Daily Entropy 1: wavelike


Bowling Strike!

The trouble with wavelike things is that they don’t respect causation.  Waves interfere with one another, and interfere with themselves, but they don’t cause other waves, or cause other waves to change.  Waves dissipate entropically through whatever they touch but the don’t follow the model of causation like a bowling ball knocking down pins.  The bowling ball causes the pins to fall in the way that gravity causes apples to fall from trees.  This idea, the primacy of particles, that bowling balls cause waves, but waves don’t cause bowling balls, was the basis of modern science.  Einstein pointed out that quantum mechanics violated local realism, allowing things to happen without a local cause, but determinism and causation are still the building blocks of STEM education.  String theory tried to flip this around, but couldn’t let go of the idea that the universe was built on tiny little stretched out bowling balls called strings that actually cause the vibrations.  It’s a deep belief, but it misunderstands bowling balls.  The important thing about a bowling ball is that it represents a substantial density gradient with a sharp boundary in air at standard temperature and pressure.  In a tank full of bowling balls, a bowling ball doesn’t cause anything.  In a vat of mercury, a bowling ball is just a bubble getting pushed around.  Causation is relative.  Things behave like bowling balls when they have a substantial advantage of energy, pressure or density, but if the advantage is small, it isn’t clear what causes what.  At small gradients, interactions are wavelike and the effects are based on interference and entropy rather than force and causation.  When Stephen Hawking says that half of the universe is not subject to causation, that there is a wavelike part of physics that is not at all like a bowling ball, science is no longer the study of causation.  We will give causation the benefit of the doubt and call it half of the universe, but if the astrophysicists are to be believed, the universe is more than 95% wavelike.

Engineering is obsessed with the suppression of wavelike functions so that isolated objects can act like bowling balls.  This explains why the modern world is so spectacularly wasteful, polluted and boring.  It has been engineered so that everything behaves like a bowling ball.  Waste, pollution and boredom are the jumbled heaps of inconvenient wave functions that have been engineered out of commercial products and services.


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