Sunday, April 06, 2014

Anti-Dualist Observation Number 1: The Rotation of Hyperion

The chaotic tumbling of Hyperion during its orbit of Saturn. Watch out for the brief appearance of Saturn!

The above YouTube video shows the chaotic tumbling of  Hyperion, an irregularly shaped moon of Saturn. I believe this little speck of dust in the immense tracts of space is telling us something profound about the nature of reality. I have watched the video time and again and haven't found myself getting bored with it, especially in the light of what Sir John Polkinghorne says about Hyperion:

The highly complex character of physical causality in a realistic situation is illustrated by the tale of Hyperion, one of the moons of Saturn. This irregularly shaped lump of rock, about the size of New York City, is observed to be tumbling chaotically as it encircles its planet. A simple estimate of the effectiveness of quantum physics in suppressing chaos, even when applied to a large object like Hyperion, leads to the conclusion that chaotic motion should not last for more than a finite period, in this case about thirty-seven years. While Hyperion has not been under observation for quite so long a time, no one expects that it is shortly about to return to orderly behaviour. It turns out that what will prevent this happening is a further influence, environmental in its character, which must be taken into account. The effect is called decoherence, and in its turn it suppresses typical quantum effects. Decoherence arises from the fact that Hyperion is bathed in a sea of low frequency radiation, partly coming from the Sun and partly from the universal cosmic background radiation that fills the universe. Interaction with this radiation represents a kind of repetitive 'measurement' process, continually erasing quantum fuzziness and restoring a classical-like situation, thereby preventing the quantum suppression of chaos from tightening its grip. It is rather like someone trying to get to sleep who continually asks himself 'Am I asleep yet?', thereby keeping himself away. The decoherent suppression of quantum suppression will keep Hyperion tumbling for a very long time to come. (Exploring Reality. Polkinghorne, SPCK 2005)

Now, I'm not so sure that decoherence theory is the full explanation of the apparently discontinuous jumps of the Quantum State vector (See here for some of my reasons why), but where I have common ground with the decoherence view is that whatever quantum leaps are, they happen regardless of sentient observation. It's fascinating to realise that as we look at Hyperion's tumbling rotation we are in effect watching the effects of those disordered but tiny quantum "jumps"* as they are magnified up by the butterfly effect to an observable level. These leaps keep shifting the rotation onto new rotational path histories. If these "path histories", as per chaos, diverge with time it will mean that no regular pattern of rotation will be observed. But quantum wave motion means that in time these paths start to defocus thus damping the chaos. However, before this defocusing can take effect the next quantum jump has shifted the rotation onto a new focused path history.

In some ways this fascinating observation fits in well with the anti-dualist theme of this blog: The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum observation tends to create a radical separation between mind and matter, by regarding matter as a mathematical system that, as per the calculated probabilities, throws up unambiguous observations for sentience; otherwise without the observer matter is thought to remain in a state of ambiguity. In contrast I have been coming to the view that while yes matter does throw up observations for human sentience, matter itself is a form of intelligence in action in as much as it comes to unambiguous conclusions without the need for a human observer. This is a theme I am, and am hoping, to develop. Such a view is of a piece with the realisation that human conscious cognition has a point by point conformity with brain function, a function which in the final analysis is the activity of a highly sophisticated quantum object.

Who'd believe that a lump of tumbling rock could be so telling!

* In decoherence theory the jumps are actually only apparent; a result of the perturbations introduced by environmental chaos cancelling out quantum wave dispersion and causing the system to remain relatively focussed. 

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