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Quantum Weirdness 108: Many Interacting Worlds

“Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.”–Walt Whitman

“I believe we exist in a multiverse of universes.”–Michio Kaku

Note: at this point I am assuming anyone reading this has some handle on what Quantum Weirdness is, as well as the Copenhagen and Many Worlds interpretations thereof.  If you do not, go back and read the previous installments in this thread.

Much of this  Quantum Weirdness Primer thread , and it’s bigger sibling The Millennium Conjectures, has dealt with the two most popular interpretations of so-called quantum weirdness:  The Copenhagen interpretation and The Many Worlds interpretation.**   It should be noted that there are several other interpretations, but these two have garnered probably the most support among theoretical physicists.   I have joked that I personally am in an appropriate super-position on this question, simultaneously believing in both.  But like the wave function of a sub-atomic particle, my uncertainty has now collapsed into favoring a single interpretation that is not exactly either one.

This interpretation is called Many Interacting Worlds.   It professes a multiverse of interacting universes–which differs from the Everett’s Many Worlds interpretation in a very vital way.    Everett postulated that at each quantum “dice roll” the universe would split into alternate universes for each outcome.  These universes are forever separated and cannot communicate with or influence each other. Many Interacting Worlds states that there are a multitude of pre-existing nearby universes that interfere with each other on the quantum level, giving rise to the apparent weirdness.

From the standpoint of Schroedinger’s cat, we can look at it this way.   The Copenhagen Interpretation, views the cat as in a superposition of states, simultaneously alive and dead until an intelligent observer looks in the box.  The Many Worlds interpretation views the universe as splitting into two otherwise equal copies, one in which the cat is dead and one in which the cat is alive.  Each observer finds out which one he is in when he looks in the box.  The Many Interacting Worlds  interpretation effectively says that there are a multitude of nearly-identical universes that interfere with each other creating the quantum weirdness effects, ultimately determining whether the cat is alive or dead from your observation point.  Identical observers in parallel universes may see a different outcome.   The key difference is that the parallel universe in Many Interacting Worlds are not created at each quantum junction point–they already exist and interfere with each other giving rise to the phenomena of quantum weirdness.

Confused?  Well, as Feynman said, “nobody understands quantum mechanics.”   But here is an article describing the Many Interacting Worlds interpretation and its proponents claim that it may be testable.

 

**In his recent book, Our Mathematical Universe, Max Tegmark says “parallel universes are not a theory, but a prediction of certain theories.”  Specifically, there are two:  Eternal Inflation, which suggests what Tegmark defines as Level 1 and Level 2 multiverses,  and Quantum Mechanics, which gives rise to his Level 3 and Level 4 multiverses.  A detailed description of these multiverses is available on Tegmark’s web site.

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Conjecture #5: Quantum Solipsism (Part two)

“I’m not afraid of death.  I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”–Woody Allen

I conjecture:  In a Many Worlds quantum multiverse, each individual consciousness represents a distinctly different universe.

Part Two:  Quantum suicide and quantum immortality

Warning:  Professional stunt blogger.  Closed course.  Do not attempt at home.

To recap where we left off in our last episode,  the first part of Conjecture #5 suggested that, in a universe where the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics holds sway, each conscious entity represents its own distinct universe.   I called this Quantum Solipsism.  This differs somewhat from Conjecture #4, which suggested that in a universe governed, at least philosophically, by the Copenhagen interpretation,  our consciousness represents a composite of all the potential, but not real, universes.   This brings us to part two of Conjecture #5.

