Thursday 28 February 2008

Many Worlds Interpretation & Copenhagen Interpretation - Incompatibility?

I have recently swapped a couple of emails with Dr Christian de Quincey, Professor of Consciousness Studies at John F Kennedy University in California. Christian has not read ITLAD but he has read the article I had published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies a few years back. (for those of you who have not read this a downloadable pdf is available from my website). I was introduced to Christian's work by Dr. Alan Roberts. Christian is interested in my work and on his next visit to the UK we intend to try and meet up. However in his email to me he asked a very interesting - and challenging - question with regard to my using Everett's Many Worlds Interpretation and Bohr's Copenhagen Interpretation in support of CTF. Christian argues, quite rightly, to imply that these are somehow complementary by using them in this way is incorrect; MWI was suggested by Everett as an alternative to, not in support of, Copenhagen.

Copenhagen suggests that an act of observation by a conscious mind 'collapses the wave function' and changes a 'probability wave' into a particle with precise location in time and space. MWI suggests the total opposite - that the probability wave does not collapse because each possible location of the particle occurs in one of trillions of alternative universes. In this way the act of observation is taken out of the equation. In other words MWI does not need consciousness to work whereas for Copenhagen it is crucial.

Those of you who have attended my Quantum Physics talks will know that I acknowledge this difference when presenting the Schrodinger's Cat section. I am therefore very aware of the conflict with regard to these two theories and in the first draft of ITLAD I only focused in on Copenhagen. MWI was introduced later almost an alternative to explain one of the most widely criticised implications of CTF.

The philosopher Heinrich Heine made the following observation:

'Time is infinite, but the things in time, the concrete bodies, are finite. They may indeed disperse into the smallest particles; but these particles, the atoms, have their determinate numbers, and the numbers of the configurations which, all of themselves, are formed out of them is also determinate. Now, however long a time may pass, according to the eternal laws governing the combinations of this eternal play of repetition, all configurations which have previously existed on this earth must yet meet, attract, repulse, kiss, and corrupt each other again.'

When Friedrich Nietzsche came across this quotation he was both horrified and beguiled. He wrote in his book The Gay Science the following famous few lines:

What, if at some day or night a demon were to steal after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more" ... would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him "You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine."

In the original draft of CTF this is exactly what the evidence seemed to suggest - that we live our lives over and over again in the Bohmian IMAX. This is a recording and as such can never be changed. You live the same life without any opportunity to change it. You live a literal 'eternal reccurence' . The same life over and over again. This I found both terrifying and morally repugnant. I suppose that I have a certain belief in teleology - that things and circumstances have to have a reason behind them - such repetition seems pointless. This is not what happens to Conner's in Groundhog Day - he can change things. But there was something even more horrible about this suggestion and that is that if everybody only has one life which is then repeated what about those poor people who have terrible infirmities, babies born severely retarded. Children that die as infants. Do they just go round and round as well? I know I was being non-scientific in that this is what the evidence implied but I simply did not want to accept this as the only option. I then came across Everett's Many-Worlds. Here was a theory that proposed that all possibilities that can happen will happen in one of the multiverses. This was what I needed. A more hopeful and, dare I say it, teleological, proposition. Each 'return' can be different, subtly or massively (as suggested in the movie The Butterfly Effect). I hoped that this may imply that in their universes people avoid suffering and, by some mechanism I don't pretend to understand, are born without deformities or illnesses - they only have them in our 'observer based' universe. But I still needed Copenhagen to explain the uniqueness of each personal Everett Universe. On reflection maybe I don't. Maybe MWI itself can explain the uniqueness of each phaneron without resorting to any observer instigated 'collapse of the wave function'.

Indeed the reason I then introduced Bohm's Implicate Order was to avoid the accusation of solipsism. Simply if this is my universe then for whom am I writing this posting? You guys out there are simply illusions of my brain - nothing more. But for sanity - and cruelty - to not occur we have to accept that those beings we encounter are real, self motivated, conscious beings. To assume otherwise is a very dangerous step to make. The solution to this existential nightmare is that we are all part of the same collective consciousness that functions within Bohm's Implicate Order. We all interact within all our individual universes.

However maybe MWI (or more accurately MMI - the Many Minds Interpretation Dieter Zeh, David Albert and B. Loewer) may also accommodate the problem of 'other minds'. As such maybe in a refined version of CTF all I really need is MMI.

In fact is this not exactly what Max Tegmark suggests in his paper on quantum suicide?
(see or pages 20 to 47 of The Universe Next Door by Marcus Chown (isbn 0-7472-3528-7)

If you wish to check out Christian and his work follow the following link:


Hurlyburly said...

Hi Anthony,

I believe i emailed you a few months back posing the same question. That being how this theory effects those that die of illness and at early ages. Indeed, your theory like most others seems to attract a certain dynamic of people, that being individual thinkers that are able to appreciate what is being posed. I then asked you about what you also then phrased as the problem of "other minds" and your answer given was also very similar.

