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Thursday, 15 May 2014

More Edinburgh Interpretation - Quantum Superpositions And Historical Coherence

Hello everyone.

Just got a new question from a new subscriber - firstly, thanks so much for the support, it makes this possible.

Secondly, it's a great question that really digs in to the differences between the new ideas about time and Quantum Mechanics that I introduced in One Song, and the standard ideas of the Copenhagen Interpretation.  I've done my best to make this clear - but I'll publish and respond to any decent comments on this one if anyone else has anything to add.

Here goes:


Hey man, just subscribed. I'm not a trained physicist either, everything I know is from MIT's open course and wikipedia articles, so no doubt there are flaws in my understanding. I've got some questions for you though. I think I've got the gist of your theory but I can't quite get my head around what it means in certain situations.

"The 'Now' flows through the probability path of least resistance." 

So, the Earth is in a position to orbit the sun because of the the physical masses involved, but we see this occurring continuously over time because the path of least resistance in regards to probability collapse is a result of that which came before it, which includes the physical masses, position in space, rotation, energy etc.  Therefore the Earth is ever manifested into the now and its orbit continues.

If it did just suddenly cease to orbit it, it would be the result of some other perfectly coherent phenomena. Even in a "by the hand of God scenario", it would be a result of a coherent reality in which there exists the possibility of a "hand of God" in the first place. Any event in any system can only ever be a result of the prior possibility of that event. All things that happen must be coherent with everything that came before them. This seems sound.

However, in the example of Schrodinger's cat, according to the idea of quantum superposition, the cat is simultaneously dead and alive, because the atom exists in all possible theoretical states until the point of observation. Are you saying that that isn't the case? What is your account of Schrodinger's cat from the perspective of coherence? That the cat is alive, or dead, but not in a "superposition", because the atom has either decayed, or it hasn't?  

You say that "consciousness doesn't cause collapse", and that we're looking at "occurrence". Well, doesn't this disprove the idea of "superposition" to begin with? How can something exist only as a probability if every single moment probability collapses into reality? I really don't understand this bit. 


Again, thank you so much for this question, I'm not even kidding.  It's so wonderful to get someone really getting deep inside what I'm saying and coming up with some killer questions that lead deeper into the core of this thing.

Yes, I've done some work on trying to make sense of what you're talking about here.  First things first, the issue you raise about probability and orbit are bang on the money, that is a brilliant way to describe it.  The only thing I might add is an idea I had which I suppose I'd call 'historical coherence'.

The universe is, obviously, inconceivably old, 13.8 billion years to be precise.  That's when time 'started', according to Stephen Hawking who had a brilliant way of summing this up, he said that asking what happened before the Big Bang is like asking what's North of the North Pole.  There is no before.  There is no more north.  That's the hard limit, just because of the nature of the thing.

Now, say we take the idea of coherence.  This is a hugely important idea for the Edinburgh Interpretation, in many ways the heart of it.  It's the way that reality has no 'break points' or 'fracture lines' in it, much like a fluid.

This is the idea of water flowing over a rock.  Two streams can separate but when they reconnect they become one totally coherent stream again.  There's no join-line, no seams, no contradictions, no paradoxes, it's just one flow.  There can be things like eddies and whirls and currents within it, it's not necessarily static, but it is necessarily coherent.

If a stream of water is split in two, and one stream of water sloshes down a steeper incline, moving faster than the other, when they meet they fit seamlessly, so much so that they immediately once more become one thing.  They create a new coherence together and the flow is united again.

That's what I suppose we could call 'lateral coherence'.  Side-to-side coherence.  The streams are side to side with each other in our 'God's eye perspective'.

But what about up and down stream?  Just in one single flow?  That as the flow of being moves, reality occurs in certain ways that it cannot then later contradict.  This could potentially account for the shape of the fundamental laws of the universe, because if we think very early on in the universe's history, even just a few million years after the Big Bang, things are occurring and resolving themselves, but in doing so setting precedents for how reality works, precedents that no later actuality can violate.

Is this making any sense?  That something that happens now can't contradict something that happened in the past, and so the laws of physics – such as we understand them – is the way the coherence of the universe itself has unfolded, and, perhaps, formed.

This is also a good philosophical link with relativity because it gives a very different perspective on why relativity works in the way it does.  Very much like your example of probability crystallising into a planetary orbit, but on the scale of the whole universe, and acting on the fundamental laws of physics.  It would be extremely, extremely fruity, but there might be a possibility for deriving something like the light-speed limit as the fastest possible rate at which something can become, due to the Quantum limitations of the probability flow.  That's pretty out there, but then all of this is pretty out there, so I felt I'd include it.

