Explain physics with the whole instead of particles

Sep 28, 2005

Physicists usually describe the world from the vantage point of its smallest component parts. But quantum theory does not allow itself to be conceptually crammed into such a framework. Instead, in her dissertation at Uppsala University in Sweden, Barbara Piechocinska takes her point of departure in the mathematics of the dynamic whole and finds that time thereby takes on new meaning.

Throughout the centuries reductionist philosophy has reigned supreme in physics. It has been assumed that it is possible in principle to describe the world by finding the tiniest building blocks and understanding how they interact. Not until the early 20th century was this view of the world seriously challenged, by quantum theory. Quantum theory is regarded as one of the most fundamental of theories, explaining, among other things, the stability of the atom, and it is widely used in technology.

“What’s interesting about quantum theory is that it seems to refuse to be shut up inside a reductionist framework. Instead it seems to indicate that there is an underlying indivisible, in other words holistic, dynamic whole. This means that we should use that as a point of departure and then describe the physical world,” says Barbara Piechocinska.

This is precisely what she has done. In her dissertation she proposes a philosophy that takes dynamics and wholeness as fundamental, instead of static parts that interact. Further, she suggests a mathematical description of this dynamics. Kinetic equations in classical Newtonian mechanics or in quantum theory make no distinction about whether time goes forward or backward. Dynamics, on the other hand, does, being based on wholeness. But Barbara Piechocinska can’t tell whether this is physically relevant or merely a mathematical construction.

“If this approach is elaborated further we will hopefully be able to answer that question. Because then we would see exactly what it predicts and could see whether the predictions square with reality. If it were to be shown that the extra bit is truly relevant in the physical world, then we would have good reason to reconsider our way of looking at the world and dethrone reductionism,” she says.

Explore further: Unified theory for skyrmion-materials

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

We must defend science if we want a prosperous future

5 hours ago

Today's Australians are, by far, the best educated cohort in our history –- on paper, anyway -– but this is not reflected in the quality of our political discourse. We appear to be lacking in courage, ...

Top-precision optical atomic clock starts ticking

Feb 26, 2015

A state-of-the-art optical atomic clock, collaboratively developed by scientists from the University of Warsaw, Jagiellonian University, and Nicolaus Copernicus University, is now "ticking away" at the National ...

How iron feels the heat

Feb 13, 2015

As you heat up a piece of iron, the arrangement of the iron atoms changes several times before melting. This unusual behavior is one reason why steel, in which iron plays a starring role, is so sturdy and ...

Strings attached to future high temperature superconductivity

Feb 12, 2015

The behaviour of strongly correlated electron systems, such as high temperature superconductors, defies explanation in the language of ordinary quantum theory. A seemingly unrelated area of physics, string theory, might give ...

Schrodinger's cat gets a reality check

Feb 12, 2015

It's a century-old debate: what is the meaning of the wave function, the central object of quantum mechanics? Is Schrödinger's cat really dead and alive? ...

Recommended for you

Unified theory for skyrmion-materials

9 hours ago

Magnetic vortex structures, so-called skyrmions, could in future store and process information very efficiently. They could also be the basis for high-frequency components. For the first time, a team of physicists ...

Scientists provide new data on the nature of dark matter

10 hours ago

Recent research conducted by scientists from the University of Granada sheds light on the nature of dark matter, one of the most important mysteries in physics. As indirect evidence provided by its gravitational ...

Why seashells' mineral forms differently in seawater

13 hours ago

For almost a century, scientists have been puzzled by a process that is crucial to much of the life in Earth's oceans: Why does calcium carbonate, the tough material of seashells and corals, sometimes take ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.