Wolfgang Smith and John Taylor
With the discovery of quantum mechanics in the early decades of the twentieth century, it seemed that physics had at last discovered its fundamental laws. As for the pre-quantum physics—thenceforth referred to as “classical”—this came now to be seen as a science of the macroscopic, dealing ultimately with ensembles of so-called quantum particles. The ground for such an interpretation had in fact been prepared by the kinetic theory of gases, which demonstrated how a macroscopic physics could be derived statistically from that of an “atomic” substrate. The belief was rife that the physics of the sense-perceived or “corporeal” world could likewise be derived from quantum theory on a statistical basis.
The one fact that might have caused doubt in that regard was the ironclad dictum of the Copenhagen school—headed by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg—insisting that in the scenario of measurement, the instrument that measures a quantum system cannot itself be conceived in quantum-mechanical terms. That Copenhagenist postulate, moreover, has been from the start a source of astonishment and displeasure to the physics community at large; yet all attempts to eliminate or circumvent the offending dogma have ended in failure of one kind or another. It thus appears that this Copenhagenist cut is grounded in an objectively real dichotomy of some kind, challenging the prevailing assumption that “at bottom” physical reality as such reduces to quantum particles.
This happens to be the very issue with which the senior author has dealt “from the ground up” in a monograph entitled The Quantum Enigma.1First published in 1995, it has been reprinted by Philos-Sophia Initiative in 2023. Approaching the matter from a metaphysical point of vantage, he concluded that there is—and must in truth be—an ontological discontinuity between the quantum system and the measuring instrument, and that in fact quantum particles—so far from constituting corporeal entities—reduce to mere Aristotelian potentiae, a view first proposed by Heisenberg himself. Distinguishing thus between what he termed the physical and the corporeal domains, Smith argued that the act of measurement entails an ontological transition from the former to the latter. Inasmuch as such an ontological transition can only occur instantaneously, it follows moreover that the modes of causation known and knowable to physics—which he terms horizontal2For the sake of clarity let us note that this “horizontal” causality operates by way of a transmission through space and may be deterministic, random, or stochastic.—cannot in principle account for such an effect. He was thereby led to recognize a hitherto unknown mode of causality—which he terms vertical—distinguished by the fact that it acts instantaneously.3By way of introduction to the subject of “vertical causation,” we refer to chapter 2 of The Vertical Ascent (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2021).
It follows from these considerations not only that the ontological domain to which quantum mechanics applies is limited, but that it excludes the corporeal plane on which real qualities—e.g., colors—make their appearance. To be sure, this claim presupposes a realist view of visual perception, a matter with which Smith has dealt at considerable length.4Ibid., chs. 5 and 10. The relevant point is that such a realist interpretation of the corporeal not only “exonerates” the Copenhagenist cut, but corroborates the corresponding dichotomy on stringently ontological grounds. It is a matter of distinguishing categorically between what, strictly speaking, is and what as yet is not—the Heisenbergian potentiae—even if that which is not is about to be. And, on that basis, an “end of quantum reality” has been established once and for all.
Furthermore, it was noted in The Quantum Enigma that the ontological distinction between the corporeal and the physical realms entails a corresponding dichotomy, within the physical domain itself, between what Smith terms the subcorporeal and the transcorporeal5A physical entity that is not subcorporeal is transcorporeal.domains. Meanwhile, physics itself has begun to weigh in on this issue. Within the last decade, namely, a group of physicists—headed by George Ellis—has begun to investigate the physics of the subcorporeal: of physical objects SX, that is, associated with a corporeal object X. And surprising as it may seem to the scientific community at large, that subcorporeal physics does not—cannot in fact—reduce to quantum theory! Inevitably, a thermodynamic system known as a “heat bath” enters into play. It is not difficult to realize, however, that a thermodynamics does not reduce to quantum theory: this follows from the Second Law, which affirms that the total entropy—thermodynamic system plus environment—cannot decrease. Time, therefore, has now a direction—a “future” and a “past”—which it does not have in a “quantum-mechanical” universe, where physical processes prove to be reversible. It thus turns out that subcorporeal physics does not reduce to quantum mechanics. Not only, then, is there a bound to the applicability of quantum theory, but that bound occurs within the physical domain itself.6It is quite amazing, therefore, that to this day the physics establishment seems to regard the cosmos itself as something reducible to quantum theory! In addition to the ontological cut between the corporeal and the physical domains, there exists a corresponding cut—within the subcorporeal realm itself—between the quantum-mechanical and the thermodynamic domains. And needless to say: inasmuch as that discontinuity within the subcorporeal realm is expressive of an ontological dichotomy, physics per se cannot account for that cut.