I hope you don't mind me posting your reply please feel free to remove it if you do:

Remember that each universe is an observer-created universe (if one applies the Copenhagen Interpretation and Everett's Many Worlds). As such 'we' observe what happens in our universe. The versions of people we observe similarly exist only in our universe not in their own. For example if you read Marcus Chown's book The Universe Next Door he is quite specific that we never die in our own universe but others see us die in theirs. The same applies for people who are observed to die young by us. In their universe they, also, never die.

You are quite right in picking up this moralistic weakness in my theory. However if observed reality is as it seems then these poor individuals only had one chance at life and they died (or were born retarded, or crippled) which is just as ethically horrible.

Of course I have no idea that my interpretation is right (and after all, my theory can be accused of being extremely solipsist) but I still think it works better, and is much fairer, than what we observe to be the true nature of reality.

Great post.

Anthony Peake said...


Thanks for re-posting this. I had quite forgotten that I had posted this reply to you so it really is useful to re-post it again.

Hurlyburly said...

By the way

The universe next door by Marcus Chown is a fantastic book. I absolutely loved it (almost as much as yours good sir).

I would basicaly describe it as a big book of testosterone; 12 different ideas from guys willing to put their reputation up for criticism.

Space junk was particularly interesting.

SM Kovalinsky said...

Anthony; Thank you for this post, as certain questions were always perplexing and troubling. I had read Christian's short papers, "Fundamental Intersubjectivity" and "Consciousness and Quantum Holography" and think it is very important that he places emphasis on the supremacy of meaning over mechanism, as did William James. In that sense, probabilities are no longer arbitrary, but must have meaning, and meaninful consequences.

Karl Le Marcs said...

Right, the problem word in all these discussions is "Interpretation".
By very definition, and accepted by most Quantum Physicists, each “Interpretation” cannot ALL be correct.
Bohr's "Copenhagen Interpretation" (which actually isn't solely Bohr anyway), Everett's "Many Worlds Interpretation" (which itself was a somewhat flippant idea originally but now majoritively accepted) and the "Implicate Order" are just three “Interpretations”, we could get into Decoherence, Bell’s Theorem, De-Broglie-Bohm, Statistical Interpretation, Quantum Field Theory, my own Quantum Gravity theory and many more but several glasses of amber nectar would be required. I’m also hoping to finish some writing I’m doing on what I’m now calling my “Quantum Entanglement Interpretation of Consciousness” which I need to discuss with Tony before finishing and posting.
As to HurlyBurly’s questions, I’m sure Tony and I can put things more clearly to you in person when we meet next month as I tried to start writing something but realised it would become a whole book in itself. So I’m probably best talking to you in person.

Karl Le Marcs said...

Re Schodinger's Cat: The two issues that come to mind are that surely the Cat, in itself, is an observer and even if we could remove that as a mere anthropological nicety the cat would still have eight of its lives left !
Tegmark's "Quantum Suicide" is, in my opinion, a stronger argument and I also agree re the Many MINDS but this is something I want to talk to Tony about directly when we next meet up as it's pivotal to some ideas we are jointly having........Watch this space
*ooooh tease*

Karl Le Marcs said...

And Hurly, if you liked Chown's "The Universe Next Door" then check out Michio Kaku's "Parallel World: The Science of Alternate Universes and Our Future in the Cosmos". There is also the new (or fairly new) Marcus Chown book "Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You" which I personally thought Tony did a better job at discussing the basics of the Quantum Theories involved with CTF but Chown does a good piece of writing when delving deeper into the complex stuff (which I like).

Hurlyburly said...

Thank you sir.

Will definately check that out as soon as i finish:

"The pig that wants to be eaten" and 99 other thought experiments.

Don't laugh - it's bloody good.

Karl Le Marcs said...

Ah Julian Baggini, yes "Pig" is entertaining but I preferred his "What's It All About? Philosophy and the Meaning of Life" and "Do You Think What You Think You Think?" Also, as a writer and a follower of politics and current affairs his "Making Sense: Philosophy Behind The Headlines" is useful to have in your mind. And not by Baggini but in a similar style of writing another thought-provoking book of little snippets of philosophy etc is "Paradoxes from A-Z" by Michael Clark - worth reading even if only interested in the Zeno Bisection Paradox, Thompson's Lamp and Cantor's infinities about which Tony discusses in his theory.

johar said...

Hi Guys. Need to ask a question but apologise in advance if it seems a bit simple. In MWI why isn't consciousness required if the particles are in every possible timeline? Surely a conscious observer is required to collapse the waveform? Why doesn't the probability wave need to collapse in MWI? The quantum mechanics are a bit beyond me so be gentle!! *scratches chin in a perplexed manner*

ken said...

I've been thinking the same thing as johar. MWI says that every possibility exists but aren't they still existing as a probability and doesn't each one need a conscious mind to collapse to a particular world? But it also seems that there is a chicken-n-egg think going on. Each of the many worlds don't exist until the collapse but the each world would have to exist for there to be a consciousness to affect the collapse.

Carenza Waters said...

I believe we are each developing our own universe and life. On any iteration, we might fall at the first hurdle and die in infancy. But an infinitesimal change in the way you collapse your wave function will avoid that next time.

