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Do We Need a Monarchy? Response to Russell Brand’s latest YouTube video

Russell Brand has lately been providing a more critical perspective on power and the elite within society, informed by intelligent and reflective thinking on the subject matter. In this post he was questioning the purpose of Monarchy and how they have to walk a thin line between being relatable to regular people, at the same time as seeming distant and superior in some way to justify their continued privilege. Here is a link to his video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zU0o2_4YdM . At one point he argues it is hard to defend monarchy from a rational perspective when one thinks about it. And I responded with the following rational way in which one could potentially defend an institution such as monarchy, even though I don’t personally agree with monarchy:

A rational way to look at this also involves thinking about what happens when you create a void of power in a society. Something is going to fill that void, and you have to ask the question if it will be any better or any worse than what is currently entrenched in power? In that sense there are perfectly reasonable ways to defend monarchy, if you want to go down that path. A common alternative to Monarchy is what we see in France and the US, with republican style societies. The original republican society in France turned to a nightmare very fast, and the extreme individualism and Capitalism of the US has to be something also of great concern and seems related to its republican as opposed to monarchy based society. Other rational based societies in history include the Nazis in Germany the communists in Russia, and currently the authoritarian communism in China. I mean are we seeing much better in any of these cases filling the void where monarchies once were? It seems instead they are replaced by people even more ruthless and even more power hungry to control every aspect of society.

And I am not in any way a defender of monarchy. I often consider that they should be made defunct, and particularly if all they are going to contribute is to blabber on about global warming then they should definitely be made defunct. But equally our whole democracy is becoming redundant right now. Our votes clearly don’t count for anything any more, the extreme wealth inequality allows the rich to basically buy elections if not through direct cheating like we see in the US elections then through massive advertising and propaganda campaigns against any political candidate they want to demonise and not get elected. Add to this the fact that most people in the younger generation now are growing up under a science based education system, which I argue has gone too far in its science worship, and involves believing things such that there is no such thing as free will, because all is determined and predetermined by scientific laws. If you have a whole generation of people growing up who believe this kind of stuff then the very foundation of democracy no longer even exists anyway, because that foundation was based on the belief that, in voting, people have free will and agency to make their own informed decisions.

That was my response, and it raises the question is Monarchy a lesser of evils, as far as a means of ordering society goes? The value historically of such an institution is that, based on human nature, we know it is inevitable that people will organise into hierarchical orders, and so an institution least likely to become corrupted is one of passing on a familial tradition. The reasoning being that other types of order involve giving power to people who feel they have somehow “earned” that position. So they tend to become more authoritarian as they feel their power is not an obligation and a duty, but it is a justified thing based on their personal superiority to other people. When you get people like this gathering at the top of a society, I argue, you get the kind of thing we see in the US today. This is people who feel they are inherently superior and justified in wielding that superiority to teach everybody else a lesson. The lesson right now seems to be that we are going to do whatever we want with society and mould it however we feel, regardless of how you vote democratically. And the problem is that these people really think they no better. The spiritual and life connection in society is under attack by people of this kind, and they are hollowing out meaning and value for the rest of us, by turning society into an instrument tuned to fulfil only their needs and desires. The result of this will be the destruction of vitality and creativity in human beings and an increasing inability to change path and adapt when a serious crisis comes upon us. Maybe Monarchy would fair us no better, but I would say the path we are currently following is even bleaker.

The New Authoritarianism

We need to forget worrying about the extreme right and the extreme left, the new version of authoritarianism threatening society is neutral between these two outdated political ideologies. The new authoritarianism is the exploitation of extreme wealth disparity to effectively hold people hostage to that wealth. And to hold people hostage to anyone who has positions within the current bureaucratic system. This new authoritarianism is targeting any and all ways in which people have some independence of that system, and is putting people into a relationship of a cycle of abuse with the authorities from which there is no escape and to which many are submissive in a Stockholm syndrome kind of way.

