What Does Quantum Mechanics Suggest About Our Perceptions of Reality?

Hans Halvorson in Big Questions Online:

ScreenHunter_1047 Mar. 04 13.38Quantum mechanics suggests that we perceive at most a tiny sliver of reality. Of course we already knew that! We knew that the visible spectrum is only a small part of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. We knew that the universe is much, much larger than our ancestors believed. And we already knew that we are made of things that are too small for our eyes to see. So how is it news that we only perceive a tiny sliver of reality?

It’s news because quantum mechanics says that the part of reality that we do not perceive is radically different than the part of the world that we do perceive. The difference is so profound that we still don’t fully understand how to talk about quantum reality. There doesn’t seem to be any direct analogy between quantum reality and the reality we perceive with our senses.

Before I explain the gap between our perceptions and reality, I want to state that I completely disagree with the idea that quantum mechanics forces us to accept an idealist view of reality. Idealism says that the physical universe is made out of our perceptions – in other words, out of spiritual reality. Several early interpreters of quantum mechanics thought that it supported this idealistic understanding of reality. Why would they have thought this? The reason, quite simply, is that they didn’t know how to cope with the issue of quantum indeterminacy.

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