Along with weaving together observations, experiments, and theoretical constructs into a coherent mesh of understanding of the world around us, physics over its past five centuries has continuously refined the base concepts on which the whole framework is built. In quantum physics, first in nonrelativistic mechanics and later in quantum field theories, even familiar concepts of position, momentum, wave, or particle, are derived constructs from the classical limit in which we live but not intrinsic to the underlying physics. Most crucially, the very idea of the individual, whether an object or an event, distinguished only in a mere label of identity from others identical to it in all the physics, exists only as an approximation, not an element of underlying reality. It is not an element of physics. Failure to recognize this and seeking alternative explanations in many worlds or multiverses leads only to incoherent logic and incorrect physics. As an example, for an atom in a particular state, physics deals with the universal system of all such atoms but makes no meaningful prediction of the position of an electron or the time of decay of any specific atom. Those are incidental, entirely random among all possible positions and times, even while physics makes very precise predictions for the distribution of the outcomes in measurements on atoms in that state. Physics deals with the universal, not the individual.
Publication Source (Journal or Book title)
Rau, A. (2017). What is physics? The individual and the universal, and seeing past the noise. Physics Essays, 30 (1), 60-69. https://doi.org/10.4006/0836-1398-30.1.60