Seeing children masking up to compete in sports and to go to school, and the case of a teacher in the US being sacked for refusing to enforce masks on students during sports, are just some of the examples of a new low of human control in line with the new authoritarianism. Countries that have had little covid obey the same authoritarian mandates as countries that have had supposedly loads of covid regardless of all extenuating factors. In the UK, I can manage by not meeting up with other people indoors to avoid places where masking is required, and I have refused to this point to wear a mask once. I am not going to assist authoritarians in their mindless mandates. And if that means avoiding many opportunities to socially interact with people in person then I will do that rather than play along with this obvious Stockholm syndrome inducing game.

The compliance and mask wearing is like in the old story of the emperor with no clothes. Everyone puts on a pretence that the emperor has clothes on out of fear of disobeying authority. The reason most people are masking is out of fear that more lockdown restrictions will be enacted, if they are seen to not be complying by hiding behind a mask, not because they have a genuine fear of a virus. This is the sad reality, and it is the reason I refuse to comply with it. Any act done purely as token gesture rather than because you feel it in your own being is giving away some of your freedom and selling away a bit of your soul. They want to scrape away at peoples souls and peoples “Being” till there is no freedom left, and then the authoritarians will have achieved their goal, which is to convince people they have no freedom so that they give it away, for free, ironically enough.

We need to discover a new core of freedom to defend in this new era against all these encroachments. It is difficult and will take time in this globally interconnected world with technology and computer dependence of so many activities, but I think there is a way to discover this core of freedom, and it will be a true and reasonable and impenetrable defence against authoritarianism, unlike all the ideological distractions on the left and the right, which provide no answer, no solace, only stress, confusion and more division.

Book Review: Genesis of the Cosmos, Paul LaViolette

Genesis of the Cosmos: The Ancient Science of Continuous CreationGenesis of the Cosmos: The Ancient Science of Continuous Creation by Paul A. LaViolette
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quite a convincing alternative cosmological account, guided by a whole new approach to physics called subquantum kinetics. At times I feel that the astrological and other esoteric connections, though they may have some merit, only take away from the purely physical science based ideas, but this is part of the account. For instance, the notions of tired light and some of his criticisms of the big bang theory, black holes, closed systems and theories such as special relativity, he backs up with strong empirical support, regardless of what you think of the more esoteric speculations.

I think in one physics area I do disagree, which is in his suggestion of going back to Newtonian absolute space. We can criticise the finer points of relativity without needing to go back to this notion. And I think we should do this, because a relational view of space and time can be salvaged from special relativity, if not perhaps from aspects of general relativity. The ether that LaViolette refers to as an environment or open system underlying the cosmos from which stars and all matter draw their genic energy from, can be a real thing, without needing to postulate an absolute space container or arena, this latter is part of the closed systems mechanical approach that he rightfully criticises in other areas.

If LaViolette is only part way correct regarding his different view of what is going on at the center of galaxies, and with tired light as explanation for red shift rather than expanding universe, then it will require significant paradigm shifts in physical science, and I do feel that Barbour’s Janus point is perhaps groping towards some of these same ideas from a very different angle, with the common realisation that the universe as a whole cannot be coherently considered as a closed system, but must be considered as an open system. The suggestion is that the center of the galaxy is more like a vibrant pulsating heart, sending out regular wave bursts of matter and energy out in to the galaxy, rather than a cold, dark, lifeless black hole. If correct, it would turn our understanding of our place in the cosmos, and of what the cosmos basically is on a physical level, completely on its head.

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Newton’s Inert Universe Lingers on in our Hearts and Minds

I want to think a bit about in this post why the Newtonian world view has become so dominant in the Anglo Saxon Western Psyche. Firstly, I want to point out that this perspective still predominates despite of Einstein’s theories of Relativity and despite of the findings of Quantum Mechanics, and even through these theories it still wields great influence. The Quantum Field Theory model of today is basically still the same Newtonian model of atoms crashing into each other and exchanging energy, with a few added tweaks of virtual particle exchange and more technical and mathematical complications to allow for. And Einstein’s true relativistic revolution from the special theory and his original relationalist insights in line with Mach and Poincare, was ultimately rejected or shrugged in the general theory’s new form of absolutism. I read a later article by Einstein from around 1937 recently, and in it you can see that his view is very much that of some sort of positivism. A perspective that has simply been rendered long obsolete in philosophical discourse, yet it lingers on in popular discourse and in some natural science presumptions.

