If physicists are to be believed the quantum world is a bewilderingly odd place where the common-sense rationality of cause and effect holds no sway. Particles can be linked at potentially any distance (a state called entanglement) so that altering the state of one results in the same alteration in the other instantaneously. There is quantum tunnelling whereby a particle can move itself through an obstacle which it does not have the energy to move over or around (akin to something changing its nature to go through a brick wall rather than over it) and superposition of states where an entity such as an electron or atom can be in different states and positions at the same time.
Perhaps oddest to the human mind is the idea that an entity such as an electron or proton can exist simultaneously in two forms, as a wave and a particle and that when the entity is not observed it displays wave properties, but when measured (in this case measured meaning to be observed) then it immediately assumes its particle form, viz: .
“When a quantum “observer” is watching Quantum mechanics states that particles can also behave as waves. This can be true for electrons at the submicron level, i.e., at distances measuring less than one micron, or one thousandth of a millimeter. When behaving as waves, they can simultaneously pass through several openings in a barrier and then meet again at the other side of the barrier. This “meeting” is known as interference.
Strange as it may sound, interference can only occur when no one is watching. Once an observer begins to watch the particles going through the openings, the picture changes dramatically: if a particle can be seen going through one opening, then it’s clear it didn’t go through another. In other words, when under observation, electrons are being “forced” to behave like particles and not like waves. Thus the mere act of observation affects the experimental findings”. Science Daily
This is as disorientating for physicists as for anyone else:
“Nothing is real until it has been observed! This clearly needs thinking about. Are we really saying that in the ‘real’ world – outside of the laboratory – that until a thing has been observed it doesn’t exist? This is precisely what the Copenhagen Interpretation is telling us about reality. This has caused some very well respected cosmologists (Stephen Hawking for one) to worry that this implies that there must actually be something ‘outside’ the universe to look at the universe as a whole and collapse its overall wave function. John Wheeler puts forward an argument that it is only the presence of conscious observers, in the form of ourselves, that has collapsed the wave function and made the universe exist. If we take this to be true, then the universe only exists because we are looking at it. As this is heading into very deep water I think we will have to leave it there and move on to the next experiment.”
The idea that nothing is real unless it is observed is worrying enough, but it also raises the difficult question about who or what constitutes an observer. Is it only human beings who qualify or can any organism? Would a bacteria or even a virus qualify or would the observer have to have a degree of self-consciousness and intelligence, for example, say all the great apes plus humans?
It would be interesting to conduct the double slit experiment – in which a single electron is sent through two slits in a board at the same time when acting as a wave when unobserved but only through one slit whilst acting as a particle when observed – with different organisms present but no humans.
The question of who or what counts as an observer has further difficulties. Suppose human beings are the only observers who activate reality or what we think of as reality. Human beings frequently suffer the loss of faculties such as sight and hearing. Does someone who is blind not act as a reality activating observer? Those who have lost a sense still have a solid idea of what they perceive to be the external world. Any sighted person can test the proposition by closing their eyes. They still experience what they believe to be reality through their other senses. Not only that, but if the sighted person has an object before them which they have seen before closing their eyes, very often they can touch it and recognise the shape of the object even if it is shifted to another position. It is also possible for a sighted person whose eyes are covered to correctly identify objects they have not seen using their other senses. Moreover, those who have lost sight will say that they experience the same type of sensory perception the sighted with closed eyes experience, although probably with a heightened non-visual perception.
There is also what might be termed the partial perception of something problem. We hear what we believe is a door banging but cannot see the door, a smell coming from a kitchen suggests bacon is frying although we cannot see inside the kitchen, we hear voices down a telephone. What exactly is being brought into existence here if we accept that nothing actually exists as we perceive it until we perceive it? Does the voice at the other end of a phone call actually exists or are we simply calling into being a personality by either answering a ringing phone or making a call?
But observation/measurement is not simply a question of organisms measuring according to physicists. They also tell us that if the observation/measurement is made by inorganic means such as a machine which detects particles without any human involvement the unobserved/measured wave still collapses into a particle.
Where does this leave us? If humans can experience reality without a full set of senses this implies one of three things: that the senses operate individually as a trigger to bring reality into existence within the limits of the senses operating at a given moment, that the existence of a human perceiving a situation is what counts regardless of how the perception is made or human minds are simply projectors of information from an external source in the same way that a video file plays in Realplayer or a reel of film plays on a screen. If nothing exists until we attempt to measure/observe it any of these scenarios is plausible.
