By Devmi Epaarachchi


Scientific discoveries aim to bring us closer to some ‘truth’ about the world, and these discoveries are underpinned by philosophical positions. In this review, Bernanardo Kastrup’s essay, “Should Quantum Anomalies Make Us Rethink Reality?”, will be analysed with reference to the theories of philosopher Thomas Kuhn. The main areas of contention will be discussed.

In the article, Kastrup explores the possibility of a paradigm shift in quantum mechanics, due to anomalies within it. [1] These anomalies regard quantum entanglement, which suggest that the result of a given observation of an object can be dependent upon another independent but simultaneous observation. According to the current paradigm, however, the properties of a given object exist independently of our observation; i.e. size, shape, etc. [2] Further, Kastrup goes on to suggest that in order to recover the existing paradigm, scientists must reject certain predictions that quantum mechanics seem to make regarding quantum entanglement. For the current paradigm to be upheld, empirical evidence in favor of quantum entanglement would need to be disregarded. [3] In essence, the author seems to be suggesting that one should reject anomalies instead of adopting a new paradigm.

It would seem logical that a falsifying observation should result in the disposing of a theory. However, this is not Kuhn’s view. Kuhn is more inclined to believe that logic is not as important within science as it is portrayed to be; and also, that the overthrowing of a theory is revolutionary. [4] Since science is guided and constrained by paradigms, revolutions do not happen often. Kuhn argues that logic and observational data, such as observational data of quantum entanglement that has disrupted the current paradigm, is not enough to cause a paradigm shift. [5]

Firstly, the term paradigm must be defined. From Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a paradigm is a set of shared beliefs and methods to which practitioners of a field of science collectively adhere. [6] This is the broad definition of the term paradigm. ‘Normal science’ occurs within any given paradigm, and as such, any scientific work takes place within the parameters of a particular paradigm. So, any work that is done on quantum entanglement, for example, takes place within parameters that have been predetermined. It is from this practice of normal science that many of our scientific discoveries have emerged. Kuhn’s view of normal science can be described as a puzzle-solving endeavor within a paradigm that increases our knowledge of ideas or theories that are of particular interest—what Kuhn describes as novelties. [7] It could be argued that these novelties are what give rise to anomalies, as with the case of quantum entanglement. Anomalies merely push the scientist to remedy the paradigm and can even become the focus of an entire discipline. This is more or less what has happened in the case of quantum entanglement. Interestingly, quantum entanglement anomalies have not affected other areas of quantum mechanics from developing within the paradigm. Thus, scientists deemed that the necessary tools for solving the anomaly were not available within the current paradigm and set the anomalies aside for future generations. At the same time, it was found that quantum entanglement theories could be translated into other fields of science. This is rather an evolutionary process. This may be the reason that Kastrup believes we do not need to abandon the existing paradigm, since the dilemma of quantum entanglement has simply moved onto other fields. [8]

Though this seems to be following Kuhn’s idea of normal science, the central issue in the current findings is that there is a critical mass of anomalies, not just a singular one. According to Kuhn, this is what would lead to a period of crisis. [9] The term critical in this context should be taken to mean that the fundamentals of the theory are being threatened; the existing paradigm can no longer guide research in the field. Confidence in the paradigm dissolves, but for a new paradigm to emerge, the anomalies must be concerning deeper issues, rather than merely superficial ones. In the article, the anomalies are predictions of quantum entanglement, which cannot be accounted for within the current paradigm. Different experiments have seemingly closed the loopholes that would falsify predictions of quantum entanglement, but in doing so, these obtained results are not in agreement with the current paradigm. From the provided information, it is clear that quantum entanglement anomalies are not a superficial challenge to the paradigm but rather a fundamental one. [10] Typically, this denotes a period of crisis and a stronger paradigm emerges. According to Kuhn, one cannot simply abandon the existing paradigm unless a better option exists, but at this point, it does not. Furthermore, a new paradigm must not only accommodate the anomalies, but it must accommodate puzzles that were solved within the old paradigm as well. [11] That being said, when a paradigm shift occurs there is no way to decide if a theory is a good fit for it, since there is no standardised measure to assess a theory. Standards of assessment that work within one paradigm will not necessarily work for a different one. So, is it really possible to ever have a shift in paradigm, when one can never really know what the new paradigm should be compared against? Kuhn identifies the importance of an exemplar (a successful experiment, technique, etc.) as a comparison group for a new theory. However, this would be rendered insignificant since the standards of assessment change when the paradigm shifts; an exemplar is only valid for the paradigm that it is in. [12]

Perhaps this latter reason is why Kastrup is hesitant in asserting a definitive stance on whether a paradigm shift needs to occur or not. Yet he does argue that these anomalous findings must challenge our perception of the world around us, irrespective of whether or not a paradigm shift occurs. [13] It could be argued that this is how revolutions in a given field are brought about, but this isn’t exactly true. If we reflect upon the history of scientific revolutions that have taken place, there is no one particular period of crisis preceding a revolution which can be identified. For example, there was no period of crisis that came before Darwin’s theory of evolution. It almost seems as though revolutions are independent in that they do not require a paradigm for legitimacy, i.e. quantum entanglement. The real issue is not the legitimacy of their truth, but that they do not fit into the old paradigm. Perhaps anomalous findings become the foundation of a new paradigm, while the previous paradigm continues to exist independently, too.

For revolutions to occur, according to Kuhn, two criteria need to be met: a period of crisis; and the emergence of a new paradigm. Kastrup shares this same sentiment regarding the process of revolutions. However, this account completely disregards vital aspects of how science is conducted. Scientists within a paradigm depend on funding and grants, and they also have their own beliefs—all factors which are not guided by any ‘paradigm’, but by personal, moral and subjective convictions. Yet these are all factors which mediate whether or not a paradigm shift can/will occur. As Kuhn has made clear, a paradigm consists of shared beliefs, amongst others. So, if there is continuing contention between a team of researchers within the paradigm, it is possible that a new paradigm may never emerge, as in the challenge posed by the problem of quantum entanglement.

Kastrup concludes his essay by asserting that it is time for a new paradigm to emerge that accounts for the anomalous findings of quantum entanglement. However, as demonstrated within my above analysis, the rejection of a paradigm is a deeply challenging task. It seems that scientific progress is qualified by its ability to solve puzzles, but this does not mean one has established a better approximation to the truth. Maybe, there is not much value in hoping for a paradigm shift after all.


Endnotes

[1] Bernardo Kastrup, “Should Quantum Anomalies Make Us Rethink Reality?” Scientific American, April 19, 2018, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/should- quantum-anomalies-make-us-rethink-reality/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: The Univeristy of Chicago Press, 1962), 50.

[5] Ibid, 42.

[6] Ibid., 92.

[7] Ibid., 122

[8] Kastrup, “Should Quantum Anomalies Make Us Rethink Reality?”

[9] Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 122.

[10] Kastrup, “Should Quantum Anomalies Make Us Rethink Reality?”

[11] Kuhn, The Structue of Scientific Revolutions, 103.

[12] Ibid., 77.

[13] Kastrup, “Should Quantum Anomalies Make Us Rethink Reality?”


Works Cited

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962.

Kastrup, Bernardo. “Should Quantum Anomalies Make Us Rethink Reality?” Scientific American, April 19, 2018. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/should- quantum-anomalies-make-us-rethink-reality/


Featured image by Luc Viatour via Wikipedia Commons

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