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Ellis, George F.R. “Quantum Theory and the Macroscopic World."

George F.R. Ellis lays out a thoroughgoing critique of reductionism and a complex ontology for reality as a whole, drawing from his previous publications and offering new reflections in light of quantum theory. Against reductionism, Ellis claims that nature is hierarchically structured, with emergent levels of order and meaning, as well as bottom-up and top-down action, occurring throughout the hierarchy. He begins with classical physics, chemistry, and biology, where reductionism is framed in terms of micro-to-macro relations of bottom-up deterministic causality. But Ellis notes that quantum processes give rise to the regularities of the classical world, and that they can have macroscopic results in the classical world. Ellis’s examples include amplifiers such as instruments (e.g., photomultipliers), biological organs (e.g., the eye) and processes (e.g. genetic mutations expressed in the organism); coherent implementation of micro-effects; “essentially quantum effects at the macrolevel” (e.g., superconductivity); and quantum entanglement (e.g. Bose-Einstein condensate). These examples undermine the reductionist claim that the properties of parts entirely determine the properties of wholes.

He then gives numerous examples of macro-to-micro relations indicative of top-down action in physics (e.g., nucleosynthesis), in biology (e.g adaptation, expression of genetic information), and in human volition (e.g., intentions that lead to actions). Quantum physics provides several ways to understand how these phenomena can occur at the level of physics: interaction potentials, experiments and the collapse of the wavefunction, state preparation, decoherence, and the arrow of time. These features, according to Ellis, discredit reductionism in several ways. In hierarchically structured systems there is top-down action as well as bottom-up action. The outcome, even when there is determinism and mechanism at the microlevel, is partially effected by the context of boundary conditions, macroconstraints, and macroinfluences. Here systems thinking, based on synthesis, is needed as well as reductionistic analysis. Quantum entanglement provides another crucial argument against reductionism. Not only do cooperative effects between constituents of entangled states modify their individual behavior, but entanglement makes it hard to speak in terms of independent properties of constituents parts. Quantum uncertainty further undermines reductionism not only in microsystems but also in macrosystems when micro-uncertainties are amplified. Thus simplistic ideas of reductionism, that “we are nothing but the sum of particles controlled by forces at the microlevel,” do not hold. They must be replaced by more sophisticated views integrating both bottom-up (“microcausation”), bottom-bottom (“co-operative”), and top-down (“context-setting”) interactions. Still, while Ellis sees reductionism as wrong in principle, reductionism in practice is legitimate. He offers criteria for when it is suitable (e.g., when bottom-up causation dominates and microcomponents maintain their individual properties) and when it is not suitable (e.g., when either top-down causation is involved or when cooperative phenomena change the behavior of component parts). He closes this section with comments on two issues related to quantum theory and ontology: the possibility of chaotic/fractal structures in quantum processes, and the status of the theoretical and mathematical terms in quantum theory (e.g., are they human invention or Platonic realities?).

Ellis then develops an elaborate ontology to describe the many different aspects of material, human, and ideational reality, building on the works of Popper, Eccles, Penrose and others. In his hierarchical structure, ontological status and phenomenological laws of behavior are assigned to higher, as well as lower, levels. His ontology includes: Worlds 1 (the physical world), 2 (individual and communal consciousness), 3 (Aristotelian possibilities), 4 (Platonic abstract realities), and 5 (underlying purpose). He offers for their foundation and ultimate context, World 0 (God), and he describes the complex ways these Worlds relate to each other. He concludes with a discussion of God’s action in the world, drawing from his previous publications with Nancey Murphy. Divine action is kenotic, revealing God’s purpose and the ethical core of God’s nature through personal religious experience. Divine action, in turn, requires an openness in physical processes such that God’s action has real causal effects in the physical world. The ontological nature of quantum uncertainty provides such openness. “The outcome of quantum measurements are fully under God’s control, while being apparently random to humans...” Such effects at the quantum level can, in turn, affect the macrolevel without calling on chaos theory or getting “entangled in the problem of quantum chaology.” He defends his view of divine action in light of problems such as quantum randomness, the existence of micro-to-macro effects, the suggestion that such divine action would be episodic, a possible violation of the conservation of energy, and other challenges.

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