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New Scientist Asks: Is There Such A Thing As Reality?

Last week, New Scientist magazine featured a special edition on reality. What particularly caught my attention is the accompanying video appearing on their website, which you can view for yourself here. The description states:

Is there such a thing as reality?

It’s easy to take reality for granted: after all, science does a reasonably good job at describing the world in an objective way. But what does science have to say about the concept of reality itself?

One approach would be to identify what is most fundamental in the universe. Using this reasoning, everything around us can be broken down into molecules, which in turn are composed of atoms, which in turn are made up of smaller and smaller components. So what would this process finally uncover? And is this mysterious precursor the ultimate basis of reality?

In this animation, we look at two ways of defining what is real and look at what lies at the heart of the universe. To find out more, read our full-length feature, “Reality: The definition“, or check out the rest of our special issue on reality.

The video maintains that what is most fundamental in the universe are math and numbers, since everything can ultimately be broken down into something simpler. Furthermore, we are told, numbers are constructed based on “a concept known as an empty set, better known as ‘nothing’.” It draws the following absurdity of a conclusion: “That means that if math really is what is most fundamental in the universe, then reality is ultimately based on nothing. Which is to say that nothing is what is real.”

This is the kind of nonsensical pseudophilosophy that one might expect to see from Stephen Hawking or Peter Atkins. Both men might be brilliant scientists in their respective fields. But neither is a philosopher — and when they attempt to weigh in on philosophy, it shows.

As Oxford’s professor John Lennox notes in God and Stephen Hawking (page 333),

What this all goes to show is that nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists. What serves to obscure the illogicality of such statements is the fact that they are made by scientists; and the general public, not surprisingly, assumes that they are statements of science and takes them on authority. That is why it is important to point out that they are not statements of science, and any statement, whether made by a scientist or not, should be open to logical analysis. Immense prestige and authority does not compensate for faulty logic.

Check out the video for yourself. I swear I’m not making this up!

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20 Responses to New Scientist Asks: Is There Such A Thing As Reality?

  1. Is an empty set a member of the set of all empty sets?

  2. @ 2:10 in the video:

    “It turns out we can construct all of math from the concept of an empty set”

    Where did they get this from?

  3. as to:

    One approach would be to identify what is most fundamental in the universe. Using this reasoning, everything around us can be broken down into molecules, which in turn are composed of atoms, which in turn are made up of smaller and smaller components. So what would this process finally uncover? And is this mysterious precursor the ultimate basis of reality?,,,
    The video maintains that what is most fundamental in the universe are math and numbers, since everything can ultimately be broken down into something simpler. Furthermore, we are told, numbers are constructed based on “a concept known as an empty set, better known as ‘nothing’.”

    Actually “this mysterious precursor the ultimate basis of reality” they claim to be looking for is ‘infinite information/consciousness’:

    Leading quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger, with many breakthroughs in quantum teleportation under his belt, has followed in John Archibald Wheeler’s footsteps (1911-2008) by insisting reality, at its most foundational level, is ‘information’.

    “It from bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom – at a very deep bottom, in most instances – an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that things physical are information-theoretic in origin.”
    John Archibald Wheeler

    Why the Quantum? It from Bit? A Participatory Universe?
    Excerpt: In conclusion, it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Thence the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word.”
    Anton Zeilinger – a leading expert in quantum teleportation:
    http://www.metanexus.net/archi.....linger.pdf

    Zeilinger’s principle
    Zeilinger’s principle states that any elementary system carries just one bit of information. This principle was put forward by Austrian physicist Anton Zeilinger in 1999 and subsequently developed by him to derive several aspects of quantum mechanics. Some have reasoned that this principle, in certain ways, links thermodynamics with information theory. [1]
    http://www.eoht.info/page/Zeilinger%27s+principle

