21 September, 2020

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Psychology Yes; But Does Avant-Garde Physics Have A Bearing?

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

[Part I of this series was published on 11 March, 2018]

Psychology yes; but does avant-garde physics have a bearing? – Modern Science, Materialism and Society

This is the second of a two-part essay on Marxism and science. In Part 1 last week, I focussed on Darwin’s and Marx’s common methodology and concluded that the latter was as much science as natural selection. Darwin too left many questions unanswered, most important, the mechanism of inheritance. The gap was closed when genetics arrived. Furthermore, statistical mathematics made quantitative reasoning possible. Natural selection plus genetics now goes by the name Neo-Darwinism and is pretty much the most proven theory in science today. The emergence of ecology located natural selection within a larger framework and turned it into a holistic systems-theory. Other advances in natural science are in medicine, genetic-engineering and climatology but these are more applications oriented and do not fall within the epistemological focus of this essay.

Apart from psychology and crowd psychology which have obvious relevance to sociology, one would have to be extremely careful before suggesting that twentieth century physics (relativity, uncertainty and chaos theory) have had an impact on political-economy, sociology or Marxism. It is true that, in a loose way, people do mention one or the other as illustrative of this or that socio-political theory or religious philosophy, but this is just analogy and illustration. I have been warned by my ever-vigilant tormentor Dr Gamini Kulatunga as follows:

“You need to go slowly and tread softly as most readers will have wrong ideas about what these terms mean. The common understanding of chaos is utter randomness, uncertainty has the same connotation. Relativity is mistaken for ‘everything goes’. We are used to reductionism to explain complex systems by diminishing them into simple parts or laws. Chaos arises from small changes in the initial conditions but there is order, and uncertainty arises from emergent properties of complex systems. All these have a higher order which is a beyond the common grasp”.

Mass psychology

The relevance of mass psychology to socio-politics, however, is more direct. Freud’s lexicon is embedded in our everyday vocabulary – the unconscious, ego, repression, libido and neurosis. He founded psychoanalysis to explain behaviour and treat mental illness and thus opened an immensely controversial can of worms; latter-day psychologists question some of his theories. Relevant to this essay is mass political culture; collective psychological factors that influence group behaviour, for example race, religion, colour and language. The earliest study of mass psychology predates Freud; Scottish journalist Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841). Mackay says the crusades reflect mania in the Middle Ages and economic bubbles Mississippi Company, South Sea Company and Tulip Bubble fall into the same category.

“Whole communities can be deluded and driven to madness”: Lawrie Reznek

‘Group hysteria’ transmits collective illusions through a population as rumours, fears and threats. Freud saw order even in this disorder, there was “reason” in the crowd’s madness — the arousal felt in being part of a crowd is real. Recall Nietzsche’s remark “Insanity in individuals is rare, but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs it is the rule” and Carl Jung’s “The masses are a breeding ground for psychic epidemics”. In 2010 Lawrie Reznek asserted “Whole communities can be deluded and driven to madness”. We in Sri Lanka have witnessed it often; for example, the 1983 riots and the recent anti-Muslim pogroms which exhibit maniacal mass psychosis while at the same time social media is filled with vituperation and hatred. Overseas the world saw many-sided genocide in former Yugoslavia a few years ago and right now genocide of Rohingyas in Burma.

Political analysts including Marxists have learnt the importance of understanding crowd pathology and collective psychological disorder, not least in dealing with fascism. The refusal of the German Socialist and Communist Parties to heed Trotsky’s desperate pleas to understand inter-war German fascism and unite to stop it by every means possible, contributed to the Nazi rise to power. The rise of neo-populism, to which topic this column will return on 1 April, underlines the importance of taking account of mass political psychology in these times.

Herbert Marcuse, a Marxist, is known for his writings on ideology. The titles of his books indicate their scope: One Dimensional Man, Eros and Civilisation, Reason and Revolution. Other important figures were Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Eric Fromm and the so-called Frankfurt School in general. None of them, to the best of my knowledge were working scientists but deserve mention under the general rubric of this essay. Of current relevance is the Annual Review of Critical Psychology (2010) devoted to Marxism and Psychology. This introductory quote is intriguing.

“In the wake of the near total collapse of the global financial system, we are witnessing activists, scholars, and practitioners who have begun to reflect on the relationship between certain academic disciplines and dominant economic and political structures. Yet for those working within the discipline of psychology, the connection is anything but transparent. What are we to make of an article on the front page of the American Psychological Association website that, at the height of the global recession, urged psychologists to brace for recession depression?”

