Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Physical states of being


 This summer may see a more active updating of this blog as I begin thinking more actively about the possible direction my dissertation would take as I will be ABD by Fall 2011. The entry below is a preliminary foray into thinking about some of the questions that came out during my exams. Of course, I have not forgotten that I promised to blog here about some of the thoughts and ideas that came up during my two-week stay in Germany. You see some of my rather haphazard notes below but I will have more to share later once this semester is over.

At the moment, I am reading Edelman's Second Nature and a bunch of other stuff about brain, consciousness and the quantum world, just as an 'escape' from my usual research preoccupation(and also in fulfillment of other tasks). I will have more to say on this later.
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When one thinks about the physical state, one usually view it as consisting of a macro and micro causality and space-point. There is, of course, more than one way in which one can look at microscopic and macroscopic states but I will confine my discussion to their existence in physical states. In fact, for the purpose of confining my discussion, I will only look at micro- and macro-states within the physical world as determined by classical and quantum mechanics (and all other theories and principles derived through extensive work within these two ontologies). Prior to venturing my own definition of these two states, I would like to explore the different interpretation of the micro- and macro-states as used in philosophy and physics. My intention is to be able to obtain as useful and as rich a definition as possible that would be conducive to my other projects.

However, we must also take into consideration the space inhabited by these macro- and micro-states: the phenomenal, epistemological and the ontological. While it may be possible to obtain separate elucidation for each of these three categories in order to discern the singularities that may exist in each, these categories tend to be enfolded and entangled with each other. Hence, it takes good understanding to discern the ‘cuts’ that will provide the observer entry into each of the category separately. These cuts are also the ‘slits’ by which the observer/experimenter/theorist could make his/her interventions, whether in the actual form of adding a new obstacle or ‘block’ to modify the probabilities or potentialities of the waves; or to create a thought experiment that may be the basis for postulating phenomenal/formalistic possibilities.[1] At the epicenter of all three is quantum mechanics (despite the multiplicity of its interpretations), a model of formalistic and quantized interpretation of our physical world that posits the existence of entities within the framework of complementary dualism; indeterminacy/determinacy, locality/nonlocality, observable/non-observable, collapsible/non-collapsible, measurable/non-measurable. Before going further, let me define the parameters of these three categories that will underlie the arguments on macro- and micro-states in this essay.

In no particular order of importance, I start with the phenomenological; the locus of the experiential usually mediated through apparatuses, whether the human-biological or its nstrumental extensions, to reach into a finite space-time. Even if we may intuit that we know what we can see or measure, it is usually unclear as to whether the phenomena we experience is necessarily existing within the realm of the macro-state, or if it is possibly subjected to interference from micro-level entities, as will become clearer when we distill the different factors of scales possible for micro- and macro-states. Next is the ontological, defined as the field(s) of interactions of physical entities that may exist within or beyond our ‘real’ time-scale. The ontological could be the site of multiple causations or even indeterminate causations that are controlled by or originated through the same forces (gravitational, electromagnet, and weak and strong interactions are examples of such forces). The ontological is also the realm where epistemic facts and counterfactuals are generated, events unfold (think of the many physical events caused by proton-to-proton or heavy ion collisions in the main ring of the Large Hadron Collider[2]) and of things/substances that are created and thereby exists (tables, chairs and the books on the table); all probably governed by the same laws of nature. Finally comes the epistemological, which are systems of knowledges (situated or otherwise) combining theories, rules and laws in order to explain particular systems of beliefs (which may exist within or outside the practice of modern science), connections between causes-and-effects, and justifications for the connections and systems of beliefs.  Some may say that epistemology attempts to attain truth and beauty and is the methodology by which one could arrive at the ontological (think of gauge theories in connection to attempts at greater unification between gauge fields).  I will also note here that my classification of these three categories may change, especially that pertaining to the phenomenological and the ontological, as further research, analysis and understanding may unearth for me other possibilities I have not thought of at this time. Where quantum mechanics is concerned, the micro- and macro-states exist within all the three-abovementioned categories to bring about different objectives. I would like to qualify my usage of ‘states’ and ‘systems’ in reference to the macro and micro are interchangeable, with the occasional subtle differences (in the sense that the states can also exist as subsets of systems).