To add to the intense intellectual discomfort which descriptions of and theories about the quantum world generates, physicists are far from agreeing how the quantum world operates, for example, there is disagreement over whether the wave function is a statistical tool or a physical reality and the no man’s land between the textbook quantum world (that is molecules, atoms and subatomic particles) and the arena of classic physics of Newton is undecided territory with no definite understood interaction and the way that quantum effects bleed over into the macro world which we experience with our senses. There is also a school of thought which favours the many worlds theory in which the wave-function does not collapse but possible states, for example, there is or is not a sleeping cat, are realised in different universes. Nonetheless, there is a general acceptance by physicists that the quantum world does not play by the rules of Newtonian physics , even if the weirdness is given different interpretations.
To all that weirdness can be added the general strangeness of atoms being comprised almost entirely of empty space. The lay human mind naturally boggles at how atoms which have so little physical substance can produce objects which are so solid and real to the human senses.
A virtual reality universe
All this may seem to be utterly nonsensical to the human mind, but there is a rational and plausible explanation for what seems absurd from our own experience. Ask yourself what it is that humans have created which most resembles our perceived reality? The answer is beautifully unambiguous, namely the virtual realities created by digital means, whether they be games or simply experiential programmes.
Imagine an entity in a virtual reality generated by a very advanced form of artificial intelligence (AI) which possessed something similar to the consciousness and intelligence humans possess . Such an entity would be unaware that it was no more than a character created from energy living in a seeming reality which existed simply as a computer program. The character would be in exactly the same position as ourselves. Let us further imagine this artificial intelligence began to investigate the nature of the perceived realm in which they existed and performed the type of experiments humans perform to look at the sub-atomic world and found that when they looked beyond the perceived reality they discovered the machine code. Would that not be the equivalent of humans discovering the weirdness of the quantum world we exist in?
if we are in a created reality akin to human created artificial realities the AI generated self conscious entity in a computer generated and hosted world would only be activated as and when the purpose of the virtual world required the activation and the entity’s perception of its surroundings would only be necessary for when it was needed. (That is exactly what happens in a human controlled virtual reality). Such an entity would have a sense of time passing , but what that would represent would not be time in an absolute sense of immutable duration. Rather it would be the totality of the experiences which the entity encountered. If these experiences were linked in seeming chronological order then the entity would have the experience of linear time as we do, although all that would be experienced would be a series of existential episodes . That is precisely what quantum mechanics suggests is happening in our perceived reality.
If a reality is created rather than arising without any creative agent bringing it into existence, any such reality must of necessity have the nature of an artificial construct when viewed from outside. The relationship between the creator and the created reality will always be the same, in general terms, as that of the virtual reality created by humans.
It could be that by seeing beyond the Newtonian world of common-sense cause and effect, what humans are seeing is the equivalent of machine code for the reality we live in and that the explanation for the reality we perceive is that we are part of a computer generated virtual reality or something similar. If that is accepted the quantum world becomes far less absurd and mysterious. For example, entanglement does not pose a problem because if we are part of a computer simulation anything can be achieved. All we have to do is believe that it is real. Billions of galaxies with countless stars and unimaginable distances between them become only figments of perception rather than realities. If we are living in the equivalent of a computer programme then space as we perceive it would merely be a projected illusion on to our consciousness. Our different senses of the rate at which time passes could be simply the consequence of the computer program we are operating at different rates of event perception. Indeed, anything can be explained if it accepted that we are existing in something similar to a computer generated world. Just as humans can create fantastical computer generated worlds which break all the laws of Nature, so could our reality contain whatever a creator wished.
Even at the level of our perception of the universe about us there are some distinct oddities. Take the question of the possibility of life, and especially intelligent life, existing somewhere else in the universe. Despite the fact that that there are unimaginably immense, possibly infinite, numbers of galaxies in what we perceive as our universe, we have absolutely no meaningful evidence of any sort of life existing anywhere but Earth. Our natural inclination is to think that there must be life elsewhere because of the seemingly colossal opportunities for it to exist. But if that is the case why have no intelligent aliens been encountered, either though their intrusion into our solar system or through messages sent remotely? There is a plausible argument that the reason is because the age of the universe is so immense that it would be most improbable that any alien visitor would coincide with the minute period humans have existed who could have recorded the visit. But if the universe is so vast, even infinite, the opportunities for such an encounter would be fantastically large or even infinite. Looked at from that viewpoint the absence of any other life in the universe showing themselves to us or simply being found seems improbable.
Infinity is the trickiest of intellectual constructs because once infinity is brought into the picture all concepts of number, size, density, duration or any other measurable quality become irrelevant in the context of what the totality of measurements of a particular quality in an infinity because by definition the total cannot be calculated. For example, it would be impossible to know the combined weight of an infinite number of one pound lead weights . Claims that there are different size infinities, for example, an infinite series of ones is smaller in total than an infinite series of twos or an infinite number of rooms ten feet square is larger in floor area than a infinite number of rooms five feet square simply misunderstand what infinity is. What infinity does do is make anything possible although the probability of possibilities will vary tremendously.
