“I refute it thus!” Samuel Johnson famously dismissed Bishop George Berkeley's argument for the unreality of matter by kicking a large stone (Boswell, 1823). In the light of modern physics, however, Johnson's simple reasoning evaporates. Apparently solid matter is revealed, on closer inspection, to be almost all empty space, and the particles of which matter is composed are themselves ghostly patterns of quantum energy, mere excitations of invisible quantum fields, or possibly vibrating loops of string living in a ten-dimensional space–time (Greene, 1999). The history of physics is one of successive abstractions from daily experience and common sense, into a counterintuitive realm of mathematical forms and relationships, with a link to the stark sense data of human observation that is long and often tortuous. Yet at the end of the day, science is empirical, and our finest theories must be grounded, somehow, “in reality”. But where is reality? Is it in acts of observation of the world made by human and possibly non-human observers? In records stored in computer or laboratory notebooks? In some objective world “out there”? Or in a more abstract location? The ground of reality. When a physicist performs an experiment, he or she interrogates nature and receives a response that, ultimately, is in the form of discrete bits of information (think of “yes” or “no” binary answers to specific questions), the discreteness implied by the underlying quantum nature of the universe (Zeilinger, 2004). Does reality then lie in the string of bits that come back from the set of all observations and experiments – a dry sequence of ones and zeros? Do these observations merely transfer really-existing bits of information from an external world reality to the minds of observers, or are the bits of information created by the very act of observation/experiment? And – the question to which this entire discussion is directed – are bits of “classical” information the only sort of information that count in the reality game, or does an altogether different form of information underpin reality? In short, where is the ontological ground on which our impression of a really-existing universe rests?
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy(all)