I could indicate this state of affairs in many other ways, of the continued preponderance of the Inert Universe of Newton. The way in which we envisage Thermodynamics is also very much geared towards Newtons idea of the clockwork/mechanical universe, that is slowly running down as its parts wear out and fall apart, like some industrial mechanism. And the understanding of Evolution is geared to make itself consistent with this inert realm by insisting that any evolutionary advances or advantages are a result of pure chance and arbitrary luck. Then you can look at favored theories in cosmology, and regarding earth history and the way they still do experiments in physics today. They favor events where objects collide with each other to explain dinosaurs going extinct and other events of this nature and to explain the existence of the moon. And their favorite experiments still involve smashing particles together and seeing what happens in their particle accelerators. All of this has not moved on hardly at all from the billiard ball inert universe that Newton presented us with all that time ago.

This instrumentalisation of the universe as a dead object to be manipulated is what gave the West some success for a few centuries during the industrial revolution, so we keep going back to it, even now when it has long since passed its advantageousness to us. And like in Max Weber’s analogy of the iron cage, the weapons with which we attacked the world we are now using to attack ourselves, and slowly sucking the life and soul out of our being through layers and layers of bureaucratic and obsessive, neurotic control fuelled by distrust and paranoia of our surrounding world. It is no wonder when the world is thought of as dead and hostile, only there for us to mould how we please, to use as means to our ends, that we tend to become suspicious of that world. And it is inevitable karma that the world will bite back at some point against our controlling machinations. You could say it already is, and has been since and including the world wars, but its a long and protracted battle for sure.

I think the only way out is some sort of appreciation of a new ontological perspective, in which we don’t see the world/universe as a fundamentally cold and dead place, but recognise where it has some inherent life and vitality to it. Reading the work of Paul La Violette, who argues for a new cosmological perspective, where there are not black holes as commonly supposed, at the center of galaxies, but instead there are regions of high energy where matter is spontaneously created and periodically spat out in explosions to seed the whole galaxy with fresh bursts of material. Like a pulsating heart of the galaxy, rather than a cold dark hole. This gives us some hope to reach towards a better perspective on the universe. We keep creating theories to fit the old Newtonian paradigm of dead things colliding with each other and exchanging energy as being the basic physical reality to which all else must be reduced, but I think something has to give in this account sooner or later. We cannot expunge our own souls and life in order to save our theories, we must reject the theories for something more consonant with life and being.

Book Review: The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum, Lee Smolin

Einstein's Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies Beyond the QuantumEinstein’s Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum by Lee Smolin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a great effort to present a new realist and principled approach to the foundations of our physical understanding of the universe. A relational view of space-time dimensions, a view of space as emergent, of experienced time felt as fundamentally real. A causal sets view of how it fits together with quantum theory, and all in line with basic principles of reasoning largely inspired by Leibniz’ principles of sufficient reason and of the identity of indiscernibles.

I have pursued and studied Leibniz myself and been likewise fascinated by the potential avenues of exploration from a relational view of space-time, ever since reading the Leibniz correspondence/debate with Newton about relational or absolute space and time, and the relative motion work, De Motu, of Berkeley. Lee Smolin, along with Julian Barbour, is on the front line in theoretical physics bringing some of these deep conceptual ideas and principles to fruition.

My only point of considerable disagreement with Smolin is that reality fundamentally be composed of atomic entities in a void. He seems to waver on this position at the end, where he converts to a more Leibnizian ontology of not full monads, but what he calls “nads”, which amount to “views” on the universe. In which case, there is an issue making this consistent with his principle of reciprocity, as this principle is something that applies very specifically to atomic style models of fundamental entities, of atomic, indivisble, spherical point-like things in the void, exchanging energy and momentum.

If the fundamental thing is instead “views” on the universe then the principle of reciprocity won’t apply to them, as they are either an action without a reaction or they are a reaction without an action. Either way, a “view” does not reciprocate in the usual physical/mechanical way. He rightfully criticises the information perspective on quantum theory for not being grounded in some physical reality and for confusing syntax with semantics, but still this issue remains of how to make a semantics, i.e. a “view” on the universe, consistent with the usual atomistic physical principles, such as reciprocity.

