Think Free

Leave a comment

Max Planck

Max Planck (Karl Ernst Ludwig 1858-1947) was a German physicist who taught in Berlin from 1888. His work on thermodynamics and radiation challenged Newtonian physics, leading him to develop quantum theory, for which he won the 1918 Nobel Prize for Physics.

He was one of the first to publicly support Einstein‘s special theory of relativity, well before others grasped its import.

The inaugural award: Max Planck (left) present...

The inaugural award: Max Planck (left) presents Albert Einstein (right) with the Max Planck medal of the German Physical Society, 28 June 1929, in Berlin, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the idea of quantum theory has mostly been within the purview of scientists and New Age thinkers, its practical applications should be more apparent soon.

As noted at

More recently, we’re seeing a practical application where the conventional “bit” in computing is surpassed by the quantum “qubit,” which isn’t bound by the traditional laws of binary processing.

Who was Max Planck?

Is General Relativity a (partial) Return of Aristotelian Physics?

French Satellite Will Test Einstein’s Theory of Relativity

Researchers create a first frequency comb of time-bin entangled qubits

Einstein Theory Tested by Satellite Could Shake Scientific Foundations

Explaining weirdness with weirdness

Chilling Scientific Inquiry

Leave a comment

Erwin Schrödinger

English: Photograph of physicist Erwin Schrödi...

Erwin Schrödinger early in his professional career. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961) was an Austrian physicist who attempted to overcome the apparent particle- wave duality with his now famous wave equation.

Various interpretations of Schrödinger’s wave equation have arisen. For some, particles are seen as wave packets. Others suggest that the particle is similar to a standing wave—a relatively stable energy formation that doesn’t travel through a medium.

While some like to see science as some kind of solid rock that tells us the “truth,” the ambiguity surrounding the interpretation of Schrödinger’s work tells us just the opposite. Science involves speculation, myth and a lot of limitation and uncertainty.

However, to sum up the latest consensus on what the wave equation means to people today, we could say that the whole idea of “matter” is recognized as a construction of the senses, mind and society. Underneath that social construction of reality,¹ we just have energy, for lack of a better term.

English: Wave particle duality p known

Wave particle duality (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Age enthusiasts tend to champion this idea, suggesting the entire universe is merely energy. Meanwhile, some old school theologians still talk about the reality of matter and the (supposed) indisputable authority of Aristotle‘s views on that topic. Some even go as far to say that animals do not enjoy an afterlife because they do not have souls and are made entirely of matter.²

A better approach, however, would consider the replacement of the old idea of “matter” with that of “energy” but also look to spiritual experience as somewhat mysterious yet qualitatively different from energy.³

For his outstanding work in quantum mechanics Schrödinger won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933, sharing it with Paul Dirac.

Image via Wikipedia

¹ I’m alluding to the sociological classic, The Social Construction of Reality by Berger and Luckmann.

² Others say that animals do have souls, but still do not enjoy an afterlife. See these links.

³ What do I mean by this? Well, I recall conversing with someone who liked to work out. He enjoyed his endorphin rushes after vigorous exercise. I used to be a long distance runner, so knew what he was talking about. Since my running days, however, I have experienced what C. G. Jung and others call the numinous. And what Catholics (and other Christians) call the indwelling of The Holy Spirit. In those essentially spiritual experiences I have noticed a range of difference. And all of the spiritual experiences were qualitatively different from an endorphin rush (which we can assume more closely correlates to chemical changes than, say, sitting in a church).

Related » George Berkeley, Philipp Lenard, Particle, Wave, Thomas Young 


Special Theory of Relativity

The Special Theory of Relativity is one of Albert Einstein‘s theories developed in 1905 which, in its most basic form, says:

  • in non-accelerated (i.e. inertial) frames of reference, physical laws always and everywhere apply regardless of the frame of reference and
  • the speed of light (in a vacuum) is constant independent of the speed of the observer

Because the speed of the observer is a frame of reference, the above statements seem to conflict. To resolve these apparently conflicting statements, complex equations were developed, leading to the famous e=mc², where ‘e’ is energy, ‘m’ is matter, and ‘c’ is the constant speed of light.

English: USSR stamp dedicated to Albert Einste...