Modern physics and socio-political theory

The first question is whether quantum mechanics is materialist. Einstein was the loser in the debate against the Copenhagen School about the nature of physical reality. The issues: Wave-Particle Duality (quantum objects are waves and particles at the same time), Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (it is impossible to simultaneously measure with exactitude the position and velocity of a quantum object) and a very funny thing called Quantum Entanglement (if you do something to one member of a quantum pair, its companion, even if far away, is affected instantaneously – information seems to travel faster than light). Einstein, of deterministic bent, called this “spooky” and was never reconciled to the end of his life. Hard materialists hope that one day, a new theory will reveal a deeper reality behind subatomic particles, in the same way as the discovery of electromagnetic radiation explained the nature of rainbows.

Quantum Social Science, a book by Andrei Khrennikov and Emmanuel Haven [Cambridge University Press, 2013] seeks to apply the logic of quantum theory to social systems. Written by experts, it attempts to apply quantum principles to decision-making, inter alia, in finance, economics etc. Some may find the book informative but few will find its prescriptions persuasive.

What of mathematical chaos theory? Chaos arises from small changes but there is order in the unfolding. Ambiguity is an expression of emergent properties of complex systems and has a higher order pattern. Chaos in mathematics is a fusion of disorder and order, as it is in society. Thus, I see no conflict with materialism.

The pseudo-subjective observer

You have no doubt heard of a great puzzle in the Copenhagen Interpretation (CI), of certain quantum phenomena, attributed to Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg and opposed by Einstein. CI says that certain phenomena remain undecided until a conscious observer intervenes and looks at it. It is crucial that readers grasp what is being said. It is not being said that the state of affairs inside a box, for example, is not known till we look inside – Einstein would have been quite happy with that. What is being said is something bizarre.

Let me make it schoolboy-simple. CI says that, say a quantum-cat*, inside a box can’t make up its mind what it wants to be (black or white, dead or alive) until a conscious observer takes a peek into the box. Let me repeat. It is not that we don’t know the status inside the box till we look. No, CI says that the state inside the box doesn’t itself know what it wants to be until someone looks. Things are suspended in uncertainty with a certain probability of going this way or that. Reality can’t “make up its mind” and decides what to be only when someone looks at it! The state of the system falls into place (the quantum-cat becomes dead or alive) only when an observer peeks. (*I use ‘cat’ because of a yarn known as Schrodinger’s Cat used by quantum physicists to explain this enigma).

To keep it schoolboy-simple let me do a reductio-ad-absurdum. After palaeontologists discovered and dated their bones (fossils), we reckoned that dinosaurs existed 60 million years ago – Einstein will be happy with that. But a CI-palaeontologist would say that it was the discovery of fossils that made dinosaurs exist 60 million years ago and that whether fossils would exist in the past was mathematically probabilistic. Sounds nuts, but it is this indeterminateness that has driven some to assert that quantum phenomena are subjective, not objective, and that therefore quantum physics is not materialistic.

That individual quantum events are probabilistic, not deterministic, is not open to dispute. But here’s the funny thing; it is not subjective, it is pseudo-subjective. What I mean is if you change the observer he/she will not report different findings. The results will be the same whoever the observer; all observers are the same. In the subjective world, Vellupillai Prabaharan and Gunadasa Amerasekara claim quite different things about the same observation. That’s what we mean by subjective. But both Quantum-VP and Quantum-GA will report exactly the same conclusion about an observation though neither would know beforehand what it would be.

Therefore, CI is pseudo-subjective; it is independent of the specific observer. Indeed, at an aggregate level (millions of repetitions), nothing in physics is as precisely deterministic as quantum. This is why quantum-based gadgets are utterly reliable; optical devices, LED products, chips, integrated circuits, and all the paraphernalia of modern digital technology. The utter predictability at the macro level of a physics based on probability at the micro level is, epistemologically, hard to digest.

Thus, the question whether the subatomic world is probabilistic is irrelevant for macro-technology, society and political-economy. Quantum entanglement is irrelevant to the materialist interpretation of the macro universe. Do you recall this? “Whether objective truth can be attributed to human activity is not an abstract but a practical question. Man must prove the truth and ‘this-sidedness’ of reality in practice. The dispute over reality or non-reality in history, sociology and political-economy, isolated from practice, is scholastic”. (Abbreviated).

Wave-Particle Duality, Uncertainty Principle, and Quantum Entanglement do not disturb the materialist conception of society, human history, geology or the world of nature, one jot.

