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Nowhere to go but up: A review of The End of Quantum Reality

Wolfgang Smith’s solution to both Cartesian “schizophrenia” and from a Multiverse which threatens to render individual human existence meaningless is a return to Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics.

Mathematician, philosopher, and physicist Wolfgang Smith in a scene from the film "The End of Quantum Reality". (Screenshot: theendofquantumreality.com)

Pope St. John Paul II in his famous work, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, traced the breakdown between public Christianity and Western Civilization back to one man, the ivory tower intellectual René Descartes (1596-1650):

[T]he father of modern rationalism…created the climate in which in the modern era such an estrangement became possible…about 150 years after Descartes all that was fundamentally Christian in the tradition of European thought had already been pushed aside. This was the time of the Enlightenment…

Or as the late pontiff put it elsewhere in the same book: “Descartes marks the beginning of the development of the exact and natural sciences as well as of the humanistic sciences in their new expression. He turns his back on metaphysics and concentrates on the philosophy of knowledge” (emphasis added).

According to the new movie The End of Quantum Reality, John Paul the Great was not alone in this analysis. Apparently “great” minds do think alike. For indeed, the film (premiering at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh on January 11, with subsequent openings including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Detroit, and Cleveland later in January), is a sort of panegyric to another Catholic claimant to the title of greatness: Dr. Wolfgang Smith. Accepted to Cornell University at the age of 15, Smith earned his doctoral degree in mathematics from Columbia University. Having held faculty positions at M.I.T., U.C.L.A., and Oregon State University, Smith is well known in traditional Catholic circles through his books, including Cosmos and Transcendence, Teilhardism and the New Religion and his latest work, Physics and Vertical Causation: The End of Quantum Reality (Angelico Press, 2019).

At an early moment in the movie, speaking of Descartes, the soon-to-be-nonagenarian philosopher of science makes the critical observation that although many modern scientists

have not perhaps even heard of Descartes…unconsciously they have and…to a man, [have] absorbed that philosophy [of Descartes]. What is characteristic of [his]…“external domain”…it is populated with objects which can be described completely…in mathematical terms…the realm of qualities had to be eliminated from the external world…he relegated these qualitative parameters to a subjective world…of thinking entities…to produce a world which would be ideal for the mathematical physicists.

In other words, over the last 400 years since Descartes, scientists have reduced the “real” world to matter and measurement, what René Guénon once called the “Reign of Quantity”. It might, however, be equally appropriate to refer to it as the “Reign of Darkness”: Grace does not abide in such a world. Neither, for that matter, does the human soul. And under the thick materialist constraints of such a worldview, God and the Tooth Fairy are of identical irrelevance. Further still, under this “Dictatorship of Relativism,” even the green grass, the songs of birds, and the pangs of love are all ultimately reduced to “random, stochastic and deterministic processes.”

The film gives the viewer a crash course in the history of physics from Newton to Einstein to today. Along the way the non-specialist is surprised to learn that, in the words of narrator/producer Rick DeLano, “The classic notion that the universe is made of atomic particles…has proved to be untenable…physicists really have lost their grip on reality.” DeLano is, of course, referring to the 20th-century discoveries in the field of quantum mechanics—that mysterious realm of reality at the sub-atomic level where “no actual particles exist but come into existence abruptly in the act of measurement.”

Here quantum enigmas abound—and scores of theories to account for them. One of which, for example, goes so far as to postulate that every quantum measurement “splits the universe into as many copies of itself as there are possible outcomes.” This, of course is the theory of the “Multiverse,” which has as many adherents among quantum physicists as it does at the other end of the spectrum, the cosmologists. Nevertheless, it amounts in the end to a rather absurd appeal, as DeLano intones in Orson Wells fashion: “to an infinity of worlds we cannot observe, in order to explain the one we can.”

For DeLano and director Ktee Thomas, it is Wolfgang Smith—and his unique insight of “Vertical Causation”—who has come at the eleventh hour to save us from both Cartesian “schizophrenia” and from a Multiverse which threatens to render not only individual human existence meaningless, but empirical science itself. Indeed, Smith’s solution involves nothing less than a return to Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics. What is Vertical Causation and how does it resolve the quantum enigma? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out, but here is a hint: “Vertical”.

While the film is definitely for those with an intellectual bent, it is not one long school lesson in the history of science. While it lacks the bells and whistles of a fully animated science movie, it makes up for it in part as a “biopic” of Smith, one that takes us from his mountain-climbing in Tibet (his search for meaning among Eastern gurus) to his finding true love in the person of his late wife Thea. Smith recounts that it is she we must thank for his literary output—and reconversion to Catholicism.

The film also contains interview footage of friends and fellow philosophers Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (a devout Muslim) and Olavo de Carvalho (“The Brazilian Rush Limbuagh”). No intellectual slouches themselves—having hundreds of books and articles between them—they rank Smith among the greatest intellects of the last decades, a man who demands a hearing if we want to recapture the “real world;” a challenge and an opportunity which C.S. Lewis characterized most beautifully in his poem “What the Bird Said Early in the Year”:

I heard in Addison’s Walk a bird sing clear:
This year the summer will come true. This year. This year.

Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees
This year, nor want of rain destroy the peas.

This year time’s nature will no more defeat you,
Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.

This time they will not lead you round and back
To Autumn, one year older, by the well-worn track.

This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,
We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.

Often deceived, yet open once again your heart,
Quick, quick, quick, quick!—the gates are drawn apart.


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About Dr. Edmund J. Mazza 6 Articles
Dr. Edmund J. Mazza is host of the “Discover Christ Channel” on YouTube. His podcasts can also be heard on “The Bar of History,” at VirginMostPowerfulRadio.org.

16 Comments

  1. “mysterious realm of reality at the sub-atomic level where “no actual particles exist but come into existence abruptly in the act of measurement.”” Really? What is “mysterious” in the equation of …statistics that is the deterministic Heisenberg equation called folly “indeterminacy”! A very idiotic (philosophically) presentation of non-mysterious at all a typical statistic theory (on the set of “sub-particles-waves”. I suspect the movie just promotes such an idiotic view of Quantum Mechanics though taught very often in science magazines. Fools love …mysteries and paradoxes, also in theology

  2. A question here from the back bleachers: “Is it exhaustively accurate to say that ‘no actual particles exist but come into existence abruptly in the act of measurement.’”? In the act of measurement?

    Beneath particle physics is the “string theory” where the constituents of all atomic and subatomic particles are thought to be non-particles, or one-dimensional (!) and vibrating “strings” so minute that size-wise a single string is to a single proton (a “particle”) as “a gopher is to a galaxy.”

    It is hypothesized that the strings vibrate in and out of existence millions of times per second. In and out of existence (!) and then back again??? Dejas vu, the binary metaphysical question of existence versus non-existence all over again, but, too small to be detected or thereby caused by any “act of measurement.”

    At this precise point, and now calling upon Aristotle and Thomas, one might simply reconsider what it means to affirm with Thomas that God first calls into existence or “creates” all things and then “sustains” them in existence. First and then?

    Within the mind and creative moment of a timeless God, are the creating and sustaining act(s) not before-and-after (as we imagine), but simultaneous—-at the cosmic level of the Big Bang and galaxies and at the underlying (so to speak) string level, both (again, in and out of existence)?

    Maybe this is to say that alongside Cartesian “quantification,” maybe our spatial and temporal imaginations serve us equally poorly, even in metaphysics. Are the acts of creation and sustaining, particularly (so to speak) all levels of physics, the same “thing”?

    Just wondering. Wonder: a good word.

  3. One show that does a good job of covering physics and some of the more speculative theories that are floating around is “Space Time” on PBS. It is also available on YouTube. The host covers the subject matter and will say when a theory may not represent real world observable events and could be spurious.
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    If you pay attention to all the recent scientific breakthroughs you will see that scientists spend a lot of time post observation doing data analysis. This is so that the researchers can be sure to verify that the data and the analysis is sound. Sometimes what looks like real results ends up being statistical artifacts of the data gathering/analysis process. A lot of our advancement in science is dependent on the state of the art of measurement devices and the post observation data analysis.
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    One thing that I’ve noticed is how regularly God is assumed to have no greater powers of observation of the universe than we humans have. I saw a video where a rabbi goes through an explanation of the names of God. He says that YHVH(YHWH)[the I AM of the burning bush] in the original language is a composite of the three Hebrew words for existence. Existing in the past, the present, and the future all at once. This is the name of God in His essence. The rabbi places YHVH(YHWH) as existing totally outside of creation, where time is a simultaneous expression. This makes God atemporal.
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    God is supernatural, above nature. This is why the relationship between God and humans is placed on the vertical axis, and the relationship between humans with other humans is on the horizontal axis. Being supernatural God would also be superrational, beyond the scope of human reason. This is why faith requires God’s Self revelation in order to communicate any profound knowledge of Him. I would be very suspicious of any concept of God that we could fully understand with the unaided human intellect. It would seem unreasonable to assume that the God who created the universe is bound by our human methods of observation or understanding. We are after all an image and a likeness, not God Himself.

    • “Superrational”? What a fiction term! “Rational” means according to very known and obvious principles of logic, and God (or better YHWH) must obey such rules because He is the source/cause of them. You discover and know anything only through such (logical, methodological) steps- I recommend J.M.Bochenski OP ((of Warsaw-Lvov School of Logic), Logic of Religion,1965; he perfectly mocks such views (like yours) thought he himself makes some typical (majority) logician’s mistakes like he prescribes a logical symbol to “God”, but God as a meta-logical(and ontological principle) cannot be expressed in such (logic) language; one uses meta-logic principles to write down logic symbols and sentences (in any formal language; principles exist, for example, non-contradiction principle, but you cannot write down is symbols but only a non-contradiction law (by using such existing) principle. ps. of course,you just repeat Duns Scot and Mohammedans in argumentation plus St.Thoams Aquinas un-educated at that time (still )on modern logic and biblical hermeneutics.