So there's that.  I know that's pretty abstract, hope that makes some sense, but you definitely have a very strong grasp on the central idea of being flowing into probability.

The second thing is this – how does this relate to superpositions?

Well, the whole Edinburgh Interpretation could basically be understood as a way of describing a way for superpositions to occur in a way that is not contradictory.  The key is that a superposition cannot occur in reality - it would be a contradiction - but it can absolutely occur in possibility.

This fits neatly in to the idea of the future as possibility.  As in, literally, possibility is what the future is made of.  It's right here, right now – the sea of possibility that collapses into being, forming the now.  That this is our direct, personal experience of time, and that it is largely an accurate description of the shape of time itself.

This kind of cresting wave.  So the idea of Schrodinger's Cat isn't actually that problematic.  A real-life experiment would be one example of the 'branching' we spoke about with lateral coherence – time inside the box passes normally for the cat, and it dies or doesn't.  Time passes normally outside the box and the experimenter doesn't know which it is.  The box is opened – the two flows interact and resolve themselves into a state of total coherence for both.  No paradox, no contradiction.

There's another absolutely key element to the Edinburgh Interpretation that almost everyone misses.

The act of observation does NOT collapse ANYTHING.  Observation, from the point of view of the Edinburgh Interpretation, literally does not exist.  This is where it opens up a new line on understanding the nature of human consciousness, because it makes the claim that there literally is no consciousness at all.

This is very jarring, but please look it in the eye.  Face the weirdness, it is key.  The way to understand it is that what it's saying is that what we experience as consciousness and call consciousness is in fact not consciousness at all.  It's not a human thing, it's not produced by the brain, it's nothing like that.  It's the actual being of reality itself, the flowing reality of the present moment.

When we think of consciousness, we refer (I believe) to the 'field of awareness' in which things happen, in which experience happens, in which life happens.  For all the ways that people criticise him, this was brilliantly described by Eckhart Tolle in a way that dramatically reduced any metaphysical baggage.  Not to zero - but his work was a huge step in the right direction.

The thing is this - that what we refer to as 'the now' shares EXACTLY the same properties as what we think of as consciousness.  We just use two different words for it, and the second one, the word 'consciousness' has this assumption embedded in it that this is the product of the human being, not the actual place in which the human being, body, mind, identity and all, occurs.

So when we look at the seeming collapse of probability functions by consciousness, the only reason that seems kooky is that we have laid claim to this thing that we have nothing to do with, and because it has the effect it does we look like we're magic.  We're not.  It's not consciousness, it's occurrence, and the collapse of probability functions into occurrence isn't physically or philosophically problematic at all.  It's just a short, punchy, sentence length description of the shape of being itself.

The idea of testing the moment of what I suppose we could call 'prime coherence' would be something that might be amenable to experimentation.  One of the big unknowns is that you can't predict where a particle would 'resolve' itself on observation – there's a probability range.  A lot of the most interesting experiments, like the Delayed Quantum Eraser do, I feel, demonstrate this extremely well – that you can interfere with the resolution of photons into reality by setting up interference blocks and information scramblers along the path of an entangled beam.

To directly answer your question in a sentence, the Edinburgh Interpretation allows for the existence of superpositions in probability, but not in actuality.  Possibility can contradict itself, because it isn't real yet.  You can have the possibility that you would be sitting there reading this, or that you're about to get hit by a meteor at the end of this sentence.  Pow.  Nice work, you survived – because in actuality you can't do both.
Live, reading you and dead meteor-faced you can both exist as potentials.  But they can't both occur at the same time.  Occurrence is the moment where reality becomes.  Where it becomes real and resolves itself in total coherence, that's what the present moment physically is.  Pretty fruity use of the word 'physically' there, but I hope you see what I'm trying to get at.  That the actual human experience of being that you are literally having right now actually is the flow of time itself, and that this is something that is the same regardless of scale.

It's how the motion of the universe is playing out, it's how our personal lives are playing out, it's how probability collapse in individual electrons and photon packets is playing out.  It's all one shape, one idea that could serve as the basis for a physics that doesn't have these jarring disconnects over issues of scale.  That's a big thing to say though, it might not do this, or this might not be possible for all sorts of reasons, but even at worst I still think it's a very interesting, very illuminating way to look at this whole thing that has a real simplicity and elegance to it, while giving a much clearer and non-conflicted account of some very weird phenomena.

There's one last side-issue to all this, which is that one of the (potentially testable) claims that the Edinburgh Interpretation makes of reality is that the only reason these effects seem to 'dominate' the world of atomic and subatomic particles is that the systems are so basic that there only ARE a few possible ways something can be resolved into coherence.

