What is a “click”?

This is the question posed by physicist Vlatko Vedral on his excellent blog ‘Musings on Quantum Mechanics‘. During the pre-publication of an article, he and his referee discuss the primary object of quantum physics. Is it the elementary quantum field, as Vlatko argues, or the click of the detector registering a particle, as the referee asserts?

A Vulcanian Vedralian choice

The field is a theoretical object, accessible only by mathematics, while the click is directly perceptible by the senses, an undeniably concrete object. Which to rely on fundamentally? Vlatko defends his position by making the click an emergent phenomenon, therefore secondary to quantum interaction. But does the click have no feedback effect at the field level? A priori yes, since it modifies subsequent records.

Things are therefore not so simple. I will defend the idea that it is a mistake to choose between click and field, the two being inseparable to describe the current foundations of reality, of which nothing affirms that they are in fact fundamental.

The click is a hover

Let us compare our problem of the click related to the fields with that of the flight related to the organs allowing the flight. It would be foolish to begin the understanding of the problem with the teleological look, that is, by starting from the flight. The organs of bird-dinosaurs did not evolve to “enable flight”. This direction of thought makes the flight a predestined, inevitable event, then seeks what caused it. No, dinosaurs were not “designed to” fly. The organs involved have developed over long periods of time and for other reasons. The feathers provide a good seal against moisture. The wings got bigger because they are part of the sexual apparatus. No altitude gain objective.

Nature is not a researcher with its ideas, striving to put them into practice. It explores its possibilities of spontaneous organization. Increasing the surface area of the wings, aimed at a more advantageous courtship, had the ‘side effect’ of allowing take-off, with the gains in speed and safety that come with it. Immediate plebiscite of natural selection.

Teleology follows ontology

What’s the point for our click? The concept of ‘flight’ does not yet exist while the necessary conditions are in place. Once appeared, however, it becomes unavoidable. It is impossible to explain the subsequent progress of the flywheels by the previous conditions taken individually. It is the new global ability, flight, that becomes explanatory. A qualitative threshold has been crossed. The ascending properties are replaced by the synthetic property, which is indeed teleological: it is not visible from the initial conditions.

Causality has changed direction. This time, it is what improves the flight that makes the previous determinants evolve. The size and shape of the wings are now changing because they improve aerial skills and no longer sexual.

Virtual extinction of murder

Before going to the click, let’s see another example, entirely virtual this time. How does a concept establish itself in a population and manage to reshape the sub-concepts that gave birth to it? Let’s take the example of a key concept: ‘Thou shalt not kill (your congeners)’, which I abbreviate as TSNK. As with flight, TSNK is not predestined except for theists. But theists thinking that everything is predestined, including quantum interactions, we will leave their point of view here.

TSNK is formed from different programmed impulses, responsible for promoting the survival and reproduction of the individual, but also cooperative, social. The dogma is forming: you can kill what feeds you but not what looks like you. Once TSNK is firmly established in the minds of adults, it modulates its sub-concepts. Since social interactions can no longer be regulated with the brutality of murder, all are reprogrammed by TSNK, which did not exist to begin with. You have to negotiate, exchange, accept certain frustrations. Again the causality is reversed. In this virtual mental universe, the whole caused by its parts becomes in turn causal on the parts.

Beware of reductionism…

These two examples show that in the material as well as the virtual domain —made up of pure information— an ontological causal sequence is later doubled by a teleological sequence. How they intertwine remains a mystery subject to endless controversy. Are the micromechanisms really modified or only selected? Are they concealing hidden laws? One thing is certain: it is impossible to reduce one causal direction to the other, even if one appears prior.

Let’s transpose all this to our click, the result of a particular interaction. Why would we assume that things happen differently in the microscopic, that there would be only one causal direction? One thing is certain: to denigrate the very possibility of two directions is to fall into reductionism, which is clearly distinct from reduction as a scientific method. Reductionism is a real psychological bias. Let’s dedicate a moment to it.

…which is militant atheism

Reductionism excludes any origin other than reduction, on the grounds that it is not demonstrated. It is not only agnostic on this subject but affirmative: what is not demonstrated does not exist. It’s the same line as between atheist and agnostic: the former denigrates the existence of God, the latter says the question is invalid. How is atheism about a supreme being or causation a psychological bias? It must be understood that the most precise theories that we conceive about reality remain mental representations and not reality per se. We are, individually, the mental universe of these representations. It is a limited universe, bordered by the unknown. To exclude a possibility is not to exclude it from the real per se but from this personal universe.

Atheism reveals a confusion between the two, a lack of clarity about the limits of the mind. The atheist is often closer to the theist than to the agnostic when she deifies her theories, believes that there is a world of ideals where great mathematical principles play. There is no more proof of this than for God.

Another causal departure…

Once reductionism is kept at bay and our agnosticism rediscovered about causality, it becomes possible to see the causal double direction that appears with the click. Indeed the probabilistic properties of the particle are merged into the click. The “initial conditions” for the particle are its multiple superimposed states. The result is the measurement, a single result which now imposes itself on the underlying states and their subsequent characterization. Here again, the whole imposes itself on its parts.

The click is as causal as quantum interactions, in an inseparable sequence. But the problem is that this double direction is not obvious in mathematics. The equations are reversible at the quantum level but not the click. Once the decoherence of the superimposed states has occurred, the measurement does not make it possible to return to the initial conditions. We see only one causal direction in mathematics, the other is invisible. It is, moreover, the belief in a purely mathematical universe that founds reductionism: if reverse causation does not appear in math, it is because it does not exist.

…hidden in mathematics

Let’s stay away from this facility. We must therefore ask ourselves questions about the mathematics themselves. In their current state they are only a language of reality. Or rather a set of languages, because there is no metamathematics to link them. They do not express the qualitative. We do not know the origin of their particular structure, nor that of reality. Words, acronyms, and axioms of language are the subject of human, epistemic choices. I have described the cognitive biases behind these acronyms. We are far from a pure ontological language spoken by the essence of the real.

To understand the click is to refuse to be reduced to an incomplete language. Whatever the performance of math in explaining certain facets of things, it does not explain everything. Let’s also not forget that we use math inside arbitrary dimensions. We impose a human framework on them, to which we are blind because our mind knows no other.

Thinking not in complexity but in complexity

But our most serious blindness, I believe, is to think that complexity would be a dimension produced by mathematics, and not imposed on them. We discover the emergence of spatial dimensions, and certain aspects of time, in numbers, but not that of the complex dimension. Equations follow complexity, through different meanings of the ‘=’ sign, but they do not create it.

The click and the field excitation are two aspects of the same entity, separated in the complex dimension, irreducible to each other. The click is closer to the field, however, than the consciousness listening to the click. Entity more “compact” in the complex dimension than the mind, whose aspects extend from the fields to the neural organization. Let’s not forget any of them, because if we reduce the click to a field, to an aspect only, especially when it is as impressive as mathematics, we make our mind run the risk of forgetting itself.


1 thought on “What is a “click”?”

  1. So, a click is a quantum, or quantitative measure of something invisible emanating from a. a source which is neither strictly quantitative nor qualitative, but also invisible, or b. Itself, a qualitative property of the source, which is likewise quantitatively measurable, because we have the necessary tool? , or, c. All of the above;some of the above; or none of the above. Feynman famously said something like: anyone who says he understands quantum physics (probably?) doesn’t understand quantum physics. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle helps us live with the quandary. But the notion of a thing that can be in two places at once and /or change its’ character when it is being observed is unsettling. Yet, here we are.


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