Quantum Immortality

Bold notions can sometimes breed extreme potential consequences.   When Hugh Everett posited the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum weirdness in 1954,  he didn’t just espouse it, he lived it.  He believed that in a world where every sub-atomic event splits off into a real alternate universe for every possible quantum outcome, that one’s own consciousness would always survive in some of them.  Quantum Immortality.  So he ate, drank and smoked himself to an early death–at least in the universe of everyone reading this post–by the age of 51.  His son expressed anger over his father’s failure to take care of himself.  His wife initially did not comply with his wishes to have his ashes disposed of in the trash, though eventually she did.   You think his views are extreme?  Or did he live on forever in a never ending series of alternate universes?  Consider this:  the quantum view of the second law of thermodynamics is purely a statistical one.  The reason all the air molecules in a room never seem to migrate to one corner is purely a matter of probability.  There are  staggering orders of magnitude more ways for them to be relatively evenly distributed.  But if every possible combination of such molecules actually exists as a real entity,  then somewhere  there is a universe where you suffocated last night because the air molecules in your bedroom did exactly that while you slept.   And somewhere, there is a universe where Hugh Everett’s ashes reassembled themselves and he woke up in a dumpster.

Quantum Suicide

This brings us to the ultimate in extreme ideas.  Quantum Suicide.  Originally conceived by Hans Morovec  in 1987 and further developed by Max Tegmark, it is a thought experiment designed to prove once and for all if the Many Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is correct.    If you recall from my Quantum Weirdness 101-107 series,  the Copenhagen interpretation sees the cat as neither dead, nor alive, until an intelligent observer intervenes.  The Many Worlds interpretation, sees the the creation of two separate universes, one each for a dead cat and a live cat, and the observer only finds out which one he is in when he looks in the box.   The quantum suicide gun re-creates the Schrodinger’s Cat experiment from the point of view of the cat.  Theoretically, it could prove the many world’s interpretation, though there are a couple of hitches.  If Many Worlds holds true,  the subject would be the only one it would be proved to;  if it does not hold true, the subject would be dead, period.  See the video below for a complete explanation, and as stated in the warning above, do not attempt this at home.  I sure won’t.  On the other hand, I can think of a few people I wish would try it…

(Video Credit: AliceandBobTV)

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Conjecture #5–Quantum Solipsism (Part one)

Note:  It has been so long since I published part I of this conjecture, I feel the need to refresh my memory–let alone yours–before completing it with part II.  You can catch up on all my cockamamie speculations by clicking on the “Millenmium Conjectures” category link to the right.

“Cogito Ergo Sum”–René Descartes

“What if god is our dream, and we’re his?”–Christian Bale as Jamie Graham in Empire of the Sun

I conjecture:  In a Many Worlds quantum multiverse, each individual consciousness represents a distinctly different universe.

I'm pretty sure I do exist most of the time--with the possible exception of some Monday mornings.   Exist tee shirts. http://www.zazzle.com/tshirts

I’m pretty sure I do exist most of the time–with the possible exception of some Monday mornings. Exist Tee-shirts. http://www.zazzle.com/exist+tshirts

I once overheard a friend explaining the multitude of religious beliefs to her young daughter in following manner.

She said, “everyone believes something different, and everyone is right!”

Really?  This seems to be the ultimate illogical statement in the illogical realm of religious beliefs.  If everybody believes something different, it seems to me infinitely more likely that everyone is wrong.  I won’t get into the implications for religious beliefs in this conjecture, mainly because I don’t care.  Suffice to say that stretched to an outre extreme,  this conjecture does suggest a manner in which everyone could be right.  It’s always fascinated me how different individuals could be so certain of world views that are so diametrically opposed.  Of course, one can tie that to cultural and cognitive differences resulting in seemingly different worlds.  But then maybe we’re all just be living in our own distinct quantum  universes.

At any rate, if Conjecture #4 was a possible ontological extension of The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum weirdness,  the current conjecture–#5–clearly emanates from The Many Worlds Theory.

Let’s be clear on one thing.   In my own head, I’m sitting on the fence between Copenhagen and Many Worlds…a kind of quantum superposition, simultaneously believing both.  But let’s get to the heart of the matter before I get too far ahead of myself.

What, exactly, is solipsism?  The brief dictionary description is simple enough: it’s the notion that only the self exists, or can be proven to exist.  Taken to the limit, it can result in a second definition: extreme self-absorption and egoism.

