Putting the life back in science fiction

Fun with Panpsychism
February 20, 2018, 12:56 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

This is a follow-on to a discussion on Charles Stross’ blog, and I’m posting it just to show an interesting case where some version of a God might be more parsimonious than assuming that God doesn’t exist.

What I’m referring to here is the more mystical take on the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, the part where to collapse particles in superposition, they need to be “observed.”  All I’m referring to as God is whatever it is that makes observations such that superpositions collapse.

This is akin to the mystic’s stance that consciousness is universal, and that our experience of separate consciousness (an ego or soul) is an illusion that may be seen as useful or as the shackle keeping us from union with the divine, which is that consciousness.   I tend to think that ego is an emergent illusion that’s worth breaking down, but I have no idea if whatever it is that I experience as consciousness is the same thing that causes quantum superpositions to collapse. It would be cool if it was, but that’s a hypothesis at best.

Still, the Quantum Observer meets the criterion of God, in that the Observer literally causes stuff to happen, moment by moment.  The Observer was also fundamentally necessary in the formation of the universe, the Observer is in some sense omnipresent and omniscient, immortal, and arguably ever-loving, at least in its total love of quantum physics.  The problem for us is conceptual: if the Observer is what underlies human consciousness (e.g. it’s the “I’ that’s staring out your eyes, and at death, it continues on), then consciousness is not our most important trait, but a trivial extension of the mechanics that keep the universe operating.  If we embrace this, we may have to reshape our ethics a bit.

So how is this bit of sloppy mysticism parsimonious?  Well, let’s compare it to a rather hacked-up version of a popular alternative, the Many Worlds hypothesis.  What happens there is that superpositions of particles cause “the universe to split.”  It doesn’t split into worldlines in separate physical dimensions, but rather there are two versions of the superposition hanging out as separate dimensions in probability space (as opposed to our three physical and one temporal dimension).  As I learned a few weeks ago, the universe doesn’t spontaneously split with each superposition.  Rather, the splits propagate out at light speed (via photons), causing more splits as multiple worldlines interact with each other in a combinatorial fashion.   The universe, then, has this fractal fuzz of local worldlines splitting in probability space, the interactions of these splits are propagating out as photons that did or did not happen, and as a result, you’ve really got an infinity of local worldlines interacting with each other in some higher order infinity.

If this sounds horribly complicated, let me introduce you to a single universe where there’s an Observer that makes sure each superposition gets collapsed properly.  I’m not saying that the Observer should be worshiped at the mosque, or at any church, temple, ashram, synagogue or chapel.  The simple point is that this is a case where the “God” of panpsychic quantum woo is actually the more parsimonious explanation.


4 Comments so far
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One problem with the many worlds hypothesis that requires splitting of new worlds is that it would violate the 1st law of thermodynamics.(conservation of energy). One way out may be to assume there is a buffer of n worlds that can be replaced by new states, allowing the law to be retained. This would then be

Comment by Alex Tolley

Hi Alex, did you get cut off? If so, feel free to continue your thought below.

My understanding from the many worlds enthusiast is that there are a couple of ways around the 1st law problem, such as multiplying the many worlds by the probability of each one happening, or assuming that the system has a “3+1 dimensionality” within which the thermodynamics laws work, and that the many worlds splits could be said to take place in “probability dimensions,” not physical ones.

Ultimately, these are interpretations of a theory that’s mathematical, so one could say that, absent a method to determine whether interpretations can be falsified, what we’re looking at here is a translation problem from the language of mathematics to a human language. At least that’s my interpretation.

Comment by Heteromeles

Damn. But I was saying something similar to your reply. Just a “buffer” of n states that would be replaced with new world states.

Deutsch has said that if there are no multiple worlds, where does all the computation go? I would not like some cosmic math processor involved, as that might imply we are in a simulation – another unpalatable solution, IMO.

I was just reading about time entanglement, so maybe the calculations are spread out over the age of the universe! But clearly, that is testable using NP problems that require time greater than the universe to complete..

But if the many worlds interpretation is wrong, well then there is no “problem” to solve with mystical alternatives.

Comment by Alex Tolley

But is there a reason to believe that QM requires an observer? My QM-for dummies book said that, to collapse a wave function, you need your quantised system to interact with another in a way that it forms a macroscopic effect. A measurement (or observation) in an experiment, but no need for a conscious observer …

Comment by martin089

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