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    Prof. Kumar David

    “The refusal of the German Socialist and Communist Parties to heed Trotsky’s desperate pleas to understand inter-war German fascism and unite to stop it by every means possible, contributed to the Nazi rise to power. The rise of neo-populism, to which topic this column will return on 1 April, underlines the importance of taking account of mass political psychology in these times.”

    Thanks for the article.

    Do you think that:

    The refusal of the Sri Lankan Sinhala Buddhist Parties to heed the Tamils and Muslims ( minorities) desperate pleas to understand Para-Sinhala Buddhist Racism and fascism and unite the populace stop it by every means possible, contributed to the pathetic situation in Sri Lanka since independence, and continues to this day?

    The President Sirisena went on a delegation with the Racist fascist monk Ganasara to Japan. Didn’t the racist and fascist Nazis do to Racist and fascist Japan as well?

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    Prof. Kumar David,

    “Wave-Particle Duality, Uncertainty Principle, and Quantum Entanglement do not disturb the materialist conception of society, human history, geology or the world of nature, one jot.”

    ” In the subjective world, Vellupillai Prabaharan and Gunadasa Amerasekara claim quite different things about the same observation.”

    and the Para-Sinhala-“Buddhists” in the illegally occupied Land of Native Veddah Aethho, by way of illegal boats ( forbidden transitions) go on mayhem and monks going berserk aided and abetted by the state for quite some time.

    Is religion is the opium of the masses, as Karl Marx claims, or is it Race?

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      Karl Marx “claimed” a little more on religion, and the “opium of the masses” gives only a small part of it. In a fine and sensitive passage, he said, “religion is; the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless stagnation, the opium of the masses”

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      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

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    Wow, Indeed! Only White Europeans in the gathering!

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    This is about your CRAPPY title. MAHINDA RJAPAKSE GOVT was defeated because of it’s suspected corruptions. Ranil, YOUR BELOVED LEADER, Promised as an election promise to prosecute the thieves and recover the loot. PENTHOUSE RAVI, AVAMANGALA, RAJITHA ANOTHER THIEVES WHO DOES NOT REPORT and RANIL did not do it. Just talk it. After that the the list is very long. IMport taxes are ver low. Because, the ovt taxes poor and cut taxes to cars and imports, bond thieves are still busy transferring money, GOvt services are sold to American companies via IMF/MCC. Hambanthota sold for 99 years. Many money control acta are for thieves now, Kiriella busy stealing. List is vy long. YOu bring BULL $hit.

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    Prof Kumar David should have heeded the caution of Dr. Gamini Kulatunga, not because of the risk of misleading his readers but because of the risk of misleading himself, regarding quantum phenomena.
    Quantum effects apply to objects of only Planck scale such as the fundamental nuclear particles. The Planck length is about 1.6 x 10-35 m (20 times less than the size of a proton). Thus, Quantum effects are not applicable to macro objects such as cats, humans and dinosaurs. Such Macro scale objects are really huge collections of fundamental particles and hence the probability density functions of such individual elementary particles may be summed up to give the resultant probability of the final large objects. But you will ‘never’ see the location of a cat suddenly changing from the Earth to the moon because the resultant probability of that happening is almost zero.

    Elsewhere, about quantum entanglement, he says, information seems to travel faster than light. Again this may mislead the reader because information, like matter and energy, cannot do so. But, how does one member of an entangled pair of electrons know that the spin of its sister has been measured and precisely determined by an observer half way across the universe and instantly change its own spin to be the opposite? No one knows. But this type of phenomenon has been found to occur in well controlled experiments in the lab.

    Quantum Theory is said to be the most rigorous theory in Physics and hence should not be discounted as rubbish, whatever bizarre results its application may produce. We can only wish for a good explanation in time to come.

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      Part 2: I am sorry to comment that even the description of the Schrodinger’s cat in the article is highly misleading. Prof KD is connecting a human observer with a cat directly. Both are large systems and therefore are not subjected to quantum effects.

      In the actual and famous thought experiment, Erwin Schrodinger proposed a scenario with a cat in a locked steel chamber, wherein the cat’s life or death depended on the state of a radioactive atom, whether it had decayed and emitted radiation or not (Ref Wikipedia). When the sub atomic event of decay occurs, cyanide is released from avail and the cat dies. Without this sub atomic event, which is completely subjected quantum effects, the experiment is meaningless. It would be like my young daughter wondering whether I am dead or alive or in a state in between, when I am in the bathroom.

