Relativity versus quantum mechanics

Copyright 2017 Graham Berrisford. One of about 300 papers at Last updated 25/03/2017 23:47



Describers observe and envisage realities - past, present or future.

Pragmatic idealism


<create and use>              <idealise>

Describers    <observe and envisage>    Realities


A reality is anything we can idealise/conceptualise into some kind of description.

If there is a reality out there that we can’t describe, it can play no role in science.


“A supposed “reality” that is “outside” of every logical possibility of empirical or logical interaction with “it” can play no direct role in the sciences.

Science can deal only with phenomena, that is to say, only with what can “appear” somehow in experience.

All scientific concepts must somehow be traceable back to phenomenological roots.”


Einstein said that a belief in an external reality is a pre-requisite for being a scientist.

Our concepts and theories (like e=mc2) are models of realities.



<create and use>    <abstract concepts from>

Theorists <observe, envisage and test>  Realities


The scientific method is about testing how well realities match theories.

The thing about theories is; science can prove them wrong, but can never prove them right


Testing showed Einstein’s model of the universe is more accurate than Newton’s.

E.g. when light was shown to have been bent by the gravitational force of the sun. 


Yet most of today's theorists regard the success of Einstein's physics at a large scale as a kind of illusion.

They favour the contrary predictions of quantum theory.


This two-dimensional taxonomy of theories is interesting.

Theories of the universe


Discrete (quantum leaps)



Most system modelling?


Social systems thinking?

Quantum Mechanics


Note that continuous systems are usually modelled as discrete event-driven systems.

E.g. Forrester’s “System Dynamics” models continuous systems this way.

And precisely what system thinkers mean by “continuous” or “probabilistic” is not always clear.


Is space chunky rather than continuous?

Below are a few paragraphs clipped from the long article above.


"You can think of the division between the relativity and quantum systems as “smooth” versus “chunky”.

In general relativity, events are continuous and deterministic, meaning that every cause matches up to a specific, local effect.

In quantum mechanics, events produced by the interaction of subatomic particles happen in jumps (yes, quantum leaps), with probabilistic rather than definite outcomes.


When you try to interpret smooth relativistic laws in a chunky quantum style, or vice versa, things go dreadfully wrong.

Relativity gives nonsensical answers when you try to scale it down to quantum size.

Likewise, quantum mechanics runs into serious trouble when you blow it up to cosmic dimensions.


For most of today’s theorists, belief in the primacy of quantum mechanics runs deep.

At a philosophical – epistemological – level, they regard the large-scale reality of classical physics as a kind of illusion.

It is an approximation that emerges from the more “true” aspects of the quantum world operating at an extremely small scale.


 “Most of us in this game believe that quantum mechanics is much more fundamental than general relativity is,” he [Carroll] says.


No matter how the theories shake out, the large scale is inescapably important, because it is the world we inhabit and observe.

In essence, the universe as a whole is the answer, and the challenge to physicists is to find ways to make it pop out of their equations.

Even if Hogan is right, his space-chunks have to average out to the smooth reality we experience every day.

Even if Smolin is wrong, there is an entire cosmos out there with unique properties that need to be explained – something that, for now at least, quantum physics alone cannot do.


By pushing at the bounds of understanding, Hogan and Smolin are helping the field of physics make that connection.

They are nudging it toward reconciliation not just between quantum mechanics and general relativity, but between idea and perception.

The next great theory of physics will undoubtedly lead to beautiful new mathematics and unimaginable new technologies.

But the best thing it can do is create deeper meaning that connects back to us, the observers, who get to define ourselves as the fundamental scale of the universe.”



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