Chapter 9: Einstein’s Legacy

Albert Einstein is a scientific great whose legacy although highly valued may be richer than we realize. The vision of the universe he developed is sublime in its elegance and beauty. In addition to his bold strides into new areas of scientific knowledge he argued that adopting the scientific worldview is a next step in mankind’s spiritual evolution. His hope for his life’s work was that it would provide a doorway for many into a spiritual state he called the cosmic religious experience.

Einstein truly began his scientific career in 1905 while maintaining a full time job as a clerk in the patent office. His work published in that year has been described as a period unparalleled for individual scientific accomplishment except possibly that period during 1665 and 1666 when Newton made his discoveries in calculus, gravitation and optics. 1905 was at the birth of the ‘New Physics’ and Einstein soon became its leading light. The new physics began with some well known experimental evidence that didn't fit classical theory. Plank used the quantum idea to describe some rogue phenomena. Lorentz developed the basic equations of Special Relativity without any idea its effects might extend beyond some particular phenomena.

 Einstein described the full framework of Special Relativity, and then used the quantum idea to show light is a phenomena sometimes acting like a wave and sometimes like a particle. DeBroglie showed that matter also displayed quantum characteristics. Then it got exciting. Schrödinger and Heisenberg developed the equations of quantum mechanics. Bohr began to expound an extremely weird interpretation of quantum theory. Dirac developed the full relativistic equations and Feynman and others produced the ultimate theory: Quantum Electro-Dynamics. This theory rules, nothing has ever been so accurate in prediction, no contradictory evidence has ever been found; all of its prediction that can be confirmed have been confirmed.

In the early stages of the first half of the century, Einstein revealed General Relativity. Never was there a vision of physical reality so elegant, so complete. It too was confirmed as true on all tests. It spoke true to us; it resonated with the human mind. It describes an understandable, deterministic universe, it all makes sense.

On the other hand the quantum guys were saying things like ‘quantum theory is so weird that if you think you understand it, you don’t’. We’re talking about an explanation here because science is explanation. An explanation so weird that if you think you understand it you don’t? What kind of an explanation is that? And yet the theory works, to as many decimal places as measurement has been capable. Einstein could not accept weird scientific explanations as complete. To him science was enlightenment not bewilderment as to the meaning of reality.

Einstein mixed it up with the quantum guys, especially Bohr. Einstein got off some great lines like ‘I don’t believe God plays dice with the universe’, but in the end it looked like he lost. He drew a line in the sand, he said that if quantum theory were completely true than it would imply something impossible. In science this is an air tight argument that would prove quantum theory not completely true. The only problem with Einstein's argument was that what he claimed was impossible had never been experimentally tested. The technology didn’t exist to perform the test. Einstein stated 'The real factual situation of the system S2 is independent of what is done with the system S1 which is spatially separated from the former'. Spatially separated means that the two systems are so far apart that information could only flow between the systems in the time allowed if the information traveled faster than the speed of light. Everyone, including Bohr and Einstein, understood quantum theory to predict that this faster than light transfer of information would occur under some circumstances. Einstein's awesome physical intuition told him this was impossible.

The problem became known as the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox or Bell's theorem after being transformed by others into a form that could be tested when the necessary technology was developed. Basically it looks at a pair of quantum entangled particles. Quantum theory predicts that if they are separated a great distance without their entanglement being disturbed and then one is measured, information could be gained of the state of the distant particle and this would imply that information would have traveled between the particles at a speed greater that that of light. The traveling of information faster than the speed of light was the impossible thing to which Einstein referred. And then the technology came along that would allow the test, Aspect conducted the experiment and it looked like Einstein was wrong.

The experiment was done long after Einstein death in 1955. He spent his last 30 years trying to extend General Relativity to include some of the forces successfully described by quantum theory and he couldn’t. He couldn’t bring quantum phenomena into the realm of his beautiful theory. Nobody else could either. He grew estranged from the larger scientific community which seemed content filling in details of quantum weirdness. By the time of his death very few researchers were active in relativity or in Einstein’s project of unification. Einstein was very much on the sidelines and considered by many as simply wrong about the important issues facing science.

