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A Leading Quote

"With respect to the anthropic principle, we simply exist in one of the many universes where intelligent life is possible and did evolve. There are many other universes where this is not the case, existing side by side with us in some super-reality of the many-worlds. Since the many-worlds hypothesis lacks the ability to test the existence of these other universes, it is not falsifiable and, therefore, borders on pseudo-science."

- University of Oregon lecture course on Cosmology.

The Many Worlds Roundabout

So what is Quantum Mechanics?

The first time I came across the Many Worlds Hypothesis was thanks to Nine1. Whilst I was at university with her, she wrote a rather excellent paper on the absurdity of the Many Worlds Hypothesis, all from a philosophical rather than a scientific perspective. But what is the Many Worlds Hypothesis?

Unfortunately, as is generally the case for me these days, things are going to get worse before they can get better, as I have to dip into quantum mechanics to explain.

So what is quantum mechanics? Is it some ground-breaking physical theory that explains everything? Does it overturn Einstein? Does it suggest that the universe is Oberserver Created?

Actually, quantum mechanics is nothing new. It was formulated in the 1920s by Heisenberg, Schrġdinger, Dirac and others who, by a remarkable combination of intuition, brilliance and just plain luck, managed to produce mathematical formula that successfully explained some strange things happening in strange world of particle physics. They didn't understand it, and in 70 years, little has changed2.

This may come as a shock to many of you who, exposed only to the popular façade of physics, assumed that scientists understood quantum theory but weren't telling everyone else because 'we wouldn't understand'. Well, there's a certain truth to this. But the fact of the matter is, no matter what anyone tells you, no-one understands quantum mechanics.

Oh sure, there are people who have an interpretation of quantum mechanics, but that doesn't mean they understand quantum mechanics, any more than having an interpretation to 'Hamlet' means you understand Shakespeare.

The trouble is, quite simply, that the scientific part of quantum mechanics is nothing more than maths. It's great maths - it predicts the behaviour of subatomic particles with greater accuracy than any other physical theory predicts anything else. But it is utterly counter-intuitive.

Beautiful, Beautiful Copenhagen

The conventional interpretation of quantum physics is the infamous 'Copenhagen Interpretation', broadly attributed to Neils Bohr. Although the most well known, this is no longer the most popular. The most popular theory in modern quantum physics appears to be whichever interpretation the individual made up for themselves. I have yet to find two scientists who agree.

A brief summary of the 'Copenhagen Interpretation' follows: we don't understand this, but it works and that's good enough for us. If you don't believe me, here are the words straight from the mouth of Bohr himself:

"Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it."

The Copenhagen interpretation is based around the idea of wave-function collapse. In essence, the idea is that matter is simultaneously a wave and a particle; that in its wave form it can have many different values and when we make a measurement the wave-function "collapses" into a definite value3.

To put it another way, a quantum version of you gets up in the morning. She goes to the supermarket and the swimming pool simultaneously4. On the way to the swimming pool, she is seen by another person, who tries to chat her up. You have been observed, and can no longer remain in your superposition of states. Instead, you must collapse into one form, and the form you collapse into is the 'on the way to the swimming pool' form.

Now off from the Copenhagen interpretation come two of many bastard sons:

So which of these is the more scientifically applicable theory? Actually, neither are scientific at all, since neither can be tested. If we could test them, it would be a different matter, but for the time being, the are both merely possible beliefs. Try telling this to the Many Worlders, though.

You may have noticed a certain tendency for me to support OCR over Many Worlds. It is true that I prefer OCR, but my liking for it is similar to my belief in Eris - it has no scientific basis whatsoever. It is just a matter of personal choice.

So does that mean the Copenhagen interpretation is wrong? No. We just don't know. But it isn't unopposed.

Einstein a No-Go

Back when Einstein was alive5, Einstein was strongly against quantum mechanics because it violated his concept of how the world was. He is famously quoted as saying:

"God does not play dice."

