Immanuel Kant... or can he?
Two nights ago, whilst I was reading What’s So Great About Christianity?, I found an interesting section on Immanuel Kant’s philosophy. Here’s what I (hopefully correctly) took from it.
Kant had a theory that our perception of reality is innately separated from what true reality is- that the reality we perceive is merely a portrait of what the true, objective reality is. It’s like we were taking a photograph of a flower and using that as our basis for what that flower is. This means that when it comes to reality there are dimensions to that true objective reality out there that we’ll never be able to grasp. Kant called the objective, true reality the noumenon. For our perception of reality, the reality we see and consider true through our senses, he called that the phenomenon.
This is really cool, and we’ve already accepted this in a way. If you look at Bohr’s model of an atom, you see orbits of electrons revolving around a solid nucleus made of neutrons and protons. This is the standard way of explaining an atom, but teachers will often begin teaching this with a warning: this is not how the atom actually is. In reality, “orbits” aren’t really orbits but a way to picture energy levels of quantum particles in intuitive, mechanical way. In reality, electrons are modeled both as waves and functions, and their position around an atom is a sort of “cloud” around the nucleus. And actually, the nucleus particles are also waves and particles at the same time. The nucleus is just more of a condensed cloud, and we can expect those particles to be tightly reigned in. The point is that our intuition and understanding can’t comprehend the actual nature of the atom because it is so foreign to us, so we create simpler mathematical models to make it understandable.
Cest ne pas un atom
Even thinking about the electrons and protons as waves don’t represent what’s really going on. Think about a stream of photons. We think of a bunch of little, teeny particles racing through space at a constant speed. There’s a catch to this. Photons are both a wave and a mass-less particle. This is another example of an object that is beyond our perception to understand fully. We create ideas of wave and particle through Newtonian physics and mathematics. Both are true statements, but when we look at the fact that waves are periodic movements of energy through a medium of particles, we are forced to ask how a particle itself can also be a wave. Also, how can a particle have no mass? Ask a physicist, and they will say that’s the only way to understand it. The math works out.
Paul talks about this perception splitting from reality in the Bible. In 2 Corinthians 4 he says though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed. There is a dimension to reality that is beyond our perceptions, and even though we can’t see it, it is true. Paul also says in another passage we see through a glass dimly. The stuff we see is a mere distortion of true reality.