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How Does 'A Is A' Work With Uncertainty Principle?

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One of the central tenets of Objectivist metaphysics is the Law of Identity, "A is A." A is, of course, identified by its properties.

If I am holding an apple in my hand, I can safely say this: "The apple in my hand is red, has a roughly circular silhouette, has a stem X centimeters long, and is bruised in one area. That is the apple in my hand and those are its properties; A is A and that slightly bruised apple is a slightly bruised apple." If someone asks me, "when you say 'this apple is this apple,' what apple are you referring to?", I can respond with "I am referring to the slightly bruised, red, circular apple in my hand."

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states, basically, that we can't understand everything about an elementary particle. We can't know both the momentum and position of an electron. Therefore, the properties of those particles are to a certain extent unknown.

My question is this: how can I be certain that "Electron A is electron A" if I can't be certain what electron A is in the first place? If I can't describe the properties of electron A to an observer, how can I say that it is, in fact, electron A?

Edited by softwareNerd
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If it turns out that the two principles contradict each other and that only one of them can be true, which one do you think would trump the other? Would knowledge of the law of identity lead you to reject the uncertainty principle, or would the uncertainty principle cast doubt in your mind on the law of identity?

This is my response, because you begin by assuming the uncertainty principle and end by questioning, in its light, the validity of the law of identity. Is that indeed your assumption, and is that indeed your question?

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The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states, basically, that we can't understand everything about an elementary particle. We can't know both the momentum and position of an electron. Therefore, the properties of those particles are to a certain extent unknown.
More accurately, you cannot simultaneously observe the momentum and position of an electron with arbitrary precision. See this thread for related discussion, esp. Don's point that to exist is to be knowable. But that does not mean "flawlessly knowable in all aspects, in one particular way". Inferential knowledge is also valid, which means that if you have correct predictive physical laws, direct observation of the desired property is not required. And this doesn't even touch the question of whether the uncertainty principle is a fact.
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Do electrons have identity? Is their identity contrary to itself? If not, I don't see how the example refutes the Law of Identity.

The value in the Law of Identity being a metaphysical axiom is that it applies on a highly-abstracted level. Validating the law involves validating its application to every existent, because they are existents. This means that you don't have to check the law individually against individual existents. Once validated on its proper level, the law necessarily must apply to every one of the concept's components.

Edited by Cole
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Ah, I might have misunderstood the Law of Identity. What you guys are saying is that a given electron is still a given electron, even if we can't discern all of its properties exactly?

Now that I think about it more, that makes sense.

If it turns out that the two principles contradict each other and that only one of them can be true, which one do you think would trump the other? Would knowledge of the law of identity lead you to reject the uncertainty principle, or would the uncertainty principle cast doubt in your mind on the law of identity?

This is my response, because you begin by assuming the uncertainty principle and end by questioning, in its light, the validity of the law of identity. Is that indeed your assumption, and is that indeed your question?

If the two principles contradicted each other, I would assume that one or the other is unrealistic. Then I'd have to do a ton of research into quantum mechanics and epistemology before I'd feel comfortable deciding which principle was wrong- after all, both are backed up by a large volume of evidence.

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What you guys are saying is that a given electron is still a given electron, even if we can't discern all of its properties exactly?

Consider how irrational the opposite of your question is. If an electron is not an electron until we understand all of its properties, then how would it be possible to learn anything about its properties in the first palce? If the world wasn't round until humans discovered it to be round, then how could it be discovered to be round in the first place?

Objectivism includes the idea of existence as a primary and holds that reality exists independently of understanding or misunderstanding.

Edited by Cole
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What you guys are saying is that a given electron is still a given electron, even if we can't discern all of its properties exactly?
Well, speaking for myself, I'm questioning the assumption of unknowability. However, the other side of the coin is that knowability doesn't have anything to do with identity (except insofar as what you know is something's identity). It doesn't take much work to figure out that the Law of Identity is correct, and I don't even need to take a position on the correctness of Uncertainty to know that it doesn't entail unknowability.
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Consider how irrational the opposite of your question is. If an electron is not an electron until we understand all of its properties, then how would it be possible to learn anything about its properties in the first palce?