Almost all of this activity took place in the first half of the century. The second half slowed a lot at least conceptually. We had two worlds that couldn’t be reconciled. Einstein’s beautiful picture of gravitation shows things moving naturally in straight lines. Things follow their local path in space-time. It is space-time that twists and turns and space-time that is responsible for the twists and turns of all things moving in it. And there is symmetry, space-time in turn twists and turns due to the existence and distribution of everything that has mass or energy. As John Wheeler said ‘Spacetime tells mass how to move and mass tells spacetime how to bend.’

General Relativity is very geometrical and elegant, unlike the quantum explanation. The most widely accepted explanation of quantum phenomena was first articulated by Bohr. It is most succinctly understood as the implications of a number of axioms:

1)      For every physical system there is a corresponding mathematical object called a state vector that has no physical embodiment. This state vector is the most complete source of information that exists concerning the physical system.

2)      The outcome of any measurement on a physical system can be predicted from performing a specific mathematical operation on its state vector.

3)      The outcome of any measurement process on a physical system can only be predicted as a probability for obtaining that result.

4)      Once a measurement is made the state vector assumes a state such that the same measurement immediately applied to this state has 100% probability of achieving the previous measured result.

5)      The state vector evolves in time according to a continuous, deterministic formula except when a measurement occurs and then it jumps to the state  described in 4) above.

This is all about mathematical manipulation of mathematical objects. It is not a vision of physical reality; in fact the first axiom explicitly states that the mathematical objects of the theory have no physical embodiment.

During much of the last half of the twentieth century there was little progress made on uniting the Quantum and General Relativistic world views. Quantum field theory was extended to include the two other atomic forces and General Relativity languished. This was only to be expected as the quantum world, though not comprehensible, was very productive. Atomic power, micro-electronics, lasers and most other high tech objects are best described within the framework of quantum electrodynamics. All measurements are made via photons; the particles carrying electromagnetic force. The graviton, the particle that carries the gravitational force has not yet even been experimentally detected.

Despite being the main outstanding physical problem for fifty years, little progress had been made uniting quantum and general relativity theory until recently. String theory has at times appeared promising but is still far short of a complete theory. Loop Quantum Gravity although it has attracted a much smaller group of researchers, may be closer. In fact, in his paper Quantum Gravity with a Positive Cosmological Constant, Lee Smolin presents the first ‘candidate for the theory of quantum spacetime.’[i] Smolin is widely regarded as at the forefront of efforts to solve this most important problem and yet in the almost two years since his paper there seems to be very little comment or excitement.

This has not slowed him and others from continuing to fill in the details. They postulate that there is a reality more fundamental than the one containing space, time and physical processes. This reality is not currently accessible to experimentation as its phenomena exist at a scale too small and at energies too high to be invoked in an experimental setting. Instead the exploration has been mathematical and has outlined how space and time can arise from simpler structures.

Essentially Loop Quantum Gravity researchers have shown how spacetime can be considered an emergent property of a graph composed of nodes and edges.  This graph is more fundamental than spacetime and in effects constructs spacetime. Smolin and Markopoulou have demonstrate how the nodes of the graph may correspond to events involving mass/energy and the edges of the graph correspond to spacetime. With some simple assumptions about the relationship of the nodes (mass/energy) to the edges (spacetime) they demonstrate that the fundamental equations of both Quantum theory and General Relativity emerge.[ii] Of particular interest, the assumption leading to quantum theory is of some kind of an uncertainty in the relation between nodes and edges. This could perhaps be a basic uncertainty in the nodes position or it might reflect the fact that nodes are subjected to thermal vibrations. Regardless of the source of this uncertainty, the basic equations of quantum theory can be derived assuming only that an uncertainty is present. Some weirdness is thus implied at the most fundamental level of quantum theory; innate uncertainty is at the basis of quantum phenomena. It helps explain why quantum phenomena might best be treated with a mathematical interpretation rather than a physical one.

The results of Loop Quantum Gravity suggest that the simple system of a fundamental graph, along with some simple assumptions concerning the components of this graph implies both Quantum Theory and General Relativity. Results such as these, detailing the unity of quantum and relativity theory within Loop Quantum Gravity are constantly advancing this area of research.

