Ancient Atomic Logic Shows Reality Is Relational, Not Objective.

Loop quantum gravity gets the ancient atomist back into the loop, showing how black holes might explode, and that the Big Bang might be a Big Bounce. 


1. Objective physics “misled” us—“reality is relational,” so says Carlo Rovelli in Reality Is Not What It Seems. We must loop back to a 2,300-year-old idea (perhaps humanity’s “greatest”) to stop cutting against the grain of the universe.

2. Democritus’s ancient logic of atoms says you can’t divide things ad infinitum—below some cutoff you can’t cut anymore. Reason shows reality is “atoms, and the void” ("atomos" means uncuttable).

3. Uncuttableness seemed to resolve recursive puzzles like Zeno’s you’ll-never-get-there paradox, and it cast the cosmos as an “endless dance” of the invisible and indivisible.

4. Ancient atomists saw writing as a “visible model” of invisible cosmos-organizing processes: Text made language visible, illuminated its workings (parts + combination rules), and provided new thinking tools.

5. Greeks had the “first true alphabet”: a “universal” writing system that used a few letters to encode the infinite variety of all possible utterances. Similarly, all matter is written in a "language… of atoms."

6. Rovelli extends Democritus's atoms-are-matter’s-alphabet metaphor by characterizing physics as the  “grammar of the world,” describing its parts and combination rules.”

7. But other syntaxes dominate science, per Plato’s belief that mathematics is the best world-grasping language. Math brings its own grammatical forms/rules. (Plato’s predecessor Pythagoras believed “numbers were literally gods"— expressing immortal patterns.)

8. Science’s Platonic-math lust has produced powerful results, but also “pathological situations” of unclear, even absurd, meanings. For instance…

9. “Quantum field theory… is full of mathematical absurdities” (routinely computing infinite values).

10. Mysterious “meanings” still surround 100-year-old quantum mechanics equations (e.g., between interactions particles exist only as a “cloud of probability”).

11. And particle physics equations work only in “absurdly convoluted” ways (yielding nonsensical infinities).

12. Reusing Democritus’s infinite-recursion-evading trick, Rovelli works on taming these plaguing infinities. “Loop quantum gravity” atomizes the void. Space itself has indivisible grains.

13. Therefore you can’t compress things ad infinitum. Approaching the space-grain size a “quantum pressure” resists. That suggests aging black holes might explode in possibly detectable ways, and the Big Bang might = a Big Bounce.

14. Philosophy might be “footnotes to Plato,” but physics hasn’t finished footnoting Democritus. (He lived before Plato’s formative math-morphism.)

15. Lost in our lust for math-structured thinking are useful subtleties of Democritus’s atoms-as-letters vision. Beyond the grammars of geometry and algebra lies a domain of not math-like but text-like compositions and meanings (of semantics beyond mathematics).

16. Here the ancient fallacy of composition has math-specific applications: Some traits combine and aggregate in math-friendly ways, some don’t. You can’t grasp the meaning or function of text or DNA by counting letters or measuring lengths or quantity of ink. Their meaning/function/grammar is relational and sequential and word-like. The information encoded in matching sequential text-like compositions matters (DNA—>RNA, letters—>“social cartesian” lexicon).

17. Word and world both have grammars that don’t fit our available mathematical rules.

18. Reality is relational, and not entirely objective. Subject and object aren’t separable, they’re entangled, inescapably. “Objective” is always relative to some other system/observer. 



Illustration by Julia SuitsThe New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

You weren't born ‘to be useful’, Irish president tells young philosophers

Irish president believes students need philosophy.

Personal Growth
  • President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins calls for students to be thought of as more than tools made to be useful.
  • Higgins believes that philosophy and history should be a basic requirement forming a core education.
  • The Irish Young Philosopher Awards is one such event that is celebrating this discipline among the youth.
Keep reading Show less

10 new things we’ve learned about death

If you don't want to know anything about your death, consider this your spoiler warning.

Culture & Religion
  • For centuries cultures have personified death to give this terrifying mystery a familiar face.
  • Modern science has demystified death by divulging its biological processes, yet many questions remain.
  • Studying death is not meant to be a morbid reminder of a cruel fate, but a way to improve the lives of the living.
Keep reading Show less

Hyperdimensional computing discovered to help AI robots create memories

New computing theory allows artificial intelligences to store memories.

Credit: Perception and Robotics Group, University of Maryland.
Technology & Innovation
  • To become autonomous, robots need to perceive the world around them and move at the same time.
  • Researchers create a theory of hyperdimensional computing to help store robot movement in high-dimensional vectors.
  • This improvement in perception will allow artificial intelligences to create memories.
Keep reading Show less