The trouble was, Einstein had got so deep into General Relativity, which is incompatible with quantum mechanics, that it was hard for him to accept it6. We should not be too hard on him, though, because his opposition was essential to the growth of the subject. It was Einstein, along with Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen7, who came up with a way of testing whether quantum mechanics was a more valid interpretation than the rival theory, hidden variable theory. In 1935, they produced their famous EPR paper which essentially claimed that causality could not travel faster than the speed of light. Mostly, this was ignored as a matter for the philosophers and mystics. The quantum mechanics maths worked, and that was all that mattered.

It wasn't until 1964 that a richly deserved kick in the pants came into being. A mathematician named John S. Bell8 came up with the notorious Bell's Theorem. In essence, Bell's theorem provided a way to test the difference between quantum mechanics and the leading hidden variable theorem, whose chief proponent was David Bohm9.

The experiments were performed in 1972, and the results clearly demonstrated that local hidden variable theory could not account for the strange behaviour in the quantum realm. Hidden variable theory, as far as the establishment was concerned, was dead.

The Non-local Genie

However, this is nowhere near the whole story10. The quantum purists had won a victory, but they still had to deal with the consequences of that victory. Defeating the EPR paper meant that the scientists had proved that changes could propagate faster than the speed of light. Non-locality was moving its troops in to threaten conventional science.

Fortunately, a mathematician named Eberhard stepped up to bat and quickly proved that, whilst it was true that quantum mechanics displayed the strange "spooky action at a distance" that Einstein griped at, Eberhard's Theorem 'proved' that this non-local communication could not be used by mankind to send information faster than the speed of light. The non-local genie was back in the bottle.

So why was non-locality an issue? Well, science has always had a problem with action at a distance. Newton was wary about his own laws of gravity because they seemed so much like astrology. At the time, astrology was the only system suggesting that the stars could possibly effect humans in even the most minute way.

In a non-local model, information can travel faster than light. This doesn't seem too significant until you remember what Einstein showed us about space-time. Travelling faster than light is equivalent to travelling back in time.

So the non-local genie can be on his way back from the shops, receive a signal from his future self who is already back at home and go back to the shops to get the things he later discovered he forgot to buy. Sounds great. Except because he went back to the shops, he didn't send the message that send him back. Welcome to the wonderful world of non-local paradoxes.

Eberhard's theorem seemed to say that whilst particles could communicate non-locally, conscious entities could not, which removes any risk of paradox resulting from superluminal11 communications.

P However, Steven Weinberg12, Nobel laureate for his theoretical work in unifying the electromagnetic and weak interactions, investigated a theory which introduces small non-linear corrections to standard quantum mechanics. This was in line with several unexplained observations and demonstrated that the quantum equations worked out back in the twenties were not quite complete - there were tiny effects that hadn't previously been noticed.

This was hardly surprising. Newton's laws of gravity, for instance, seemed to be perfect, but were later supplanted by general relativity. The difference, at a human level, could not be detected. But in the vast expanse of the universe, it was clear that general relativity was the way to go. It was Einstein's shining moment, and he is rightly applauded for it.

What does this have to do with Eberhard's theorem? Well, the theorem relies upon the quantum equations being complete, which they clearly aren't. The genie may be in the bottle, but Schrġdinger forgot to put the cork in the bottle.

Are the Hidden Variables Drinking Meths in the Street?

'What happened to hidden variable theory?' I hear you say13. Well Bohm immediately realised that local hidden variable theory was wrong, and did what every scientist should do: he checked to see where he had gone wrong. He reformulated hidden variable theory into what has become known as Bohm theory.

The Citadel14 refused to have anything to do with Bohm, but in the early nineties I was intrigued by an article in New Scientist discussing Bohm theory. Although not the recognised pretender to the Copenhagen Interpretation, I personally think it is the most interesting, and promising.

The idea of Bohm theory is that wave-particle duality - the idea that matter is simultaneously a wave and a particle - is misleading. Instead, the model talks about beables15 and pilot waves.

The beables represent the classical universe. They essentially obey what is thought of as classical laws, and act exactly as we expect them to. The pilot wave is an entirely quantum mechanical beast. It influences the behaviour of the beable it is linked to, as if the beable was remote control and the pilot wave are the radio signals.