I don’t buy this and am not suggesting it.  While I’m not 100% certain of anything, external or internal, I still believe that you exist and our interactions do influence each other.   We may be in separate parallel universes, but these planes of existence overlap, in much the same way that these universes interfere with each each other on the quantum level.  (It’s worth noting that the conjecture wording says “distinct different” universe and not “distinctly separate.”)  But the fact remains: if The Many Worlds theory holds true the notion of quantum solipsism in some form must be taken seriously.  It’s as if our observations roll the quantum dice and influence which course through the multiverse each individual consciousness takes.  This notion will be the subject of conjecture #6, though at the rate I am going, this may take place a long, long time from now in a galaxy far, far away.  For more on solipsism including more detailed and nuanced description of it, and its various sub-categories, go here.

In the second part of this conjecture, I’ll deal with two very disturbing and controversial extensions of a “strong” quantum solipsism world view.   Quantum suicide and quantum immortality.  You’ll need to hold on to your metaphysical hats for this one.

And if you don’t get any of this, don’t worry.  I’m just impressed that I used “ontological” in a sentence.

Cheers,

Signature

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Conjecture #5–Quantum Solipsism (Part one)

“Cogito Ergo Sum”–René Descartes

“What if god is our dream, and we’re his?”–Christian Bale as Jamie Graham in Empire of the Sun

I conjecture:  In a Many Worlds quantum multiverse, each individual consciousness represents a distinctly different universe.

I'm pretty sure I do exist most of the time--with the possible exception of some Monday mornings.   Exist tee shirts. http://www.zazzle.com/tshirts

I’m pretty sure I do exist most of the time–with the possible exception of some Monday mornings. Exist Tee-shirts. http://www.zazzle.com/exist+tshirts

I once overheard a friend explaining the multitude of religious beliefs to her young daughter in following manner.

She said, “everyone believes something different, and everyone is right!”

Really?  This seems to be the ultimate illogical statement in the illogical realm of religious beliefs.  If everybody believes something different, it seems to me infinitely more likely that everyone is wrong.  I won’t get into the implications for religious beliefs in this conjecture, mainly because I don’t care.  Suffice to say that stretched to an outre extreme,  this conjecture does suggest a manner in which everyone could be right.  It’s always fascinated me how different individuals could be so certain of world views that are so diametrically opposed.  Of course, one can tie that to cultural and cognitive differences resulting in seemingly different worlds.  But then maybe we’re all just be living in our own distinct quantum  universes.

At any rate, if Conjecture #4 was a possible ontological extension of The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum weirdness,  the current conjecture–#5–clearly emanates from The Many Worlds Theory.

Let’s be clear on one thing.   In my own head, I’m sitting on the fence between Copenhagen and Many Worlds…a kind of quantum superposition, simultaneously believing both.  But let’s get to the heart of the matter before I get too far ahead of myself.

What, exactly, is solipsism?  The brief dictionary description is simple enough: it’s the notion that only the self exists, or can be proven to exist.  Taken to the limit, it can result in a second definition: extreme self-absorption and egoism.

I don’t buy this and am not suggesting it.  While I’m not 100% certain of anything, external or internal, I still believe that you exist and our interactions do influence each other.   We may be in separate parallel universes, but these planes of existence overlap, in much the same way that these universes interfere with each each other on the quantum level.  (It’s worth noting that the conjecture wording says “distinct different” universe and not “distinctly separate.”)  But the fact remains: if The Many Worlds theory holds true the notion of quantum solipsism in some form must be taken seriously.  It’s as if our observations roll the quantum dice and influence which course through the multiverse each individual consciousness takes.  This notion will be the subject of conjecture #6, though at the rate I am going, this may take place a long, long time from now in a galaxy far, far away.  For more on solipsism including more detailed and nuanced description of it, and its various sub-categories, go here.

In the second part of this conjecture, I’ll deal with two very disturbing and controversial extensions of a “strong” quantum solipsism world view.   Quantum suicide and quantum immortality.  You’ll need to hold on to your metaphysical hats for this one.

And if you don’t get any of this, don’t worry.  I’m just impressed that I used “ontological” in a sentence.

