Friday, April 15, 2011

More on the Problem of Being for Powers

This is a brief follow up to the discussion at the end of the last post. The problem of being for pure powers is the challenge of explaining their nature or ontological grounding when not manifested (if they are not grounded by other properties). I had been exploring the model that powers have the ontological character of quantum systems between measurements (=manifestations). And I think the best way to evaluate the being of quantum systems is as truly existing but non-concrete propensities (while manifestation events=concreta). I hesitate to use the term “abstract” to describe this sort of being, since that has come to imply “causally irrelevant”, and powers are anything but – indeed they underwrite causality in nature. But I do think we need to accept that there are indeed two modes of being.

I draw connections to two papers recently discussed.

I think William A. Bauer’s notion that pure powers are self-grounding due to ongoing minimally sufficient manifestations can connect with the above view in an interesting way. Our analysis of powers typically begins with paradigm cases involving everyday macroscopic objects (like the fragility of a vase). Well, the strange ontological status of quantum systems is only apparent when very small systems are considered in isolation. In everyday situations larger systems do have ongoing minimal interactions with the environment – leading to the kind of apparent sustained being that Bauer envisions. So while his explanation for the self-grounding of powers is not ultimately correct, it connotes an approximate fact about the ongoing manifestation of powers in the rough and tumble world.

Finally, I would note another interesting connection between the view I’ve sketched lining up powers with quantum systems by referring back to the Neil E. Williams paper I discussed in my post "Power Holism". Williams wondered how multiple powers had the capability of fitting together to produce mutual manifestations, arguing that one may need to appeal to a kind of holism to explain this. I would just quickly note that the ability of quantum systems to become correlated through non-local connections and entanglement provides a model of holism which may address his concerns.


Thoughts said...

The most interesting aspects of "entanglement" are that decoherence is a transition to entanglement with the whole environment and entanglement stops at the future light cone of a given observer.

The first aspect is well known and constitutes the backdrop of power property arguments. There are as many "environments" as there are decohered events. Seems profligate but this is the modern physical view.

The second aspect is more problematical. If I fly past you at high speed and take measurements of an entangled property of photons traversing an "optical bench" such that we coincide as we measure the properties of one set of photons you can seem to have measured the other photon before you measure the one next to me even though these events are simultaneous for you.

The relativity of simultaneity shows that the two photons are entangled through time and space for me and space for you. It also shows that we have two different "environments" and these environments are temporo-spatial (4D) not spatial. This produces a severe strain on any theory of causality because it implies an infinity of block universes. If there were to be free will in such a reality then it would occur as a result of jumping from one block universe to another.

Suppose dimensional time were an emergent property of a QM system. All such postulates that I have studied are consistent with the relativity of simultaneity so the analysis given above would still apply. There really is no hiding place for presentists.

Thoughts said...

ps: "Psillos (2006) asks: What
does a pure disposition do when not manifesting?"

We know the answer to this because if I am flying past you and a vase breaks some distance away in my present instant in my direction of travel you will see it break a fraction of a second later. My breaking vase sits in your future, thats what it does.

Steve said...

I'm not sure that's necessarily right. You are assuming relativity is true and we can analyze QM events taking place within it from an objective perspective. But from within the QM framework I can't know what you have measured unless I have an additional (measurement) contact with you. And from what I've read (in Wigner's friend set ups, EPR etc.) I think when you work thru the scenarios, it turns out we must have agreement on observations.

Thoughts said...

Given that entangled property measurements can occur over huge distances and give rise to classical events, such as lights flashing, you are rejecting the experimental basis for special relativity in its entirety. This is a bold rejection in this age of extremely accurate clocks that confirm relativity on a daily basis in the GPS satellites.

There is actually nothing incompatible between special relativity and qm. The time dilation and length contraction of SR is a consequence of the world being a four dimensional manifold and even instantaneous transmission between two points is not specifically excluded by such a geometry. General relativity is different however..

That said, if there are two measurements of the entangled properties of two photons and these activate lights then lights that are simultaneous in one inertial frame will not be simultaneous in a relatively moving frame. (See Wikibook on the Relativity of simultaneity for the clearest discussion of simultaneity on the net.)

Steve said...

I think the issue is that you can't have *two* measurements of the entangled system -- the first measurement done collapses the system. This leads to the EPR paradox. A "second" measurement will be on a distinct system - a different collapse event, and there is no problem with special relativity in that situation.

Steve said...

My previous comment looks wrong. Rather than talking about making two simultaneous measurements of the same property, we could consider simultaneous measurements of two different but compatible properties of the same system. There doesn't seem to be a problem with that with regard to SR.

The conflict with SR comes with trying to observe the same measurement event in two frames. But that problem has no practical impact on empirical results, since you still cannot use the non-local effect of the collapse for super-luminal signaling.

Anonymous said...

If a measurement causes decoherence in a distant object then the modern interpretation is that a universe has been selected where the properties of the measured and the distant object have the observed properties. This neatly separates QM from SR so that they can both be true.

Steve said...

By "modern interpretation" you mean many-worlds interpretation of QM I assume. I guess that can sidestep the issue.