Ah, so I've been going about the whole thing the wrong way around. I'm not sure why I was having so much trouble with the Law of Identity (you'd think it would be a pretty simple concept...) but thanks, that reductio has actually helped a lot. At least I don't have to disprove the Uncertainty Principle now :)

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Hmm, yes the Uncertainty Principle is certaintly a troublesome concept, no matter which viewpoint you look at it from...

I would have to say that as far as I am concerned, there are alot of problems with the Uncertainty Principle.

And it raises some rather disturbing questions, such as the Schrodingers Cat Paradox, where a cat can apparently be said to be alive AND dead and yet neither at the same time due to the fact that the determinant of whether it dies or lives is a system ruled by the Uncertainty Principle (at least until observation occurs). Now, clearly this cannot be the case, a cat is either dead or alive. Therefore the interpretation that a cat can be alive and dead as a result of the Uncert. Priniciple has too be wrong. One might defend the Uncertainty Principle by saying that the cat counts as an observer, it knows whether it is alive or dead (!) and therefore the uncertainty is resolved, and this ridocolous paradox can be sensibily resolved.

However, I am still very uncomfortable with the idea that a particle can be in a state where knowing its nature and behaviour (at least its complete nature and behaviour) is impossible. As far as I am concerned, an electron cannot be have indeterminate properties. We may not be able to reastically gauge its properties and nature, but that does not mean that it does its properties and nature are indeterminate. Just because we do not know a thing does not mean it is unknowable.

I think Quantum Physics has been sliding more and more into crazy explanations for what are I admit difficult puzzles. But I think they should stop putting up theories that contradict the Laws of Identity etc.

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The Schroedinger's cat "paradox" is based on the idea that things aren't real until we observe them, which is ridiculous. It's a modern, sophisiticated version of primacy-of-consciousness.

Probability only applies to epistemological questions, not metaphysical ones; "probable" things don't exist in reality. In reality, either they are, or they aren't; either something will happen, or it won't. Whether or not we KNOW which has or will happen is a different matter.

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The Schroedinger's cat "paradox" is based on the idea that things aren't real until we observe them, which is ridiculous.  It's a modern, sophisiticated version of primacy-of-consciousness.

Probability only applies to epistemological questions, not metaphysical ones; "probable" things don't exist in reality.  In reality, either they are, or they aren't; either something will happen, or it won't.  Whether or not we KNOW which has or will happen is a different matter.

Yes, that is the gist of it. And as I point out, if taken quite literally, suggests some crazy things are possible.

As far as I am concerned, a particle exists or it does not, there is no way it 'might' or 'might not'. It is one place, and not in many at once. it has a definite velocity...etc..

You sum the problem up very well. The nature of existents and their state at any one time are not subject to chance. They are subject to their nature , how other existents effect them.

As you say, we might not know what they will do, often we do not know how to find out, or current technology does not allow us to, but that means we cannot know at that time, not that we fundamentally cannot ever know.

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I think it is silly to give so much credit to something that is called a theory, to begin to question an axiom. A theory is like a work in progress. It tells you something about what you want to know, but it is not a definite answer. A theory is not a 100% precise description of reality. Much of it is probably wrong, especially when it contradicts the axiom so blatantly. We only keep it and use it because it helps us do what we need to do, whatever we need to do.

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You are right. I personally think is totally incredible, not worthy of credit. But remember, alot of scientists consider it too be undeniable fact, and something that apparently has been proven (according to this site it has been proven, i will try to find details of the proof and mention them in this thread). Not that I beleive the claim to have proven it.

Apparently its application underlies almost all of modern science, even though it contradicts in many ways, the laws of reality. I have to therefore doubt that claim too.

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Apparently its application underlies almost all of modern science, even though it contradicts in many ways, the laws of reality.  I have to therefore doubt that claim too.

