a thoughtful web.
Good ideas and conversation. No ads, no tracking.   Login or Take a Tour!
comment by kleinbl00
kleinbl00  ·  3234 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: On the topic of Quantum Suicide/Immortality...  ·  

So many misconceptions. So many conclusions leapt to. So much suffering and turmoil as a consequence. Here, walk with me:

* * *

The first thing you need to understand is Irwin Schroedinger came up with the cat in the box not to say "whoa - half-dead cat" but to point out that at an intellectual level we're all comfortable with, quantum superposition is fuckin' CRAZY SHIT, yo. "Schroedinger's Cat" is classic reductio ad absurdum - Einstein argued that a pile of gunpowder necessarily contains granules that are both exploded and unexploded in their quantum states and Schroedinger said "if you think that way then let me demonstrate this undead cat to you, you crazy-haired weirdo." Even Einstein called quantum entanglement "spooky action at a distance" and when the guy who came up with relativity uses an adjective like "spooky" you can rest assured that quantum reality is probably not familiar to Newtonian reality.

The next thing you should know is that quantum suicide is, in popular internet parlance, "beating the dead horse" of Schroedinger's Cat. It doesn't say "whoa dude we're, like, immortal" it says "the many worlds hypothesis is completely alien to our understanding of how the world works."

So let's take this back to physics, and let's take this back to reality. In physics, what Schroedinger's Cat really says is "quantum superposition requires an observer in order to change reality." That's the takeaway. It's powerful stuff - if you push it to extremes, it says we're all Gods because if we're not watching, the universe doesn't happen (yet for some reason, the stoners and pop psychologists latch onto the half-dead cat). In physics, what quantum suicide really says is "no observer necessary, your choices aren't yes/no they're yes/different yes and it is only through observation that we are aware of the decision." Quantum suicide is a thought experiment that takes the God out of quantum mechanics, nothing more.

Because here's the real takeaway of the Many Worlds hypothesis - for every wave function that collapses there's a new universe in which the wave function doesn't collapse BUT we can have no interaction with that other universe because quantum mechanics. That other universe is forever walled off away from us behind an impenetrable barrier of physics. It is dead to you. You have no interaction with it. Every single time a particle has to choose whether or not to be a wave, we shed a new alternate universe.

So who the fuck is "we"?

My wife is on the couch next to me. In the time it took me to write that sentence, the universe has shed an infinite number of wives on an infinite number of couches that I'll never sit on. Up until I started typing, we were all on the same couch… but that's only because all the quanta fell the right way each and every time.

Look at it this way: The things in your life are in your life because against the impossible odds of infinity to one they tumbled through the universe's Pachinko parlor the exact same way as you. You exist in a universe in which every possible decision made at every possible increment of time on every possible level at every possible scale of the universe came out




Kind of fucking amazing, isn't it? The people that are around you are, at a quantum level, around you because they beat the odds that make the Lottery look like a coin toss. And many of them will be with you for decades. Probability is steadfastly against you churning right along - hell, probability is against the whole universe not flying apart through entropy! - yet there you are, worrying about other universes and how much time you waste on Reddit.

It's not doing you any good.

There are two ways to think about this: The first is that in this universe, the one you are in, an awful lot has to go right in order for it to continue. Fortunately it's doing so, shall continue to do so, and will not stop doing so no matter what you do or don't do. Your solitary intellect is a probability fan across the infinite brilliance of all that could be - and that which is 'you' is but one tiny, contiguous line amongst countless, untold filaments. All those other filaments are walled off from you, so best get busy interacting with the other people that are, improbably, still on your own timeline. As far as I'm concerned, do whatever you want so long as you're having fun - there's no test at the end, there's no extra credit, and we only get so many laps around the sun.

The other way to think about this is that for every decision you've ever regretted, for everything that never happened no matter how strenuously you wished it would, there's a universe out there where it did. You did date that girl in high school. You did pick up guitar at 17. You did enlist in the Army. Somewhere out there, beyond all but imagination, all those things are happening. You are leading every possible life you could possibly lead, you are taking every opportunity you could possibly take, you are suffering every misfortune you could possibly befall. You already are dead countless trillions upon trillions upon trillions of times. And, hey - in some universe somewhere (countless universes somewhere) you're going to live forever.

But not in this one.

The Many Worlds Hypothesis is something to contemplate. It's something to think about. it's not something to live your life by. It's a shorthand to demonstrate to fellow quantum physicists that if they persist in thinking of quantum physics in terms of Newtonian physics, they will lose their minds. Here in the real world, all we see is the macro. My wife got up from the couch and headed to the bedroom. If I walk over there, I'll see her. The sun will come up tomorrow and my car keys are going to be right where I left them, presuming my daughter doesn't choose to move them again.

If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Do NOT engage the universe in a staring contest. It will win. Instead focus on your place in it and make sure it's where you want to be.

Snap out of it. Quantum physics is fucking rad, not this maudlin shit you're making it out to be. Sometimes it's even funny.

yishan  ·  3203 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Great post. If this site had some variation of Reddit Gold, I'd award it to you right now, good sir.

kleinbl00  ·  3203 days ago  ·  link  ·  

That's pretty much what badges are (^^^ "+!"). You'll note I have one. Thanks, though. ;-)