Cheers,

Signature

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Quantum Weirdness 107: Bell’s Inequality

Note:  I said in Quantum Weirdness 106 that I was done with this series for now.  There are two possibilities here.  Either my definition of “for now” is a very short time, or I have branched off into an alternate universe where the term “done for now” has no meaning.**  Then again, I could have branched off into an alternative universe where, instead of writing this post, I would be lying on a Mediterranean beach next to a super-model in a string bikini.   I wish.

**Okay, I might just have have lied.

“God does not play dice.”–Albert Einstein

“Quit telling god what to do.”–Niels Bohr

It’s complicated.  And this just about reaches the limit of my own understanding.

The whole point of Einstein’s comment is that he could not accept the random nature of the quantum world.  He could not accept that quanta of matter and energy, and all their itinerant properties, only exist as probabilities until we observe  them.  He felt that there must be hidden variables that gave them these properties whether anyone was watching or not.  “I’d like to think the moon is there whether I am looking or not,” he said.

He was wrong.  Well, I don’t know about the moon, as that invokes the infamous Schrödinger’s Cat problem and it’s obfuscation of the Copenhagen Interpretation.  But for those tiny little quantum bits of stuff, it seems as if he blew it.

It all boils down to two papers.  The first was a 1935 paper by Einstein, along with colleagues Nathan Rosen and Boris Podalsky that proposed a thought experiment to demonstrate that there are only two possible explanations for certain properties of quantum mechanics: either there are hidden variables governing the quantum world, or else, as Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance.”  This has become known as the EPR paradox.

The second was a 1964 paper by John S. Bell, proposing an equation and related experiment that could be used to determine which of the alternatives is correct.  This became known as Bell’s inequality.

The technology did not yet exist, though, to make the measurements required to determine the solution to Bell’s equation. That did not occur until Alain Aspect, et al, performed an experiment in 1981 that proved, finally, that Einstein was wrong: no hidden variables exist; it’s spooky action at a distance.  At least, that is,  until further notice.

A  fairly facile explanation of the concepts and history is available here (including a brief touching on their relationship to Schrödinger’s Cat) and some subsequent contrary opinions here.  Or for those who can’t (or prefer not to) read, see the video that follows.  Confused?  One of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century, Richard Feynman, said that nobody understand quantum mechanics.  Boy, does that give me free rein to get crazy with conjecture #5: Quantum Solipsism.   There may actually be a universe where I finally write and post it.

Whew.

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Quantum Weirdness 103: How Many Worlds?// Summer Rerun

“He who laughs has not yet heard the bad news.”–Bertold Brecht

The good news is, this is the last of the current series of summer reruns.  The bad news is, that means vacation is over and I have to go back to work.  Grumble.

“There is no question that there is an unseen world. The problem is, how far is it from midtown and how late is it open?” –Woody Allen

For the quantum physics-uninitiated, get ready for the weirdest of the weird: the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

In Quantum Weirdness 101, we talked about the wave-particle duality of sub-atomic quanta, and how they appear to be in a superposition of every possible trajectory and location until an observer measures them.

In Quantum Weirdness 102, we discussed The Copenhagen Interpretation, which basically states that reality is just fuzzy on that level.  They are only potential trajectories–probabilities–interfering with each other, and this doesn’t have a measurable effect on our everyday macro world.   But we also visited Schrödinger’s infamous cat–the mind experiment that poked a colossal hole in  Copenhagen.

Image Credit: University of Oregon, 21st Century Science

The Copenhagen interpretation remained the most popular explanation for decades, in spite of Schrödinger.   But in 1957 cosmologist Hugh Everett made an astonishing proposal.  He suggested that the particles themselves–not merely their probabilities–interfere with one-another.  In this interpretation, they actually take every possible trajectory, each in an alternate universe.  Effectively every physically possible history exists in a huge–possibly infinite–number of alternate universes. So when we look in the box containing that possibly dead or alive cat it is actually in two universes: alive in one, dead in the other.   We just see it in the one we are in.   Taken to the extreme, every one of us would exist in a countless number of alternate universes.   Some would be imperceptibly different from ours, in others we might not even recognize ourselves or the the world around us.  And while Everett was mostly ignored or derided in his day, his many worlds interpretation has become a leading explanation of quantum weirdness, rivaling even Copenhagen.