You mean the law of identity? You don't have to doubt it! A theory is a man's attempt to describe some aspect of reality in such a way as to be able to apply his knowledge of it. That man is able to describe certain phenomenons and apply them in technology, does not mean that he is absolutely correct in his description of them. It only means that his theory is good to some extent and to this extent he can apply it. Consider classical physics. It is useless in the quantum realm, yet it is good enough to explain simple mechanics. Quantum mechanics, on the other hand is useless if you want to explain some macroscopic phenomena. Why? Because A is not A? No! It is because theories are not good enough to respect the law of identity in every context. They are as they are because we don't yet know any better. People once thought the Earth was flat, yet there was evidence to the contrary. A wise thing to do when one encounters a contradiction is to check one's premises, not begin to doubt the law of identity. It's not that Earth is sometimes flat and sometimes round, but it is round, but so big it looks flat on the surface.

Moreover, the law of identity is basis of all proof. You say that scientists consider it a proven fact that electrons defy the law of identity. So, by utilizing the law of identity on trying to prove a theory, they came to a contradiction and thus have established that the law of identity is flawed? Something just doesn't click into place there. Isn't it by far more likely that the theory is incorrect? My advice to them is: check your premises. One of them is wrong.

What's wrong, however, isn't easy to answer. I've been in a situation many times in life, especially when doing mathematics, when everything seemed to go fine and everything seemed to click into place, only the end result was a complete nonsense. I didn't know what was wrong, until I checked my premises. I once discovered that I have applied a certain theorem improperly, tearing it out of the context in which it was defined and applying it in some other context. However, when the grounds you walk on are new and yet unknown, finding where you turned a wrong alley can be much more difficult. So difficult, in fact, that you begin to think that the streets change.

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My question is this: how can I be certain that "Electron A is electron A" if I can't be certain what electron A is in the first place? If I can't describe the properties of electron A to an observer, how can I say that it is, in fact, electron A?

First off, electrons are not apples.

Second: electron A is in reality electron A, whether you can detect it or its properties or not is irrelevant. There is conclusive evidence that electrons do exist -- look at a periodic table. There it is, in the nature of that table. Nothing further need be grasped in order to prove their existence. The fact that you cannot fully describe all aspects of the electron means nothing.

As another example, look at the same apple three hundred years ago. Would the observer have known it had electrons in it? Would that have meant they did not know what an apple was? Would the description they would have given differ substantially from yours? Were the electrons actually there three hundred years ago? Was the apple somehow not an apple because they didn't know there were electrons in it?

Now: apply the same logic to the electron itself. Three hundred years from now, the electron is that apple. In the end, it will all be consistent.

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One of the central tenets of Objectivist metaphysics is the Law of Identity, "A is A." A is, of course, identified by its properties.

[....]

Dr. Lewis Little created of the "Theory of Elementary Waves". It answers both the Uncertainty Principle and the Schrodinger's cat paradox. The original paper can be found here.

Stephen Speicher, co-founder of the FORUMS for Ayn Rand Fans (here), is also a physicist. He wrote a summary of the theory for a non-technical audience, found here.

PRODOS, a radio host, has a website which facilitates discussion of the TEW, as well as links to other websites as well. That can be found here.

A radio interview between PRODOS and Dr. Lewis can be found here.

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Yes, you do make some good points. Whatever the best theories are, classical theories will not help us. And quantum, physics itself states that it should not be applied on the macroscopic level (at least many interpretations of it do).

While it might 'explain' alot of would otherwise be rather mysterious, and its application gets results, I think that it is still not the best way to model the behaviour of reality. As you imply, it is only a model, however I beleive better more realistic models can be derived. I dont know what they are, but maybe we will find them.

Yes, i do beleive that the scientists have made incorrect conclusions based on many a faulty premise. They claim to have proven so many elements of quantum physics, yet I dont buy it, especially since the so-called proofs often really on other faulty conclusions. I meant that they claim to have proven it, not that I beleive that they have done so.

Remember, alot of what we consider too be definite fact is later proven to be rather incorrect. Lets see whether or not quantum physics stands firm....

Ps in one of my earlier posts I say something like "according to this site it has been proven", that was abit of a typo, it is mean to say "according to this site I remember looking at once...". I am still trying to find that site so I can summarise abit of the '"proof" so I can dissect some of what is wrong with it.

Edited by Prometheus98876
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Whatever the best theories are, classical theories will not help us.

