Friday, December 27, 2013

Can we explain entanglement without supernaturalism?

Is quantum entanglement supernatural magic?  We do not have to be a New Age mystic, or a fan of Chopra Deepak, to think so.  We do not know the spin of a particle until we measure it, yet the instant we know it's spin we also know the spin of its entangled partner particle which could, in theory, be millions of miles distant.  Naturalism's dependency on physicalism sometimes appears to impose too much of a constraint for a feasible explanatory framework.  People turn to supernaturalism in part because they perceive naturalism as too restricted, and therefore too weak, a framework to explain our universe.  Are they mistaken to do this?  Can quantum entanglement be explained within the constraints imposed by naturalism? 

Some intelligent and thoughtful people, such as philosophers Thomas Nagel, Massimo Pigliucci, David Albert, and others, express doubts that a naturalistic framework is sufficient.  Some skepticism is indeed appropriate when dealing with the mysterious and the unknown, as is the case here.  Nevertheless, contra the philosopher skeptics, and popular opinion, the better answer is that naturalism is likely sufficient, and one way to illustrate this is to highlight one such possible explanation.

Physics has sometimes advanced with "what if" thought experiments imagining extreme conditions that would be difficult to replicate in a laboratory, such as Einstein's thought experiment of chasing a light beam, leading to Special Relativity.  Two physics heavyweights, Juan Maldacena of the Institute for Advance Study in Princeton, and Leonard Susskind of Stanford University, California, recently asked this question:  What would happen if two black holes are entangled?

First, they showed that space-time tunnels emerge from quantum theory when two black holes are entangled. It's as if the wormhole is the physical manifestation of entanglement.  When space-time curves we experience that curvature as gravity.  Anytime an N dimensional object curves, it enters an N+1 dimension.  Given that space + time = 3+1 = four dimensions, gravity evidences a fifth dimension.  Such warping of space-time can produce space-time tunnels, or wormholes.

The two physicists then extended this idea to a single black hole and its Hawking radiation, resulting in a new kind of wormhole. This wormhole links a black hole and its Hawking radiation.  Hawking radiation is the result of the black hole absorbing the anti-particle and emitting the particle of the virtual particle - anti-particle pairs that are otherwise constantly bubbling into and out of existence in the vacuum of space.

Julian Sonner of MIT, Kristan Jensen of the University of Victoria, and Andreas Karch of the University of Washington decided to try to determine what happens with pairs of entangled particles. To see what geometry may emerge in the fifth dimension from entangled quarks in the fourth, these scientists employed holographic duality, a concept in string theory. They found that what emerged was a wormhole connecting the two quarks, implying that the creation of entangled quarks simultaneously creates a wormhole.

So while entangled particles are far apart in four dimensional space-time, they could be joined together, fragilely, in the fifth dimension.  Spooky action at a distance may not be what seems, it could be an illusion from our inability to directly observe the curvature of space-time.  We witness the curvature of space-time indirectly by its products of gravity, black holes, and quantum entanglement (physicists usually consider quantum mechanics to be more fundamental than gravity, so they may say that the curvature of space-time is a product of quantum entanglement).  

We cannot properly have confidence that this quantum entanglement with wormhole scenario is true without more favorable empirical evidence.  But even if this hypothesis proves to be false, the fact remains that a strictly naturalistic framework is rich with possibilities for explaining our universe.  The intuition that a naturalistic framework lacks the power to explain how our universe works repeatedly turns out to be mistaken.  We do not need to turn to supernaturalism to explain how our universe works.  With effort, time, observation, and ingenuity we continue to make progress naturally.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Freethought Equality Fund endorses six candidates

The new Political Action Committee for non-believers endorsed six candidates for Congress in 2014.  The Freethought Equality Fund was launched by the American Humanist Association's Center for Humanist Activism in September.  Two of the candidates, Carolyn Tomei of Oregan and Juan Mendez of Arizona, are secular humanists.  The other four are Jared Polis of Colorado, Rush Holt of New Jersey, Bobby Scott of Virginia, and Lee Rogers of California.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Harris poll says more US residents "not at all religious", agnostic, or atheist

A press release summarizing the latest Harris poll results on the religious beliefs of United States residents; shows a continuing move away from superstitions and supernaturalism and towards skepticism and atheism. The biggest increase since 2009 was among the "not at all religious", which increased from 15% to 23%.  Those who are "absolutely or somewhat certain there is no God" increased from 13% to 16%. The percentage who either do not believe in God (16%) or are unsure (also 16%) increased from 26% to 32%. The disbelievers and non-believers are younger, better educated, more male, less racially black, and less Republican, on average than the population as a whole.  A small counter-trend towards supernatural belief is evidenced by a greater likelihood for younger people to believe in witches, ghosts, and reincarnation than older people.  Presumably, older people are more inclined to reject witches, ghosts, and reincarnation because those beliefs conflict with the traditional Abrahamic religious beliefs that they are more inclined to take seriously.  The steady trend away from religion and supernaturalism in the United States is showing no signs of slowing down, but almost three fourths self identify as theists  (down from over four fifths at the start of this century).