I believe we have developed as far as we have from the ground up. At one point we were even tinkering with the laws of physics just to get mechanisms of life started.

God made us in his image, so cannot we be creators?

I believe too our 'brains' were once the entire cosmos. Now they are a singularity - a grapefruit size region of space inside our heads.

But I find all this pretty depressing, actually. The most horrific aspect being that you can't escape it through suicide.

ken said...

... an infinitesimal change in the way you collapse your wave function ...

Is it possible to "force" the result of the wave function collapse? I.e., in the thought experiment where an electron is in one of two boxes and those boxes are taken to some distance from each other, is there a way to force the electron to appear in my box rather than yours? And if so, what happens if we BOTH try to force it?

God made us in his image, so cannot we be creators?

This touches on some of the questions in my "Questions" post. If there is a God who made us all, then doesn't there have to be an absolute, "top-level" reality which is the same for everyone? Is our existence (all this talk of collapsing wave functions) just the Maya of Hinduism (and therefore so "unreal" that we need to forget about it and move on") and there is something else that is "real"?

ken said...

JOHAR, et al.-- A little reading has generated a smaller, but still finite, amount of understanding. The Copenhagen Interpretation uses the collapse of the wave function to completely eliminate all but a single possibility. Everett's Many-Worlds Interpretation, however, uses decoherance to allow the observer to ignore all the other possibilities -- that is, it only LOOKS LIKE the wave function has collapsed. In the MWI, all possible states still exist but only one is observed and this is not due to the act of observation. It is due to a "leaking" into the environment (which I don't totally understand).

This splitting can account for "random" events and for "lucky streaks." If a card is balanced on edge and allowed to fall, it will fall either face up or face down. One such event will produce two worlds; in one world, decoherence produces an observable result that it fell face up and in another the observable result is that it fell face down. Repeat the event and now there are four worlds: Up-Up, Up-Down, Down-Up, Down-Down. "You" will "be" in one of those four worlds. Repeat again and again and you will find that most worlds will have a 50-50 chance of each event. BUT, one world will see ALL the cards face up and one world will see ALL the cards face down. If "you" happen to be in one of those worlds and you placed the right bet, you are VERY rich.

Anthony Peake said...

I have swopped a couple of emails with Marcus Chown about this very issue. As an occasional reader of this blog Marcus pointed out to me that the positions taken by MWI (no collapse) and Copenhagen (collapse brought about by the act of observation)with regard to the 'wave function' have now been replaced by the concept of 'decoherence'. I have been aware of this word but I have never looked into it in any great detail. As I understand it it is an attempt to explain why we see everyday objects as separate and not blurred together. It uses as its basis Copenhagen but is interested in what happens at the boundary between the observed and the unobserved. It argues that the when a quantum object interacts with the environment this interaction acts as an 'act of observation'. Trillions of these interactive 'observations' smooth out (decohere) the quantum discreetness and 'collapse' it into classical-looking behavior.
But not all physicists accept this. Brian Greene in his fantastic book "The Fabric of the Cosmos" writes:
"Even though decoherence suppresses quantum interference and thereby coaxes weird quantum probabilities to be like their familiar classical counterparts, each of the potential outcomes embodied in a wavefunction still vies for realisation."

So it looks like the 'measurement problem' may still be with us.

Karl Le Marcs said...

Mention the "measurement problem" to anyone interested in quantum physics to see the look of blind panic cross their mush!!
In essence the question comes down to this: What constitutes a "Conscious observer". Theology, Philosophy, Neurology all suggest a different answer but personally I think this:
We are looking at observations and experimental data through our own empirically FALSE visions. What we "see" in life is not real. Just consdering visible wavelengths our own perception via our eyes is less than 5% of the Actual wavelengths in reality. We cannot see Ultraviolet or Infrared radiation, nor X Rays or Gamma Rays, Microwaves or Radio Waves (but they are there). If our senses were tuned differently we would experience a VERY different world than we, as human's do. Combine this false empiracalism with the fact that we live in a linear, pattern finding, neuronally logistical world which is patently false on its own, then we can start to realise that by trying to understand the nature of reality from the erroneous and intrinsically deceptive position that being humans puts is in, becomes an existential nightmare.
On the plus side, when it's sunny we all feel nice inside.

Karl Le Marcs said...

Oh, and decoherence, in essense is merely the acceptance of my above rant given when any quantum event interacts with the "natural" world it is immediately either destroyed or effected to such a degree that measurement becomes irrelevant.
In the legendary last words of the great Kenneth Williams.
"Oh, what's the bloody point!"
*dances out of room doffing top hat and swirling cane*

johar said...

Goodness me Karl when u rant u put on a marvelous show!! *winks* Thanks for all the feedback everyone, my head still hurts but I'm a li'l bit wiser!!

Karl Le Marcs said...

Johar, my dear lady, I thank you.
I would offer to mop your ailing head with a dampened cloth but fear for my levels of self-control should you wink at me again like that!
Hee Hee!
I've just re-read what I posted yesterday and yes, it was somewhat rant-like wasn't it! Just a stream of consciousness that escaped me after another of Tony and I's now legendary chats in a local pub.
*goes for lie down in darkened room*