* * *
The presumption, in post-Enlightenment times, has been to regard the corporeal as an effect of the physical: an epiphenomenon conceived presumably as a Cartesian res cogitans or “thing of the mind.” It now emerges, however, that this metaphysical presumption is demonstrably false: so far from reducing to an effect of the physical, we find that the corporeal impacts the physical to the point of affecting its very laws! We propose to prove, in fact, that the aforesaid dichotomy in the physics of a subcorporeal object SX is effected by vertical causation emanating from the corporeal object X.
Let us note, first of all, that this recognition entails a complete reversal of our Weltanschauung: it literally turns our world “upside down”—or better said, “right-side up,” given that our claim is justified. It is, after all, being—as opposed to nonbeing or potentiae—that defines the iconic “above.” The Enlightenment has thus imposed an ontological inversion upon Western civilization: a rotation of 180 degrees if you will, interchanging the “above” and the “below.” One could in truth write a cultural history of the modern world based upon this geometric metaphor: it happens, namely, that this geometric inversion is mirrored in a cultural.7Cf. Wolfgang Smith, Cosmos and Transcendence (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2021), ch. 7.
Getting back to physics, the aforesaid ontological contention can be formulated as a theorem:
The transition from quantum theory to thermodynamics on the subcorporeal plane is effected by vertical causation emanating from substantial form.
To be sure, the concept of substantial form is incurably ontological; the term itself pertains to the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition which distinguishes between substances and attributes, both of which are given by forms.
The proof breaks organically into three parts to show respectively: (i) that a subcorporeal entity SX comprises a heat bath which is quantum-mechanical in the small and thermodynamic in the large; (ii) that this heat bath can only be effected by vertical causation; and (iii) that the vertical causation in question derives from the substantial form of X.
* * *
The first step of the proof has evidently been accomplished by the physicists who established the existence of a heat bath as an essential component of subcorporeal physics, and recognized that this imposes a limit to the application of quantum theory.8See J. Taylor article, “Reflections on Top-Down Causation.” Apart from George Ellis, the premiere researcher in subcorporeal physics, reference should be made especially to Barbara Drossel, who—in a paper entitled “Ten reasons why a thermalized system cannot be described by a many-particle wave function”9Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B, vol. 58 (2017), pp. 12-21.—contributed substantially to the physics of the heat bath.
This brings us to the second step, which affirms that the implied transition from a quantum-theoretic to a thermodynamic system cannot be effected by horizontal causality. There are two evident ways of recognizing this: first, inasmuch as horizontal causation operates in time, it cannot affect time itself—cannot, for instance, impose a direction upon a directionless time. It follows that the transition from a quantum system to a thermodynamic entity cannot be effected by horizontal causality, and must therefore be attributed to vertical causation. Alternatively, the conclusion follows by way of the “generalized Dembski theorem” from the known fact that the heat bath does not reduce to the sum of its parts,10See recent W. Smith article, “Irreducible Wholeness and Dembski’s Theorem.” which itself is implied by Barbara Drossel’s findings.
The third step proves to be purely ontological, and can be dealt with on a Thomistic basis by distinguishing between a “creative” VC—Thomistically termed the “act-of-being”—and a VC derived from the substantial form of a corporeal entity.11On the distinction between creative and substantial VC, see Physics and Vertical Causation (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2023), p. 42-3. It is clearly the latter kind that acts upon the associated physical object SX.
* * *
Whereas the idea of “vertical causation” first imposed itself upon Smith in the context of the measurement problem, it is to be understood that VC is no less universal than the horizontal causality with which physics is concerned. As he put it originally:
The natural or “natured” world presupposes a creative or “form-bestowing” agency not simply in the sense of a first cause that brings the universe into existence, but as a transcendent principle of causality that is operative here and now.12The Quantum Enigma, op. cit., p. 109.
In terms of an integral ontology it can even be said quite rigorously that VC—literally “the causality of wholeness”—constitutes the primary causation, which is itself the cause of the horizontal modes, and as such has power to override them.13The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., ch. 9. And this is what happens—and must happen—in the process of quantum measurement: that is what Smith established “abstractly” in The Quantum Enigma, and what we have here corroborated, based upon recent discoveries in the physics of the subcorporeal.