    In the beginning was the bit – New Scientist
    Excerpt: Zeilinger’s principle leads to the intrinsic randomness found in the quantum world. Consider the spin of an electron. Say it is measured along a vertical axis (call it the z axis) and found to be pointing up. Because one bit of information has been used to make that statement, no more information can be carried by the electron’s spin. Consequently, no information is available to predict the amounts of spin in the two horizontal directions (x and y axes), so they are of necessity entirely random. If you then measure the spin in one of these directions, there is an equal chance of its pointing right or left, forward or back. This fundamental randomness is what we call Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
    http://www.quantum.at/fileadmi.....t/bit.html

    Quantum Mechanics has now been extended by Anton Zeilinger, and team, to falsify local realism (reductive materialism) without even using quantum entanglement to do it:

    ‘Quantum Magic’ Without Any ‘Spooky Action at a Distance’ – June 2011
    Excerpt: A team of researchers led by Anton Zeilinger at the University of Vienna and the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences used a system which does not allow for entanglement, and still found results which cannot be interpreted classically.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....111942.htm

    notes of related interest:

    Atom takes a quantum leap – 2009
    Excerpt: Ytterbium ions have been ‘teleported’ over a distance of a metre.,,,
    “What you’re moving is information, not the actual atoms,” says Chris Monroe, from the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland in College Park and an author of the paper. But as two particles of the same type differ only in their quantum states, the transfer of quantum information is equivalent to moving the first particle to the location of the second.
    http://www.freerepublic.com/fo.....1769/posts

    Quantum Computing – Stanford Encyclopedia
    Excerpt: Theoretically, a single (photon) qubit can store an infinite amount of information, yet when measured (and thus collapsing the Quantum Wave state) it yields only the classical result (0 or 1),,,
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entr.....tcomp/#2.1

    Thus every time we see (observe) a single photon of ‘material’ reality we are actually seeing just a single bit of information that was originally created from a very specific set of infinite information that was known by the consciousness that preceded material reality. i.e. information known only by the infinite Mind of omniscient God!

    Job 38:19-20
    “What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings?”

    Actually, when taking into consideration the scientific evidence we now have in hand, I would go one step further than John Wheeler and Anton Zeilinger have in their work and insist that the most fundamental part of reality, the part of reality that is ‘driving this information to be in a non-chaotic coherent form’, is the infinite consciousness of God:

    Materialism had postulated for centuries that everything reduced to, or emerged from material atoms and/or irreducible particles, yet the correct structure of reality is now found by science to be as follows:

    1. material particles/atoms (mass) normally reduces to energy (e=mc^2)
    2. energy and mass both reduce to information (quantum teleportation) (Zeilinger etc..)
    3. information reduces to consciousness (geometric centrality of conscious observation in universe dictates that consciousness must precede quantum wave collapse to its single bit state) (Leggett’s Inequalities, Wheeler’s Delayed Choice; Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries)

    Three intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1G_Fi50ljF5w_XyJHfmSIZsOcPFhgoAZ3PRc_ktY8cFo/edit

    “No, I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
    (Max Planck, as cited in de Purucker, Gottfried. 1940. The Esoteric Tradition. California: Theosophical University Press, ch. 13).

    In the following video, at the 37:00 minute mark, Anton Zeilinger, a leading researcher in quantum teleportation with many breakthroughs under his belt, humorously reflects on just how deeply determinism has been undermined by quantum mechanics by saying such a deep lack of determinism may provide some of us a loop hole when they meet God on judgment day.