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        Any fool knows the difference in scale between the subatomic and the macro.
        Obviously KD and schoolboys know it too. How silly can Dr SP get?

        The OFT DISCUSSED problem is that it raises EPISTEMOLOGICAL contrariness that even Stephen Hawking was trying to resolve through string-theory. (Dr SP seems to be oblivious to these issues and ignorant of the wide literature on the topic).

        The question of whether quantum phenomena demarcate the limits of materialism is much discussed. Catch up on your reading SP!

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          Golding, regarding your, “any fool knows the difference in scale between the subatomic and the macro’ may I say, “any fool can cross the Edanda (log bridge) but the Pandithaya (one who knows too much) cannot”. The ‘fool’ has crossed the Edanda, but the two Pandithayas are still on the other side discussing on which side the macro is and which side the subatomic is.

          Murray Gell-Mann said, “If someone says that he can think or talk about quantum physics without becoming dizzy, that shows only that he has not understood anything whatever about it”. If Gell-Mann said that it must be true. Even so, not being dizzy does not mean that you understand it all and have a good chance of getting the next Nobel Prize for Physics. The names EW Golding and K David sound like genuine Nobel Prize stuff, but then, when selecting the winners, the Nobel Committee considers brains too and unfortunately, what our two Pandithayas lack is a non-excessive level of grey matter.

          One feels sorry for them. The extra-large brains make them unstable and incapable of putting themselves in the place of lesser mortals like us. So, one finally feels sorry for the people who read their articles and/or comments and also for their students, if they do any teaching (God Forbid!)

          My advice is that they should either stick to politics or science but certainly not to both. Therefore, I suggest that EW Golding should make a Quantum leap in to the nearest and deepest lake, provided he is capable of determining with precision, the position of the lake and the speed at which he makes the jump. Do not think of probabilistic functions here – just jump and get lost.

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            This attempt to relate the Brain size and the intelligence is also wrong. theories say the universe is a hologram and so is the brain.. Because of that, we can not understand the universe in another way. I can not remember the whole story here though. In order to understand the hologram we do not need the whole thing. A verylittle piece of brain is enough to continue normal processes. SAvants have brains with large cavities but they are exceptionslly intelligent. I heard only 4% of the normal brain is enough to live.

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    WAs Bohr, totally Dutch ?

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    Kumar, you are a hypocrite if ever there was one. You say, “We in Sri Lanka have witnessed it often; for example, the 1983 riots and the recent anti-Muslim pogroms which exhibit maniacal mass psychosis”. What about the atrocities committed by the Tigers?
    • The eviction of Muslims from the Jaffna Peninsula, with the notice of just one day.
    • The massacre of 460 Muslims in prayer at the Kattankudy mosque.
    • Massacre of Sinhalese villagers, even killing the infants by dashing them against tree trunks in front of the eyes of their mothers.
    • Massacre of the Buddhist Samneras (novices) at Arantalawa
    The list of world class brutalities goes on and on. Why is there no mention of those. What kind of Leftist are you? Does your primary role as a Tiger supporter overshadows your role as a Leftist.

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      I think Kumar Davis had been a muslims in his last life. so, he keeps on defending his clan of killers.

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        I saw Dr. Godahewa defending Lanka in Geneva last night. He put up a great fight and mentioned the Kattankudy massacre of 460 Muslims while they were at prayer. A few Tiger bastards just walked in with machine guns and sprayed bullets on the crowd killing a worldwide record of 460, which has yet to be broken. The Western masters of the Tigers must be happy. They hate Muslims.

        Kumar is a fake who tries to pass pro Tiger propaganda under the cover of intellectualism. Tamils are all the same – shameless.

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    “Thus, the question whether the subatomic world is probabilistic is irrelevant for macro-technology, society and political-economy.”

    Could you not argue that even at the macroscopic level, events are probabilistic? However, the uncertainty is far less. For example, planets do not travel at light speed, they move rather slowly, so it is easy to measure something such as, say, orbital speed. With that observation aside, maybe the answer to the question lies in the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” With atoms, this is not true at the sub-atomic level. The parts (quarks, leptons, etc.) become more relevant the smaller you go. As far as macro-technology, society, and political-economy are concerned, there is usually some deviation toward the mean, so that the whole usually dominates. Nevertheless, one cannot dispute that there is some element of chaos, as for example, when we are subject to a so-called “butterfly effect.” This would imply that every event is random, though not necessarily chaotic. On a different note, I have found many parallels between physics and the stock market, though not at the subatomic level.