We are referring to the recognition of the so-called heat bath as the definitive structure of the subcorporeal realm which enables us to understand the measuring scenario in a far more concrete and detailed manner. One sees that the ontological cut separating the corporeal from the physical has its analogue in the physics of the subcorporeal, where it manifests conceptually as a “cut” within the heat bath itself. This theoretic discontinuity is of course invisible to physics, the empirical fact being that “below” this demarcation quantum theory applies, whereas “above” a radically different physics comes into play.
It is worthy of note that this “invisibility” to physics of the cut itself testifies to the accuracy of physics as such, for it bears witness to the transcendent origin of that discontinuity. Whereas both “above” and “below” that invisible cut, namely, a rigorous physics—based of course upon modes of horizontal causation—is operative, “at the cut itself” no physics whatever applies. We find it striking how accurately this accords with the underlying etiology: for what VC effects is clearly the transition between the two domains. For a veritable “instant”—a nunc stans as the Scholastics would say—horizontal causation is superseded by a transcendent causality operative “here and now.” We need, once again, to realize—as most assuredly the great philosophers of antiquity have—that the cosmos, manifesting itself to us sensibly as the corporeal world, comprises “higher” planes as well.14On this subject we refer especially to The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., where the tripartite nature of the integral cosmos—along with its implications for the sciences—are studied in depth.
What almost universally impedes the contemporary scientist from availing himself of these metaphysical recognitions is the evolutionist contention which predisposes him to believe a priori that things derive invariably “from below” through a more or less fortuitous aggregation of particulate components. Not only, however, is there no bona fide evidence whatsoever for this claim, but the very existence of vertical causation points precisely in the opposite direction. Take the heat bath, for instance: does it arise “from below” by some kind of evolutive process? That is a question we are at last in a position to answer: definitely not! We now know, in fact, on the basis of physics itself, that the heat bath is not brought into being by any process of temporal causality, but originates through an act of vertical causation which, being instantaneous, is as far removed from “evolutionist” as the human mind can conceive. The very “instantaneity” of vertical causation militates in fact against the “flat” cosmology of the evolutionist Weltanschauung, which simply has no room for anything “vertical”! It appears at this juncture that physics itself—applied to the subcorporeal plane—has opened the door to a rediscovery of the tripartite cosmology known to humanity prior to the Enlightenment, from the Platonist in the West to the Vedic in the East.15The concept of the tripartite cosmos has been dealt with, first, in Physics and Vertical Causation, op. cit., and subsequently, in greater depth, in The Vertical Ascent, op. cit.
John Taylor hails from a family rich in physicists, and is a graduate student at the London School of Economics.
Dr. Smith’s latest book, Physics: A Science in Quest of an Ontology, is now available, as is our feature documentary chronicling his life and work, The End of Quantum Reality.
|↑1||First published in 1995, it has been reprinted by Philos-Sophia Initiative in 2023.|
|↑2||For the sake of clarity let us note that this “horizontal” causality operates by way of a transmission through space and may be deterministic, random, or stochastic.|
|↑3||By way of introduction to the subject of “vertical causation,” we refer to chapter 2 of The Vertical Ascent (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2021).|
|↑4||Ibid., chs. 5 and 10.|
|↑5||A physical entity that is not subcorporeal is transcorporeal.|
|↑6||It is quite amazing, therefore, that to this day the physics establishment seems to regard the cosmos itself as something reducible to quantum theory!|
|↑7||Cf. Wolfgang Smith, Cosmos and Transcendence (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2021), ch. 7.|
|↑8||See J. Taylor article, “Reflections on Top-Down Causation.”|
|↑9||Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B, vol. 58 (2017), pp. 12-21.|
|↑10||See recent W. Smith article, “Irreducible Wholeness and Dembski’s Theorem.”|
|↑11||On the distinction between creative and substantial VC, see Physics and Vertical Causation (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2023), p. 42-3.|
|↑12||The Quantum Enigma, op. cit., p. 109.|
|↑13||The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., ch. 9.|
|↑14||On this subject we refer especially to The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., where the tripartite nature of the integral cosmos—along with its implications for the sciences—are studied in depth.|
|↑15||The concept of the tripartite cosmos has been dealt with, first, in Physics and Vertical Causation, op. cit., and subsequently, in greater depth, in The Vertical Ascent, op. cit.|