by Karen Frazier (with special advisement by Quantum Geek Extraodinaire, Jim Fraizer), Managing Editor
Paranormal Underground e-Magazine
I’ve been thinking. Dive for cover, folks – that can be scary.
More specifically, I have been thinking about quantum physics and Occam’s Razor (I like to call it by its gangsta name, “The Raz”). Let’s revisit The Raz for a moment. Franciscan Friar and logician, William of Occam is attributed with coming up with Occam’s Razor. Simply stated, The Raz says, “all things being equal, make as few assumptions as possible.” I find this one ironic, because “all things being equal” seems to involve some serious assumptions, don’t you think? What was most likely said is this: “plurality shouldn’t be posited without necessity.” The bottom line with The Raz is that it would appear that the simplest explanation is the most likely explanation.
Many take Occam’s Razor as scientific law. But it is not. Rather it is a (an?) heuristic - or rule of thumb. Don’t get me wrong. Heuristics are important in science, and certainly it is always best to make as few assumptions as possible during scientific exploration. Certainly, this applies to the paranormal as much as any other type of science or pseudoscience.
Which brings me to quantum physics/quantum mechanics (QM). Quantum physics is a fascinating science. I could give you a basic primer of QM here, but I’ll let this suffice:
Now that your eyes have glazed over, I’ll continue. In a dance off between gangstas, QM would serve The Raz and then it would be on. Ultimately, QM would emerge victorious. Yep – I shouldn’t speak gangsta. I get it. Here’s what I’m trying to say. When one looks at the insane complexity of quantum mechanics and sees how bizarre our universe is at its very smallest known elements, all of a sudden the typical application of Occam’s Razor isn’t a good fit. The sheer complexity of what we learn about the universe from QM renders the whole “all things equal” aspect of Occam’s Razor virtually meaningless. There’s nothing simple about QM and there’s nothing “equal” about the universe on a quantum scale. The things that happen on a quantum level are so bizarre that they look positively paranormal.
Here are some numbers from my beloved Quantum Geek, Jim. In every cubic meter of the universe (a space considerably smaller than your refrigerator), there are over 10 followed by 99 zeroes of possible locations for matter. All of which can change 18 million trillion trillion trillion times per second. Factor in Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which tells us that you can never know where things are AND where they are going at the same time. How on earth (or in the universe) can you ever find a space where all things are equal?
The Raz was posited long before physics had evolved to its current level of knowledge. Its origins are traced to works of earlier philosophers such as Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle to name a few. Certainly we have learned more of the universe and learned more of science since the time that these giants walked the earth.
As a rule of thumb, Occam’s Razor makes sense. Sometimes the simplest explanation is, indeed, the most likely explanation. I do doubt its infallibility, however. It is valuable in that it teaches us not to make assumptions. In science, assumptions are careless at best and dangerous at worst. But when we start to use it to limit the scope of what we consider as a possibility – when we use it to limit our thinking or dismiss possibilities worth exploring – then we are limiting our capacity to discover.
I’m all about discovery. It is why I try to stay open to possibilities – even some that may seem a little cockamamie (like ghosts? aliens?). I’ve seen what science has discovered, and it isn’t always simple. Sometimes it is so startlingly complex that it boggles the mind. And so, while I take The Raz into consideration, it isn’t the only tool in my toolbox. Because I want to remain open to possibilities and poised on the brink of discovery. It is from this position that the universe remains open to me.