Monday, October 25, 2010

The “Uncertainty Principle”


By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Whereas—viewing the universe according to largest scales of measurement (i.e., from the top down)—the old Newtonian physics saw “the system” as ordered and determined, quantum mechanics—looking at the universe from the perspective of the smallest scales of mathematical measurement (i.e., from the bottom up)—theorizes the system to be unordered and undetermined. By calculating mathematical formulas so complex that only elitist physicists can understand them, the new physics will only postulate probabilities, not absolutes. The cause-effect interaction of the smallest quantities of matter/energy (i.e., quarks, gluons, and electrons) appears to be uncertain and therefore chaotic.

Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), a German physicist, theorized that, “we cannot localize a particle with arbitrary high precision and at the same know its exact momentum.”[24] At the tiniest level of observation, accurate conclusions are impossible, for in the same instant of time—because both are constantly moving—a particle’s position and velocity cannot be precisely measured. In the same millisecond either the position or the velocity of particles can be calculated, but not both. At the subatomic level, the flux of the one renders getting a fix on the other impossible. So just when you think you have it, you discover you don’t. For example, maybe light is particle, or maybe it is waves. Depending on the experiment and who’s observing it, light exhibits the properties of either particles or waves.

So a system, once thought to be determined, measurable, and predictable, now appears to be undetermined, immeasurable, and unpredictable. At the micro level, the random interaction of quantities of particles/energy introduces uncertainty as to how those parts might impact the “happenings” of the whole. When viewed from the bottom up, the only certainty about the universe is uncertainty. Science becomes a game, and life a bet!

So as physics morphs into philosophy, the uncertainty principle emerges as the template against which the entire spectrum of reality or life must be evaluated, including spirituality. As the Hungarian scientist-mystic Arthur Koestler (1905-1983) reportedly stated of the uncertainty worldview, “The nineteenth-century clockwork model of the universe is in shambles and, since matter itself has been dematerialized, materialism can no longer claim to be a scientific philosophy.”[25] As New Age advocate Gary Zukav sees it:

The world view of particle physics is that of a world without ‘stuff,’ where what is = what happens, and where an unending tumultuous dance of creation, annihilation, and transformation runs unabated within a framework of conservation laws and probability.[26]

A Quantum Question
According to physicist Stephen Hawking (1942- ), reconciling certainty with uncertainty—as could be compared to the theological question regarding the relationship between determinism and human free will—is one of the great challenges facing modern scientific inquiry. “One of the major endeavors in physics today . . .” he writes, “is the search for a new theory that will incorporate them both—a quantum theory of gravity.”[27]

In the chapter “A Piece of π,” God asks Mack in The Shack about how freedom and determinism relate in life.

Does freedom mean that you are allowed to do whatever you want to do? Or could we talk about all the limiting influences in your life that actually work against your freedom. Your genetic heritage, your specific DNA, your metabolic uniqueness, the quantum stuff that is going on at a subatomic level where only I am the always-present observer. (Italics Mine, The Shack, 95)

By her remarks it can be noted that “God” (i.e., Papa-Elousia) views her relationship to reality to be that of an observer, and not the Creator and Controller of the universe; and to be like that of a physicist, not the Sustainer of the universe. Nevertheless, the disparate chaos and fractal theories appear to be an attempt to reconcile irreconcilable aspects of quantum mechanics.[28]

Chaos Theory
A few decades ago, Edward Lorenz (1917-2008), discovered the mathematical aspect of chaos theory when,

He inadvertently ran what seemed like the same calculations through a creaky computer twice and came up with vastly different answers. When he tried to figure out what happened, he noticed a slight decimal point change—less than 0.0001—wound up leading to significant error. That error became a seminal scientific paper, presented in 1972, about the butterfly effect.[29]

As Lorenz’s discovery might seem to indicate, some scientists now believe that the random interaction between quantities of matter and energy in the micro-cosmos can affect the behavior of matter and energy in the macro-cosmos. This perturbation is known as “the butterfly effect.” In the “dynamical system” in which human beings are the conscious part, a butterfly flapping its wings in the Congo could stimulate a wave/particle disturbance causing a tropical storm in the Atlantic Ocean. Looked at in another way, the first falling of a small domino somewhere in the system could eventuate in the falling of greater and greater dominos until the whole planet finds itself in state of chaos.[30] Though in a closed system it appears that the smaller does influence the greater, the magnitude of the impact of the smaller upon the greater remains uncertain.

This is one hypothetical aspect of quantum physics known as chaos theory, the theory assuming “that small, localized perturbations in one part of a complex system can have widespread consequences throughout the system.”[31] But I call it hypothetical because as the-physicist-turned-theologian John Polkinghorne defines it, “Quantum chaology [is] . . . the not-fully-understood subject of the quantum mechanics of chaotic systems.”[32] In other words, like the weather, one cannot assuredly predict the long range effects of quantities of particles/energy interacting at the sub-atomic level, and whether that interaction might affect the greater part of the whole. A butterfly flapping its wings in the Congo does not necessarily cause a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean.

Though the Newtonian view of the system (order above chaos) is still viewed to be a player in the physics game,

The world view of particle physics is a picture of chaos beneath order. At the fundamental level is a confusion of continual creation, annihilation and transformation.[33]

To be continued. . . .

24. Peter Schupp, “Particle Physics on Noncommutative Space-Time,” Physics in the New Millennium, 305.
25. Arthur Koestler, Research in Parapsychology 1972 (special dinner address), quoted by Dave Hunt, A Cup of Trembling (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1995) 373.
26. Gary Zukav, Dancing Wu Li Masters, An Overview of the New Physics (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 2001) 217.
27. Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, From the Big Bang to Black Holes (New York: Bantam Books, 1988) 12. de Laplace too surmised that, “Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective positions of the beings which compose it, if moreover this intelligence were vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in the same formula both the movements of the largest bodies in the universe [i.e., the old Newtonian physics] and those of the lightest atom [the new quantum physics]; to it nothing would be uncertain, and the future as the past would be present to its eyes [the concept of time becomes non-linear]. See “Science Quotes.”
28. See James Gleick, Chaos, Making a New Science (New York: Penguin Books, 1987). The terms chaos and fractal occur frequently in the book.
29. See “MIT prof Edward Lorenz, father of chaos theory, dies at 90,” News, April 16, 2008 (
30. Theoretically, the detonation of a nuclear device could lead to spontaneous and uncontrolled combustion melting down the whole planet.
31. John M. Last, “Chaos Theory,” (http://www.
32. John Polkinghorne, Quantum Theory, A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) 97.
33. Zukav, Wu Li Masters, 216.

Reprinted with permission. This article series is from a chapter in Pastor Larry DeBruyn's book, UNSHACKLED: Breaking Away From Seductive Spirituality, which is available from Discernment Ministries for a gift of $10.00 plus $2.50 for shipping. Orders can be placed by phoning: 903-567-6423. Bulk discounts are available. Book sales directly benefit "Eastern European Ministries," a very special mission project that is close to Pastor DeBruyn's heart.