When Wolfgang Smith applied to Cornell University at the age of 14, he wrote that he wanted to study physics because he believed it was “the key to understanding the universe.”
But he soon changed his mind.
A voracious reader and deep thinker, the young Smith (who went on to earn a master’s degree in physics from Purdue University and a Ph.D in mathematics from Columbia University) found himself drawn to philosophy. But he found the cold, academic environment of graduate school a “profanation” of what he viewed as a sacred enterprise, one that calls for wisdom and love, in accord with the etymology of “philosophia” (“love of wisdom”).
Fortunately, these setbacks did not stop Smith’s pursuit of truth, which finally led him to a realization that upends modern materialistic science as we know it.
This realization is the subject of In Ohm Entertainment’s newly released documentary, “The End of Quantum Reality.” As the title suggests, the film posits that quantum physics, which has dominated modern science’s interpretation of the world for decades, has now been proven untenable as a complete description of the world, thanks to Smith’s work.
Spearheaded by Rick DeLano (producer and narrator), Philos Sophia Initiative Foundation, and In Ohm Entertainment’s Katheryne KTEE Thomas (director and producer), the documentary proceeds to explain the history, ideas, and paradoxes surrounding quantum physics.
It soon becomes clear that while the theory, which has developed since the 20th century by various physicists, most notably Max Planck and Werner Heisenberg, provides a mathematical description of physical reality with pinpoint accuracy, it also raises some serious metaphysical problems.
Essentially, quantum mechanics rests upon the notion that particles only come into existence upon observation and that they are otherwise in a state of “potentiality.” This, in turn, leads to the conclusion that our world holds no objective reality or truth, and only exists to humans as we perceive and measure it.
Twentieth-century Nobel Prize-winning physicist Neils Bohr summed it up with this disturbing phrase: “There is no quantum reality … only a quantum description.”
This conundrum plagued scientists for decades and led to various attempts to square metaphysical explanations with this effective yet troubling system —“from the more or less weird to the patently absurd,” DeLano asserts in the film. (One explanation, for example, claims that a countless number of universes exist that contain every possible event that could have happened, but has not, in our own observed world.)
Smith faced the same paradoxes until the 1990s, when he came to a simple yet pivotal realization about the theories of quantum physics: All of them assumed what he called “the Cartesian split,” referring to the work of René Descartes.
The 17th-century French Enlightenment philosopher, famous for asserting, “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”), built his philosophy on the premise that man’s access to truth is limited to intellectual understanding.
When taken to its full extent, argues Smith, it reduces what is accepted as true to what can be proven with mathematical certainty. Everything else, including the perception of qualities in the world, belongs to the subjective world, or the realm of the mind, and cannot be relied upon in scientific analysis.
Descartes’ work has long been acknowledged as one of the most influential on modern philosophy, and as the film highlights, that influence has given rise to a moral dilemma in both science and society at large.
“Qualities pertain to essence, and to being no less,” Smith asserts in the film. In other words, if we disregard qualities, we refer to a world of just potentiality, not the world we know, experience, and live in.
All of this tells us that while quantum physics can give a mathematical description of something related to our world, it cannot capture the actual nature of the real world.
What the quantum theorists missed, in other words, is that you need something else, something substantial and not merely potential, to give form and make that transition from not being to being. And that something, Smith realized, must come from above.
“Qualities have primacy,” he states. “[They are] the light of higher spheres shining into this world.”
This discovery is what led Smith to turn to philosophy in the first place. First, he turned to Indian writers, whom he admired for acknowledging a higher realm and revering it in their lives. Still, something was missing.
After traveling to India and making many inquiries, Smith found himself unsatisfied with the Indian philosophers’ assertions that the supreme, spiritual state of being necessarily abandons the particulars of human nature.
Was there no view of the world that reconciled the material with the spiritual? Finally, Smith concluded that the answer was yes, and he found it in the Catholic Church.
“God became man so that man can become God,” says Smith in the documentary. Through the mystery of the Incarnation, he found, “Our humanity is not disintegrated but can be deified.”
With this new inspiration, Smith hurriedly returned to the Faith he had abandoned long before. As Smith’s story continues to unfold, the film makes clear that when it comes to resolving the quantum paradox, faith and science are not only compatible but need each other.
DeLano was inspired to create “The End of Quantum Reality” after he encountered Smith’s writings. “What inspired me to share this story,” he told Angelus News, “was the recognition that I had encountered in Dr. Wolfgang Smith a profound genius, a man whose work is of centuries-spanning significance.”
Impressive as an individual scholar might be, a film about quantum physics and its resolution runs the risk of being much too dense for a lay audience. Luckily, “The End of Quantum Reality” does an impressive job presenting complex principles in a straightforward and interesting way, using an array of visuals, interviews, and anecdotes to turn a scientific debate into an intriguing story.
Smith explains how his intellectual journey was also a personal one, and interviewees share how his work has changed their careers and lives.
One of them, Brazilian professor Olavo de Carvalho, teaches an online philosophy class that incorporates Smith’s works to about 5,000 students.
Still, the reach of Smith’s work remains limited. His theory has not broken through to mainstream science, academia, and society, which still seems to cling to the Cartesian mindset and a totalist conception of quantum physics. Why has this proposed resolution to one of the most troubling scientific enigmas in history gone overlooked since it was first presented two decades ago?
According to Smith, the problem is an ideological one. “It is difficult, almost impossible, in fact, for the scientific community to recognize the fact that Cartesian bifurcation is a philosophic postulate, for which there is absolutely no scientific basis,” he told Angelus News.
“It is not that they can conceive or imagine a scientific proof of that hypothesis; it is rather that they are unable to conceive that it might not be true.”
Smith continued that accepting his resolution necessarily entails recognizing a divine reality, which in modern science is thoroughly rejected. In order for a change to take place, he said, “physical science will have to be knocked off its high horse by recognizing its stringent limitations.”
And this process is already underway, he added, as developments in space exploration (particularly the data from the Planck satellite launched in 2009) have presented challenges and refutations to theories such as “big bang cosmology.”
“The dream that physics can in principle become a ‘theory of everything’ needs thus to be officially disavowed as the pipe dream it is,” Smith told Angelus News.
Even though his resolution of the quantum enigma has not yet penetrated modern thinking, Smith believes that the film still delivers a vital, influential message. “I dare hope that, sooner or later, the impact of what the movie has to say will contribute its share to bring to an end the 400-year arc of history some have called ‘the reign of quantity,’” he said.
This impact, he added, is necessary for both society at large and for the mission of the Catholic faith in the world. “I fully believe with St. Thomas Aquinas that ‘a small error regarding the creation’ invariably gives rise to ‘a false conception concerning God,’ from which I conclude that what we are doing is vital for the renewal of the Church.”
“The End of Quantum Reality” is scheduled for a limited release in theaters across the country this September.
Sophia Buono is a writer living in Arlington, Virginia.
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