That depends on what we need help with. If we think we need "help" from science to keep our philosophy intact, we're smoking crack. Philosophy enables quantum physics (and all sciences) to be studied in the first place. That is: there's no such thing as "pure science".

All we actually need help with is to understand quantum physics and how it is consistent with the law of identity to see what inventions may come.

Remember, alot of what we consider too be definite fact is later proven to be rather incorrect.

Such as? You must be referring to conclusions drawn from invalid induction only, because valid induction never yields an incorrect conclusion.

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That depends on what we need help with.  If we think we need "help" from science to keep our philosophy intact, we're smoking crack.  Philosophy enables quantum physics (and all sciences) to be studied in the first place.  That is: there's no such thing as "pure science". 

All we actually need help with is to understand quantum physics and how it is consistent with the law of identity to see what inventions may come.

Such as?  You must be referring to conclusions drawn from invalid induction only, because valid induction never yields an incorrect conclusion.

We need help with coming up with more realistic theories, and clearly philosophy helps us here. I know that philosophy is very useful to science, that is part of the reason i dont beleive alot of quantum mechanics.

As for the second point, alot of what is considered science one day is demonstrated wrong the next. Despite the fact that it had apparently been 'proven' correct apparently. I thought the quotation marks were unneccessary this time, maybe not...

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As for the second point, alot of what is considered science one day is demonstrated wrong the next.  Despite the fact that it had apparently been 'proven' correct apparently.  I thought the quotation marks were unneccessary this time, maybe not...

Actually, I was asking for a specific example so I could show you how it was NOT actually proven, only erroneously claimed to be proven.

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Heisenberg's uncertaintly principle isnt the basis of the "electrons dont have identity" (whatever that means) statements - youre going to have to look at Bell's theorem and the Aspect experiments for that. And while spouting "A is A" gives people a good excuse not to bother learning the maths/physics, I'd advise you to do so if you want to have even the slightest idea what youre talking about.

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Quantum mechanics, on the other hand is useless if you want to explain some macroscopic phenomena. Why? Because A is not A? No! It is because theories are not good enough to respect the law of identity in every context.
The only reason why you couldnt use quantum theory to predict macroscopic phenomenon is the computational power involved. In terms of actual results, it would be completely accurate if you had the horsepower to do the calculation. Since this is out of the question, its more pragmatic to simplify and use classical mechanics in order to get an approximately correct answer.
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That depends on what we need help with.  If we think we need "help" from science to keep our philosophy intact, we're smoking crack.  Philosophy enables quantum physics (and all sciences) to be studied in the first place.  That is: there's no such thing as "pure science". 

When 'self evident' philosophical principles completely fail to explain experimental results, they are normally abandoned. This happened to the self-evident Aristotlean idea that "something that is moving needs a force applied to keep it moving", the pre-Darwinian "life cannot emerge from non-life", the still popular belief that "matter cannot be conscious", the idea that our space had to be Euclidean, the Newtonian conception of absolute time, and so on. All of these were considered just as self evident as anything we have today, yet nowadays they appear quaint. The relationship between science and philosophy is dialectical - science often forces us to renounce philosophical claims (see above), while philosophy guides our choice of of scientific theory. Quantum physics will never force us to abandon the law of identity, but it might cause us to give up some dubious inferences that are drawn from it (eg physical determinism or locality). There is no valid inference from 'existence is identity" to either "metaphysical randomness is impossible" or "instantaneous travel cannot occur".

Edited by Hal
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If the conclusion you reach is a contradiction, check your premises.

There is a premise you will want to check in this whole deal about the uncertianty principle not allowing a particle to have a specific momentum and position. The implicit assumption is that a particle is a little round point in space. In other words, no one is taking the wave nature of particles seriously. There is no such thing as a point particle in the quantum world. The uncertianty principle follows directly from the nature of waves. If you want to learn more, check out Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, Solids, Nuclei, and Particles by Eisberg and Resnick. Read through secton 3-3 and 3-4 (in the second edition).

Note: I do not agree with the copenhagen interpretation as it makes that same assumption about particles being points in space. That assumption leads to contradiction.

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