- University of Oregon lecture course on Cosmology.
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.
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:
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.
Now off from the Copenhagen interpretation come two of many bastard sons:
In OCR, you become 'on your way to the swimming pool' as a direct result of the person who sees you doing it.
In Many Worlds, you would be on your way to the swimming pool in one universe, and on the way to the supermarket in another.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
So what does this mean? It means that all conscious entities are connected through a mind-field, a common pool of information.
You will remember from Bem and Honorton25:
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Spiral Lobster, KSC, OþM, SSA (by License) etc.