The fourth FQXi essay contest is underway. There is a lot questionable about FQXi and what it at times supports, but this year’s topic is just so clearly up my alley that I simply cannot resist:

Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?


I know which one, and if you know me, you know that I am all about that one and have a lot to say about it, but also, that I am uniquely idiosyncratic and incomprehensible. Here is the first half of my draft – please criticize it constructively and help me to get the message across. For most of you, this will simply mean to tell me where the text starts to be sounding awkward/idiotic/unintelligible/hopelessly nonsensical, so please do tell me in the comments. Also all other suggestions are welcome (title, structure, figures, …).


STOP! UPDATE: This first part is now revised, so please read the new version and criticize over there. Thank you.



Which basic physical assumption is wrong? Ludwig Wittgenstein could not foresee the profound relevance to modern physics, but he knew what is wrong. Wittgenstein seems arrogant and idiosyncratic beyond comprehension. How could he claim to know so surely what is wrong rather than merely believing to have a promising idea? Why could he not just say clearly how the world really is, if he knew what is wrong? Well, precisely because he knew what is wrong! Once you grasp what is wrong, you realize that you cannot talk about the wrong without being wrong, not inside a terminology that is consistent:

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” L. Wittgenstein [1]

You cannot be wrong inside of a consistent code. A description can be inconsistent (1), or a description may not fit something outside of it (2), for example if it belongs to a set of descriptions related by duality transformations (similar to modern string theory dualities, conceptual ‘dual’ism), where each single member of the set in some sense cannot cover the whole, much like coordinate patches in general curved space-times. However, if the description is the tautological description of totality, it is self-consistent and there is nothing more outside of it left to describe, except for that which is indescribable, as in “thereof one must be silent”.

Wittgenstein claimed to have more fully and accurately than ever before covered all that which he did not mention about the unspeakable. In much the same way, this essay deals with a grave error, a basic physical assumption that is wrong, namely a direct realism that is often unintended and implicitly held even if refused on the surface. I declare this essay to be “against direct realism” without mentioning this too much again, because in a truly improved description, the wrong should simply not arise! In consequence, this essay will be very difficult indeed, especially for all those who hold on to direct realism as a sort of common sense dogma.

Sentences will have Kantian lengths at times, but form shapes content, and the content has that shape; my careful enveloping shall preserve its shape by the terminology chosen and the style of the description. This is quite important, because after all, that physics is foremost a description rather than “real ontology” is one of the messages of this essay.

On the Relation between Totality and Quantum Mechanics (QM)

I) Totality is the total of all possible facts; this is in spirit Wittgenstein’s “The world is the totality of facts, not of things” [1] with a somewhat different choice of terminology.

The possible includes both, the observable and the unobservable, otherwise the latter distinction would add nothing to the possible-versus-impossible one. I here prefer to separate “possible” from “possibly observable” in order to be relevant to quantum mechanics (QM). Impossible is for example that the sine of a real number exceeds unity.

II) QM is about the totality of possibilities, including observable and unobservable possibilities, which are, together with the knowledge from the already determined and actualized, this theory’s input. This completely constraints the total background of uncertainty, so that QM outputs precisely all the possibly observable with its probabilities (probability amplitudes), which are our expectation measure.

Compare II) with I) and add that QM is the very theory that is most inquisitive of the act of observation (~ measurement interaction, radical instrumentalism). Clearly, QM is not just some more detailed physics, but the theory that will complete the epistemic end of physics. It is about the totality of possible alternatives, both observable and unobservable [e.g. tachyonic off shell paths, inconsistent histories, virtual particles, QM fluctuations relative to the outside of a stable ground state, or Boltzmann brains at zero Kelvin (classical or Unruh/Hawking temperature)].

This has never been said before, but it is the core of QM:

III) QM is the modal realism of totality plus the correlations (entanglement) between all possibilities/alternatives inside of totality.


Interpret this in very much the same way as “Classical Mechanics (CM) is the interactions between all the actualized objects/things/particles/waves/strings within a directly real world, the classically implicated single reality”. Still, you may ask, what is "modal realism" supposed to be?

Direct Realism and Modal Realism: What are they?

Direct reality is what this essay and in my opinion the whole essay contest is about: The profoundly wrong assumption obstructing progress in physics for much too long by now. It is your feeling of that for you actualized alternatives(for example the now-moment) are internally in some way so special that all the not actualized alternatives cannot be interfering at all because they simply do not “exist” or are “unreal”. But this is already wrong and should perhaps have stayed unmentioned.

Let me introduce modal realism in a novel way that should speak to the modern physicist and quantum philosopher alike,namely via talking quite casually about the totality of possibilities.

Modal realism is the fundamental equality of such alternatives as that I today wear gray instead of white socks. In other words:

1) White socks today instead of gray ones are in no way prescribed by the symmetries of the rock bottom foundation of it all.

2) Even if white socks were prescribed by the initial conditions of a classical model universe, it would be foundational only relative to that universe, while even under classical determinism,totality also includes all possible initial conditions, and thus white socks initial conditions and gray socks initial conditions are equivalent relative to totality. Recall at this point that QM deals with totality. One of the main points of this article shall thus be put into an almost whimsically polemic sentence, yet one that is self-evident and almost tautologically true:

QM treats my wearing of white socks today and my wearing of gray socks today equivalently. QM is the very description which treats all alternatives equivalently, because only in that way can it fully describe the correlations between all observable and unobservable possibilities, which is the correlation that makes the possibly observable indeed possible and expected to various degrees relative to a rational decision maker and her uncertainty [D. Deutsch/Wallace], for example via branch counting in a many world (MW) model [~ QM-Many World Interpretation (MWI)].

None of this gives meaning to a merely grammatically well formed question like “Are superposition states ontological entities or merely epistemological constructs?” and so we cannot discuss such. I will not spend time on repeating who said what similarly about Cosmological principle of Mediocrity or the principle of Plenitude/Fecundity. Much more important is the following:

IV) Modal realism does not need QM. Modal realism is tautologically true also in an imagined classical world. It is merely so that QM entanglement makes the modal description inevitable inside physics.