Complementarity in Physics Explains the Spiritual Realm

physics equations on a black board

This Stockholm University video interview of Frank Wilczek, physics Nobel Prize winner, gets into a discussion about God. I’d go so far as to say that it explains spirituality through science. 

The following words summarize some of the content of the interview which touches upon spirituality:

There are underlying laws of physics that never change. What Wilczek does not suspect is a personal god since these laws are abstract and mathematical. Universality, timelessness, and beauty of physics share the central concepts of religion.

Wilczek has a Roman Catholic background. He says it is possible to be a scientist and a Christian only if you accept the concept of complementarity which is an idea from Neils Bohr within quantum mechanics theorem — there are different ways of describing the same object, both of which are valid and complete in their own terms, but which are totally incompatible. In complementarity, you can describe two things that are both true but they can’t occur at the same time — as electrons in the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Another example he uses is free will versus determinism. The basic laws of physics are deterministic but yet we humans obviously have free will. 

Wilczek had been reading Saint Augustine prior to this interview. Saint Augustine had the concept that from god’s eye-view, the world doesn’t change in space time. It’s only in our human view that things appear to be unfolding in time. Here, German physicist-mathematician, Hermann Wehl, is cited. Because from the point of view of physics, everything has already happened, so you must use complementarity to explain it. Cosmology uses space time and so does Einstein’s general relativity, but in everyday life we don’t get to see the whole thing. 

One thing that struck me as I’ve been listening to talks by Frank Wilczek this week, is how much he credited his testing well in school for his self-confidence in physics and for his parents embracing his genius at a young age. If we remove testing and merit from curriculums as seems to be a trend today, will we be eliminating potential problem solvers from discoveries that lead to Nobel prizes? Wilczek skipped many grades in school and made his Nobel prize discovery at age 21, though it was decades later that he was awarded the prize. On a personal note, scoring a 99 on my SAT in math gave me a great deal of self-confidence that I would never have had otherwise. This alone led me to do things that I otherwise would not have had the self-confidence to do and that continues to this day including making this blog post.

The part about “god” is at 33″ to 44″ in this video.

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