Physics,  Sociology

Atomic Theory and Social Media

In classical physics, each particle interacts (through force) with every other particle all the time. In quantum theory, some particles interact with some other particles some of the time. This model of interaction can be compared to people on social media—you don’t talk to all the people in the world all the time; you rather make some ‘friends’ and you talk to some of these friends some of the time. Quantum causality works just like people-to-people interaction rather than particle-to-particle interaction. This difference is unintuitive in the context of physics, but quite intuitive if we were to compare these particles to people. This inevitably means that to understand the problem of quantum theory we have to describe particle interactions as individuals communicating in society.

The Model of Causality in Classical Physics

A classical particle—e.g. in gravitational theory—interacts with other particles through a gravitational field created by the gravitational force. The gravitational field extends everywhere, which means every particle is exerting some force on every other particle in the universe. Similarly, because the field extends everywhere, the interaction between particles occurs continuously.

There is never a place or a time when two particles are not interacting with each other. This is because of the nature of space—it is extended into all space and time, and hence the field or force created by the particle also extends to all particles at all locations in space, at all points in time.

The Model of Causality in Quantum Physics

A quantum particle interacts with other particles with the same types of forces as in classical physics (gravity being an exception at the present moment), however, these forces are now quantized. This means for a particle to exert a force to another particle, it must emit a particle which must be absorbed by the receiver before the force can be applied. For instance, to exert the electromagnetic force, a quantum particle must emit a photon (quantized electromagnetic field) toward another particle.

Since the particles are emitted and absorbed occasionally, therefore, the force between two particles cannot be experienced continuously. Similarly, because the particle emitted by the first quantum object is absorbed only by a second quantum object, the force is limited to the two particles exchanging the photon; the force cannot be experienced by all the particles in the universe.

The Incompleteness in Quantum Physics

Unlike the classical forces that spread to all locations in space and time, the quantum forces are localized to specific times and particles (locations of space). Thus, some particles interact through force with some other particles some of the time. Quantum theory cannot predict which of the many particles will interact when. This constitutes two kinds of incompleteness in the quantum theory:

  • A pairwise set of particles have to be identified for interaction
  • This pair of particles must exchange force/energy some of the times

Potentially, any particle can interact with any other particle any time. However, observations reveal that this is not the case. If all particles talk to each other all the time, then the theory of force spreading all over the universe suffices to explain the behavior. However, if some particles interact with some other particles some of the time, then the force-based theory is inadequate to explain behavior.

Such a theory has to be supplanted with another theory that says which two particles will interact when. The incompleteness of atomic theory is that it is unable make these two predictions. What is disconcerting to physicists is the fact that quantum particles behave so differently, which means that we are unable to find the intuitions by which to understand the problem and solve it.

The Interaction on Social Media

The problem, however, need not be so disconcerting, if we look at people-to-people interactions. Clearly, all people don’t talk to all the people all the time. Rather, in a society, some people establish relationships with each other, and events are transacted over these relationships alone.

The situation is comparable to the social media interactions, where two people send each other a message to become friends. After this friendship is established, each friend can then send a subsequent message to a friend at a particular chosen time. The interaction is limited to some people (locations in space) and to some of the occasions (instances in time). Even when a person appears to send a message to a group of people, the messages are only delivered in a pairwise manner.

There is hence a sense of privacy in social media where everyone doesn’t see everyone else’s messages. Rather, you can select which person’s posts or messages you will like to see. Once you have set these messages, each person can send a message at a time of their choosing. You can also selectively turn these messages or posts on and off, thereby shutting out these interactions. You are free to completely block a person, unfriend them, or unfollow them, thus eliminating those interactions.

The Physical World and the Social World

If the problem of quantum theory is that we are flummoxed by the dissimilarity to classical physics, there are clear alternatives by which this problem can be solved. The solution is that we have to stop thinking of quantum particles as classical particles; to truly understand quantum physics, we have to think of society and people-to-people interactions. Then we have an intuitive basis for theory formation.

Einstein once said that all science is the refinement of everyday experience. The idea of a particle was derived from billiard balls, and that of a force field by the idea of water waves. If we can refine the notions of billiard ball collisions and wave propagation in a medium like water into scientific theories, why can we not take the social interactions as the model for quantum particle theory?

Quantum Theory and Vedic Philosophy

Vedic philosophy offers some simple but powerful insights into this problem. All causality in Vedic philosophy is governed by two things—guna and karma. Karma is the event being received as a message or post. Guna is the choice of the person or particle which is sending this message. Guna and karma are in addition to material particles, which means that the Vedic theory supplants modern science precisely in the sense in which it is incomplete—i.e. unable to predict which particles interact when.

Guna is the cause of friendships with other people—through those friendships causal interactions can occur. Karma is the cause of the events or messages exchanged between friends.

A direct consequence of this model of causality is that you can change your friends if you like, but due to karma you will receive the same message from another source. There is hence a choice of which source we want to receive the message from, but there is a fixed destiny that a certain type of message will be received. Choice and destiny are therefore consistent and not contradictory ideas. Furthermore, choice and destiny do not contradict the notions of material particles either.

Overcoming the Incompleteness

By our guna or choice, we can make different friends. But by our destiny the messages received from even the changed friends will remain unchanged. Hence, as far as the received messages go, we can make a prediction scientifically—we can say what will happen. However, as far as the sender of these messages go, we cannot make a prediction scientifically—we cannot say who will do what.

Thus, there can be a complete prediction of the events, without a prediction of the actors. Science can be predictively complete without violating the free will or choice of the individuals. This choice, however, is not necessarily transcendental. Rather, it manifests as friendships or relationships we make in this world; it is only through these friendships do we receive the posts or messages.

Implications for a Moral Science

This idea about causality has important implications for moral consequences. For instance, a criminal can escape the laws of the government by making new friends. This is entirely in his control due to guna. However, the criminal cannot escape the messages; those messages will be delivered through the newly chosen friends. Thus, scientific predictions can work precisely because there is a destiny for each individual by which they must reap the same events even in different interactions.

Hence, the proper understanding of atomic theory opens up the doors to two important things. First, science can be predictively complete vis-à-vis each individual’s experiences. Second, despite this completeness, there is choice although the destiny ensures that by choice we cannot change what will happen to us, but we can change how we will react to those events. Once this theoretical foundation has been laid, we can now talk about how choices create the destiny, and how our responses to destiny creates more destiny. This study is not within the purview of atomic theory.

Finally, the most important lesson of such a view is that the choices we attribute to humans and other living beings are not epiphenomena of the atomic determinism. Rather, by understanding the human behavior we can understand the behavior of atoms too, and therefore the study of consciousness at the level of humans is also relevant to the understanding of the ‘social’ behavior of atomic objects.