That's the way it explains the “Quantum” element of Quantum Mechanics – that something can only ever resolve itself in a certain number of discrete states.  Because the system is so basic it lacks the smoothness that characterises probability collapse on a macro level because of the incalculable complexity of the systems involved.  So the 'jumps' from one state to another are far more visible, and far more dominant of a feature in the system.

But on the macro level we can change the probability profiles of our future – for instance, in a negative way you could be in a car crash and lose the use of your legs.  If that were to happen, it would severely limit the possibility of ever being a professional triple-jump-athlete.  It wouldn't destroy it completely, as Oscar Pistorius has shown us, but then he's managed to drastically alter the 'probability trajectory' of his life in other, somewhat less positive ways.  Not to belittle that situation, it's obviously a terrible tragedy – but you can see that the ways things resolve themselves can drastically and unpredicably change the probability profile of a person's future.  On a wider scale, something like what the Holocaust did to the Jewish people changed the profile of their probability trajectory.  Can you see?  Putting blocks and polarisers in the path of a photon, thus changing the ways it resolves itself into being, is this exact same process in action.

The point of this new interpretation is that this is not a metaphor.  That's what I'm trying to say.  That instead of trying to make the Quantum realm 'fit' to our expectations of how physics should work, we flip the whole thing on it's head and rework physics itself within a paradigm of arising from the Quantum realm.

Again – the direct response to your question regarding superpositions is that superpositions are only contradictory and problematic if they exist in reality, they can, do, and must exist in potential, they're what potential is made of.

I hope this isn't too weird to understand, I wanted to go into some depth with it.  I have no proof for this, I have no research funding for physics experiments and even if I did I wouldn't know what to do with it.  I think that the best I can do is showcase what I've done so far, the new sense that I think this perspective can make of physics, and see if anyone else who specialises in this more than I do will be up for some collaboration.  I have tried explaining it to serious physics people but I sometimes find it hard to get deep enough underneath their understanding of the subject because it's so detailed and technical.  The big answers here are not to be found, I think, in the minutiae, but in stepping back and seeing the unity that strikes the big picture clean through the middle.

Quantum Mechanics has some very, very dodgy philosophical work being done around it.  Some really irresponsible, incurious, artificial and frankly, ethically dubious ways in which ideas from it are plundered to buttress some new self-help bullshit.  That is a very real problem - one of the more immediate ways I know this is that if I send or receive any email referencing Quantum Mechanics, the google ads on the side of my Gmail start trying to sell me some nasty, mass-packaged, glossy new 'magic' remedy.  I don't condemn the people who do that, although I find it impossible to respect them intellectually, and I deeply understand the anger that rises up when real scientists are confronted with such a disrespectful perversion of the work they do.  I get that it would piss someone off a lot, and I'm not in any way criticising that.

With that said, I do feel it's fair to say that the heat around the issue of Quantum Mechanics has scared many philosophers away from what is an absolutely fascinating and extremely profound new set of perspectives on humanity, time, being and life.  If we cede the ground on this to the marketers and the hucksters, we are missing a huge opportunity.  The ideas coming out of Quantum Mechanics are a fascinating resource that are so radical and strange and have such profound and weird implications I think any philosopher who doesn't engage with them is living in a dreamworld.  They are the cutting edge of strangeness in experimental physics, and because of that, the cutting edge of physics itself.  Philosophers need to treat that discipline with the respect it deserves, it has demonstrated amazing and revolutionary power and insight.  But part of that doesn't mean treating the ideas with kid gloves, or saying that philosophy has nothing to give to physics.

I read something last week which made a really interesting point.  That Einstein was not a man who made his name by producing new research or new information.  He didn't collect any extra data.  His breakthrough was, in the truest and most straightforward sense of the world, a reimagining of the meaning of existing data that brought a new simplicity to things, and suggested new, radical and previously unimaginable lines of inquiry.

That's what this is, or at least what I think it could be.  But it is work, serious work that needs to be done.  The deeper meaning of things is not some little side-issue for people who 'aren't real scientists'.   It's the whole point of science itself, in it's highest, most ambitious and most dangerous form - which is, to me at least, the coolest part of the whole thing, and the only part worth working on.

It's not for everyone, of course, and the amazing data We should have the space to speculate, propose experiments, fail, get things wrong and develop something truly revolutionary, because I honestly believe there is something revolutionary here to be developed.

Sorry, got a little bit ranty there, hope this is ok.  I really believe there's something to this, and I look forward to any other things you might like to raise.

Thanks again for subscribing, and speak soon!

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