I want to emphasize here that the micro and macro refers less to what is observable, or not, by the naked eye and more to entities and systems/states that exist in relationship with each other. I would like to describe here the different usage of micro-macro-states in relation to physics in both mechanistic and philosophical forms. There are some instances in physics whereby the term ‘macro-states’ is used to refer to a multi-particle/multi-body system whereas micro-states usually represent either a single particle or body. Even within a single particle, there can possibly be a distribution of eigenstates, the latter being measurable states within a quantum state of wave-function. There are other instances in physics where the macro and micro can take place within a single-particle system where the micro is viewed within the single operator or entity of the system, while the macro reveals the distribution of states that the particle can exist in such as its wave-function. Then, there are instances, and this possibly has its origins in the Cartesian-Leibnizian-Newtonian idea of the substance/matter, when we look at a physical object that exists in our mundane world, such as a ball that is bouncing on the floor even as we also zero into the atomic particles that are vibrating in conjunction with the bouncing ball while undergoing no discernible change in their eigenstates at the quantum level. However, as the external force is exerted on the macro-ball rather than directly at the atomic population of microscopic ‘balls,’ the micro-states of the ball, which are the individual atoms and molecules made up of the substance of the ball, do not undergo any material or dynamical transformations. Hence, the force exerted on the macro-state (the ball we can hold) does not have any transformative consequence on the micro-states (the atoms and molecules). But, what if we heat up the ball while keeping it static? Depending on the material of the ball (rubber most probably), we will actually see the ball undergoing physical changes due to the changes to its micro-states. Heat affects the micro-states of the ball, leading to reactions that attempt to obey the laws of thermodynamics and solid-state physics. Hence, even if the ball does not seem to be doing any work, the transformative effects on its micro-states lead to a possible irreversible consequence on the macro-state of the ball.  The macro-state (the ball that we can hold, touch and bounce) is tightly entwined with its micro-states. However, any intervention into the ball’s macro-state has no effect on the ball’s micro-state, while changes to the micro-state of the ball changes the behavior of the ball’s macro-state (a melted or disfigured ball can no longer bounce). As long as the micro-state of the ball is not interfered with, we are looking at the ball purely from the classical mechanics point of view, which would be at its kinematics and statics. However, once the physical state of the ball is altered because of alterations to its micro-states, quantum mechanics is introduced into the picture of our observation. However, because we merely perceive the consequence of the quantum effects on the ball rather than on ourselves, all that is important to us is that the ball’s physical state is altered rather than how its microscopic arrangements have changed. This instance of macro-micro relation appeals more to our intuitive values of nature and of how nature functions around us.  But this changes once we enter into the realm of the electronics and electro-optics, where quantum effects become more readily observable to a human agent (because of the form produced or the effects felt) due to materialization in the form and effects produced by semiconductors, solar cells, lasers and even microscopic implants in the human body.

Nevertheless, within the current theoretical episteme of modern physics, both the macro- and micro-states are often perceived to exist within the same ontology. In most theoretical and abstract models and exemplars, this is quite expected. However, moving into practice, and to a system as huge as the LHC, not only will these states be confined to the theoretical ontology of particle physics and high energy physics (both sharing a similar epistemology, though the phenomena and ontology may differ slightly because particle physics also take into account low energy physics); they have also reached into the fields of cosmology, astrophysics, and even applied physics. Hence, we have occasions to deal with objects and entities that would be simultaneously microscopic and macroscopic at the same time due to the large level of interactions that are taking place at any one given moment. Moreover, it is becoming more normal in experimental and applied physics to see the interacting macro and micro-states as co-existing within different phenomena, epistemologies and ontologies simultaneously; the micro-state of one ontology can suddenly be the macro-state of another ontology. As most fields of physics are nowadays interdisciplinary even within subfields, what exists as a micro-state in one physical epistemology could become the macroscopic state of another physical field. An example is that of colliding protons in the LHC. A proton exists as a micro-state to the larger (but still invisible to our eyes) proton beams (think laser physics) even as it is also a macro-system for all the exotic particles and energy-fields (particle and high-energy physics) that are produced out of the proton-proton collisions. Occasionally, even the same particles may exist in slightly different micro-states from each other even if the macroscopic parameters are almost the same. An example would be mesons. Mesons exist as a result of cosmic rays that had entered earth even though they remain largely invisible except probably to the ‘eyes’ of the computerized electronic telescope. However, the LHC has been successful in generating mesonic particles in its bid to study the dark matter of the universe. It is believed that if one could understand the conditions that led to the manifestation of detectable mesons within the LHC’s detectors, it would then be possible to understand some of the conditions of the early universe. Even if there is an attempt to provide a parallel epistemology of the same particle generated under different circumstances, the phenomena and ontology may be different because of the problem of measurement and also because of the cut that the human agent has enacted in the production of mesons in the LHC.