 An interesting open question is ‘What physical interpretation should be applied to the fundamental graph?’. A number of ideas have been put forward. My favourite is that the graph represents a Causal History. In this scheme nodes represent events and edges represent the causal mechanism whereby one event causes another. Markopoulou and others have shown how a graph of causal events can generate many properties of Loop Quantum Gravity.[iii]

A cool thing about this interpretation is its implication that at the most fundamental level physical reality is a network of caused events. Caused events are more fundamental than spacetime or any form of matter. In fact spacetime, matter and all other physical processes are constructed from this network of caused events. There are no un-caused or illogical events. This may provide some insight into why rationality has been so powerful as a way of knowing compared to other forms of knowledge that place less emphasis on the nature of cause and effect.

The coolest thing is that after seventy five years of neglect and ridicule Einstein’s views are back in vogue and may yet triumph. Quantum physics may be understandable. David Deutsch, the founder of Quantum Computation, has analyzed the information flow involved in Aspect's experiment and concludes:

 ‘Subsequent developments such as Bell's theorem and Aspect's experiment which are prima facie refutations of Einstein's conclusions have therefore been taken as vindication of Bohr's. In fact, both conclusions are mistaken, having been drawn from the same false premise; as we shall show in this paper, quantum physics is entirely consistent with Einstein's criterion.[iv]

David Deutsch has also undertaken another branch of research suggesting that the weird probabilistic nature of quantum mechanic is merely a misinterpretation. He has shown how axiom 3 above can be derived using only non-probabilistic decision theory and the other 4 axioms underlying quantum mechanics.[v],[vi] This line of research suggests that the appearance of quantum theory as probabilistic in nature is entirely due to a lack of information available to us on quantum systems and that it is in fact a deterministic theory much in the spirit of Einstein.

 

Einstein’s cause has very recently been resurrected by the Bayesian Quantum school which has burst on the scene with a series of papers interpreting Quantum Theory as a theory about knowledge:

 

There are excellent reasons for interpreting quantum states as states of knowledge. A classic argument goes back to Einstein [1]. Take two spatially separated systems A and B prepared in some entangled quantum state |ψAB. By performing the measurement of one or another of two observables on system A alone, one can immediately write down a new state for system B—either a state

drawn from a set {|φBi} or a set {|ηBi}, depending upon which observable is measured. Since this holds no matter how far apart the two systems are, Einstein concluded that quantum states cannot be “real states of affairs.” For whatever the real, objective state of affairs at B is, it should not depend upon the measurements made at A. If one accepts this conclusion, one is forced to admit that the new state (either a {|φBi or a {|ηBi) represents partial knowledge about system B. In making a measurement on A, one learns something about B; the state itself cannot be construed to be more than a reflection of the new knowledge.

 

We accept the conclusion of Einstein’s argument and start from the premise that “quantum states are states of knowledge.” An immediate consequence of this premise is that all the probabilities derived from a quantum state, even a pure quantum state, depend on a state of knowledge; they are subjective or Bayesian probabilities. We outline in this paper a general framework for interpreting all quantum probabilities as subjective.[vii]

Closely aligned with the Bayesian Quantum researchers are the Quantum Information group who has also recently made rapid progress and who also take inspiration from Einstein:

The significance of the CBH theorem is that we can now see quantum mechanics as a principal theory, where the principles are information-theoretic constraints. A relativistic theory is a theory characterized by certain symmetry or invariance properties, defined in terms of a group of space-time transformations. Following Einstein’s formulation of special relativity as a principle theory, we understand this invariance to be a consequence of the fact that we live in a world in which natural processes are subject to certain constraints. (Recall Einstein’s characterization of the special principle of relativity as ‘a restricting principle for natural laws, comparable to the restricting principle of the non-existence of perpetual motion machines which underlies thermodynamics’)[viii]

Some of the weirdness inherent in quantum theory perceived by most researchers, including Bohr and Einstein, may be mistaken. The new, more powerful analytic tools developed by Deutsch and others seem to indicate that quantum theory is not so weird after all, that it is compatible with Einstein's beautiful, comprehensible universe.

Of our two fundamental physical theories, quantum field theory and general relativity, Einstein was a major contributing founder to one and the sole founder of the other. He may have possessed the greatest physical insight of all time. But this was not the only extent of his genius.

His legacy also includes his spiritual insights. Einstein considered the great religions as primitive spiritual realms and believed that in the future our spiritual home would be the cosmic arena:

But there is a third stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.

