Eigenket 160210

A personal interpretation of quantum theory

Hypothesis: That a simple principle of logic underpins the quantum world

The Meaning of Quantum Superposition

My hypothesis rests on two assumptions, the first being determinism. In the 1980s John Baez made a good case for each world in the Many Worlds ensemble to be deterministic. I do not know whether he still has that view, but it fits in with my hypothesis here. And in the same decade, chaos theory showed that everyday randomness can be explained by simple determinism.

I have another reason for choosing determinism. It avoids randomness becoming a scientific "God-of-the-gaps" - an explanation to be used only when we have no other explanation.

As far as I know, it is only in atomic physics that true randomness has more-or-less been proved to exist. I say more-or-less because even in atomic physics it is possible that a deterministic cause exists but is unknowable in principle. If the cause is proved to be unknowable then we feel justified in saying that randomness is involved. But again, there is a hint of God-of-the gaps in this. An obvious "cause" that would be unknowable in principle is determinism from the future.

In any case, since my hypothesis requires determinism I adopt it as a foundational principle. As it happens, an assumption of determinism leads to an explanation of the apparent randomness we see in atomic physics.

My second assumption is that man is somehow involved in the reality of the world. Various aspects of atomic physics, notably the role of man in choosing what to measure, and in deciding what shall be the measuring apparatus, seem to implicate man. Man is also implicated when he measures an entangled twin and immediately defines the reality of the twin's partner on the other side of the universe. I grant that man's involvement can be avoided in various interpretations of atomic physics, particularly involving decoherence.

If man has a role in defining reality, a logical problem arises if man evolves from the reality he defines. To avoid that problem, I make man's role logical rather than physical. This allows physical man to arrive in the world via the processes of evolution as most of us believe. I give man a logical role by associating a vector with each person. The vector defines the person.

So those are my two foundational principles: determinism and a logical role for man. Later I will explain the substance of the vector, but that is not needed at the moment. My explanation of quantum superposition rests on determinism and the mere existence of the people-vectors.

I start with the Anthropic Principle and generalise it. We normally apply the Anthropic Principle to cherry-picked events in the early history of our universe. (If we apply it at all.) But logically, the principle applies to the whole of our past, even one femtosecond ago.

And normally the principle is referenced to the vague existence of mankind in the future. I generalise it to each individual person exactly as they are at all future moments. This is possible because the vector defining each person is capable of very detailed pointing in the space over which it ranges.

Thus my generalisation of the Anthropic Principle is as follows: The past needs to be exactly as it was for the present to be exactly as it is.

This is of course determinism. Man is not explicitly mentioned but is implied by the word present. The realisation that the (generalised) Anthropic Principle is just a restatement of determinism will remove some of the distaste that scientific people have for that Principle, I hope.

Let us now consider the Schroedinger Cat superposition. We will conduct the experiment in Bermuda and replace the cat with a butterfly. If the box is opened and the butterfly is alive, it flaps its wings and triggers the complete extinction of man in 30 years. In 50 years, the people say "The butterfly had to die. We would not be here if it had survived." So what we thought was random turned out 50 years later to be determined. (Or "required to be", as per the Anthropic Principle.)

It leads to the following (not original) explanation of quantum superposition. Superposition along with apparent randomness is a place-holder for the future.

Of course, it is not necessary for the people to know about the butterfly or the epidemic that it would have triggered. Nor does the event need to be as momentous as the entire extinction of mankind. The people need only accept that based on logical grounds the past had to be exactly the way it was for the present to be exactly the way it is. Again, the "present" is peculiar to each person.

We could say that people unwittingly select the present and that selects the past. This is a sharp rejection of realism, tempered by the possibility that people only select reality. They might not exactly create it out of nothing.

Reality

What is the substance of the vector that defines each person?

The previous discussion implied that people create reality. So I make "creating reality" the substance of the vector. Each person creates their own reality, but not by physical means or even by conscious selection. They merely believe it to exist. The substance of the vector, therefore, is their belief in whatever reality they see. The direction of the vector is towards whatever they believe to be true. This can be thought of as unwitting choice of a world the person considers "real".

(To avoid logical problems the person's belief must be subjective. If the belief were objective it could in principle be explained by a pre-existing arrangement of matter. A person defined that way could not have a role in determining pre-existing arrangements of matter.)

It works like this. A person is defined by a multitude of subjective beliefs about all sorts of things. These beliefs, being vectors, can be summed to a resultant defining the person as a unity. Those resultants in turn can be summed to a grand resultant representing all of us together (past, present and future). The grand resultant points at the scientific reality of our world. It defines the reality of our world.

Thus the world is not different from what we subjectively believe it to be. Even in conventional science this seems to be true. It would appear impossible to prove that the world is different from what we believe it to be.

The Origin of Man

Since man (in my hypothesis) is defined logically rather than physically, he is in a sense "outside the world" and the world is an object to him. This validates the scientific enterprise (the world is an object for man to study) and allows man's physical appearance to be explained by evolution according to the facts as we know them.

But how does man-the-vector come to exist? We can avoid recourse to religion by accepting that logic is the outside viewpoint that sees the world into objectivity and that man's beliefs are part of that logic. It makes man into an unexplained initial condition. There might be no need to go further than that. I note that this initial condition can be considered simpler than the plethora of apparently arbitrary facts that currently define our world.

Conclusion

My hypothesis is built upon strict determinism and a role for man in the specification of reality. Man's role arises from a generalisation of the Anthropic Principle so that now, man not only sets the characteristics of the Big Bang but also defines the present moment according to what he sees it to be. The reality each person sees is in accordance with their unconscious beliefs. These beliefs define the person's present reality.

