Divine Neutrality, Blog. Science, Philosophy


November 1st, 2014


from PRIMER OF QUANTUM MECHANICS, Wiley, N.Y. 1987 and Dover, N.Y. 2003


Quantum mechanics is the fundamental theoretical infrastructure upon which all understanding of the nature of the physical world is built. This book is an exposition of that theory presented at the level of a junior·year undergraduate physics student.
In writing this book, I set as my primary task this one: to fuse the mathematical machinery of quantum mechanics with the philosophical world view embedded in it. That the mathematics appear to grow organically out of the philosophy was my aim. The object was to present a consistent physical imagery that tightly parallels the mathematics and thus, with verbal threads, to weave the philosophical tapestry into the mathematical formalism.

It is incontrovertible that quantum mechanics faithfully describes nature’s behavior. To accommodate one’s world view to what is nature’s behavior is the reason for a philosophical tapestry. The tapestry allows us to have a way of perceiving nature as natural.



It is possible to feel uncomfortable with the picture of reality that issues from quantum mechanics. Much of it appears to contradict the intuition of direct physical experience: it seems to defy understanding. Yet the purpose of studying the physical world is surely to gain understanding.

The quest for understanding hangs on the meaning of the word, understanding. One understands when one perceives a satisfying structure. For a scientist, a satisfying structure is one that, with few axioms, accounts for and quantitatively matches the behavior of nature.

Understanding is the perception of nature as natural. You have understood something when its behavior is just what you expect it to be, when it appears that what is, ought to be. A bubble rises because the heavier liquid surrounding it falls down from above to below it. We see the bubble rise and so it ought to do. We understand the phenomenon.

Understanding is lacking when things seem to be different from what they ought to be. That incontrovertible facts appear to make no sense reveals a faulty structure of understanding. The structure is no longer satisfying.

Under these conditions to achieve understanding requires a revision in the conceptual structure. Recognizing that they are also your prejudices, you question your axioms. You cast off some old ones and take on some new ones. You alter your philosophy. To achieve understanding is to go through a conceptual metamorphosis.


The history of physics provides striking examples of the process. Consider the introduction of gravity, that all masses pull on one another, even from afar. Newton called it an action-at-a-distance force.

The phrase echoes the incomprehensibility of the concept to people of Newton’s time. Only between touching bodies could forces be envisioned. That forces could reach out invisibly from one body to pull on another seemed beyond comprehension. It was not understood.

A century passed before the term force field was introduced to describe action-at-a-distance forces. Today every child is familiar with force fields. What in Newton’s time puzzled the minds of sages is now the comfortable self-evident perception of little boys and girls.

What happened to the profound questions perceived by the sages? They lost their meaning; they became meaningless. No one now expects that forces require touching. We recognize the expectation to be a prejudice. The problem of how forces could act at a distance was never resolved. It was dissolved. A conceptual metamorphosis dissolved it.

Understanding consisted in perceiving the question to be meaningless. According to quantum mechanics, one cannot know both position and momentum simultaneously. Why are we denied this knowledge? To perceive this question as inherently meaningless is what quantum mechanics teaches us. What has a definite momentum does not have a position. To demand both together is like demanding dry wetness. It is denied us, not by nature’s perversity, but rather, because the demand is meaningless.

When the picture of nature that Newton presented proved to be indisputably correct, the sages of his time had to undergo a conceptual metamorphosis. Modem physics confronts us with the same task: to embrace the picture of nature presented by quantum mechanics.

It has been my aim in this book to paint that picture.

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October 15th, 2014

elfiWest Los Angeles in early July of 1977.

I find myself caught in the force field of a magnetic man. His name is Arthur Doctor. A Jew. Born in Russia – in Vladivostok – but raised in Detroit. Sixty-two years old. Moderate height. Chunky. Pocked and wrinkled face, long flowing white hair – not quite shoulder length – sparkling blue eyes and a friendly smiling face. Somewhat nervous appearing and fidgety. Speaks with a heavy east coast, New York accent. Something like a Garment District Jew who left the garment district many years ago to live in California.

In Yiddish, Luft means air and Mensch means person. The expression, Luftmensch, comes from the small Jewish ghetto towns – Shtetels – of late nineteenth century Eastern Europe. A Luftmensch was a person without perceivable employment status who would leave his wife and children at home each morning and disappear onto the road and into the marketplaces. To buy a little here and to sell a little there, until, out of the Luft, comes enough profit to feed his family and to survive another day. Arthur Doctor was a Shtetel Luftmensch operating in Los Angeles.

Arthur had no family, and his profits exceeded survival needs, but he actually did live by taking advantage of whatever the day brought him. Not only had I seen him do this many times, but I knew his lifestyle because one such day brought me to him. Less than two months after I met him I found myself with the keys to his apartment, the keys to his post office box and to all of his automobiles – four of them, all carefully recycled. I was taking care of his affairs while he pursued an undertaking in Europe! He had put $20,000 into my hands with no legal hold on the funds. His psychological hold was strong.

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August 4th, 2014


Charming downtown Santa Cruz consists of just one street five blocks in length. Shops, restaurants and outdoor cafés border this attractive tree lined avenue. Street musicians abound as do beggars and near-beggars, those offering something in exchange for a contribution to their open coffer.

One of them stood in a building alcove bordering the sidewalk. Visibly out of the way. He was in his fifties wearing the uniform of the destitute; dark fabric, rumpled and soiled street clothes. And he held a fan of ink drawings against his chest. They were not very appealing; primitive geometric forms on post sized white cards. Offerings to attract benefactions.

I had just left Lulu’s coffee shop to walk homeward along the avenue. Entering the stream of strolling citizens I noticed this putative artist in the alcove. I approached him and reached in my pocket saying that I’d like to make a contribution without taking one of his drawings just now. He smilingly accepted the proposition. And I gave him a dollar.

Seeing this, his friend, standing not far off, declared that he too could use some money. “I need a cup of coffee,” said he. So I reached in my pocket and gave him a dollar.

Among the passersby was a cheeky middle aged lady out for a downtown promenade with her husband. She witnessed the affair and, thinking it an amusing scene, called out to all present, “Here’s someone giving money away”. And then, facing me, said, “How about some for me?”

I turned toward her, reached in my pocket and said, “Sure,” offering her a dollar, too. At that turn of events her playfulness evaporated. She backed away refusing the offering saying, “No, I don’t need it.”

“I guess only those who need it accept money on the street,” I said.

“I don’t think so,” she sang out as she sailed off out of conversation’s way. Her tone of voice conveyed more conviction in the matter than did her choice of words. Her tone said, “I’m sure it’s not so”.

I liked the playfulness of that lady who was bold enough to openly ask for money from someone who appeared to be giving it out to everybody on the street. She, not being in need, was too embarrassed to accept a dollar publically from a stranger. But, for those accepting donations, need had outstripped their pride.

She was convinced that those people didn’t need what they were asking for. But what she verbally denied, with her own actions she demonstrated to be true. She wouldn’t acknowledge that those who accept money donations are in need. In need enough to put aside their pride. Not needing the dollar, she couldn’t put her’s aside to accept it.

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