Tag Archives: nature of reality

The Quantum Physicist as Causal Detective: an Oct. 7, 2020 event

I love mysteries and am quite interested in the nature of reality (you, too?) and that gives us something in common with a couple of Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI; Canada) researchers. From The Quantum Physicist as Causal Detective event page on the insidetheperimeter.ca website (notice received via email),

In their live webcast from Perimeter on October 7 [2020], Robert Spekkens and Elie Wolfe will shed light on the exciting possibilities brought about by applying quantum thinking to the science of cause and effect.

Watch the live webcast on this page on Wednesday, October 7 [2020] at 7 pm ET.

What do data science and the foundations of quantum theory have to do with one another?

A great deal, it turns out. The particular branch of data science known as causal inference focuses on a problem which is central to disciplines ranging from epidemiology to economics: that of disentangling correlation and causation in statistical data.

Meanwhile, in a slightly different guise, this same problem has been pondered by quantum physicists as part of a continuing effort to make sense of various puzzling quantum phenomena. On top of that, the most celebrated result concerning quantum theory’s meaning for the nature of reality – Bell’s theorem – can be seen in retrospect to be built on the solution to a particularly challenging problem in causal inference.

Recent efforts to elaborate upon these connections have led to an exciting flow of techniques and insights across the disciplinary divide.

Perimeter researchers Robert Spekkens and Elie Wolfe have done pioneering work studying relations of cause and effect through a quantum foundational lens, and can be counted among a small number of physicists worldwide with expertise in this field.

In their joint webcast from Perimeter [at 7 pm ET] on October 7 [2020], Spekkens and Wolfe will explore what is happening at the intersection of these two fields and how thinking like a quantum physicist leads to new ways of sussing out cause and effect from correlation patterns in statistical data.

For those of us on the West Coast, that webcast will be at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020 and I believe you can watch it here.

Nanotechnology and the European Economy; Nokia and IBM’s augmented reality meetings; Don Eigler hypes nanotechnology; physical/virtual/augmented reality meetings with IBM and Nokia

In keeping with my belief that the developments I’m observing are threads in a complex conversation (as per yesterday’s [Oct.20.09] posting), I’m back to highlighting various news items that hint at possible trends.

The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research has published a call for proposals to study the economic impact of nanotechnology and nanosciences. You can get more details here on Azonano or view the call here.

There’s an interview with Don Eigler, the IBM scientist who’s known for moving Xenon atoms individually so they spell out IBM, in New Scientist here. Interestingly, Mr. Eigler does not have any concerns with regard to health fears related to nanotechnology. He’s aware of toxicology issues but he thinks that if we get it right, there’ll be very few problems, if any.

Following on my ‘nature of reality’ kick, this item about IBM and Nokia developing software that allows virtual reality/augmented reality meetings in physical space caught my attention.From the news item on Physorg.com

With support from IBM Research and Nokia Research Center, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland created an experimental system that enables people in multiple locations to interact and collaborate with avatars and objects in a single, virtual meeting . Objects and avatars are located in a “virtual” space that mirrors the corresponding physical room.

There is a video included with the story and it looked like the meeting was taking place in three spaces, two of them were physical and one was virtual. One office (physical) had two people who were interacting with virtual objects while simultaneously meeting in a virtual meeting room with their avatars and the same virtual objects they’d been interacting with in the physical space. A third person (in a geographically removed physical office) joined them in the virtual meeting. Do take a look.

The questions that spring to my mind are these: are all the spaces real? Is one space more real than the others and why? Some might argue that the virtual space is less real because it isn’t physical but then neither are your emotions. Also in the postings here about perception and quantum realities (Oct. 16, 19, and 20, 2009), I noted that our perceptions of reality at the macro level do not coincide with the realities of the quantum world which occasions this questions, What is the nature of reality?

Quantum realities and perceptions (part 2)

To sum up Friday’s posting: I discussed the nature of reality (both quantum and macro) and its relationship to our perceptions while examining a Buddhist perspective on science. Today, I’m adding a recently published (Nature Nanotechnology) paper, Anticipating the perceived risk of nanotechnologies, by Terre Satterfield [University of British Columbia, Canada], Milind Kandlikar, Christian E. H. Beaudrie, Joseph Conti and Barbara Herr-Harthorn to the mix.

It’s a meta-analysis of a number of public surveys on nanotechnology and perceptions of risk. From the paper,

Perception is critical [] for a number of reasons: because human behaviour is derivative of what we believe or perceive to be true [emphasis mine]; because perceptions and biases are not easily amenable to change with new knowledge1 [ ] and because risk perceptions are said to be, at least in part, the result of social and psychological factors and not a ‘knowledge deficit’ about risks per se []. [Note: I can’t figure out how to reproduce the numbered notes in superscripted form as my WordPress installation is still problematic. Please read the article if you are interested in them.] p. 1 of the PDF.