In Bohm theory, your pilot wave can go to the shops and the swimming pool, but it you, as the beable, will end up going to either one or the other.

Bohm theory more than adequately explains all the quirky strangeness of the quantum universe without requiring counter-intuitive interpretations. In a way, I'm surprised that it isn't the norm and the Copenhagen Interpreter a pretender, but that's the way things go sometimes16.

Bohm immediately saw the problem with Many Worlds. From Bohm and Hiley's The Undivided Universe:

...we feel that the many-worlds interpretation has interesting possibilities, but that its presentation would be greatly clarified if it were frankly admitted that some of its basic hypotheses are of a highly speculative nature.

Opponents to conventional theories are an essential part of physics, despite what the Citadel would have us believe. Unfortunately for the world of quantum physics, Bohm is no longer with us17.

Son of Bohm Theory

The mantle of Bohm theory - also known as post-quantum mechanics - appears to have fallen into the hands of Jack Sarfatti18. I cannot comment on his credentials, but much of his casual writing is highly impenetrable. I have been slogging away at Beyond the Quantum: Essays in the New Physics Unifying Mind and Matter for months, and only now am I starting to appreciate some of what he is saying.

Sarfatti has modified Bohm's formulation by adding back activity - as well as the pilot wave guiding the beable, the beable 'communicates' with the pilot wave19. The effect is a kind of 'feedback loop'. This has startling consequences.

Stuart Kauffman20, in At Home in the Universe, shows the maths associated with self-organising networks, which is also similar to what Sarfatti is suggesting for quantum back activity. Self-organisation is a requirement for living systems, and taken with the ideas Penrose espoused in The Emperor's New Mind21, Sarfatti suggests that Bohm theory is the natural mechanism for quantum consciousness:

Why does a rock not have a conscious mind the same way we have? [Humans display] spontaneous self-organisation in a "two-way"relationship between the "common pool", or quantum mind-field of "active information" with its attached beable... The quantum mind-field of active information is beyond space and time in configuration space and Hilbert space22.

So what does this mean? It means that all conscious entities are connected through a mind-field, a common pool of information.

Can You Guess What it is Yet?

You're probably already seeing where this is going. With Sarfatti's modification to post-quantum mechanics we suddenly have a theory that not only could explain psi effects but sounds suspiciously like morphic fields as well. Not that I'm saying its true - I am as much in the dark about which quantum interpretation is the best-fit as the next person23 but it is interesting to note that there are physics theories that do explain psi.

You will remember from Bem and Honorton25:

Several possible models of reality that incorporate nonlocality have been proposed by both philosophers and physicists. Some of these models clearly rule out psi-like information transfer, others permit it, and some actually require it. Thus, at a grander level of theorizing, some parapsychologists believe that one of the more radical models of reality compatible with both quantum mechanics and psi will eventually come to be accepted. If and when that occurs, psi phenomena would cease to be anomalous.

Although I don't know which model will win out - probably a synthesis of several of the existing ones - it is fairly clear that there quantum physics didn't stop in Copenhagen.

Erm... any Many Worlds?26

Well, I've never liked the Many Worlds explanation. It requires either an27 infinite amount of energy, or the spontaneous creation of energy, to function in a unified cosmology. Indeed, it strays so far into the world of science fiction that it has become a cliché. I suspect in years to come we will laugh at Sliders the way we laugh at early depictions of space exploration.

Having seen Many Worlds put on death row in quantum theory, it is amusing to see it crop up elsewhere. The Big Bang is currently on death row too, and one of its descendents is the inflationary model of the universe. In this, the early universe expands at a rate much faster than light28. It is one way to explain some of the problems in current modern cosmology.

In the inflationary model, the universe is like a giant pepperoni pizza. The pizza is the true 'universe' containing lots of smaller universes, represented by the little circles of pepperoni. Because of the speed of light, no pepperoni can 'see' any other pepperoni, and indeed the quality of the pizza29 may vary in different places.

