In his article “The World Is Not Woven From Real Stuff” Sascha Vongehr raised the important matter of quantum physics and our perception of the natural world.

He argued that “the feeling that facts are just out there in a really existing world, is strictly wrong” and asked “However, how can a layperson best grasp that direct realism is wrong?”

The reader was then taken through the mental exercise of considering how familiar objects such as billiard balls behave, that is, they lose motion. This was used to demonstrate that “real things” cannot be made of smaller things inside smaller things because eventually “real stuff out of smaller real stuff slows down and collapses into a motionless heap over time.”

His conclusion? “The only way that there are smaller things inside smaller things is the quantum way: at some point there are entities that we may conveniently describe as if they are usual things (electrons, quarks, gluons, maybe strings) but that aren’t ‘things’ as much as mathematical constructs, descriptions of properties that together are consistent within a stable world. They are not ‘stuff’ or even just a substance at all.”

At this point readers unfamiliar with quantum theory would be thinking that this is a pretty big claim; that if Sascha is writing for the lay reader then he needs to go further and show how quantum mechanics can be observed in the macroscopic world, mathematical proofs being beyond most of us. A fair enough question. The billiard ball argument is in a sense “negative evidence”, so is there any positive evidence?

The short answer is; of course!

Sascha no doubt intends to take the subject further, in a more comprehensive manner than I can manage, but in the meantime here’s my take on it.

Quantum theory has shown us that there is no such thing as “the basic building blocks of the universe,” that such concepts are meaningless because the sub-atomic particles being discussed have no solidity in themselves. So the Newtonian world of determinism, of fact-finding, of establishing foundations and laws based on solid objects and predictable outcomes has been shown to be less than the whole truth, because the objects being considered have as their foundations nothing more than mathematical constructs.
 Or to put it perhaps in a more acceptable way, the quantum world is a world not of units of anything, but a world of process, of energy, of exchange of energy, of movement. It is this constant movement that gives the macroscopic world its illusion of solidity, a constant movement that prevents, as Sascha said, the world collapsing into a heap.

Yet we have to come to terms with the fact that the entities that exist in the sub-atomic area have been described as “probabilities”, as “tendencies to exist”, as “events”. If quantum physics is relevant, and not the result of idle speculation, then we should be able to see it at work in the macro world, and the best place to look is not in commonplace items such as chairs and tables, which are where many seem to have looked, but in biology, the study of living things. If we try to relate chairs and tables to quantum realities we struggle against our habitual fixation on objects, on solidity, on something we can grasp, but we can escape that trap if we move up the scale to living things.

Life has been defined as spontaneous independent cooperation, (modest cough in the background) and when we consider that cooperation is an exchange of energies, we see that this view of life is consistent with quantum mechanics, and that life is an expression of quantum reality. Life can also be described in more general terms as process, as change, as constant movement, as uncertainty, all of which are features of the quantum arena.

  Then we can consider life over time, evolution in other words, and again we see process, change, and unpredictability. It’s when we consider evolution from the quantum perspective that we see the barking-mad basis of gene-centrism, the idea that evolution can only be explained by constructing a “unit of selection”, or “an immortal coil”, or “discrete replicators”, something we can grasp, something that has solidity and substance, then with a brazen abandonment of logic, positioning this solid concept as the foundation of change, of evolution.

 Genes do play a crucial role in evolution, but only as the gene-complex, a concept sidelined by gene orthodoxy. Why is the gene-complex involved in evolution but not the gene? Because the gene-complex exists at the level of the cell, the primary level of life, and so has as its features processes of change. Just as sub-atomic entities can only be described by their relationship to other entities, (in fact, it’s been said that they only exist as relationships,) genes also only have meaning by virtue of their relationship to other genes and the environment of the cell.

So we see again the quantum world reflected in the world of the living. The gene-centric attempt to establish a solid foundation as the driver of change is an exercise in futility, one more example of our inability to see beyond the obvious, our inability to actually think and analyse.

So, quantum level influences can be observed in the familiar world, but they present as processes, currents, trends, relationships and interdependencies.