My personal view is that this cannot be achieved in the direction Lee Smolin follows and so we have to deny fundamental reality to the atoms, just as much as we must deny, via relationalism, fundamental reality to external space. If the void of space between the atoms doesn’t exist, then neither do the atoms. This then makes the views on the universe slightly more shadowy entities, but I think its the price you have to pay for a realism that does not confound reality with some model of reality that we created.

(A possible direction to go here would be to connect up with Saul Kripke’s ideas of names as rigid designators in philosophy of language. His causal histories way of individuating entities is somewhat reminiscent of the causal sets that Lee Smolin turns to.)

The ways in which he explains how space can be seen as an emergent phenomenon based on different views of the universe is fascinating as our many of his ideas related to his temporal relationalism, and the idea that even laws of nature can evolve over time. As soon as you take a background independent approach to space-time you are launched into all these initially very counter intuitive domains, but I think he rightfully sees that this is the only route for progress to be made, because the other route is for us to stagnate in background dependent models where we keep hitting against the same wall, making the same mistake of confounding our models of reality with reality itself.

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John Stachel’s “Holey” interpretation of the Hole Argument

I have been reading through and glancing over sections of this article the past few days and something was bothering me about it, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint it at first.

The issue revolves around Stachel’s claim that Leibniz’ principle of identity of indiscernibles is disobeyed by the points of space-time in general relativity. This is something I have covered in my first book and revolves also around this issue of external relations.

Stachel wrongly claims in an historically revisionist kind of manner that The Leibnizian view had largely held the field in the first half of the 20th century, when it is precisely a failure to appreciate his view that disconnected positivistic science in that era from philosophy, and led to the whole bitter era of dismissing all philosophy as nonsensical metaphysics. They misunderstand Leibniz and do not realise the dangerous implications for a reasonable way of understanding and being in the universe, by postulating arbitrary external relations as preceding any internal relation we have with things. The whole point, and very manifestation of this, is as an absolute, externalised, space-time arena or container, in to which we are “thrown”, to use a Heideggerian term. And the whole purpose of doing it is to disconnect us with being, as a means of organised scientific control through education.

Now, leaving aside some of my more speculative claims there, and getting into the specific details of Stacel’s error, he equivocates between two properties he uses called quiddity and haecceity, and how they are related. Quiddity is an objects general nature, while haecceity is somethings more specific nature to simplify. He argues that because we cannot individuate points of space-time, or certain types of quantum particle, they have quiddity, a general nature, but not haecceity, a specific nature. The argument and error is where he says that a point in space time is defined only in relation to other points and that this means it has no haecceity. On the contrary, I would argue that this begs the question against the Leibnizian view on this point. Leibniz’s principle requires that a thing be individuated based on its properties, and one of his key arguments regarding relationalism of space and time is that some of the properties of a thing are the unique ways it is related to other things in space and time. Those relations are also internal to a thing and give it a specific nature. It would beg the question against Leibniz to say that those properties are external, unless you have some other assumed premise or claim that relationalism is impossible as a view of space and time, but this can’t itself be part of your argument against the relationalist view of space and time, as it would then beg the question.

He may have other arguments, but not in this section of the article, and from what I have read from theoretical physicists such as Julian Barbour, and Lee Smolin in there current work, there is every reason to hope that a relationalist view of space time can be made to fit consistently with our universe and account fully for general relativity and the usual stuff. It also makes me unclear what side of the hole argument he is coming down on. For if, as I had thought and assumed, he believes the hole argument is refuted and general relativity space-time is a consistent patch work with no areas that are ambiguous and unaccountable for, then this would surely show that space-time points do have specific and individualised properties, i.e. they have haecceity as well as quiddity. I can only assume then he is claiming the hole argument is an issue of ambiguity for general relativity as Einstein himself feared for a few years in the 1910’s. But in that case the issue would effect the application of general relativity to reality, not the nature of reality itself, because it would show a limitation to the theory.