Unlike the Many Worlds interpretation, however, it may be possible to test inflationary theory. Space should be littered with wormholes connecting different parts of space-time - if some have survived, it may be possible to travel into other parts of the pizza30.

Naturally, it isn't the only explanation. It is based on observed red-shift. This is like the Doppler shift we hear when an ice cream van passes by - the light is altered in frequency according to distance.

But as Peter J. Caroll31 points out, this shift could have other explanations. General relativity already allows for gravity to have this effect, and there are several theories that can explain modern cosmology without resorting to the cosmic pizza32.

Is OCR on the dole?

Even observer created reality has survived beyond its roots. Although I have struggled to find material on the Many Minds interpretation of quantum physics, I believe it to be essentially related to the idea of a quantum mind-field, conceptually if not mathematically. To dip back into Sarfatti for a moment:

[In the Many Minds interpretation] an alteration of the memories of the observers, as may happen under the influence of a psychedelic drug like ketamine or LSD, for example, would be tantamount to a shift of "preferred basis" in quantum Hilbert space into a different classical history than the one experienced by the majority of [people] in "straight" modes of perception.

If an individual can alter their personal reality by altering their mind, the door to OCR is clearly open, and all they have to do is make it past the interview stage.

P I will leave you with the following mantra which I offer to myself and anyone else with opinions and ideas about how things work.

The Lobster's Prayer

"Forgive me my incoherence As I forgive incoherence against me And lead me not into arrogance But deliver me from certainty. Amen."

- Spiral Lobster, KSC, OþM, SSA (by License) etc.


  1. See 'A Brief History of...' if you don't know who I mean.
  2. Actually, this is not true. Heisenberg, Schrġdinger and Dirac are all dead now, which presumably has changed their perspective somewhat.
  3. If you have ever heard of the Copenhagen Interpretation, you may be currently wondering why my description doesn't match yours. But look around - no two descriptions of the Copenhagen Interpretation are the same. It just happens that spouting handy buzz words like 'The Copenhagen Interpretation' is a convenient way of sounding clever.
  4. As a quantum person, she is allowed to do many things at once, as long as nobody catches her.
  5. He's dead now, you see. But you knew that, right?
  6. Even to this day, general relativity and quantum mechanics have not been unified.
  7. Yes, they are also dead. Notice how everyone involved in this debate is dead now? It's not that being a physicist is a dangerous profession, it's just an indication of how old this debate is.
  8. Dead, I think, even though he's not a physicist.
  9. We will find out if Bohm is dead later in this article.
  10. You probably guessed that.
  11. that is, faster than light, not things that glow very brightly.
  12. Still alive, I think.
  13. I know, that wasn't what you said, but you know how bad my hearing is.
  14. The orthodox scientific community, remember.
  15. The word 'beable' is taken from ***.
  16. Look at Betamax.
  17. But you guessed that, right?
  18. Shockingly alive.
  19. Nothing spooky is needed here - making the state of the pilot wave partially dependent on the position of the particle (a not unreasonably proposition) is sufficient.
  20. Another live one, as far as I know.
  21. You may remember that Penrose is suggesting that consciousness may be a quantum gravitational effect sited in the cytoskeletal microtubles. This is a great thing to say at parties if you want to sound clever.
  22. Er... I don't think I can explain these easily. Suffice it to say, the maths are complex -both Configuration and Hilbert space are found in every quantum theory, though.
  23. Well, not the fundamentalist scientists. They already know which interpretation is True. They also know that God Doesn't Exist, so we can trust their judgement on everything.24
  24. Sarcasm.
  25. Oh come on, it was practically the previous article! I know I ramble but you think you could remember some of the details.
  26. Oh yes, sorry. Got off the point for a bit.
  27. If we don't already.
  28. This doesn't violate relativity because it is the space-time which is expanding, not matter that is moving.
  29. That is, the laws of physics.
  30. I wouldn't hold your breath, though.
  31. Still alive - and a practitioner of chaos magic as well as a dabbler in physics.
  32. I particularly like Caroll's Spinwarp 6D which elegantly makes use of imaginary time. Unfortunately, this is too big a topic to go into this late into a rambling monologue.