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: 'Comb on a chip' powers new atomic clock design

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The quantum dance of oxygen

Jul 07, 2014

Under extremely high pressure conditions oxygen molecules group into quartets and give rise to a 'dance of their magnetic moments.' This, as observed in a new study carried out by SISSA in collaboration with ...

From pencil marks to quantum computers

Jul 03, 2014

Pick up a pencil. Make a mark on a piece of paper. Congratulations: you are doing cutting-edge condensed matter physics. You might even be making the first mark on the road to quantum computers, according ...

Higgs quest deepens into realm of 'New Physics'

Jul 02, 2014

Two years after making history by unearthing the Higgs boson, the particle that confers mass, physicists are broadening their probe into its identity, hoping this will also solve other great cosmic mysteries.

The science that stumped Einstein

Jul 01, 2014

In 1908, the physics world woke up to a puzzle whose layers have continued to stump the greatest scientists of the century ever since. That year, Dutch physicist Kamerlingh Onnes cooled mercury down to -450° ...

Recommended for you

'Comb on a chip' powers new atomic clock design

5 hours ago

Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have demonstrated a new design for an atomic clock that is based on a chip-scale ...

Quantum leap in lasers brightens future for quantum computing

5 hours ago

Dartmouth scientists and their colleagues have devised a breakthrough laser that uses a single artificial atom to generate and emit particles of light. The laser may play a crucial role in the development of quantum computers, ...

Technique simplifies the creation of high-tech crystals

5 hours ago

Highly purified crystals that split light with uncanny precision are key parts of high-powered lenses, specialized optics and, potentially, computers that manipulate light instead of electricity. But producing ...

A new multi-bit 'spin' for MRAM storage

8 hours ago

Interest in magnetic random access memory (MRAM) is escalating, thanks to demand for fast, low-cost, nonvolatile, low-consumption, secure memory devices. MRAM, which relies on manipulating the magnetization ...

User comments : 0