Tuesday, 10 January 2017


A Puzzle of Modern Physics

Professor E. Schroedinger, who has given the following interview to "The Observer," is one of the most brilliant of the younger school of physicists. His most notable work has been connected with the quantum theory and the development of wave mechanics (says the London "Observer").
 "The eighteenth century," he said, "introduced doubt as an essential element into the philosophical theories of that period. David Hume, the boldest and most-radical among the sceptics of his time, extended his scepticism even to the law of casuality—in the estimation of traditional philosophy the root of human cognition—stating that the dogma of the inevitable necessity by which a cause is taught to produce its respective effect, is merely a convenient facility, but that no logic can prove that law to be binding for all times and under all circumstances.
"Lawfulness in nature, the continuity and regularity of the clock-work of the universe, are teachings based on mere experience; but human experience can only register our remembrances of past events; it cannot foretell the future. Experience teaches us that if we drop a match box it will fall to the ground, but it is theoretically possible that out of millions of matchboxes on the floor one might by some strange mood of molecular activity, leap up into the air. This would be a miracle; we may say that such a miracle is most unlikely, but we are not justified in excluding it as an impossibility.


The possible reply that the firm belief in cause and effect has since times immemorial proved satisfactory does not solve the problem. What we wish to know is whether such a law must necessarily be binding at all times. The most convincing argument would, to my estimation, be that an animal being that would face coming events, future joy or danger regardless of experience in the past, would in all likelihood be crushed in the struggle for life. This conviction in sub-conscience makes mankind cling to the law of cause and effect.
 "David Hume never denied the general order ruling in nature which we, for facility's sake, are wont to reduce to the law casuality. He would be astonished to learn that recently scientists, who can claim weight as theoretical physicists, go far beyond his scepticism.
 "We know to-day that all physical and chemical processes in nature are composed of an endless score of atomistic and molecular events. From apparent order and regularity, molecules, atoms and electrons proceed on their errand to the accidental. Each one of these infinitely small units seems to follow its course independently of any determined law. If we can speak of any lawfulness or regularity in such a connection, this lawfulness is merely statistical. It prevails only in the microscopic realm of the mass, whilst the smallest units follow no rule. A permanent tendency from established order to the accidental prevails throughout nature. This the physicist may arrive at the paradoxal conclusion that the accidental is the root of casuality.

Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 - 1947), Thursday 13 August 1931, page 17

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