Foundations of Physics

, 41:1677 | Cite as

Epistemic Primacy vs. Ontological Elusiveness of Spatial Extension: Is There an Evolutionary Role for the Quantum?

  • Massimo PauriEmail author


A critical re-examination of the history of the concepts of space (including spacetime of general relativity and relativistic quantum field theory) reveals a basic ontological elusiveness of spatial extension, while, at the same time, highlighting the fact that its epistemic primacy seems to be unavoidably imposed on us (as stated by A.Einstein “giving up the extensional continuum … is like to breathe in airless space”). On the other hand, Planck’s discovery of the atomization of action leads to the fundamental recognition of an ontology of non-spatial, abstract entities (Quine) for the quantum level of reality (QT), as distinguished from the necessarily spatio-temporal, experimental revelations (measurements). The elementary quantum act (measured by Planck’s constant) has neither duration nor extension, and any genuinely quantum process literally does not belong in the Raum and time of our experience. As Heisenberg stresses: “Während also die klassische Physik ein objectives Geschehen in Raum and Zeit zum Gegenstand hat, für dessen Existenz seine Beobachtung völlig irrelevant war, behandelt die Quantentheorie Vorgänge, die sozusagen nur in den Momenten der Beobachtung als raumzeitliche Phänomene aufleuchten, und über die in der zwischenzeit anschaulische physikalische Aussagen sinloss sind”. An admittedly speculative, hazardous conjecture is then advanced concerning the relation of such quantum ontology with the role of the pre-phenomenal continuum (Husserl) in the perception of macroscopically distinguishable objects in the Raum and time of our experience. Although rather venturesome, it brings together important philosophical issues. Coherently with recent general results in works on the foundations of QT, it is assumed that the linearity of quantum dynamical evolution does not apply to the central nervous system of living beings at a certain level of the evolutionary ramification and at the pre-conscious stage of subjectivity. Accordingly, corresponding to the onset of a non-linear dynamic evolution, a ‘primary spatial’ reduction is ‘continually’ taking place, thereby constituting the neural precondition for the experience of distinguishable macroscopic objects in the continuous spatial extension. While preventing the theoretically possible quantum superpositions of macroscopic objects from being perceivable by living beings, the ‘primary reduction’ has no effect on the standard processes concerning quantum level entities involved in laboratory man-made experiments. In this connection, an experimental check which might falsify the conjecture is briefly discussed. The approach suggested here, if sound, leads to a naturalization of that part of Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetics than can survive the Euclidean catastrophe. According to such naturalized transcendentalism, “space can well be transcendental without the axioms being so”, in agreement with a well-known statement by Boltzman. Finally, as far as QT is concerned, the conjecture entails that a scheme for quantum measurement of the von Neumann type cannot even ‘leave the ground’, vindicating Bohr’s viewpoint. A quantum theory of measurement, in a proper sense, turns out to be unnecessary and in fact impossible.


Spatial extension Perception of macroscopic objects in space Quantum ontology Superposition principle Macro-objectification Violation of linearity of quantum evolution Naturalized transcendentalism 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Physics DepartmentUniversity of ParmaParmaItaly

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