      • I looked up the word before I posted it. The definition I found was URL:
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        https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/superrational
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        transcending the power of reason
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        It is not a made up word.
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        The name YHVH(YHWH) already proposes an attribute for God that we do not have. This name implies that for God what we call time is transparent to Him. I can’t see the past, present, and future all at once. Time is generally non-transparent. That is why we need recording devices. A lot of scientific advances have required the use of recording devices. Even then there are many areas of science that are very counterintuitive. Reasoning and logic are very framework dependent. Different starting assumptions can produce radically different conclusions. Quantum Mechanics is great for describing the world of the ultra small, and General Relativity is great for describing the world of the ultra large. The problem comes when scientists try to merge the two theories into a master Theory of Everything. The theories are incompatible with each other. We are also trying to figure out what dark energy and dark matter are, as they appear to dominate the universe. Modern science is far from complete.
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        Don’t confuse me with Duns Scot and Mohammedans, they partake of voluntarism, and overemphasize the role of will. We Catholics refer to Christ as the Word, the Logos, or principle of divine reason and creative order. When I used the word superrational, it was not to deny that God partakes in being rational. The Three Persons of the Holy Trinity exist in harmonious union. They are not at each others throats. They have a well balanced relationship. To me all concepts of God have to exhibit this balance.

  4. One of which, for example, goes so far as to postulate that every quantum measurement “splits the universe into as many copies of itself as there are possible outcomes.” This, of course is the theory of the “Multiverse,” which has as many adherents among quantum physicists as it does at the other end of the spectrum, the cosmologists.
    Actually, this ‘splitting’ mechanism [the Everett interpretation] is NOT the only one to describe a multiverse. We can possibly have a multiverse even if this mechanism does not exist.

    Nevertheless, it amounts in the end to a rather absurd appeal, as DeLano intones in Orson Wells fashion: “to an infinity of worlds we cannot observe, in order to explain the one we can.”
    But it actually explains things about the world we do see, such as our location at the apparent center of the expansion of the universe, and the otherwise unexplained fact that the universe’s total mass energy added to it’s gravitational potential energy yields zero.

  5. Henri Bergson stated ages past [early 20th century] at the U of Paris that positivists projected a fragmented vision of reality. Although I agree with Wolgang Smith that the concept of quantum theory is a concept nevertheless it works. Ever since Descartes methodological doubt became the prima facies of scientific research John Paul II correctly said science and religion separated the latter denied cognitive efficacy based on principles of the physical sciences. The core of the issue actually goes further. It goes back to the First Principle of all knowledge sense perception (Aquinas ST 1a 17, 3 Ad 2; De Veritate 1 Article 1). The methodological Cartesian doubt repudiated the absolute certitude of sensible perception [not the modality under which things are perceived due to visual conditions] by after the fact speculation, the major premise of all skeptic philosophy leading to Kant and his false noumenon v phenomenon. We certainly are free to conceive workable theorems on how reality works we are not free to invent the truth. Ultimately motion coming into existence can be described although it cannot be completely explained by interaction of bodies. The ultimate cause or first principle by nature transcends the physical [Einstein found simultaneity in causal events immense distances apart “scary” because it transcended cause and effect within nature as previously understood].

  6. Surely the very notion of a “multiverse” is both logically incoherent and existentially unprovable?
    Incoherent: the term “universe” means everything that exists. So, if we discover something new “out there” then it is merely part of our own universe. This is a logical point – the term “universe” includes everything. But if we do discover something new, what could it be about the nature of any such discovery that could qualify it as not being part of our universe? As being a “multiverse”?
    Existentially unprovable: suppose something “new” was detected by astronomers. Such a discovery would necessarily imply that the new object was comprehensible by us and made sense within our currently known laws of physics. It would not be different from our universe in nature if we could detect such an object and assess it by our current knowledge of the laws of physics. Such discoveries happen constantly in science and this results in an expansion of and perhaps an amendment of our knowledge of the laws of physics. But when this happens, scientists do not claim that they have discovered a “multiverse”; they have merely enlarged our knowledge of the universe.

  7. I’ve read all of Dr. Smith’s books. I particularly recommend “The Quantum Reality: Finding the Hidden Key” which, I presume, is what prompted this film. It is in this book that he talks most about the vertical.

  8. Something mysteriously has happened. Wolfgang Smith new movie/books are letting in a glimpse of the real world. It might be shocking at first. After realizing this world. Than reflecting on what’s taught. You’ll see that they stood on each others shoulders for hundreds of years. These scientist who lead us astray. There ego’s placing the next contribution. To say it was for the benefit of mankind. Just it was the wrong turn. Now we have to let a higher power into our judgment. Most all science needs to be rediscovered. We need to examine the controllers. One might have something to do with the other. They seem not to be serving the public anymore. It will reach a climax. How could it not.

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