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George Gilder on the Invisible Microcosm and the Overthrow of Physics

George Gilder, Microcosm (Simon & Schuster: August 1, 1989), pp. 21-2.

The macrocosm may be defined as the visible domain of matter, seen from the outside and ruled by the laws of classical physics. The microcosm is the invisible domain, ruled and revealed by the laws of modern physics. ¶ The borders of these rival domains are not set by size or location. Some of the latest phenomena of the age — from global telecommunications to nuclear explosions — follow the quantum laws of the microcosm. Indeed, because atoms observe the microcosmic rules, the microcosm is ubiquitous and comprises all objects large and small. But because the microcosm is invisible, it has been relatively uninfluential in shaping public views and philosophies.

It is understandable that humans resist the microcosm and even rebel against it. Quantum theory is an abstruse and difficult set of ideas. It baffles many of its leading exponents and it perplexed Albert Einstein to his grave. Defying the testimony of the human senses, the new physics is contrary to all human intuition and metaphor. In the quantum domain, all conventional analogies of physics — such as tops, springs, and billiard balls — are radically misleading. Therefore, we cannot “understand” quantum theory in the way we can comprehend classical physics. Quantum theory simply does not make sense.

The reason the new physics does not make sense to most human, however, is that prevailing common sense is wrong. Common sense serves the materialist superstition: the belief that we live in a world of solid phenomena, mechanically interconnected in chains of cause and effect. The common wisdom of mankind has yet to absorb the simple truth that in proportion to the size of its nucleus the average atom in one of our cherished solids is as empty as the solar system. Few ponder the fact that an electron — a key to physical solidity — does not occupy any specific position in space; in a famous experiment, a single electron passes simultaneously through two separate holes in a screen. Such quantum images are difficult for human beings to grasp or believe. Humans balk at the basic paradox of a physical theory that defies the testimony of human senses and overthrows matter in the very science of matter itself.