So where do I stand?  Agnostic.  It is a rather optimistic world view.  I hope it’s true; I’m afraid it isn’t.  But many of the world’s top physicists now lean towards many worlds, and David Deutsch, among others, makes some very convincing arguments using deductive reasoning if not direct evidence.  I will leave it at this: it is a strong possibility that greatly influences my millennium conjectures. For more detailed background, check out the Wikipedia articles on The Many Worlds interpretation,  as well as general overview of quantum mechanics interpretations.   Or if you prefer, here is an entertaining video, shamelessly lifted from YouTube.

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Quantum Weirdness 102: Equal Time for the Cat// Summer Rerun

“I don’t like it, and I’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it.”
Erwin Schrödinger  (referring to Quantum Mechanics).

What better follow up to The Equation of Canine Chaos, then the infamous tale of Schrodinger’s Cat?

In Quantum Weirdness 101, we saw that the double-slit experiment revealed the wave-particle duality of sub-atomic quanta, and the fact that these troublesome little bits behave as if they are everywhere they could possibly be at once until an observer looks for them.  While the experimental proof that this happens is rock-solid, the explanation for what causes it is anything but.  For decades after its original discovery in the 1920’s, the predominant interpretation—essentially, in fact, the only one—was the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation.  It essentially states that the universe is just fuzzy on the sub-atomic level, it doesn’t affect our everyday macro-world, and we mortals should not worry about it otherwise.  Critics have said it is really no interpretation, and some facetiously call it the “shut-up-and-calculate” interpretation.   In 1935, Erwin Schrodinger posed perhaps the most famous mind experiment in all of physics to show that theoretically the Copenhagen Interpretation makes no sense.  More recently, physicists have been able to succeed in creating this quantum superposition with larger and larger bits of matter, which tends to shoot empirical holes in Copenhagen.

Anyway, this witty video does a good job of explaining the concept behind Schrodinger’s Cat.  And I’m pretty sure that no cats were harmed in its making—much to the chagrin of my dogs.

In the next installment: the many worlds interpretation of quantum weirdness.

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Quantum Weirdness 101: Observer Created Reality//Summer Rerun

“It gets boring at home.  How many reruns of Abbott and Costello movies can a guy watch on TV?”–Bud Abbott

It’s summer vacation time, and that means reruns.  For the next couple of weeks I’ll be reprising some oldies but goodies.  I’ll intersperse the sublime and ridiculous, as always.  Let’s start with a Quantum Weirdness review in preparation for my next blockbuster conjecture, which might actually be published before the fall.

Quantum Weirdness 101:  The Double-Slit Experiment

“Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.”–

Neils Bohr

With apologies to Douglas Adams–don’t panic!  Although an understanding of a few basic concepts of quantum mechanics will be helpful in following some of the Millennium Conjectures, it’s actually not that hard to grasp.  No math is needed.  The following video gives a clear and entertaining description of the wave-particle duality of the sub-atomic world.   If you weren’t already familiar with the concept, this should give you what you need to “get it.”   What it won’t allow you to do is come to grips with it, or even believe it.  But you’d better believe it.  Quantum theory is one of the most rock solid, experimentally verified fields in all of science.   And whether you believe it or not, don’t even think of explaining it.  The world’s most brilliant physicists have been debating the implications for decades and are nowhere near a consensus.   If you’d like a little more after the video, including a description of some of the leading explanations, here is a text primer.

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Conjecture #4: Quantum Consciousness

“You can’t always get what you want.  But if you try sometime, well you just might find, you get what you need.”–The Rolling Stones (Jagger/Richards)

“I’m-a get medieval on your ass.”–Marcellus Wallace (character, Pulp Fiction)

I conjecture:  In a quantum multiverse, one’s consciousness is a composite of the many worlds.