    Prof Anton Zeilinger speaks on quantum physics. at UCT – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3ZPWW5NOrw

    Personally, I feel that such a deep undermining of determinism by quantum mechanics, far from providing a ‘loop hole’ on judgement day, actually restores free will to its rightful place in the grand scheme of things, thus making God’s final judgments on men’s souls all the more fully binding since man truly is a ‘free moral agent’ as Theism has always maintained. And to solidify this theistic claim for how reality is constructed, the following study came along a few months after I had seen Dr. Zeilinger’s video:

    Can quantum theory be improved? – July 23, 2012
    Excerpt: Being correct 50% of the time when calling heads or tails on a coin toss won’t impress anyone. So when quantum theory predicts that an entangled particle will reach one of two detectors with just a 50% probability, many physicists have naturally sought better predictions. The predictive power of quantum theory is, in this case, equal to a random guess. Building on nearly a century of investigative work on this topic, a team of physicists has recently performed an experiment whose results show that, despite its imperfections, quantum theory still seems to be the optimal way to predict measurement outcomes.,
    However, in the new paper, the physicists have experimentally demonstrated that there cannot exist any alternative theory that increases the predictive probability of quantum theory by more than 0.165, with the only assumption being that measurement (*conscious observation) parameters can be chosen independently (free choice, free will, assumption) of the other parameters of the theory.,,,
    ,, the experimental results provide the tightest constraints yet on alternatives to quantum theory. The findings imply that quantum theory is close to optimal in terms of its predictive power, even when the predictions are completely random.
    http://phys.org/news/2012-07-quantum-theory.html

    Now this is completely unheard of in science as far as I know. i.e. That a mathematical description of reality would advance to the point that one can actually perform a experiment showing that your current theory will not be exceeded in predictive power by another future theory is simply unprecedented in science! And just as I had suspected after watching Dr. Zeilinger’s video, it is found that a required assumption of ‘free will conscious observation’ in quantum mechanics is what is necessarily driving the completely random (non-deterministic) aspect of quantum mechanics. Moreover, it was shown in the paper that one cannot ever improve the predictive power of quantum mechanics by ever removing free will as a starting assumption in Quantum Mechanics! Simply unprecedented!

  4. Related commentary:

    Henry Stapp on the Conscious Choice and the Non-Local Quantum Entangled Effects – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJN01s1gOqA

    also of note:

    What does the term “measurement” mean in quantum mechanics?
    “Measurement” or “observation” in a quantum mechanics context are really just other ways of saying that the observer is interacting with the quantum system and measuring the result in toto.
    http://boards.straightdope.com.....p?t=597846

    Needless to say, finding ‘free will conscious observation’ to be ‘built into’ our best description of foundational reality, quantum mechanics, as a starting assumption, ‘free will observation’ which is indeed the driving aspect of randomness in quantum mechanics, is VERY antithetical to the entire materialistic philosophy which demands that a completely unguided ‘randomness’ be the driving force of creativity in Darwinian evolution! Also of ‘random’ interest :)

    Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4198007

    I once asked a evolutionist, after showing him the preceding experiments, “Since you ultimately believe that the ‘god of random chance’ produced everything we see around us, what in the world is my mind doing pushing your god around?”

    Of note: since our free will choices figure so prominently in how reality is actually found to be constructed in our understanding of quantum mechanics, I think a Christian perspective on just how important our free will choices are in this temporal life, in regards to our eternal destiny, is very fitting:

    Is God Good? (Free will and the problem of evil) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rfd_1UAjeIA

    Ravi Zacharias – How To Measure Your Choices – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Op_S5syhKI

    You must measure your choices by the measure of
    1) eternity
    2) morality
    3) accountability
    4) charity

    supplemental note:

    A Very Unusual Proof for the Existence of God – video – (Collapse of wave function)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kj8UdHuP5l8

    Verse and music:

    John 1:1-5
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

    The Afters – Light Up The Sky
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3Q-R4esGf4

  5. BA77,

    KF indicated to me that one of my posts was possibly being held in moderation because it had too many links in it, that above some threshold the number of links in a post automatically flagged the comment up for moderation. Is that true in your experience? You frequently posts comments with lots of links so you seem like a good person to ask.

  6. Mung:

    Is an empty set a member of the set of all empty sets?

    There is only one empty set, and yes it is a member (the only member) of the set of all empty sets.

    Cantor:

    Where did they get this from?

    That’s a standard part of the foundations of mathematics.

