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Austrian Team Splits 'Ding-An-Sich'
September 18, 2014
VIENNA--Writing in this month's issue of the journal Science, a team of researchers at the Vienna University of Technology report a breakthrough discovery in the field of noumenal physics. Working in a state-of-the-art lab equipped with a specialized chamber capable of compressing objects to 1/1,000,000th of their normal size through the use of high-energy, self-contained 'gravity pits,' the team managed to uncover, and then split, a never before isolated entity known as a 'ding-an-sich' or a 'thing-in-itself.'
"The importance of this discovery cannot be overstated," notes Uli Werner-Werner, Executive Editor of the Journal of Noumenal Physics. "It goes to the heart of one of the basic hypotheses of noumenal physics, namely that objects consist of something in addition to their constituent, perceptible parts; a sort of 'thingness' that makes an object what it is."
Tracing its roots to the work of Prussian-born philosopher Immanuel Kant, noumenal physics rejects traditional interest in the fundamental building-blocks of matter in favor of a theory of 'things' and 'superthings.' "We're through with splitting quarks and knitting fuzzy fields," explains Werner-Werner. "That's an Achilles and the hare approach that can only take us so far. What we're doing is taking a step back and asking bigger questions."
Postulating the existence of a ding-an-sich behind every ordinary object and just out of the reach of human understanding grounded in "sense perception and its extension through the techniques and technologies of traditional experimental science," the Austrian team, lead by Professor Hanni Chiang, sought to confirm the existence of such 'things,' but faced a seemingly insoluble quandary: how do you confirm the existence of something that is, by definition, imperceptible, even through the use of perfect instruments with infinite sensitivity and resolution.
"It's not a trivial problem," explains Professor Chiang. "Our first approach was to compress objects beyond the threshold of perceptibility, to just take this chair and make it so teeny tiny that all of its perceptible properties would be stripped away, just leaving the Ding, but we hit a wall with that. We burned through our budget, a good budget, something like [$2.3 billion U.S.], and we were still likely millions of orders of magnitude from our goal."
Last June, however, with the addition of Professor Eric Lougha of the University of California at Berkeley, the team's research took a new direction. "Eric helped us turn the problem on its head," recalls Chiang. "Rather than making the object imperceptible, we realized we could just make ourselves insensate. [Eric] introduced us to a special derivative of a small, Central American, high-altitude cactus, and, within days, every member of the team had seen the ding-an-sich."
During subsequent tests, the team successfully split the ding-an-sich of a laboratory stool, creating two complete but distinct 'things' underpinning the stool. "It just looks like an ordinary stool," explains Chiang. "But there are actually two Dings there. Essentially, it's two stools with all of the properties of one stool. It may sound very through-the-looking-glass, but there you have it."
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