Философия физики с Родины —or, Philosophy of Physics from the Motherland

The Kalyazin Bell Tower of the flooded Monastery of St. Nicholas, Volga River, Russia

A current project of mine, related to the general endeavor of contemplating the philosophical foundations of modern cosmology, concerns the principle of least action. Among various articles and sources I have been studying for this sub-project include an article titled “Metaphysics of the Principle of Least Action” by Vladislav Terekhovich. I recently discovered another article of his—available only in Russian, as he kindly confirmed via email—bearing the promising title “The Metaphysical Postulates of Modern Physics, Which Should Be Abandoned.” Google Translate, however, provides us with the follow (fairly decent) rendering of his main contentions:

«The metaphysical postulate, which should be sacrificed in the first place, is the concept of a smooth 4-dimensional space-time as an external predetermined background, having a substantial nature. . . .

«The second metaphysical postulate, which should be discarded, presupposes an unambiguous answer to the question of existence. It is believed that an object (event) can either exist (occur) or not. … More promising is the transition to the use of a two-level model of physical existence in the potential and actual modes. . . .

«The third metaphysical postulate, which also has to be abandoned, is the reduction of time exclusively to its metrical aspect and ignoring the aspect associated with the emergence and change of systems. . . .

«The fourth metaphysical postulate, which is long [past its due date?], is [the stance that absolutizes] the physical principle of causality. . . .  A truly metaphysical (and not phenomenological) division of cause and effect requires the introduction of the concept of an active agent with intrinsic activity or potential capacity to act. This is the only way to explain the direction of individual events that take shape in processes. This is the only way to explain the emergence of a new, in particular the emergence and continuous complication of matter. . . .

«The fifth metaphysical postulate, which should be revised, refers to the understanding of an elementary event. . . . A physical event is usually understood as a dynamic transition from one state to another for a small (sufficient that [such that] they can be neglected), but a finite period of time. . . .

«[Sixth is] [t]he postulate that information is connected exclusively with human knowledge. Hence the origins of various interpretations of quantum mechanics about the special role of the observer in the emergence of observable states. . . .

«And, finally, perhaps, the most stable metaphysical postulate, lying in the foundations of physics, speaks about the immutability of fundamental physical laws. If not only matter, but space-time, and the universe as a whole arise and develop, why can and do not laws arise and change together with the evolution of the universe?»

It is striking how very Aristotelian are some of these doubts about the metaphysical foundations of modern physics. Insofar as it is indeed Aristotelian, Terekhovich’s proposals are illustrative of the perennial staying power of Aristotelian natural philosophy. When detailing the benefits of a metaphysics that recognizes as real both actual and potential modes of being (as did Aristotelian physics in a most fundamental manner), Terekhovich enumerates three fruits in particular:

First, the recognition of a special mode of existence of quantum states will remove ontological uncertainty around the quantum paradoxes that arose from attempts to reconcile the properties of quantum systems with the properties of classical phenomena. If at a macroscopic level, with a certain degree of approximation, one can dispense with the description in terms of actual existence, then at the quantum level it is already difficult to ignore the process of transition from the potential mode to the actual one. The meaning of the complex phase of the probability amplitude could be explained in terms of its relation to the potential mode of existence, and the meaning of the mathematical operation of squaring the magnitude of the probability amplitude is to transition from a potential mode to an actual mode.

Secondly, the physical meaning of the mathematical connection between the formalism of R. Feynman for quantum mechanics, corpuscular-wave dualism, and variational principles can be more fully revealed.

Third, the path to various theories of macroscopic space-time is conceptually facilitated. One can imagine how space-time, remaining a metrical background for objects and events exclusively in the actual mode of existence, itself arises from the summation of the set of events (relations, interactions) that occur in the potential mode. In this case, the emerging, actual space-time does not at all become a substance. Rather, it becomes a way of existence and interaction of relevant objects, the main difference from potential ones is their uniqueness and incompatibility with each other. Space-time just reflects this uniqueness and incompatibility. Similarly, for potential events, you can enter different spaces and times, most likely complex, with different dimensions and topologies. But they should not be substances at all.

I summarize: an act-potency natural philosophical basis for modern physics would dissolve quantum paradoxes, would better incorporate the fundamental role of the principle of least action, and would resolve problems in the substantivalist-relationalist debate concerning the nature of space-time.

It turns out Aristotelian-Thomists still have their work cut out for them after all!


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