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Speculations On Quantum Theory

October 5, 2020

When I studied physics as a student, my mind was very much trapped in the easy to use Newtonian Classical Mechanical picture of things. This view confirmed with my intuitions and I had a natural aptitude for it and did well in my study in things related to it without really having to do much study or work, which suited me just fine because I was, though not proud of it now, quite a lazy student, who mostly chose my courses based on what I could do most naturally and so would require the least amount of study and homework time.

As I moved up to university level I found a world of study that went way beyond my classical mechanistic intuitions, and struggled for some time. After a while I began to see the benefits of idealism, not as a catch-all answer to everything, or as a way to merely solipsistically assert my own awareness over all around me, but as a way of thinking to understand better certain aspects of reality that simply did not make sense or fit within my mechanistic intuitions. As a result, I came to some level of appreciation of the theory of relativity of space and time.

The next step to quantum theory alluded me for a long time, and in fact, I mostly even avoided trying to understand these phenomena until very recently. The reason was that they seemed absurd, and they seemed to be either totally irrational and random, or purely probabilistic. And as much as the instructors and teachers in this domain may try to assure me that this statistical and probabilistic nature of quantum phenomena was totally determined, somehow I remained unconvinced.

The traditional Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory has it that there is somewhere on some scale this process of observation or measurement of events that collapses wave functions from a wave like super-position state to a particle like state with a definite position and place. And this process happens following strict statistical laws. The problem was that this line of where to draw the distinction of a measurement from a non-measurement was an ambiguous area difficult to define.

This is where other interpretations have come in to try and solve this ambiguity. And there are three main options I am going to quickly summarise.

The most popular currently, though what I believe to be definitely wrong, is the many worlds interpretation. Basically this approach solves the measurement, non-measurement boundary line problem by creating infinite worlds splitting off during any superposition event. We are only observing one such world naturally, as we can only inhabit one outcome. But the rest exist equally well in parallel universes. As a result, the supposed collapse of the wave function needs no longer to be accounted for as to how it relates to the super-position state, because it is in effect explained away by postulating these many worlds, running parallel to ours that split off with each event. Modal realism, as supported by David Lewis in philosophy is an ontological and logical view that is held to run alongside this interpretation of quantum theory.

My main problem with that approach is the arbitrary nature of these postulated worlds with which we can never have any interaction. It would also mean that very improbable events, events not likely to happen within the lifetime of the universe, would happen within some of these parallel universe, as there are infinitely many of them instantiating all possibilities, and would be just as actual as are much more probable actual reality. This seems to offend many basic intuitions both about reality and truth, and about what science should tell us about truth and reality. And for me, if the only way to save a mechanistic interpretation of quantum theory is to believe in such multiple parallel universes then we are better off rejecting the whole mechanistic endeavour, in favour of a probabilistic interpretation that simply embraces the uncertainties as just an inherent feature of reality.

A second approach, developed in detail in more recent times by David Bohm, is the Pilot Wave Theory approach. In this view, there are hidden variables brought in to retain determinism without a visible mechanism. I won’t pretend to understand this view yet in much detail, it is something I plan to study more, but at this point, I will only say that though it saves determinism, it only does so through reliance on a form of non locality, which Bohm visualised with the notion of space and time as being enfolded, so that distant places in the universe folded over to have a kind of entanglement in that way by folding into each other. And all this enfoldment could be explained by these hidden variables in what he called the Implicate Order in his popular book.

The third approach I want to bring on to the table, has its philosophical support in the recent popularity of panpsychism. This view has recently became popular precisely in one way because it provides support for this interpretation of quantum theory. Namely the view that consciousness in some ways underlies reality and interacts with and influences all phenomena, including quantum phenomena. This solves the problem of where to draw that measurement, non-measurement line by placing consciousness underneath matter, rather than as an emergent phenomena from matter. The view is supported by John van Neumann, Ernest Wigner, and more recently Roger Scruton in his The Emperors New Mind proposes a way to consider consciousness and free will as connected on the quantum level by our ability on that level to influence certain quantum results.

The view may seem very far out, but has some recent support in experiments performed by the likes Dean Radin, which show consistently the ability of participants in trials to influence the wave function collapse, to a very small, but statistically relevant degree.

Now my own current opinion is that for sure a mechanistic approach is doomed to failure and we are better off to think of quantum theory more in informational terms. This is also an area of recent study that has made some interesting advances, through the work of figures such as Benjamin Schumacher, providing a whole new angle from which to come at the whole quantum phenomenal domain.

We may find out in the end that some elements of all the views are correct. Perhaps in some cases there is a splitting of worlds taking different paths, but not in all, perhaps in some cases there is a level of conscious control we can take over the quantum phenomena, and perhaps also in some cases what we are primarily dealing with is certain hidden variables presenting an implicate order that was there all along, acting non-locally in ways we are unable to comprehend limited to the localised space-time nexus as we are. Regardless, for me the important thing at this point is that we are not dealing with a closed and predecided result, we are dealing with some level of chaos and perhaps this always is and has been the secret to reality we have been denying. It is much easier to stay comfortable in our models and intuitional concepts, but the limitations of human models is never the same as the limits of the world, and that for me is something to be thankful for, in this currently darkening era we are living in, where the tentacles of an over controlling totalitarian impulse are trying to get their grip on to everything and close the door on our connection to reality forever.

Quantum theory can perhaps help keep that door open, if we are prepared to stay mentally open also, so that is the door I am going to try walking through right now, seeing where it will lead, rather than trying to force and predecide the outcome, a bit like a quantum experiment all of its own.

From → Poetry

  1. Quantum physics is so trippy.

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