Einstein clearly saw our ‘one time only’ concerns as a prison from which science can help free us. He exhorts us to widen our spiritual framework and experience the cosmic religious experience:

‘A human being is a part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest...a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.’[ix]

Einstein recognized that this spiritual realm is accessible to a limited number of people, people he described as ‘individuals of exceptional endowments and exceptionally high-minded communities[x]. He saw that many of these enlightened individuals were engaged as seekers of truth through scientific research:

Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends (scientific research) can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is the cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength.

He trusted that not only scientist but a wide range of people could access this spiritual kingdom. He believed science can provide a doorway for many:

 ‘In my view, it is the most important function of … science to awaken this feeling and to keep it alive in those who are receptive to it. [xi]

 

Let’s be clear. Albert Einstein, arguably the greatest scientist of all time, saw this function of science, its ability to awaken and keep alive the cosmic religious experience, as the most important function of science.

 

Very few people are aware of this aspect of Einstein's genius and we might ask why this is so. Why isn’t there a thriving sect of devotees committed to attaining spiritual enlightenment through the understanding of science? Einstein claimed this community exists: the scientific community. He saw the cosmic religious experience as the common motivator of the scientific quest, but he also held out hope for those who are not scientists. Why have we not responded?

 

One obvious reason is that science, especially at the time Einstein wrote, can be very difficult for the non-professional to understand. When I was a boy it was widely rumoured that only a dozen people in the world could understood general relativity.

 

The good news is that today accessibility to science is easier. When Einstein wrote, Darwin’s theory was arguably the scientific theory best understood by the general public but it was still undeveloped and parts were unclear. Since then many more details have been discovered, DNA has been identified as the evolutionary replicator and many of the great evolutionary theorists have written books for the general public. Darwin’s ideas have been extended to provide viable theories concerning the creation of design in the cosmos and in culture. Universal Darwinism opens a unified and easily understood doorway to science. It integrates science into a complete picture and provides a comprehensive context for scientific knowledge.  Universal Darwinism also provides an explanation for all design found in the universe and provides answers to the ‘big questions’. It was Einstein’s hope that the doorway of science would bestow access to an enlightened realm for many.


 

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[i] L. Smolin, (2002). Quantum Gravity with a Positive Cosmological Constant, http://lanl.arxiv.org/PS_cache/hep-th/pdf/0209/0209079.pdf  Last viewed Sept 4, 2004

[ii] Fontini Markopoulou, L. Smolin. (2003). Quantum theory from quantum gravity. http://lanl.arxiv.org/PS_cache/gr-qc/pdf/0311/0311059.pdf Last viewed Sept 4, 2004

[iii] Hawkins Eli, Fontini Markopoulou, Sahlmann Hanno. (2003). Evolution in Quantum Causal Histories. http://lanl.arxiv.org/PS_cache/hep-th/pdf/0302/0302111.pdf   Last Viewed  Sept 4, 2004

[iv] Deutsch David and Patrick Hayden, 1999, Information Flow in Entangled Quantum Systems. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. A 456(1999):1759-1774, 2000. Available online: http://arxiv.org/ftp/quant-ph/papers/9906/9906007.pdf

[v] Deutsch, David, 1999, Quantum Theory of Probability and Decisions. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, A455 3129-3137. Available online http://arxiv.org/ftp/quant-ph/papers/9906/9906015.pdf

 

[vi] Wallace, David. 2003. Everettian Rationality: defending Deutsch's approach to probability in the Everett interpretation. Available online: http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/quant-ph/pdf/0303/0303050.pdf

[vii] Caves Carlton, Fuchs Christopher, Schack Rudiger. (2001). Making Good Sense of Quantum Probabilities. Available on-line: http://info.phys.unm.edu/papers/2002/Caves2002b.pdf

[viii]  Bubs Jeffery. (2004). Quantum Mechanics is About Quantum Information.  Available on-line: http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/quant-ph/pdf/0408/0408020.pdf

[ix] Einstein Albert. (1930). What I Believe

[x] Einstein Albert, (November 9, 1930), Science and Religion, New York Times Magazine

[xi] Einstein Albert, (November 9, 1930), Science and Religion, New York Times Magazine