Saturday, February 4, 2012

Poll 87 - Many Worlds, Fossils, and Dinosaurs

Poll 86: "Physicist David Deutsch says that calling Everett's Many Worlds an interpretation 'is like talking about dinosaurs as an 'interpretation' of the fossil record'. Do you agree with him?" Poll ended November 5 2011. 60.8% agreed, while 39.2% did not.

As I said recently in Imagining the Fifth Dimension, I have the utmost respect for David Deutsch, who has been a strong proponent of Everett's theory for many years. The quote we're talking about here was found in Peter Byrne's excellent The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III: Multiple Universes, Mutual Assured Destruction, and the Meltdown of a Nuclear Family, a book we've talked about in this blog before, including in an entry called The Quantum Observer.

Like "interpretation", words like "theory" can mistakenly fall into similar territory: in the general public, after all, theory has a fairly loose definition. I could say "I have a theory about what happened to my missing sock" but there's nothing rigorous implied by that statement. A scientific theory, on the other hand, is not just a guess for what might explain the phenomena being studied. As it says in wikipedia:
A scientific theory is a set of principles that explain and predict phenomena.Scientists create scientific theories with the scientific method, when they are originally proposed as hypotheses and tested for accuracy through observations and experiments. Once a hypothesis is verified, it becomes a theory.
Why do we refer to Everett's work as an interpretation, then? In fact, Everett himself called his work the "Theory of the Universal Wavefunction", so he wanted us to understand that what he had produced was much more than supposition. It was, after all, backed up by the equations of the Schrödinger wave function, which underlies the most successful scientific theory of all time: quantum mechanics. As I've said before in this blog, any self-respecting theory of everything has to have quantum  mechanics incorporated within it if it's to be taken seriously.

So what we're left with here is Dr. Deutsch's sly swipe at the Creationist argument that the world was created less than 10,000 years ago, and the fossils must therefore have been placed in the earth at that time. Is that an "interpretation" of the fossil record? Sure it is, whether you agree with it or not. Particularly in the US, this viewpoint does have many supporters as we see in the wikipedia article on level of support for creationism:
According to a 2007 Gallup poll, about 43% of Americans believe that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." 
In that same article we see that while creationism has strong support in the US, there is a sliding scale of other countries around the world where this is not as prevalent a belief (for instance, about 20% believe this in Italy, sliding down through Norway, Spain, the U.K., Denmark, Sweden, France, and Japan, to Iceland, where less than 10% hold this belief). We also see that amongst persons in the US with education in the relevant earth and life sciences, the level of support for creationism is much much lower: according to a 1987 Newsweek poll of 480,000 scientists, creationism was given support by only 700 respondents, which represents about 0.146%.

So. If one approaches the fossil record from the pre-conceived notion that the earth is only thousands of years old, then a particular interpretation becomes more likely to occur. Why am I going on about all this?

From the outset of this project, I've said that I want to show people ways in which science and spirituality, physics and philosophy, can find common ground. But all of the above appears to point out one of the places where this is not really achievable: either you believe dinosaurs walked the earth millions of years ago or you think the earth was created a much shorter length of time ago than that. Isn't it clear that there's no easy meeting place where those two viewpoints can be reconciled?

Personally, I believe the universe really can be traced back to 13.7 billion years ago. But I've also said that the big bang is an illusion, and the extraordinary initial events of inflationary cosmology are better described as being a part of the process that selects a universe such as ours, though symmetry breaking, from a timeless whole that we might call the omniverse, or which Tegmark calls the Ultimate Ensemble. Still, you may be surprised that there actually is a way to find a meeting between these two viewpoints. Here's what I said in my book back in 2006:
What we’re saying, then, is where you actually began to observe becomes irrelevant. If it tickled your fancy, you could place that first observer at, for example, 6000 years ago. To do so would mean that prior to that time all potential physical realities remained possible within the wave function, and that at that point the observer turned their attention upon our universe and collapsed the quantum wave function into the reality we see around us, complete with the impression that time had actually extended out for billions of years prior to that. But why stop there? It could also be possible then that the universe didn’t actually exist until one second ago, which is when the observer turned their attention upon our universe and collapsed the probability wave function into what we now perceive as our reality, complete with a history which each of us believes we remember. Whether the observer came into existence 13.7 billion years ago or one second ago, the result will be the same: out of all the possible timelines which could have existed prior to this moment, through the act of observation we are now experiencing one of them as our own present, and our own history.
Is the above paragraph just a Rob Bryanton fantasy? No,  retro-causality is now gaining acceptance within quantum physics. In Evidence for Seeing the Future, we looked at a November 2010 New Scientist article about new papers quantum computing expert Seth Lloyd and Aephram Steinberg of the University of Toronto, expressing the same idea:
But if quantum particles can't discriminate between things that affect them forward and backward in time, that means specifying a final condition can determine what happens before it. "Mathematically, there's no reason why final conditions can't be 'givens' as well and everything has to follow logically from them," Steinberg says.
This all ties together with the multiverse of possible universes, commonly known as Everett's Many Worlds. Since Everett's "Interpretation" fully agrees with the underlying quantum nature of our reality, I would say that Everett's critics are left with finding other ways to explain what physicist Raphael Bousso called the "mother of all physics problems":
"This may seem laughable, but without the multiverse our finest theories predict that empty space should contain about 10 to the power of 123 times more energy than it actually does."

Is there more than one parallel universe resulting from the quantum wavefunction? Is there a multiverse of other universes, perhaps ten to the power of five hundred other universes as some string theorists have predicted? This is the interpretation that makes the most sense to me, and this is what Everett's Many Worlds Interpretation also tells us.

Where does that leave us? If you don't believe in the multiverse, then my project is not likely to find much that resonates for you, and you and I are going to have to simply agree to disagree. There is a multiverse of other universes, and there are multiple pasts and futures which connect to any particular "now" you or I are observing. While I'm all for finding common meeting grounds between different belief systems, this is where I have to draw the line.

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

Next: Poll 88 - Is the Sixth Dimension our Phase Space?

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