USSR stamp dedicated to Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to this equation, mass increases with velocity and decreases with a loss of energy.

The implications of this theory are profound. In essence, space and time are interwoven, and not separate entities. Wikipedia says:

Time and space cannot be defined separately from each other. Rather space and time are interwoven into a single continuum known as spacetime. Events that occur at the same time for one observer could occur at different times for another.

What follows from this is hard for many to understand. But it has been experimentally supported:

We are each in our own, individual spacetime because we have each moved in unique directions and velocities in our lives.

So, according to this theory (and the evidence that supports it), while it appears that many events happen at the same spacetime among us, they do not. The reason it appears that things happen at the same spacetime is due to the extremely tiny spacetime differences among us.

Related Posts » General Theory of Relativity


Add to this, report errors, suggest edits or voice your opinionAdd to this, report errors, suggest edits or voice your opinion

Leave a comment

Standing Wave

In physics a standing wave is a uniform and relatively stable wave pattern of energy that doesn’t travel through a medium. Put differently, each point on the standing wave has a constant amplitude.

Standing wave in stationary medium. The red do...

Standing wave in stationary medium. The red dots represent the wave nodes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By way of example, imagine a long skipping rope extended on a smooth surface and held by two people at either end. When wiggled left to right by one person at a precise frequency, this particular type of wave differs in that its waveform (the height and shape of the curve) doesn’t move down the rope but remains stable, forming a uniform pattern.

Circular Standing Wave

Circular Standing Wave (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wikipedia adds:

This phenomenon can occur because the medium is moving in the opposite direction to the wave, or it can arise in a stationary medium as a result of interference between two waves traveling in opposite directions. The most common cause of standing waves is the phenomenon of resonance, in which standing waves occur inside a resonator due to interference between waves reflected back and forth at the resonator’s resonant frequency.

For waves of equal amplitude traveling in opposing directions, there is on average no net propagation of energy

Erwin Schrödinger argued that all particles of matter are in fact standing waves of energy.

The implications of his theory are profound. It suggests that so-called matter within the universe isn’t really solid. We merely perceive it as solid through our senses and minds.


Related Posts » George Berkeley, Wave, Thomas Young



Leave a comment

Thomas Young (1773 – 1829)

English: Wave particle duality p known

Wave particle duality p known (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas Young (1773-1829) was an English scientist, physician and Egyptologist. He made important contributions toward deciphering the Rosetta Stone, has been called the father of physiological optics, and has made other significant contributions in the history of ideas,¹ but he’s remembered most for conducting the famous double slit experiment in 1803.

In this experiment light was said to behave like a wave due to an observable interference pattern. This suggests that light is a type of energy, as opposed to a collection of particles.

In 1905 the view of light as energy was challenged or, perhaps, better said, confounded by the Hungarian-German Nazi Philipp Lenard, whose own experiments demonstrated that light also behaves like a particle, which is normally understood as a unit of matter.

Diagram for the double-slit experiment

Diagram for the double-slit experiment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until this point in Western intellectual history, a history that Richard Nisbett² and others say is almost obsessively concerned with rational categories, matter and energy were thought to be entirely different because, according to previously available observational frameworks, matter behaved differently than energy.

Since the discovery of the apparent duality of light as matter and energy, however, an entirely new series of experiments and theories have arisen about the enigmatic “stuff” of the universe.

This search includes what physicists have recently called the “God Particle” (Higgs boson). If its existence is confirmed, this would apparently resolve some inconsistencies in theoretical physics, as it now stands.

Related Posts » Democritus, Hume (David), Particle, Particle-Wave Duality, Schrödinger (Erwin), Standing Wave


² Richard E. Nisbett, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… and Why. New York: The Free Press, 2003.

Leave a comment


Flyleaf of the book of Alexandr Aksakov: Animi...

Flyleaf of the book of Alexandr Aksakov: Animism and Spiritism, 1906 Edition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Animism is the belief that natural objects like rocks, rivers, mountains and trees, as well as animals and people have a spiritual, animating principle.