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      Quantum Behaviour: Lester, almost everybody must have heard about the two slit experiment, which shows how a photon may behave sometimes as a particle and sometimes as a wave. Wheeler’s delayed choice experiments demonstrate that extracting “which path” information after a particle passes through the slits can seem to retroactively alter its previous behavior at the slits. Quantum eraser experiments demonstrate that wave behavior can be restored by erasing or otherwise making permanently unavailable the “which path” information. (Courtesy Wikipedia).
      Photons are sub atomic particles and all these phenomena necessitates quantum theory to be applied for a proper explanation and hence involves probability functions. If you extend this behaviour to macro systems what do we find? Supposing we have a room with two doors and a cat exits the room using these doors, is it possible that it uses both doors at the same time? Has anyone seen this happening? We have seen how one door has been used and one can bet his last dollar that the other process where both doors are used simultaneously never happens.
      So, as you say, though the resultant probability function of a macro object is the sum total probability functions of its constituent sub atomic particles, the resultant has infinitesimally low and we can bet that we will never see such a ghostly thing happening. But that does not mean that you will always win. May be you will lose in the next trial. One more interesting aspect is what will happen if the object happens to be a human? He is conscious about what he is doing and has the freedom of choice. What will happen if photons too have freedom of choice and consciousness?

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        Dr. shanthika PErera: what is the difference among charge, consciousness and photos behaving different at different trials or at different slits

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          Jim, surely the photons would ‘know’ through which slit they passed, if they possessed consciousness. The problem comes when human beings start interfering in their affairs by trying to decide which slit they prefer to use. Photons do not like that and start playing games with us.

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      Lester: You explanatin is compltely wrong. At the quatnum leveel it is probablistic. but, as soon as you watch it the wave functuon change. In other words, the table infron ot you had a different shape (probablymicriscopically) befor you atched it. So, when you watched wave function broked down. In otherwords, you cn observe the quantum behaviour even at macroscopic level. KARMA is another explantion for Quantum behaviour.

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    I di dnot read Kumar David’s article compltely and patiently. but, probalistic nature of matter can be used to explain macrosopic interactions. Just learn Abhi dharma. when in buddhism or in Veda books say One become many and many become one and every thing in this world has only eight kinds of attributes (APo, THejo, Waayo, Pathawai, Rasa, Gandha, sabatha, Oja) which even we can observe macroscopically. that is probablistic nature explained in different words and applied to MAcroscopic world.

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    When you delelted my first comment I di dnot feel like writing here. I suspect that you are saying at the quantum level we all are one so donot bring differences at macro level, and you are asking to forget political economy (I do not understand how that applies to Srilanka like small country), Sociology, reality and reality as history, blah,…blahh seems unnatural to me. What I understand is some how we evolved into very different matieral objects. why we can not hav our differences even thoughwe are the same at some other levrls. Why We cannot hsve an economy which is not forced by the immigrents, not forced by the west adn why We sinhala buddhists in a democracit society (705 of us are Sinhal buddhists) cannot have out wishes. AVANT GUARD, bond SCAm are all wrong. I heard, even though western countries or societies wants us to forgget and give Ranil another chance. Oriental countries say first solve your problems then we help. On the other hand, we have become obliged to every country becase we got their AIDS. They say we helped so now help us. and some powerful countries are forceful and adament in it., I HIOPe I understand what you wanted to say.

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    IF Tamils want to live like repectable citizens the best option is work with Sinhala people. Tamil can lose and go to Tamilnadu. We are not so. The problem is with all the 225 politicians. Out of that only the PReisident,PM and the cabinet are blamed for everything. SO, try to reduce the politicization. cut down the parliament which has been an opening for corruption. Se the mega cabinet 90 people with a corrupt 19th amendment. Cut the cabinet, Remove the extra MPs. We should not fight saying it is the AVANT GURD which is wrong and the bond scam is negligible. Instead need to stop recycling of politicians. If they are corrupt or inefficient they be prosecuted, recovered the loot and stepped down when they are inefficient. Sri lanka is not like that Politicians earn salaries, benefts, perks until they drop down dead in the parliament. that should be stopped. See how many children, brothers, and sisters are rotting inside the parliament because of the laws that protects familiy oligarchy. Sihnhala buddhists have never been hostile to christians or muslims or Tamils. IT is their constant desire to dominate Sinhala budddhists that create the problem. WE allowed them to settle in and we live the way live and we do not like because of our normal human insecurity any one of them trying to overpower us. Itis as simple as that.

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