Ontology, Epistemology, Consciousness, and Closed Timelike Curves

By Wolf, Fred Alan | Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, July 2017 | Go to article overview

Ontology, Epistemology, Consciousness, and Closed Timelike Curves


Wolf, Fred Alan, Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy


How should we think about subjective states vs. objective states? Is it a question of the meaning associated with state? E.g., is a quantum state to be regarded in the same sense as we regard the state of a ball while at rest or while moving after being struck by a bat? What sort of word should we use to describe the batted ball? Shall we say it is in a state of motion--albeit an observed state of motion--and even more--an objective or ontological state? What if I am not watching the ball or am unable to watch it as it moves, but only capable of surmising the trajectory of it based on the sound of the bat hitting the ball. Should I, based on the smack of the bat on the ball, ascribe a probability distribution to the possible trajectories that may have developed while the ball took its course through the air or on the field of the ballpark? If so, what do I call the state of the unseen, yet struck, ball?

I would certainly surmise, believing that there was a baseball hit by a bat, that it did have a trajectory--an objective ontic state of motion--yet having not seen the ball, but only heard the bat strike, what shall I label the state of the ball under these unseen circumstances? Surely I could and most likely would ascribe a probability distribution to the many possible trajectories such as ascertaining the height of the ball, whether it was foul or fair, how it had top spin or not, etc. Such a probability distribution would be called an epistemic state since my knowledge of the trajectory--that is my knowledge of its ontology--is incomplete.

Here we run into some difficulty having to deal with epistemology or epistemic states. Different epistemic states can describe the same ontic state. E.g., the ball could be considered to have distribution of trajectories and spin possibilities--top spin or back spin--while moving as a fly-ball or as a ground-ball. If the ball had top-spin and was a either a fly- or ground-ball, then both probability distributions are epistemologically correct descriptions. Or consider what happens when I flip a coin and cover it up before anyone can see the face of the coin showing--heads (H) or tails (T). If the coin was a fair coin, all I can do is assign a distribution of probabilities, Ph= P2, for heads, and, Pt= for tails. Such a distribution would constitute the state of the side of the coin showing as an epistemological state. But suppose I peek at the coin, but don't let you see it. Your knowledge of the coin would remain epistemological while mine would suddenly become ontological because I now know the coin is in the ontological state of, e.g., H.

As another classical epistemic example, [1] consider the case of flipping a biased coin in one of two distinct ways. In the Ist way the coin has a probability [P.sub.I] of coming up H while in the 2nd way the probability for H is [P.sub.2] [not equal to] [P.sub.I]. If the coin is flipped and then observed any number of times, regardless of the results obtained, we cannot know for certain by which method the coin was flipped, although the observed frequency of H resulting could provide a clue provided we knew that the same preparation was used for each flip. Not knowing this, the result, H, could have been obtained with either mode of flipping. Hence we cannot assign uniquely either probability P2 or Pi and these probabilities remain epistemic although the unobserved method of flipping need not be so.

In another classical epistemic example [2], consider a die prepared in a manner that shows the value 2 with a predicted probability of 1/3. We cannot know if the die was prepared in such a way that only prime numbers (2, 3, or 5) were allowed to show (it had these numbers repeated on opposite sides), or if only even numbers (2, 4, or 6) were allowed to show. Each distribution has the number 2 in common, so the distributions are conjoint and epistemic.

QUANTUM PHYSICS: EPISTEMOLOGY OR ONTOLOGY?

When we begin to look at quantum physics such questions of epistemology and ontology rise up again and for many in a confusing or perplexing manner. …

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