Has Science Falsified Physicalism? – Blog

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Science is often associated with the assumption of physicalism, the belief that everything that exists is physical. Given this assumption it is not a surprise then that many view science as opposed to religion.
However, this may not be true. In fact it may be possible that our current science has extended beyond what we would ordinarly conceive of as ‘physical.’ Thus if even science falsifies physicalism, then surely there would be no reason to view the science vs. religion dichotomy as real.
So what exactly is ‘physicalism?’ To define that properly we first need to ask what ‘physical’ is. One could argue that ‘physical’ is whatever physics studies, but this seems like a meaningless definition. A better definition would be that ‘physical’ is the same as ‘material,’ namely matter and energy in space or time.
If this is how physical is defined, then science may have already falsified physicalism. As it turns out current research into quantum gravity suggests that space and time are not fundamental but rather emergent. If true then this implies that not only is physicalism false, but that science has begun to poke into the realm beyond the physical as well!


Physical reality is everything within space and time, but quantum gravity research has found that spacetime is not fundamental. Has our most advanced science begun to probe into realities beyond the physical?

The first signs of this began years back when Albert Einstein attempted to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity into a grand unified theory. In a letter to David Bohm he argued that the only way to find the grand unified theory was to treat space-time as though it was ultimately non-existent!

“We have to find a possibility to get rid of the (space-time) continuum, together with space and time altogether, but I have not the slightest idea what kind of elementary concepts could be used in such a theory.” ~Albert Einstein

Though he did not know how to construct such a theory at the time, clues would emerge as to how to do this later on. In 1997, the Argentine theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena discovered the holographic principle by studying the extreme limits of both quantum mechanics and relativity on the surfaces of black holes.


Experts at the World Science Festival discuss the physics behind the holographic universe.

As it turned out, the interior of a black hole was actually a projection of information stored on its surface. Furthermore, it was found that this applies to the universe on the whole! The entire physical universe including both spacetime and the matter and energy within it are emergent effects of information!
Likewise experts from other approaches to quantum gravity such as the Perimeter Institute’s, Fotini Markopoulou, argue that the whole physical arena is emergent. Markopoulou is an expert in a field called Loop Quantum Gravity which posits that spacetime is derived from more fundamental non-local connections that form loops underlying space and time. This lead her ultimately to the astonishing conclusion that the fabric of spacetime is not fundamental!

Interestingly this approach once again leads to the view that information is more fundamental than spacetime. In a panel discussion at the World Science Festival she remarked:

“…space-time is not fundamental, that space-time is if you like a kind of emergent effect from something else that underlies it, and that something else could be information in the following way…”


Fotini Markopoulou discusses the emergent nature of spacetime with Closer To Truth host Lawrence Kuhn.

So what exactly comprises these loops? Theory is all well and good, but solid discoveries are desirable if one wishes to firmly establish this.
In 2013, just such a discovery was made called the ER=EPR correspondence. Using the holographic principle as a tool, it showed that the spacetimes describing wormholes emerge from quantum entanglement, the quantum behavior that links two particles at vast distances(1). After this was done another discovery was made just last year that this principle can be universalized: All of spacetime emerges from quantum entanglement(2).
However entanglement is just defined as two or more particles sharing the same wavefunction, the state of quantum probability that defines a particle before it is measured. Thus if spacetime emerges from quantum entanglement, then what is really being said is that spacetime emerges from networks of quantum information in the wavefunction.
What we call physicality emerges from information much in the same way the interior of a video game emerges from the information being processed in a computer.
Information however is not physical. Thus the entire physical realm is emergent from something not physical at all! Physicalism is therefore false.


Physicists at a panel at the World Science Festival discuss the how physical reality reduces to information at bottom.

Though this flatly refutes physicalism this curiously enough lends credence to another view. According to the Bible the world is made by the word of God. In fact Hebrews 11:3 states that:

“By faith we understand that the worlds were made by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”

If one realizes that the worlds are physical things and that words can be expressed as bits of information, then this verse bears an uncanny parallel to a statement made by John Archibald Wheeler, one of the first digital physicists, who also happened to be a colleague of Einstein:

”’It from bit’ symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances—an immaterial source and explanation.”

Thus science has not, as many would think, contradicted religion by explaining everything in terms of dead matter. Much to the contrary, it seems that at the end of the day it has not only ended up supporting a theistic view of the world, but has buried materialism in the process!

References:
1.) http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2013/you-cant-get-entangled-without-a-wormhole-1205
2.) https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/context/tensor-networks-get-entangled-quantum-gravity