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Process Physics

Becoming vs Being

Process physics is derivative of process metaphysics. Which in turn is largely the achievement of A.N.Whitehead, one of the twentieth-century's foremost thinkers. Whitehead’s principle of process, as it applies to an individual electron, is that its ‘being’ is constituted by its ‘becoming’ or actualization.[1] Each becoming is one of the events that serially compose the life of the electron. According to the present scheme, becoming, which is the actualization of potential, is all that a real electron ever does, at least in the low energy sector. Aristotle’s coupling of the actual and potential is a useful heuristic. “Things exist . . . both potentially and actually;”[2] Thus, process physics is the physics of an underlying foundation for the seemingly continuous ‘being’ of the electron, and by simple extension all the other components of the atoms that comprise the world we inhabit.

It is the science of the real world and its components as they happen. They are analyzed in terms of their continual becoming, not as static objects. For example, the mainstream picture of an electron on its journey from the cathode to the screen inside a TV set is that of a static object. Of course it is in motion relative to the parts of the TV set. From the process point of view, such an electron is internally static. The process physics project seeks to provide an analysis of the objects of physical science in terms of their essential internal evolution from which derives their seemingly static being. It seeks to include all the objects of physical reality. That may mean that not only is an electron actually happening, but so is Lorentz invariance! The question is, how can physical reality be understood in process terms and even more importantly, does it matter? If the dynamics of things as they are can be reinterpreted in terms of how they happen, then a new physics will have arrived.

The gut feeling of the process philosophy community, which includes a number of physicists, is that Whitehead's doctrine of organic realism is relevant to the theoretical understanding of the physical world we all inhabit. However, despite a good deal of searching, that relevance has not so far materialized.

The current status of microscopic physics shows that there is plenty of scope for some sort of new physics. There are numerous gaps and incongruities among current physical theories that are outside the scope of the standard model of particle physics. Some kind of physics beyond the standard model is required. There are numerous reasons why it is needed.

Examples include:
•quantum mechanics and general relativity are yet to be united - the quantum gravity problem
•string theory and loop quantum gravity seem not to be connected to the physical world
•the mysteries of the quantum world remain at odds with our intuitions about microscopic reality
•what are the electron and photon doing that make them turn out to be quantum mechanical?

Process and Physics

Some process thinkers have sought to superimpose process ideas and concepts on the mixed classical and quantum picture of static objects. That approach has been only marginally successful and few new ideas or insights have been the result. If process physics is to achieve a significant role in our understanding of the physical world it must have utilitarian value. Hand waving and a nice warm feeling are simply not enough. The process scheme of ideas must unite formerly disparate theories and it must make new and testable predictions. Without that, the best it can hope for is the status of a novel curiosity. It must do some or all of these and at the same time bring classical and quantum physics with it. It must build on the essence of the past. Just what that essence is is by no means certain.

The present approach builds a theory of the fundamental elements of matter from the bottom up, based upon the metaphysical concept of becoming without being. Becoming is the happening! The theory is then formulated so as to give its individual entities the minimum required properties of the objects of twentieth-century science, viz, leptons, baryons and photons. Those properties are mass and electric charge, for the simple reason that the building blocks of the world we live in are electrically charged particles. The rules of special relativity as they relate to the speed of light and mass effects emerge naturally from the theory. Standard quantum mechanics and special relativity do not just survive the process reinterpretation but are essential to it.

As an example, in special relativity, whether a particle is in motion or not depends upon where the observer is standing. If you are on the passing train, the railway station is in motion; if you are on the station platform, the train is moving. That is the classical or continuous picture in which an ambiguity attaches to the rectilinear motion of objects. The process scheme seeks to explain the object and its internal and external geometric relations in terms which make its “motion” unambiguous. Obviously it has to be a somewhat different type of motion. It is the motion of the happening or becoming of an object rather than the motion of changing its simple location. It is motion intrinsic to the object rather than its external spacetime relations.

It is worth recalling that Bohr and Heisenberg frequently stressed that nothing could properly be said of a quantum system between its preparation and its measurement. Until we can so say we simply do not know how or whether a quantum system moves. Quantum theory has no kinematics of its own; classical, continuous motion has been imposed on the electron by default. There is simply no evidence to support the claims that it either moves or does not move, but we know it arrives. Aristotle's logic does not work in the quantum world.

In the new scheme, “motion” is different from the classical picture. Space and time are discrete and its elements come and go and electrons change their position. It is how space and time are assembled as spacetime which makes the difference. Space and time may be coupled in more than one way. In the new scheme, space dimensions remain space-like and the time dimension time-like; the result of which is quite different from the block universe. The equality relating to the dimensions of space and time, is to be found in their application to matter, not in their representations or the degree to which they are jointly space-like or time-like. They remain physically distinct, but they are equally applied as properties of objects. Their nature undergoes no revision in the coupling. The difference between time in the new scheme and in quantum field theory is that it is an intrinsic property of objects not a continuous parameter.

Time as it relates to the process of an object is constrained by three factors: (1) it is available as only one dimension, (2) that dimension is consumed as an internal property of the object, (3) being thus consumed there is no external or background time for the object. Despite this seemingly counterintuitive scheme, there is a block universe and the process of the object leads to its coupling with that universe. And that coupling depends absolutely upon the facts of quantum theory and special relativity. The discreteness of enduring matter arises from the epochal nature of its becoming. Becoming is discrete. It is all made possible because time and space are not always everywhere! There is no vacant spacetime, produced by Nature just in case it might be required by some passing object. Spacetime is parsimoniously produced as and when required. 

The chief elements of process physics, according to the present scheme, are all contained in the discrete analysis of the electrodynamics of the helium atom. Paul Dirac was clearly deflected, by his preconception of Nature, from the unexpected physical consequences of his relativistic equation for the electron. If he had followed his mathematical instinct he would have arrived at a picture of the electron which is (a) equally dicrete in both time and space, exactly as his equation depicts, (b) devoid of divergencies and infinities and (c) congruent with observation.


Process and the Dirac Electron: Pauli Exclusion and Electron Pairing for the Helium Atom

The problem of the behaviour of atomic electrons is analysed by physically interpreting the Dirac relativistic equation for the electron with its positive and negative energy solutions coupled to the oscillation, which allows the energy of the electron to decay to zero. This approach changes the electron of classical and quantum physics into a series of becoming and perishing events which is the physical analogue of the fundamental process of Whitehead's doctrine of organic realism. When the analysis is extended to the other components of the atom their behaviour is congruent with quantum theory and dependent upon the rules of special relativity. The physical features that emerge from the theory include like-charge repulsion, electron pairing, Pauli exclusion and virtual-photon mediated electrodynamics for the helium atom. The theory is background independent and without a need for fields or waves. Virtual photon-mediated interactions among charged particles are limited physically, by the effects of the rules of special relativity upon the geometry of the oscillation, to antisymmetrical two-particle ensembles. Nothing is put in by hand.

PACS Ref: 12.10Kt, 12.90+b, 13.40Dk, 13.66Lm, 04.60.Pp


02 July 2007 full text | pdf |  (46 K) 19 pages including 3 figures

1. A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality (1929) Corrected Edition, Edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. New York: The Free Press, 1978, p.23.
2. Aristotle, Physics Translated by Robin Waterfield. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, Book III p.56.

Comments and questions are welcome to pjf@it.net.au

© Peter Fimmel 2002-2007

Last page update 02/07/07