In either case, I find myself quite confused and baffled by various things Stachel says in this article that just don’t chime with what I have learned myself and read about relationalist views of space and time, and about internal and external relations and about how to use and apply the Leibnizian principle of the identity of indiscernibles. Perhaps he could clarify some of these points, and I will certainly take a fresh look at the article and other relevant literature to update my own views accordingly if I have made some error here.

But, for now, from the way I see it, the Leibnizian principle stands firm, and as I have said elsewhere and developed the story of in my first book, the implications of denying this principle are quite catastrophic for our attempts to get a genuine understanding of the reality of things.

I will concur with Stachel that when it comes to quantum particles, we do seem to have a genuine case of the identity of indiscernibles breaking down, and of entities with quiddity (a general nature) but not haecceity (a specific/individual nature), but of course in this case they actually behave in ways suggesting they are in some sense literally identical entities when we look at phenomena such as coherent light of a load of Bosons. Thus, they actually tend to become identical by being indiscernible, in line with Leibniz’ principle. Another example being the non local action between two quantum particles, this shows how their identity as entities is overcoming the spatial separation. It shows once more of the secondary and contingent nature of external ways of distinguishing things compared to the internal nature of things., that takes priority both in how things behave and in how we should interpret and discern things with our reason. If we cannot discern the individual quantum particles in certain cases, all the more proof of the standard accepted view of quantum theory that there is an uncertainty of location and identity in space and time of quantum particles.

As for the individuation of space-time points, you are dealing there with something completely different, and you cannot refuse to allow part of the individuation of a space-time point to be its relationship to other space-time points without begging the question against relationalist view, unless you provide some independent grounds for objecting to relationalism.

Positivism vs Realism: Hawking vs Penrose

In a famous debate about the nature of space and time between Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking, Hawking saw there to be no problem in quantum theory that needed extra explanation. Schrodinger’s cat and the measurement problem was not such a big problem, because we could view quantum theory purely operationally, based on experimental results. This is the route of positivism. Penrose took the route of realism where he insisted that something must be missing in quantum theory, something akin to the unfinished revolution of Einstein.

Many people have written about and tried to tackle this debate that started with Einstein’s attempts through various thought experiments to undermine quantum theory by finding some inherent paradox or contradiction contained within some of its consequences. David Bohm, John Stewart Bell, Paul Davies, Roger Penrose, and most recently Lee Smolin has written a book with this very title. What Einstein wanted was some coherent and consistent realist picture or model of what is happening with quantum phenomena that can be seen as objectively true, independent of observers.

The first attempt was the pilot wave theory of David Bohm and De Broglie, the next effort was in the development of the notion of Beables in the work of John Stewart Bell, who also proved a very important theorem in quantum mechanics, to the effect that if there are hidden variables guiding the wave, they must be non local. So we find ourselves in the position of having to understand how to reconcile realism and non local influence.

This has made the path difficult for the likes of Penrose, Lee Smolin and other more recent proponents of realism in science. The problem is that the basic Newtonian principle of action and reaction is lost by allowing non local influences. And this principle is a foundational tenet of traditional realist and mechanical approaches and is continued on even in Quantum field theory. An option favoured by Penrose is that there is some sort of collapse of the wave function triggered by the gravitational fabric of curved space-time-matter itself, whenever there is a certain degree of curvature present. Penrose sees some hope for his view in the theory of Hawking radiation and evaporation of black holes. I think he sees this potential asymmetry caused by strongly gravitational objects as indicative of a collapse of the wave function caused by gravity, and so of an explanatory dependence of quantum theory on some general relativistic interpretation of quantum gravity.

It is ironic that Stephen Hawking himself came to reject this view about black holes and argued later that energy is conserved and there is no evaporation of black holes. In both these cases and some others you can see how Hawking is guided more by positivistic and operationalist considerations, while Penrose is motivated by trying to preserve some connection with realism in our fundamental physical theories.

So, where would I place myself in this discussion? Well, the recent book I read and reviewed and talked about on here in previous posts by Julian Barbour provides a good alternative way to view many of these things. The only question that remains then is how, within a relationalist view of space and time to quite account for the reality of space time curvature and hence, also the reality of singularities and black holes, because if space-time is purely relational, there is no independent “thing” there to which we can apply the property of curvature, just a network of relations between things. But those networks, it makes no sense to apply curvature to them, variation is provided instead by evolution and development of different configurations of networks of relations.