The pioneering anthropologist Sir E. B. Tylor (1832 -1917) developed a theory of animism to try to explain the origins of religion. Tylor believed that so-called primitive man developed a belief in spirits existing in nature from the actual experience of sleep, dreams and breathing. Like many researchers who think they know better than the people they are researching, it was probably too much of a stretch for him to take the idea on its own terms.

Today, it’s not entirely clear if animism should be defined as a religion, per se, or simply as a widely held belief. One of the complications that comes out of the belief in animism is the view that matter and spirit are the same. This differs from the view that matter and energy are equivalent. But not many people are able to appreciate the subtlety of this distinction. Many New Age and subatomic physics enthusiasts say that matter and energy are the same, and therefore assume that matter, energy and spirit are the same.

This view is at odds with religious perspectives that claim spirit pervades matter/energy but is qualitatively different from it. But again, if someone is merely looking at the problem intellectually, or with limited experience, they’ll probably think it’s all the same.

Leave a comment


Spurious Causality

Spurious Causality by y3rdua via Flickr

Causality is the belief that a second event is the consequence of a first event. This is usually described as a relationship between a cause (first event) and an effect (second event).¹ Not everyone sees causality as a belief. But from a mature philosophical perspective, that’s exactly what it is.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle saw causality in terms of four interrelated causes or explanatory factors:

  • The material cause: The raw material used to make an object (e.g. wood)
  • The formal cause: What the object will be (e.g. a chair)
  • The efficient cause: How the object is created (builder)
  • The final cause: The object’s function or purpose (it is used for sitting)

This teleological perspective is based on Aristotle’s belief that a valid distinction can be made between a thing’s essence and its observable form.²

Perhaps in keeping with Aristotle’s idea of a “formal cause,” Michelangelo said that, when sculpting, he simply removed the stone that hid the figure already existing within.

The idea of one event causing another event has been critically examined. The philosopher David Hume suggested that the idea of causality is nothing more than an expectation based on past experience and human limitations.

David Hume

David Hume (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hume’s critique of the belief in cause and effect challenges our conventional way of seeing. All we can be sure of, says Hume, is that certain events occur one after another in a given region and for a certain duration.

In billiards, for instance, the white ball appears to cause the motion of other balls when impacting them on the gaming table. But here’s the radical part. Hume says that all we can truly know is that, in the past, the first ball impacted and the other balls moved. We cannot prove that the first ball’s impact will always be followed by movement of the other balls. And for Hume, there is no rational way to demonstrate a causal connection:

Reason can never shew us the connexion of one object with another, tho’ aided by experience, and the observation of their constant conjunction in all past instances. When the mind, therefore, passes from the idea or impression of one object to the idea or belief of another, it is not determin’d by reason, but by certain principles, which associate together the ideas of these objects, and unite them in the imagination.³

Put differently, from prior experience we build up a series of expectations and habitual ways of interpreting observations. Hume calls these “ideas.” But ideas they simply are. Although we expect the billiard balls to move, we have no way of proving or knowing that they always will.

At first, this may seem absurd. But Hume’s critique of causality had a profound effect on one of the most important thinkers in the history of Western philosophy, Immanuel Kant. Mortimer Adler says “…Kant tells us that David Hume awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers.”4

Particle tracks in a cloud chamber

Particle tracks in a cloud chamber by Ethan Hein via Flickr

In addition, developments in subatomic physics, especially concerning particle reaction chambers, have challenged many longstanding assumptions about causality. On a quantum level of reality, contemporary physicists claim that observations of subatomic particles support the ideas of probability and simultaneity instead of linear causality.5

This radical uncertainty is reflected in the arts and in the depth psychiatry of C. G. Jung, whose concept of synchronicity suggests the possibility of non-causality or acausality.

¹ Wikipedia gives a standard definition that most would accept:

² A distinction that the Catholic Church adheres to when explaining the efficacy of the Eucharist.

³ David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1896 ed.), SECTION VI.: Of the inference from the impression to the idea, paragraph 278.

4 Adler, Mortimer J. (1996). Ten Philosophical Mistakes. Simon & Schuster. p. 94, cited at

5 Some argue, however, that it’s invalid to compare quantum and macroscopic levels of reality because subatomic particles exist in an entirely different arena, and behave in different ways than the larger aggregate objects which they make up.

On the Web: