Today’s theoretical physics originated in the theories of special and general relativity and quantum mechanics that arose in the first three decades of the last century. Those theories are dominated by mathematics and metaphysics, and this continues today.
The mathematics of the originating theories is mostly but not entirely good, and is analysed here.
The use of that mathematics, and its interpretation as physical explanation is mostly poor and unscientific. This is detailed throughout this site, but is evident in the lack of clarity over key conclusions, for example on moving clocks, the conflicts between general relativity and quantum mechanics , the drift into increasingly bizarre speculation, and the substitution of metaphysics and mathematics for determinist models that provide understanding.
What holds this together, as a corrupt and inconsistent system of thought with a deliberate and determined lack of clarity, is the metaphysics. This is by its nature a messy area, but I will try to be concise.
The origins of the successful mathematical models in quantum mechanics and special relativity and the blatantly inappropriate mathematical model in general relativity are bound together with the formation of four ideas that turn out not to work, namely that light is a particle, that light has a dual wave-particle nature, that light travels at the same constant speed for all observers, and that everything is relative. Those origins lie in the failure in the late nineteenth century to find and describe the ether, and are detailed here.
These ideas don’t work all together, and they don’t work in lesser combinations or separately. There is so much misinformation provided by physicists, and so much in the way of important information that is consciously withheld, that this takes detailed analysis and argument to establish, and that is a key purpose of this site.
The problem arises first with a set of ideas that are unphysical, physically impossible. On light, modern physics suggests and assumes, without being upfront about it:
That light is a particle, somehow carrying information about frequency and polarisation
That something of a fundamentally particle nature can produce diffraction effects and interference patterns
That we can label as a particle something whose fundamental nature and behaviour is spread out
That it is in any sense scientifically useful to label the same phenomenon as both particle and wave.
Niels Bohr stated in 1921: ‘As is well known, the [quantum] hypothesis introduces insuperable difficulties when applied to the explanation of the phenomena of interference, which constitute our chief means of investigating the nature of radiation. We can even maintain that the picture, which lies at the foundation of the hypothesis of light-quanta excludes in principle the possibility of a rational definition of the conception of a frequency ν, which plays a principal part in this theory.’i
Contradicted by observation
On the fundamental nature of the universe, modern physics asserts that there is no background medium for light and therefore that light travels at a constant speed, and no observer has a privileged position.
Yet observation clearly demonstrates that light is bent and delayed due to travelling more slowly in a gravitational field, detailed here, and that there is a privileged frame of reference for timekeeping, discussed here, even if our reasoning as to what that frame is, is flawed.
The wave behaviour of light asserts strongly that there is a background medium, which ‘waves’. A background medium is also required by the ‘Higgs field’, the field behaviour of electromagnetism, and for quantum electrodynamics. Krausz and colleagues have observed the wave in detail, as discussed in this New Scientist article.
In 1863, Maxwell wrote: ‘The theory I propose assumes that in that space there is matter in motion by which the observed electromagnetic phenomena are produced.’ii
Dirac, the originator of both QED and the ‘relativistic’ (strictly ‘Lorentzian’) form of quantum mechanics, wrote in 1951: ‘Thus with the new theory of electrodynamics we are rather forced to have an aether.’iii
The respected textbook, Gravitation, states in 1973: ‘No point is more central than this, that empty space is not empty. It is the seat of the most violent physics.’iv
When you have a set of ideas that are confused, contradictory, incapable of comprehension and impossible to communicate, then one of two things will happen.
The first, and most likely – and most certain in the long term – is that scientific rationality and practice will reassert itself and the theory or theories will collapse under their own dead weight.
The second is that its apologists can circle the wagons and hold fast to as much of the failed ideas as they can, for as long as possible, compromising their scientific credentials more and more as cracks increasingly appear.
This latter is what has happened in theoretical physics. It is a shocking and unique sociological event, and seems to require certain features:
A lack of authority figures who can be cross-questioned until the logic snaps
A comprehensive set of protections from critical examination. In physics these are over-complex mathematics, ritual obfuscation of key ideas and contradictions, and … metaphysics.
If this sounds more like a priest class, this has been suggested more than once.
Wasting tax dollars
Once we accept illogical ideas as science, then we inevitably spend money on hopeless projects.
If there is no background medium, then light cannot be a wave and must be a particle.
Applied to computing, then we can envisage a ‘quantum bit’ or qbit, so that we encode complex information similar to phase in a single photon or other quantum element. Early efforts in ‘quantum computing’ were directed to harnessing this imagined entity.
Applied to cryptography, we are delighted to discover this object that can only be ‘read’ or received once.
We also investigate parallel universes and 'entanglement’ which are rogue ideas created by a rogue philosophy creating an unnatural restriction on epistemology.
In philosophy, this is the entirely sensible admonition that we might usefully avoid wasting a lot of time and effort on discussion that we have no means of ever checking.
In physics, it is the strong admonition only to include in theory those features which are clearly capable of being observed and measured ('observables'). It is applied inconsistently, and its effect is to act as an unscientific brake on investigation of how things work and what they are actually made of.
The reasoning is that light is a particle, that the fundamentals of physical nature are inherently mysterious (see above), and that we are wasting time on other - more physically based - hypotheses that we can never check.
Since light is a particle, and is destroyed by observing it, we never know where it is until we see it by absorbing it. Its location and path are therefore not observable, and we are strongly advised by physics’ positivism (so-called) not to spend time and funding on thinking about it.
Instead we can model (mathematically) its likely destination. This is the origin of probabilism in physics.
Once a failed science has established that its central ideas are contradictory and unphysical, and that we cannot rely on causal reasoning and must deal only with probabilities, then this opens the door to metaphysics.
The phenomenon of interference, for example, suggests that a single particle can pass through two or more slits simultaneously, or perhaps through different slits in distinct but interacting realities, alternative but parallel universes.
Without a wave, quantum mechanics has had to devise a ‘wavefunction’ (detailed in the equation of Schrödinger, and deconstructed here), and has acquired a ‘measurement problem’, since the process of measurement involves destruction of the particle and the ‘collapse of the its wavefunction’, together with the immediate and simultaneous loss of the probabilistic information it contained. Does this offer the prospect of instantaneous transfer of information across distances? Is it a direct violation of the limitations understood from special relativity, that no information can be transferred at faster than light speed? Or have we long since ceased to ask coherent questions?
Since the finest possible observation comprises a single photon that will have interacted with what we are viewing, then there is an inherent indeterminacy in any observation. We can, like Einstein before us with relativity, raise that questionable conclusion to the status of a principle – Heisenberg uncertainty.
We take positivism/probabilism and deify it by concluding that light has no existence between emission and detection. We are here a long way into rogue reasoning, but physics has reached the stage where it is no longer able to tell.
From this comes the idea that two photons, emitted in a single event are ‘entangled’. This is because we know from observation that their properties are linked in a clear and predictable way. Yet we conclude from this bogus version of positivism that they and their properties only come into existence when observed. We – or rather the less discerning among us – then conclude that this is some mystical form of action at a distance, with one newly re-created particle somehow telling the other what to be.
The Copenhagen Interpretation
Subsets of the foregoing are still presented as the Copenhagen Interpretation that arose from discussions between Bohr and Heisenberg in that fair city where Bohr worked.
It is ‘now well-known’ says Mike Towlerv of Cambridge University, ‘that Copenhagen cannot be reconstructed as a coherent philosophical framework’.
Return to top of page
i. Niels Bohr, 1885 – 1962, at the 1921 Solvay conference.
ii. James Clerk Maxwell (1831 – 1879), Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (Clarendon Press, Macmillan & Co), 1873, p34, point (3). Also found in: A Dynamical Theory of the Magnetic Field, edited by TF Torrance (Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, 1982).
iii. Paul Dirac, letter to Nature 168, p906 (1951).
iv. Charles W Misner, Kip S Thorne, John Archibald Wheeler, ‘Gravitation’ (WH Freeman, NY, 1973) page 1202.
v. Graduate course, lecture 1 (http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~mdt26/PWT/lectures/bohm1.pdf), slide 6.