Therefore, we now know that macro-states and micro-states are not the sole province of quantum mechanics, but have been long a part of classical mechanics of Newton’s laws. At the same time, micro-states are embedded onto, as well as coupled to, macroscopic states. An example is the measurement of the coordinates or values of a wave-function representing a macro- and micro-state as existing within the same ontology of quantum mechanics, and therefore sharing the same epistemological structures. Another example is the Lagrangian system, a function represented by dynamical reformulation of mechanics that bridges classical mechanics and quantum mechanics through the medium of its action principle.  The Lagrangian action principle extends between classical and quantum ontologies of physics and speak for actions of easily perceivable and less perceivable objects or substances, neither of which fall into easily collapsible macro and micro-states, since these states co-exist in both ontologies. There are definitely multiple ways to think about macro and micro-states before attempting to delineate the differences between them. The first way is to think in terms of scale; one example is to think about a spectrum of mico-states and macro-states that reside within the same ontological world. An example would be gravitational attractions between large cosmological bodies within the scale of astronomical units or of terrestrial macroscopic bodies interacting with each. While the scales between the cosmological bodies and that of rotating carousels seem to exist in different universes, the former very much macrosopically relative to the more microscopic latter, the two cases are governed by the same laws of Newton’s gravity. In the case of the planets and the carousels, the phenomenon experienced in each is different although the epistemic framework (Newton’s laws) is still the same. There are cases where the phenomena may appear similar but the governing epistemology undergoes a revision or addition. This is the case when quantum mechanics is applied to entities at the atomic scale all the way down to the subatomic scale. At the subatomic level, we need the introduction of more sophisticated quantum epistemology, which were how quantum electrodynamics, quantum chromodynamics and gauge theories enter into the narrative. Nevertheless, in both cases, anything that is outside the reach of the human’s biological sense-perception will be mediated through an apparatus or a machine.

Sometimes, in the question of scale, both macro and micro-states occupy the same phenomena and epistemology. Even prior to the advent of quantum mechanics, macro-states were de-rigeur in the study of classical thermodynamics, especially in studying the group conditions of particles in an equilibrium system. The group forms a system of entropy.  The system of entropy, a closed system of energy that is either convertible to work or heat, can be either constant or will increase depending on the pressure exerted by external agents. Entropy is seen as an example of a macrosystem. This is because it is not the individual behavior of the gas particles that matter but what the overall actions of these particles effect, or how the group of particles react to outside interventions. However, Maxwell’s kinetic theory of gas, further developed by Boltzmann through his ‘rreversible’ equations, made unique the number of collisions and made initial states (which include velocity distribution) of molecular particles necessary amid criticism by other kinetic theorists who want to smear out irregularities by excluding certain microscopic ‘ordered’ conditions. Despite the early difficulties in reconciling with the second law of thermodynamics and the need to fine-tune this theorem of irreversibility (also known as H-theorem), the work of Maxwell-Boltzmann paved the way towards the importance of acknowledging microscopic features in understanding early classical quantum models.

Due to today’s technological advancement, it is inadequate to evaluate the micro-state and macro-state of a substance/object/thing wholly within the same ontological sphere. Even if we may not understand the epistemology of quantum mechanics without having the requisite training, this does not mean that its phenomena will continue to exist outside the range of our sense-perception[3], especially since technologies that are developed through the application of quantum mechanical epistemologies are moving beyond the world of laboratories and sophisticated research centers to applications into the development of our mundane appliances and medical treatments (such as precision lasers used for the excision of early-stage tumors or cancers and their rhizomatic ‘roots’).

Taking into consideration all that has been discussed up to this point, I thereby offer a definition of a micro-state as a physical state that acts outside the realm of unmediated consciousness while also extending to a physical state that exists outside the slice of our ‘real-time’ and seeps into the realm of our unconscious (the example for the latter being parallel worlds existing within a dimension outside of our immediate biological senses but which are nonetheless physical). In a micro-state, the individuation of micro-properties within an object/thing/substance is allowed. On the other hand, a macro-state remains materially within the realm of our conscious and have substantive effects that can be easily observable through either our unmediated or mediated sense-perception. Moreover, external interventions onto a macro-level physicality are independent of any impact upon a micro-level entity or operator. I would also suggest that macro-states and micro-states are related through a sort of nested loop that ties them together while also creating a network of overlapping functions between these states.


[1] Formalism is usually the mathematical tool used to explain the phenomena.
[2] To be known forthwith as the LHC
[3] It is also time to redefine how we ‘sense’ our material/immaterial world especially as the critical theorists are also redefining the meaning of affect, emotions and the ontic in relation to the micro-macro systems of our bodily ontogeny and neuroscience.  In a sense, it is possible to recall Stiegler’s development of the notion of tekhn√© and time and couple that with Bohm’s and Pauli’s philosophical intervention into the realm of the unconscious in quantum states to recuperate the concept of the phenomenological for the machinic apparatus, for a situation that is also posthuman.

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