  7. Neil,

    Let’s hope we don’t have to discuss the continuum hypothesis. Or Zorn’s lemma.

  8. Thank God the set of all empty sets is not itself empty.

    And thus, mathematics has the answer to to the age old question, why there is something rather than nothing.

    Is the set of all empty sets included in the set of all sets?

    Can you imagine searching the set of all sets for the one and only empty set? I wonder what the power set looks like.

  9. Professor Lennox is truly one of God’s great gifts to mankind. We need beacons like him to shine a light through all the smoke atheists keep blowing our way.

  10. And thus, mathematics has the answer to to the age old question, why there is something rather than nothing.

    It has an answer. I’m not so sure about the answer.
    Is the set of all empty sets included in the set of all sets?
    There’s no such thing as “the set of all sets”. The axioms of set theory disallow it.

  11. Answer: The empty set

    Question: What is another name for the skeptic zone regulars?

  12. cantor (2):

    @ 2:10 in the video:

    “It turns out we can construct all of math from the concept of an empty set”

    Where did they get this from?

    Gotta love that coming from someone named cantor!! :-)

    Sounds like one of Betrand Russell’s exercises. Too bad about Godel eh?

  13. Is there a category error being made at the outset in confusing mathematical constructs with reality ? (emphasis mine)

    Mathematical systems are highly ordered and logical because they were created to be so. Mathematical systems are products of the human mind. They contain what their creators put into them and nothing more. By contrast, engineers and scientists must work with nature as it exists.

    Scientists and engineers are, in some ways, held to a higher standard than mathematicians. Reality matters in the sciences; it has no place in mathematics.

    When a mathematician deduces a new statement, that new statement is true provided that no errors were made in the logic that connected premise and conclusion. In mathematics, logic alone determines what is true from what is false.

    In engineering and science, every conclusion even if it is logically correct must also coincide with reality as reality is revealed by experiments. Experimental evidence, not logic, is the arbiter of truth in science

    Mathematics and the Laws of Nature: Developing the Language of Science (The History of Mathematics) – John Tabak

  14. BA

    Fess up, what is your secret?

    KF

  15. Cantor:

    The empty set is not he3 only thing but the idea is that we can construct the set of natural numbers from it, {} –> 0, { {} } –> 1, {0, 1} –> 2, {0, 1, 2} –> 3, etc.

    This allows breaking out of the Russel paradoxes on set theory.

    Once we have N, we then go to all other forms of numbers and structures by various well known extensions.

    KF

  16. kf:

    Fess up, what is your secret?

    I’ve wondered the same thing towards the depth and breadth of your knowledge of reality that is displayed in your posts, of which I consider my posts merely faint outlines of reality. ,,, If there be any ‘secret’ to these faint outlines I have traced, then to you I’m sure it is no secret, nor surprise, at all. PRAYER!

    I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by men who were inspired. I study the Bible daily…. All my discoveries have been made in an answer to prayer. —
    Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), considered by many to be one of the greatest scientists of all time

  17. Many (most?) of BA’s links appear to be enclosed inside blockquotes. Perhaps that makes a difference.

  18. Where did the RULES come from?

    Why can there be but one empty set and why is it restricted to a single member?

    Why can there be no set of all sets?

    Do these two rules explain where these two rules come from?

    If set theory in some way corresponds to reality, perhaps it does so in a way that points beyond itself.

  19. Mung,

    If you really want to know you need to study Set Theory. I can’t say I recommend it but I enjoyed it when I was a graduate student. Finding out there are different sizes of infinity was . . . enlightening.

  20. I think what’s most insulting about the New Scientist article is – and hey, maybe I missed something, I’m not a subscriber – they seem to go through a variety of possibilities, including very outlandish ones (ultimate reality is math, it’s nothing, it’s consciousness, it’s a computer simulation, etc)… all metaphysical talk about ultimates.

    But it seems as if theism doesn’t get any mention at all.

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