Created and uncreated worlds
If our world is the product of a creator we are not that much further forward to what is our ultimate existential cause because the question of who created our creator and who created the creator’s creator and so on in an infinite vicious regression with no ultimate answer. But what of the alternative explanation for our existence that our perceived reality simply came in existence? There is no means of proving that this is what happened because there could be no evidence that our reality had occurred without any conscious creator which would not be defeated by the question , yes, that happened but what caused it to happen? It would be impossible even in principle to show that any event or phenomenon was without a first cause.
Why would anything exist if there is no creator ? I suggest this. There are an infinite number of chances that something might exists and only a single chance that nothing might exist. Perhaps there is existence simply because Nature abhors a vacuum.
What could be the motives of those who create realities if in fact they are created? It could be :
- a simulation to test an hypothesis.
- an experiment, for example, to see how human beings would evolve.
- a game, for example, to see who can get their player in the in the game to solve problem of why their perceived reality exists.
- An aesthetic creation akin to what we call art.
- Most undignified from the human point of view would be that we are simply an unintended consequence of the created reality which we inhabit like rust on a horseshoe.
Why would a creator make the structure of the quantum and classical physical worlds so different?
- Because that is simply the way things have to be if a human were to perceive the virtual reality as reality. .
- Because that is the most efficient way to produce a human perceived reality.
- Because it is the only way known to the creator to produce a human perceived reality.
- To hide the nature of the reality from human beings to make the working of the reality more efficient or more pleasing to the creator.
- Because to understand the quantum world would interfere with the function or purpose of the created reality.
- As a catalyst to increase the intelligence and understanding of the intelligences within the created reality either as an experiment or as a game, the end product of which is for humans to understand the quantum world.
- To disguise the nature of the creator.
Solipsism and dreams
It is possible that everything we think we are experiencing is simply a product of our minds with nothing existing outside our mind.
Humans, either individually or collectively could be the product of another’s being’s mind, either consciously or in a dreaming state.
Is there anything definite we can say about existence?
I can think of only two things which are certain:
- any dynamic universe, that is a universe which experiences change, has of necessity the nature of a machine and everything thing in it, whether animate or inanimate, must share that nature. That does not mean it must be run on a basis of linear cause and effect, merely that it experiences change. Nor does it mean that the mechanical nature of a dynamic universe is predictable. Machine-like behaviour operates at the quantum level even if it is probalistic rather than certain. Moreover, even in the macro world we experience , our definition of a machine no longer includes a predetermined result because computer programs, especially those using AI, do not give a certain result.
- Free will is a logistical impossibility both because of the mechanical nature of dynamic universes and as a matter of simple logic. Imagine the most powerful possible being, an all powerful, all knowing creature such as the most awesome God of whom we can conceive. Such a being still does not have free will because any being exercising conscious choice must of necessity have a discrete mind and a mind must be limited by its own desires.
The temptation for humans is to simply say quantum theory is nonsense, but nonsense when applied to facts rather than logic is what is impossible. However unsettling the quantum world is it is not in principle impossible. The weirdness of the quantum world does not mean it is not a conceivable system. It plays by its own rules but they are still rules. The collapse of the wave function is a perfectly understandable and coherent idea if it is allowed that that is how the quantum world works. In its own way it is even a form of cause and effect, the wave is observed (cause) and collapses to a particle (effect).
I offer these thoughts merely as a possibility. I am not saying modern physics is wholly or even partially correct. What I am doing is to say that if the underlying fabric of our perceived reality is as seemingly irrational as physicists say, even if they squabble over the details, then we and our perceived reality can be explained as being akin to a computer generated human created virtual world.
The more I read myself into quantum physics the more rational it becomes in the sense that I can see it is a coherent physical system. I have recently finished reading a book Life on the Edge which deals with quantum behaviour within organisms. More than any other book on the quantum world I have read this explains clearly for the layman both quantum physics in general and its fascinating role in the Natural; World. Well worth a read). The fact that it seems more and more like a coherent system makes it seem less and less alien. There is as much about atoms, protons and so on which is as seemingly fantastic as quantum ideas such as entanglement and the collapse of the wave function, for example, the that atoms are 99.99% empty space and photons have no mass. (If they had mass they would not be able to travel at the speed of light). If we can accept that weirdness then there is no reason in principle why the weirdness of quantum theory cannot be true.
My last thought is this, I am drawn to the idea that we are living in something similar to a human created virtual reality because it is the most economical explanation for quantum weirdness.