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Protestant Universalists as activism allies

I recently listened to Deacon Perry King of Universalist National Memorial Church in D.C. explain and defend his religious beliefs during a mostly cordial public talk featuring him and Don Wharton of WASH.  My understanding of his perspective is as follows:  He described his denomination as representing a liberal Protestant Christianity that embraces the pluralistic Universalist notion that people from all religions qualify to go to heaven.  He cites Paul Tillich's definition of god as the grounds of being, and he equates god with concepts like goodness and love.  He considers it possible to be both an atheist and a Christian, and points out that some other people call him an atheist, although clearly he does not self-identify as an atheist.  He appears to embrace faith as a valid alternative way of knowing, but then he claims his religious identity is not rooted in concrete beliefs, emphasizing instead that his religious identity is rooted in symbols, abstractions, and meanings.  He asserts that the bible is an important source of wisdom and that Jesus has a special role, but he rejects trinitarianism  He says he has read Sam Harris.  He says he embraces a post-modernist outlook and rejects logical positivism.  Social activism also has a central role, and he identifies the social activism as being motivated by Christianity and as being Christian in character.

For us secular humanists, deciding to join a public policy, or social activism,  or humanitarian intervention, alliance with any other group centers around answering two questions:  What public policy is needed and who else is advocating for that needed public policy?  The evidence regarding global warming related public policy is different from the evidence regarding civic equality for LGTB citizens is different from the evidence regarding atheism versus theism.  The religious belief identities of the other groups in the coalition is irrelevant, and it is counter-productive to exclude anyone from a public public advocacy coalition because of disagreements over unrelated questions, including religious beliefs.  We would never tell Unitarian Universalists that as a pre-condition for working together on a particular issue of common concern it will be necessary for Unitarian Universalists to "show respect for us" by refraining from publicly advocating for Unitarian Universalist belief, or refraining from arguing against atheism, or refraining from advocating against any other conflicting and competing belief, or attending WASH meetings.  We are entitled to insist on the same from them.  Mutual respect is based on equality, and equality entails that everyone publicly advocates for their beliefs and associates only with who they choose without restrictions.

I am confident that I will never call myself a Christian or a post-modernist, never put faith front and center as a preferred method for justifying conclusions about how the universe works, and never put so much credence in an ancient text with so little substance.  The UU Deacon's apparent denial that his religious identity is based on factual assertions (he was somewhat ambiguous here, he only denied he held "beliefs" and then gave examples of beliefs he did not hold that were all factual assertions) is inconsistent with his reliance on faith, since faith is only applicable in a context of reaching true/false conclusions about factual claims. Faith has no applicability to personal preferences or ethical commitments.  Also, a denial that his religious identity is rooted in factual assertions is inconsistent with various factual assertions he made about the nature, or character, of god and the bible. 

Apparently, from a post-modernist perspective, this distinction between factual true/false beliefs, ontological existence assertions as a distinct subcategory of factual assertions (to which logical positivism applies), personal preferences, and ethical commitments, is all blurred.  Blurring these distinctions is convenient for those who want to avoid the constraints imposed by following the evidence. The distinctions between factual true/false beliefs, personal preferences, and ethical commitments are valid and important.  Post-modernism is mistaken.  Furthermore, insofar as his religious beliefs really do refrain from making any factual assertions it loses it's Christian character, contrary to his assertion that his church and it's beliefs are Christian.

Advocacy for atheism is easily accessible to everyone who uses the internet.  The Huffington Post, as do other publications, has a religion section that features writers ably representing many different perspectives, including atheism. There are books promoting atheism published every month, and every year a few of these books sell well.  No church can stop this from happening.   We should never even consider agreeing to unilaterally curtailing public advocacy for atheism as a condition for joining public policy coalitions with anyone else.  We are not pushovers, it would be wrong to capitulate to such double standards and intolerance.  Yes to public policy, social activism, or humanitarian intervention coalitions with any group that shares any such goal with us.  No to curtailing public advocacy for atheism or against religious beliefs.  There is no contradiction here and we should never accept attempts by our competitors to impose one on us.