I think these questions still remain to be considered in more thorough detail and greater clarity to solve some of these quandaries about how exactly to describe and delineate the reality-status of our fundamental physical theories. Hawkings positivistic approach may be a safer way to hedge your bets and not commit to a metaphysic or view of reality, but I think its clear that some metaphysic always slips in whether we adopt one consciously or not, so it may be better as Penrose is trying, to adopt realism and aim to choose our metaphysic wisely. And also is the effort of Smolin in his latest work.

I have reservations though about how both of them interpret realism, as well as reservations about the timeless Platonia of Julian Barbour. Penrose’s realism seems to rely on a non-relationalist view of space and time which may conflict with basic principles of human reason, while Smolin’s realism seems to involve various postulations of extra entities that are added on to quantum theory arbitrarily rather than having a clear physical role. Their role seems only to be to save realism. Barbour’s realism is a pure Platonic realm of changeless forms. And, as appealing as that may be aesthetically, I tend to agree with Smolin, Rovelli and others in preferring to give primacy to the reality of time and processes, rather than to static things.

On that point, Carlo Rovelli has a newly released book called Helgoland presenting and arguing for a process view of quantum theory and it will be interesting to explore that one. The debate is ongoing, but it is refreshing to see these kinds of serious consideration and respect being shown by top theoretical physicists to questions of the ontolological status and implications of their physical theories. For, I think they realise well that without some physical basis and platform for their theories that we can all point towards, the danger is that the subject would become reduced to the creation of mathematical models and pure mathematics. less and less in touch with a serious grounding in physical reality.

The Accidental Truth in Flat Earth Theory

I have never addressed or even really considered this particular conspiracy theory of the flat earth, and this is because it is clearly mostly motivated by a kind of wish fulfilment style of reasoning a bit similar to old ideas of the Earth as being at the center of the Universe, on the one side, and on the other side it is promoted by fraudsters trying to discredit all other conspiracy theories in the process. I am not going to go into the typical arguments either for or against. But to summarise them, there is claims about the faked stuff in the moon landings, magnetic issues with the south pole, and there is the possibility of seeing further on the horizon than should be possible. And, in general, there is just the fact of for many people, they won’t believe it because they are never going to see it with their own eyes, and don’t trust any others. Here is a good representative conversation of this perspective for those who want to pursue and get that context a bit further who have not heard this kind of stuff before: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZS0etOOeP4

The kernel of accidental truth to it that I want to explore in this post is the notion of the relativity of curvature. This is connected with the relationalist view of space and time, and tells us basically, that for any curvature in the objects around us and the space around us, we can equivalently attribute it to curvature in our own frame of reference. Take the case of the star behind the sun whose light was curved round the edge of it and so it appeared in a different place than was expected, by an amount that corroborated the amount of curvature to be effected by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. You could say there is a curvature in that space near the sun, caused by gravity, or you can equivalently say there is a curvature/corresponding distortion in your frame of reference caused by looking near the sun. Like when looking through a magnifying glass. As opposed to how things look just outside of that magnifying glass. Indeed, this is potentially all that is really happening with supposed curvature of space. Because it is corroborated by recent scientific advances with gravitational lensing and like phenomena which are used to measure smaller changes and perturbations near gravitational objects in order to detect things such as exo planets.

So the kernel of truth is that space is not “really” either curved or flat, and can be seen equivalently as either, because there is not “really” any space, there is only a relational network of objects. Contrariwise, the kernel of falsity in the mainstream view is that most people, even today, are still stuck in Newton’s notion of absolute space, despite of Einstein, partly because this particular relativity of curvature and equivalence of flat and curved frames of reference was not made clear or was misunderstood. Though you can see it illustrated by Einstein’s classic accelerating lift thought experiment that creates, within that frame of reference, an equivalent curvature to a gravitational field, with light taking a bent path across that lift as it travels through it.

