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Modern Physics

Modern Physics

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DIALOGUE AND UNIVERSALISM No. 8
 –10/2002
 
 Július Krempaský
MODERN PHYSICS AND CULTURE
ABSTRACT
The relation of modern physics to culture is discussed, with the emphasis on concre-tizing their relation. Interaction between modern physics and culture consists not only ina simple fact that physics is
 —as any other science—a natural part of culture, but chieflyin the fact that through its outcomes it offers interesting stimuli for all other scientificdisciplines and through its well worked-out formalisms it enables quantification of many phenomena in culture. From this perspective, there are three interesting paradigmsof modern physics: the theory of relativity, quantum physics and the so-called chaoticdynamics. The influence of these paradigms is clearly observable not only in the disci- plines close to physics, namely astrophysics, chemistry, biology, medicine and actuallyall technological disciplines, but also in the humanities, such as sociology, psychology,history, philosophy, and even theology. These outcomes will be concretized and con-vincingly documented in this paper.
Key words:
culture; humanities; paradigm; physics; quantification; universality.
1. INTRODUCTION
 
The title of the paper may seem not very logical to many readers: it is notclear what science, studying the inorganic world, and culture
 —as a phenome-non linked exclusively to the living, even exclusively human, world—couldhave in common. Many people see physics, almost regardless of the level of their education, as a sort of inert scientific discipline based on factography thatin principle has nothing to address people equipped with emotions, sense of  beauty, art, philosophy or morals. The result is an aversion to physics observedall over the world and not much interest in studying it. Such an attitude to phys-ics should be considered as obsolete because it, mainly with its modern out-comes, has overcome its narrow boundaries long ago, crossing literally itsshadow and providing interesting and nontrivial information for related regionsas well as for such seemingly distant disciplines like art, philosophy, morals,
 
142
 Július Krempaský
 
and theology. To this effect, physics begins to influence actively culture as awhole.What is culture? There are a variety of definitions in the works of experts.Probably the most universal of them is: Culture is everything that humans ac-quire or create through their activities. If we accept such a definition of culture,then every science, that means also physics, logically belongs to it because thereis no doubt that physics is such a science. Its significance for culture is thus notexhausted so far. The importance of physics to culture will become more evi-dent when we realize that it discovers certain rules and laws that have been proved not to restrain merely to the non-living world but to represent certainuniversalities characteristic of all the levels occurring in our world. What wehave in mind are not only universalities taken for granted, such as laws of grav-ity and electromagnetic laws not distinguishing between living and non-living, primitive or intelligent, and determining events in the whole universe. It gener-ally concerns the processes of organization and self-organization, evolution andselection, order and chaos, functioning of the living organs, including the brain,and also the processes observed in sociology, economy, art, morals, philosophy,and theology. Physics is able not only to qualify, but often also quantify these processes and this enables to transfer the exact quantitative methods of process-ing to the area where the verbal approach has dominated so far. We shall cometo these points below.
2. PARADIGMS OF MODERN PHYSICS
In general, there are two well-known paradigms, which enriched knowledgeand science, and thus also the culture of the twentieth century: these are thetheory of relativity (special theory but in particular general as well), and quan-tum physics. The so-called chaotic dynamics is less known but not less impor-tant. We witnessed its intense development mainly in the second half of the lastcentury. The special theory of relativity brought a new outlook on the basicconcepts ofevery science, such as space, time, energy, etc., and the general
relativity which is regarded as an intellectual creation of an “intelligent ob-server”; it made the concepts more precise, bringing also the first comprehen-sive and internally consistent theory of the universe as a whole, becoming, tothat effect, the basis of the qualitative and quantitative cosmology. If the specialtheory of relativity persuaded us that time and spatial co-ordinates depend onthe velocity of motion (with respect to the inertial system), the general theory of relativity added an argument to the knowledge that the time flow and spatialdimensions also depend on the masses of objects around which the dynamicsinvestigated is realized. Accordingly, the time flows in each point of the uni-verse at different “velocity” and there are even localities where time does notflow at all. Such a point might be e.g., the surrounding of black holes but alsothe standpoint linked with photon as a particle of light.
 
Modern Physics and Culture
143
We know that photons move at a maximum possible velocity, the so-calleddilatation of time being for them infinitely large and the length contraction infi-nitely small. If an observer on the Earth detects that photon flew toward us fromdistant galaxy e.g., five billion years, the observer located directly on it
 —whichis of course only a thought experiment—would state that between its emissionfrom galaxy and the arrival on the Earth there did not elapse a split second. J.Gribbin, the well-known propagator of physics, considers this idea as a basis for  better understanding of several mysteries of modern physics. It is described in
more detail elsewhere.
1
Many conclusions following from the theory of relativ-ity are interesting for both cosmology and theology. The reader can learn moreabout it in the well-founded and competent contributions published in a volumi-nous collection titled
 Physics, Philosophy and Theology
2
as well as in a series of other popularization publications.
3
Also the paradigm of quantum physicsstrongly influenced the human thought. It was not only shown that it could con-tribute significantly to the better understanding of the functioning of the brain
4
  but it also provided us with incontrovertible proofs of the existence of a certainholistic interdependence in the whole micro-world (perturbation of the so-called
Bell’s inequalities
5
and famous Aspect’s measurements
6
), and literally burdenedthe human knowledge with a sort of indeterminism (expressed by the well-
known Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle) conditioned by the mysterious cha-otic dynamics, the genesis of which is unknown to us. As we shall see later, thishas far-reaching consequences for philosophy and theology because it is allied
e.g., with the problems of understanding God’s omnipotence and omniscience.
7
 The message of quantum physics to the general chaos that has bearing on the processes of the micro-world was actually the extension of our knowledge of chaos, namely the chaos present in systems caused by a large number of the so-called degrees of freedomof the system. Gases as well as e.g., electrons in met-als and semi-conductors can serve as example. This kind of chaos is registered
in everyday life and its synonym is the word “disorder”. It seemed that thechaos (its technical name being “stochastic” chaos), together with the men-
 ————————— 
1
J. Gribbin.
Schroedinger’s Kittens
, London: Weindfeld and Nicolson, 1995.
2
 
 Physics, Philosophy and Theology,
ed. by R. J. Russell, W. R. Stoeger and G. V. Coyne,Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, 1988.
3
See e.g.,
The New Physics,
ed. by P. C. W. Davies. Cambridge University Press 1989; J.Polkinghorn,
The Faith of a Physicist 
. Princeton University Press, 1994; J. Gribbin
. In Search of Schroedinger Cat 
. New York: Bantam; London: Black Swan, 1984.
4
See e.g., R. Penrose.
The Large, the Small and the Human Mind 
. University of CambridgePress, 1997; H. P.Stap.
 Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics
. Berlin: Springer Verlag, 1993; R.Penrose,
The Emperor’s New Mind.
 New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
5
J. S. Bell.
 Physics
1 (1964): 195.
6
A. Aspect, P. Grangier and G. Roger.
 Phys. Rev. Lett 
. 48 (1982): 91.
7
See e.g., J. Polkinghorn,
 Belief in God in an Age of Science
. New York: York UniversityPress, 1998; A. R. Peacocke, D. Edwards, papers published in
 Physics, Philosophy and Theology
,ed. by R. J. Russell, W. R. Stoeger and G. V. Coyne, Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory,1988.

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