Although the authors of the paper are not concerned with the ultimate nature of reality, the words I’ve emphasized struck home because it touches on the notion of relationships. From Peter McKnight’s article about Buddhism and science,

In other words, how we define the objects of our knowledge — in this case, particles — depends on the capacity we have to know about them. This instrumentalist view has a deeply Kantian flavour: Kant taught that our knowledge of phenomena is a product of the relation between things and our ways of knowing about them, rather than about things themselves.

… [Mathieu Ricard, Buddhist monk and former geneticist speaking]

“All properties, all observable phenomena, appear in relationship with each other and dependent on each other. This view of interdependence — one thing arising in dependence on another, and their relationship — actually defines what appear to us as objects. So relations and interdependence are the basic fabric of reality. We participate in that interdependence with our consciousness; we crystallize some aspect of it that appears to us as objects.”

At the base, it’s our perception that governs our behaviour which in turn governs our relationships. Richard Jones in his book (2004), Soft Machines, had this to say,

Issues that concern the nature of life are particularly prone to lead to such a reaction–hence the gulf that has opened up between many scientists and many of the public about the rights and wrongs of genetic modification. These very profound issues about the proper relationship between man and nature are likely to become very urgent as bionanotechnology develops. p. 217

It seems that Jones is not alone, from the Satterfield, et al. paper,

More broadly as applications move as predicted towards more complex domains where bioinformation and nanotechnologies converge, the nature of the risks involved will move beyond the immediate concerns relation to toxicity and enter into contentious moral and ethical terrains. p. 6 of PDF

For me, the whole thing resembles a very complex conversation. More tomorrow.

Quantum realities and perceptions (part 1)

(This is going to be a ‘philosophical’ entry.) The more I read about nanotechnology and look into the science, the more I wonder about the nature of reality. Serendipitously, the Dalai Lama was in Vancouver (Canada) recently which occasioned an article (by Peter McKnight of the Vancouver Sun, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009, p. C5) titled Exploring the nature of reality; Buddhism and  science are not always in agreement, but they still have much in common.  (The Dalai Lama is quite interested in science and he supported a series of dialogues between scientists and Buddhists which started in 1987.(

From the Buddhist perspective, reality is an illusion so there cannot be indivisible particles such as electrons and quarks which, according to scientists, are the basic building blocks for matter.  Consequently, you cannot use measurements (of charge, mass, and spin angular momentum) to prove their existence as the measurements themselves are illusory. From the article,

The Dalai Lama put it this  way: “things and their properties are mutually dependent … one can speak of an entity only in relation to attributes, and one can speak of attributes only in relation to an entity. Once you have conceptually removed all the attributes, it is nonsensical to speak of what remains.”

These Buddhist concepts are in sharp contrast to what many scientists believe, i.e. there are indivisible objects and matter is real.

Getting back to Buddhism, it reminds me a little of Bruno Latour’s work, Laboratory Life; The Construction of Scientific Facts, where he points out that the practice of science is very much informed by perception, social relations, and belief.

As as I’m concerned, it’s always been a’ best guess’ scenario and one proceeds with a theory as long as it works. I found out that I am not alone; there is a philosophy for thinkers like me, ‘instrumentalism’. From the article,

… [scientific] theories are seen as ways of explaining, predicting and controlling phenomena, and concepts like electrons are viewed as constructs that help us to make predictions and control nature. Instrumentalism therefore doesn’t deny reality. If it did, there would be no chance of making accurate predictions because there would be nothing to predict and nothing to control. Rather, instrumentalism merely says that our scientific theories don’t get to the ultimate truth about reality. But they work, and that’s what’s important.

(If you want to read more from the article, go here.) As noted earlier, I’ve been playing with these ideas as I’ve been exploring nanotechnology and the quantum world. In reading about nanotech and quantum realities, it’s always a leap of the imagination. The descriptions of what occurs at the atomic and molecular levels contradicts the sensory input I receive. Take this for example from an article by Michael Berger (Shaking hands with a virus — getting all touchy-feely with nanotechnology) on Nanowerk,

So while your ‘reality’ tells you that you are sitting in your chair right now as you are reading this, reality at the subatomic level means that you are not really sitting in your chair – thanks to the repulsion of your and the chair’s electrons you are actually floating on it at a height of a fraction of a nanometer.

This a complete contradiction of what I perceive and yet scientists say it’s so and on the basis of their work have made all kinds of quantum discoveries which have been applied to real world products.

In common with quantum particles, my objects too can be measured (they have weight, dimension, hardness, state [gas/liquid/solid], etc.) My perceptions and my measurements are the only proof I have of reality and yet according to scientists there is another reality at the nano scale and their means of proving that ‘nano’ reality is similar to mine.This all leads to the question I started with, what is the nature of reality? (more next week)

On a somewhat related note, I’ve got a lovely short story from Bruno Breathnach, A simple glass of water, which has a very Buddhist flavour.

Happy weekend!