The misunderstanding in the mainstream view seems related to this felt need even now for us to hypostatise our models of things and take them for reality itself. So, in general relativity , we take some curved models of space and time, and the desire is to find the one “true” model of the curvature. Yet, for all the searching, there has still not been decided if there is any overall curvature to the space of the universe. All we have our localised pockets of curvature caused by areas with big gravitating objects like in solar systems or near black holes. The suggestion of relativity of curvature, which is basically my own idea that I came up with as far as I am aware, is that there won’t be any overall curvature to the universe, for it would mean space is something more than a relational network of things.

The perceived apparent absoluteness, homogeneousness and near flatness of space is made initially difficult to explain with the relational approach, but a good explanation can be found in the Janus approach and shape dynamics approach of Julian Barbour, for which I would refer you to his website http://platonia.com/ideas.html . In this approach there is no privileged metric tensor for measuring space with: Size is a purely relative concept, as it needs to be in a relational approach, and the distinctions we perceive instead come from shape distinctions, i.e. relational distinctions in the patterns of how objects are related to each other.

What this can illustrate to us all as a general moral, is that we should avoid arrogance in our perspectives. It would be easy to dismiss flat earth theory, and rightfully so, for some of the reasons I mentioned and for many others, but in the result you may miss the accidental though misguided kernel of truth to it of the relativity of curvature and miss out on your own prejudice and error of presuming some sort of hypostatised model of an absolute Newtonian space.

The real debate around relationalist views of space and time is actually still a live and ongoing debate in current theoretical physics. And in that sense the conspiracy prone types would do well to not rush to their own pet theories but instead be open to exploring relationalist models of space and time. The ideas are very abstract and difficult to visualise, but they are an open field of current exploration which does not involve having to retreat some conspiracy where the whole academic world and mainstream are making up a false narrative purely on purpose, which only makes you powerless in the end against forces in the world all conspiring against you.

Lee Smolin, Many Worlds Quantum Theory – Realism or Science-Fiction?

Lee Smolin’s latest book Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum, is largely an attempt to be true to an Einsteinian style notion of realism in our scientific theories about the world. He sees the standard Copenhagen model as not realist due to the ambiguity of the measurement problem and the slightly mystical nature of Bohr’s principle of complementarity.

He is trying to succeed where Einstein failed, and he has done so far, being two thirds the way through the book, a good job in clarifying the situation with quantum theory. However, I have to take some issue with his notion of realism. He seems to want to go back to a notion of science and how it functions that was effectively made defunct a long time ago. This notion of a view from nowhere. This seems to be the realism he is aiming at, but this is a kind of realism that failed, and that story is something I have traced myself through 20th century philosophy.

A mathematical realism or Platonic realism, as we see alternate versions of in Barbour and Penrose can make some sense, provided some measure of distance is always born in mind, between our mathematical models of reality and reality itself as experienced. Similarly, Lee Smolin’s time based realism, explored in his earlier work Time Reborn, where he develops this notion of the “thick present” alongside a relational view of spatial dimensions in line with Leibniz’ principles of reason, also has some value.

But, I don’t think there can be any going back to a view from nowhere type of realism, this failed in early 20th century philosophy, and via Bohr’s victory over Einstein, it failed also in physics. God may well play dice after all. But I dont think this is the pertinent point. The point we need to be thinking about is what is real, where reality must include human observers as a part of it. Smolin has also shown a willingness to accept this in his work on the life of the cosmos. Something is not real, just by virtue of being non or a-human. This kind of morally motivated realism of extended self-deferral is a zero sum game that can have only one outcome, and it is not a good outcome for human beings.

So, with that in mind, he makes a good critique of the supposed realism of the many worlds theorists in quantum theory. They suggest a way to do away with Rule 2, the measurement rule, and have a universe (well, really a multiverse), governed solely by Rule 1, the Schrodinger equation. The problem is that they attempt in various ways to smuggle in some version of rule 2, and all the probabilities it entails, as did Everett in the theories original formulation. It also renders decisions we make of no value in this world, as we have an infinity of other selves making other decisions, so what pressure is there to do anything good in this life, we may as well just be selfish and not worry about consequences. For some other of our infinite selves can worry about that and make those different decisions. It would lead to moral laxity in the face of a multiverse fatalism. And it would be a worse fatalism than any before because the theory is set up to be unfalsifiable, as we have no access ourselves to any of these other universes within the multiverse.