 

You’ve been warned folks: I’m-a get metaphysical on your asses.  What’s worse, it’s a personal, almost solipsistic metaphysics.  Hell, it’s my blog, why can’t I?  I might also add that the next couple of  conjectures will be the most controversial, and to some extent they might contradict each other.  Consider it an appropriate quantum superposition–both simultaneously half true.

Few subjects in the sciences are as controversial as the notion of quantum consciousness, as it meets at the junction of theoretical physics and cognitive psychology, and manages to merge the two phenomena that puzzle scientists the most.  Oh, we understand what quantum mechanics is in terms of what it does,  but have no freakin’ idea how and why it does it.   You can say pretty much the same for consciousness.

The concept of quantum consciousness is nothing all that new.  Without getting too technical–because hey, then I wouldn’t understand it either–the notion of a quantum mechanical basis for human consciousness was first directly proposed by Roger Penrose, in his 1989 book, The Emperor’s New Mind.  Built on his earlier work with Stuart Hammerhoff,  Penrose asserted that the human mind can perform functions that are not computable and could only arise from quantum superpositions occurring within the brain.    Max Tegmark,  an MIT cosmologist with no shortage of his own controversial ideas, became the most vocal opponent of this concept, for reasons I won’t go into here, as this is not exactly what I am advocating.     Or maybe it is.

What I am advocating, whether the mind is a quantum computer or not, is that our conscious experience represents a composite of all the universes, or potential universes suggested by quantum theory.  The distinction between potential and actual alternate universes implies the distinction between the Copenhagen and Many Worlds interpretations of quantum mechanics.  And the former seems to make more sense in concert with this conjecture, as it asserts that there simply is no objective reality on the sub-atomic level until we measure it; there are, effectively, only statistical probabilities.  From that it would be easy enough to make the philosophical assertion that our consciousness is essentially a composite of all the possibilities.

But it might not be.  As we only appear to be conscious in one reality at a time, it is certainly within the realm of feasibility to assert that consciousness is a composite in the Many Worlds scenario as well.   If the Many Worlds interpretation is willing to accept that these universes can interact with each other on the sub-atomic level to produce the wave interference pattern described in Quantum Weirdness 101,  why not accept that our consciousness does the same thing? Therefore, consciousness would be a composite across actual, physically real worlds.  David Deutsch, in his book The Fabric of Reality, makes the case that the quantum multiverse is the enabler of free will;  from this I would infer he means consciousness as well.  But the Many Worlds interpretation suggests something perhaps darker and more sinister,  even frightening.  I’m bound to get flamed to no end for even bringing it up–it will be the subject of Conjecture #5.  I call it quantum solipsism.

My bottom-line position on the composite consciousness conjecture: It’s a strong possibility.  I see evidence of it in my own life; but it would take a volume, let alone a blog post, to fully recount.  The best way to sum it up?  The Rolling Stones quote above.  It seems I rarely get exactly what I want, but often get what I need, and just in the nick of time.  What?  You say you don’t get what you need?  Well, read the next conjecture.  It seems that may not be my problem!

Below, Stuart Hammerhoff discusses the notion of quantum consciousness and related issues.

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Cosmic Quote #18

“Quantum mechanics is magic.”–Daniel Greenberger.

Image credit: Matthias Giesen http://matthiasgiesen.wordpress.com/page/8/

Image credit: Matthias Giesen http://matthiasgiesen.wordpress.com

Quantum mechanics.  Niels Bohr said if you’re not shocked by it, you don’t understand it.  Richard Feynman said nobody understands it.  Albert Einstein said god does not play dice. Stephen Hawking said god does play dice and sometimes he hides the results.  I say who the hell cares, as long as they give me fodder for my blog.  Or my wife’s horse.  Or my accountant’s newt.  It all fills  space, thus proving the vacuum is not empty.  Isn’t physics fun?  [Note: vacuum is one of the few words in the English language containing “uu.”   But it’s not as cool as muumuu, duumvir or menstruum, proving that linguistics is fun, too.]

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