Saturday, October 10, 2009

Quantum Suicide

One of the very first questions that was asked at the tenth dimension forum back when it started over three years ago went something like this: "If all these different branching universes exist, what does that have to do with me? My life still sucks."

Coincidentally, a very successful project called "The Secret" about how our thoughts create our reality was launched within months of the launch of my website and book Imagining the Tenth Dimension. Last time, in Ringing in the Brain, and in previous entries like The Biocentric Universe and The Biocentric Universe Part 2, we've looked at just how far science is willing to take the idea that our observation is creating the reality we see around us.

While I have tried hard not to position my own project as being "use the power of the tenth dimension to find your way to happiness and riches" (because it's not really as simple as that), such ideas still do relate to what we're talking about here - if a "best possible you" (however you choose to define that phrase) already exists within the current probability space of Everett's Many Worlds Interpretation, then how do you get there? In
Now vs. the Future, I talked about how phrases such as "attitude affects outcome", "healing starts from within", "eye of the tiger", and other positive visualization techniques make even more sense in the context of the Many Worlds Interpretation. I also talked about the experience many of us have had personally with elderly family members, and which many health care providers see on a regular basis: when people lose their interest in tomorrow and their will to carry on, death is on its way.

In the last few blog entries (including Beer and Miracles, Conscious Computers?, Seeing Time, Feeling Colors, Tasting Light, and The Fifth Dimension is Spooky), we've been dancing around the connection between the quantum wave function and consciousness, or what some people prefer to call "the soul". What carries on after we die, and what does that have to do with quantum mechanics? Here's a link to an interesting wikipedia article on "Quantum Suicide and Immortality".

In Aren't There Really 11 Dimensions?, I quoted from cosmologist Max Tegmark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

The critique of many worlds is shifting from 'it makes no sense and I hate it' to simply 'I hate it'.
The wikipedia article we're talking about now relates to a thought experiment proposed by Max Tegmark (and a number of others according to wikipedia) which is sometimes referred to as "quantum suicide". It's basically just a re-telling of the Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment, but Tegmark makes it much more personal.

A person holds a gun to his head, which is hooked up to a quantum detector looking at a subatomic particle. The gun is designed to fire only when a certain spin is detected. The person pulls the trigger, and in half of the parallel universes resulting from the moment, the gun fires. But in many of the remaining universes, he pulls the trigger again. This process can be repeated indefinitely: each time with the person surviving in half of the remaining universes. This scenario then takes us to a realm similar to Zeno's Paradox - even though the number of universes where the gun doesn't fire are halved with each additional pull of the trigger, there should always be branching universes remaining where the gun doesn't go off, no matter how many times the trigger is pulled.

What I've been trying to get people to understand is that anyone who is alive right now and reading this blog is just as much an example of this same thought experiment - when you think about all the silly risks taken, all the near-miss accidents or malicious acts, all of the things that could have conspired to end anybody's life before now, you are thinking about Everett's Many Worlds. In a great many of those other parallel universes you are already dead, and in many more universes than that you never existed at all! The fact you are alive in the universe you're observing right now really is a statistical marvel, such an unlikely quantum outcome when you consider all the possible outcomes, that we should each be amazed at our continued existence every moment of every day.

What Tegmark would be horrified to hear, I'm sure, is that some on the internet are now saying that if you were in one of the universes from his thought experiment where you took the bullet and you died, your consciousness would leap into one of the parallel universes where the gun just clicked, hence the phrase "quantum immortality". While I'm quite willing to discuss the possibility of ghosts as manifestations of consciousness that exist past a person's death (see blog entries like Auras, Ghosts, and Pareidolia, Do You Believe in Ghosts,
Happy Birthday Paul and Going to the Light), I think this quantum suicide concept can be easily misconstrued: the universes where you die and don't get to see the rest of your life are just as real as the ones where you beat the odds and get to continue on. If you die you die, and what happens to your consciousness after that is very different from what happens while you're in your physical body.

There's a blog entry I put up not long ago called
Suffering in the Multiverse, it gets into this discussion in a very deep way. Some of my other blog entries about death, statistically unlikely events, and the multiverse include:
The Statistical Universe
Roger Ebert on Quantum Reincarnation
Unlikely Events and Timelessness
We're Already Dead (But That's Okay)
Randomness and the Missing 96 per cent

Elvis and the Electrons
Have Each of Us Already Died?
Gevin Giorbran: Everything is Forever

What it all comes down to is this - we are all lucky to be here, and whatever processes you care to imagine to have contributed to this "now" are worthy of your sense of wonder, and deserving of your praise. That's what song 26 of my 26 songs attached to this project is about: it's called "Thankful".

A direct link to the above video is at

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton

Next: A Hug From Another Dimension

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