ontogeny, perceptual and even cognitive functioning of lifeforms. The idea was damned by the editor of Nature, in the early 1980s, and since then Sheldrake has been in New Age limbo, “New Age” being a term like “weed” for “an idea in the wrong place,” an idea that the other has.

One doesn't have to believe any of this to cleave to speculative realism. But we should be allowed at least to think such things through. It would be perfectly possible to do an inverse of Nihil Unbound, sort of Plenum Unbound, as speculative realism.

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