In summary, we need to find an alternative realist route that allows a place for human beings with meaningful places within that reality. I think Smolin’s earlier work, and the work in relation to cosmology of the likes of Penrose and Barbour is striving towards something of this kind. And it has a much better hope of success than going from the errors of a view from everywhere (the multiverse), back to the old and outdated cold view from nowhere of 20th century physics and philosophy.

Yes, the measurement problem, gives us a real headache on this front, in how we can go about addressing it. But personally I think we can simply accept the reality of non-local influence between things. This is a perfectly realist approach once we have the relational view of space, as within that framework space itself is shown to be unreal as an extended, pre-existent container.

More to come on this soon enough, I need to explore this Hole Problem next as this gets into the potential unreality of space a bit more, and the final section of Lee Smolin’s latest book may have some more promising suggestions also regarding how to formulate a realist interpretation of quantum theory. Already his presentation of the pilot wave approach of De Broglie and Bohm, has got me a little more interested in that, and his critique of the many-worlds approach has confirmed further my own misgivings about this stance. I only wish he would show slightly better awareness about the impossibility of a return to a “view from nowhere” style of realism.

Roger Penrose – Mathematical Realism and Platonism in Tension with Principles of Reason

A common theme in the work of Roger Penrose in theoretical physics is a strong predilection towards a mathematical form of realism, in which physical nature at the fundamental level mimics mathematical structures.

In the case of Penrose he considers structures such as fractals and those provided by complex numbers, and with a more subtle mathematical theory, you can describe his Twister theory approach to Quantum gravity.

The existence itself of singularities is a consequence of the mathematical theories and models, and in many of these areas there is a deep faith that mathematical structure and the structure of reality coincide at the most fundamental level.

It remains to be seen how correct this view is and how far it can be taken. For instance, once more it is his strong faith in following the mathematical structures where they lead, rather than being distracted by other more usual physical and mechanical intuitions about nature, that leads him to his cyclic cosmos approach with Conformal Cyclic Cosmology.

There is a potential downside to this approach which as always is this tendency to hypostatise our own models and structures for understanding reality onto reality itself. Naturally, Penrose does a good job avoiding this error in many areas.

But in one area, with his ORCH approach in quantum gravity in which there is an objective orchestrated reduction or collapse of the wave function in quantum theory under the effect of gravity, there is a tension potentially with other options. Namely, the option of following Leibnizian principles of reason, which are pursued more fully by the likes of Lee Smolin and Julian Barbour.

This leads them to the relational view of space and time. However this conflicts with Penrose’s Orch approach, for in this view the gravitational field is taken, to be a real “thing”, that causes the quantum collapse of the wave function, as a way to explain the measurement problem for macro as opposed to micro objects.

But if there is a pure scale invariance in space and time. I.e. if they are purely relational, there would be no way to distinguish a micro from a macro realm, based on space and time themselves. The only way would be if these things are absolute in some way. And this actually is the way that Einstein himself ultimately went.

Einstein, in his special theory went for a relational view originally, inspired by Mach, but then influenced by Minkowski’s Space-Time interpretation and by others, in his general theory of relativity, Space was brought back as in some way an absolute thing, for if the theory is that space curvature causes gravity, then there must be an existent “thing” that is curved.

So, I would side here with Smolin and Barbour, in thinking that space is in some key sense fundamentally unreal. And would take the inspiration here of Leibniz’ basic principles of reasoning as outweighing the reality of the mathematical structures.

Taking this further, philosophically, would lead to a discussion on what is called the hole argument, which is a criticism of the standard Einsteinian interpretation of general relativity, suggesting, it can be reduced to a relational approach.

That will be for another time, but at this point, to summarise, we have to keep in mind that in aiming at realism we have competing considerations to bear in mind. The mathematical realism of the structures we use to describe nature, and the principles of reasoning we use through which to express truths about nature.