Wolfgang Smith’s Pioneering Essay: From Schrodinger’s Cat to Thomistic Ontology

Wolfgang Smith Painted PortraitWolfgang Smith’s application of Thomistic ontology to quantum reality is found in his work titled, The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key. An essay titled From Schrodinger’s Cat to Thomistic Ontology summarizing the above work can be found in Smith’s collection of essays titled, Ancient Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions. The ‘Schrodinger’ essay is now available through the Philos-Sophia Initiative, and is a great introduction to Smith’s ingenious unifying interpretation of quantum theory with the metaphysical tools of the perennial school of wisdom.

From the essay:

Let me call your attention, first of all, to an as yet largely unobserved fact: while the scientific worldview continues to consolidate its grip upon society, something quite unexpected has come to pass. The decisive event occurred almost a century ago in fact, back in the early decades of the twentieth century. Since then that so-called scientific worldview — which to this day reigns as the official dogma of science — no longer squares with the known scientific facts. What has happened is that discoveries at the frontiers of science do not accord with the prevailing Weltanschauung, with the result that these findings present the appearance of paradox. It seems that on its most fundamental level, physics itself has disavowed the very worldview proclaimed in its name. This science, therefore, can no longer be interpreted in the customary ontological terms; and thus, as one quantum theorist has put it, physicists have “lost their grip on reality.”1 But obviously this fact has not been publicized, and as the aforesaid physicist observes, constitutes indeed “one of the best-kept secrets of science.” It needs however to be pointed out that, strictly speaking, physics did not “lose” its “grip on reality”: in light of the new findings the fact is rather that modern physics never had  such a “grip” in the first place. This Baconian science, rigorously conceived — that is to say, interpreted without recourse to the customary penumbra of scientistic beliefs — reduces quite simply to a positivistic discipline. And this explains Whitehead’s famous description of that science as “a kind of mystic chant over an unintelligible universe,”2 as well as the admission by one of the leading quantum theorists that “no one understands quantum mechanics.” To be sure, the incomprehension to which Feynman alludes refers to a philosophic  plane: one understands the mathematics of quantum mechanics and its connection with empirical procedures, but not the ontology.

Broadly speaking, physicists have reacted to this impasse in three principal ways. The majority, perhaps, have found comfort in a basically pragmatic or “operational” outlook — the fact that “it works” — while some persist, to this day, in the patently futile attempt to fit the positive findings of quantum mechanics into the pre-quantum scientistic ontology. The third category, lastly, which includes some of the most eminent names in physics, convinced that the pre-quantum ontology is now defunct, have cast about for new philosophic postulates, in the hope of arriving at an acceptable conception of physical reality. There appear to be a dozen or so worldviews presently competing for acceptance in the upper reaches of the scientific community, which to the uninitiated seem to range quite literally from the bizarre to the outright ridiculous.

It is not my objective, in this lecture, to regale you with yet another ad hoc  philosophy designed to resolve or explain away quantum paradox. I intend rather to do the very opposite: to show, namely, that there is absolutely no need for a new philosophic Ansatz, that the problem at hand can in fact be resolved quite naturally on strictly traditional philosophic ground. What I propose to show is that the quantum facts, divested of scientistic encrustations, fit perfectly into a very ancient and venerable ontology: the Thomistic, namely, which as you know, traces back to Aristotle. Rejected by Galileo and Descartes, and subsequently marginalized, this reputedly outmoded medieval speculation, it turns out, resolves the issue instantly. No need for ad hoc  postulates that stagger our understanding: the keys for which physicists have been groping since the advent of quantum theory, it turns out, have been readily at hand for well over two thousand years.

Here is the rest of the essay: From Schrodinger’s Cat to Thomistic Ontology


– Lucas G. Westman

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