Ding An Sich

Is there Quantum Uncertainty in the Ding-an-Sich?

On Thursday afternoon, May 21, Lynn, the wife of Wesleyan physics department chairman Reinhold Blümel, encountered me in the lounge of the physics department. Generally I show up there on weekdays around 2 PM, to drink my ritual afternoon coffee, chat with students and faculty, and do some reading and writing. I requested that if she was going to see her husband she should tell him that I was working on a solution to the following problem: Is there Quantum Uncertainty in the Ding-an-Sich?

Soon afterwards I heard the footsteps of Dr. Blümel running down the hallway. Reinhold always listens to my ideas, if only to point out their absurdity.He strode into the lounge:

"What is this about the uncertainty in the what?"

"The Ding-an-Sich, you know, Kant's Ding-an-Sich?"

Incomprehension covered his face like the slap of a wet mop:

"What does that mean, dyngaansitch?"

I repeated the words slowly "Ding","An","Sich".

Reinhold's face lit up:

"Oh! You mean the Ding an Sich! Why didn't you say so? Of course, the Ding an Sich! Sich, man! Sich! Why are you interested in that?"

"It's the essence of any phenomenon , and it's unknowable, just like the triple of 'time, position, momentum' is unknowable by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle."

"Why are you using the German words? Isn't there some English expression? Like 'thing in itself'?"

"The term has been carried over directly from the German. You know, like Weltanschauung."

"Weltan what?" . I decided not to rekindle this exchange, and continued:

"Reinhold, there are four modalities to a quantum experiment: the observer, the observable, the observed, and the observation. Is there a Ding an Sich in back of each or any of these?"

He paused to reflect:

"Yes. The observable is only a mathematical operator associated with the observation. It does not correspond to any physical reality. It is what Kant would call an analytic apriori.

Kant would treat the observation as an "apperception". As such it is already organized, structured and classified by the Categories. This does indeed incorporate Quantum Uncertainty. If I understand you correctly you are asking if this uncertainty is perhaps also in the Ding an Sich, even though neither it, that is to say the uncertainty, nor this Ding thing, can ever be known."

This set us both to thinking. Finally I observed:

"Physicists work with models of reality. All that we can 'know', in some sense, are our models, so what Kant is saying is that whatever lies behind all our of models is something we can't know. Yet, if you think about it, put that way what I asked you sounds like a meaningless question?" (The upturned question mark at the end of my observation is an indication of the extent of my uncertainty in its' assertion.)

"No, it is not. It sounds to me a bit like Everett's theory of all possible worlds. None of these, each of which is only a model, has a greater claim to reality than any of the others; in back of all of them one finds simply nothing. Or perhaps one might look for the Ding An Sich in the intersection of all these worlds; which, of course, is empty!"

"Wouldn't the existence of all possible worlds then become an ad hoc hypothesis, one that you could cut off using Occam's Razor:Abjure superfluous hypotheses! "

"No, because in fact, Everett's possible worlds are all used in Quantum Computing. The calculations have to be made in all of those worlds, to concatenate the multiform entanglements present in this world. So, unless the Ding an Sich is obliged to be forever undetectable and useless, we've found a use for it today in Quantum Computing."

Dr. Reinhold Blümel, formerly of the Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat in Freiburg, Germany, has been chairman of the Wesleyan University Physics Department for several years. He is a very active researcher in fields such as Quantum Chaos, Fusion Power, Quantum Computing and others.

In this reconstruction of our conversation, (that did indeed take place on the afternoon of May 21,2009), Blümel's remarks are a mixture of his and mine, while Lisker's remarks are a mixture of mine and his.

Another disquisition on this topic can be enjoyably read at:

The Plight of 'I Am', by Christian Joy


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