(The Anthropic Principle is usually said to apply to the past, not the present. My generalisation of it is to make it apply to the whole of the logical past. An object is put into the logical past by the subjective viewpoint that makes the object into an object. Therefore the generalised Anthropic Principle does not have an arbitrary definition for the past such as earlier than one femtosecond ago.)

Thus the world is not different from what it is believed to be. Having belief create the world in this way removes reality from being a pre-existing truth for man to discover. Nevertheless, the appearance of reality remains exactly the same in our scientific determination of it. Nothing changes except how reality gets there. Reality gets there from our science effort to develop a logically consistent story explaining our environment, the world we believe to exist around us. We imagine the scientific story to correspond to an external reality. However, nothing changes if we delete that step, and that is what my hypothesis is largely reducible to.

My hypothesis undoubtedly has distatseful elements from a scientific point of view. But if developed into a full theory it might provide a better understanding of atomic physics. Human belief enters my hypothesis as an initial condition, but it is not out of the question for the belief vector to be a variable amenable to manipulation in conventional physics. My layman's picture is that it could be something similar to Schroedinger's Psi - a variable that facilitates results while remaining inscrutable itself.

"Solutions"

My hypothesis solves (or rather, illuminates) many oddities in conventional science:

The nature of belief If people's beliefs originate in an external reality applicable to everybody, then we should all believe the same. The fact that we do not believe the same suggests we are not bathed in the same reality. This agrees with my hypothesis.

My hypothesis also provides scientific accommodation of the phenomenon of belief: it is part of the world's logic. Currently, science does not accommodate the belief phenomenon. There is a vague assumption that correct belief is caused by the world's reality (via evidence) and incorrect belief by people using their free will to disregard the evidence (or to extend the evidence unjustifiably) but the bare notion of belief is considered to be outside science. This is unsatisfactory, and not only because it brings in a quasi-magical force of free will. It is also because scientists use their beliefs to choose axioms and initial conditions and decide what to study. They also use their beliefs to decide when a phenomenon is considered explained (an explanation being a believed account). This widespread and unacknowledged scientific use of belief should be formalised.

Free will Each person acts fully in accord with the reality they believe to exist. This reality is personal to them, but they want to believe that they have knowledge of an external reality rather than mere belief in a private one. The "force" of free will is a compensation for inventing this external reality.

Randomness Randomness has always been an anomaly in science (as a causal agent rather than a useful assumption in statistics). It is possible to explain anything at all - even something extremely unlikely - by recourse to randomness. (The God-of-the-gaps problem.) That hardly amounts to an explanation. And "random cause" has the appearance of an oxymoron. A cause ideally should be contrasted with randomness, not aligned with it.

My hypothesis explains the deterministic origins of randomness as follows. Each person believes a particular reality to exist in whatever they call the present. When these individual realities are extended deterministically back into the past, they start to contradict each other. The contradictions are a result of each person imagining they have knowledge of a common external reality rather than personal belief in a private reality. The contradictions are resolved by having the deterministic histories disappear into randomness rather than extending back without limit. Thus randomness, like free will, is a compensation for our erroneous insistence that a common external reality bathes us all.

The measurement problem A measurement is completed when the scientists believe the result. A camera photographing the result does not complete the measurement because nothing is believed at that time. The photograph must be viewed by someone in our world for it to influence the logic of our world.

The "cut" between the classical and quantum worlds There is no cut. If a coin is tossed and falls on the floor, it does not have a real value until observed (assuming a 100% fair coin and perfect tossing). "Real" means taking part in the logic of the world. The unobserved coin does not do that.

The complexity problem If there were a fixed external reality for scientists to study, some evidence should have arrived by now that the scientific story is coming to an end. But science seems to be descending into bottomless complexity. This is to be expected in terms of my hypothesis. When there is no external reality, the story we make up is bound to keep getting more complicated because the story cannot include us who are writing it. The object under study cannot account for the subjective viewpoint that is making it into an object. We try to overcome that failing by ever-more-detailed analysis, but it just leads to greater complication because it is not addressing the problem.

Reality Each of us likes the idea of an external reality but proof that such a thing exists has always been lacking. Proof would involve showing that when two people agree about the existence of some external thing, they have the same mental state. Not only is such a proof probably impossible, the evidence points in the other direction. The phenomenon of free will suggests that people are not immersed in the same reality.

And it would appear that the process by which people infer the existence of an external reality is flawed. We all believe in a personal reality and since there are plural people, on the face of it we should have plural realities. (Lots of realities rather than a single Reality.) But we insist on a single Reality. The flaw arises from how we generate that singular entity. We do it by seeing a few objects and imagining that other people have the same visual experience as ourselves (although the evidence is against that). Then we extrapolate to imagined unseen objects, and form the sum. We define the sum as "everything" and call it reality.

But this process is like an incompetent mathematician vaguely knowing the first few terms of an ill-defined series and confidently declaring that the series has a sum when they have no procedure for generating it. When confronted, the mathematician replies "Of course the series has a sum. It is all the terms added together. It is implied by the word sum."

The situation with reality is even worse than that: the terms in the reality series have an element of randomness. As far as I know, there is only one way to add-up objects that are born of randomness and that is to see them. To avoid man having to do that, I suspect that our construction of reality as a single entity unwittingly relies on a notional observer seeing everything. It is an extension of our human ability to see things. But where does the notional observer stand logically? There does not seem to be an answer (regardless of one's religious persuasion or lack of it).

My hypothesis does not venture beyond individual personal realities and does not conjure-up a world of self-existent things. If we want a "reality" (and it can be very convenient to have such a thing) we can sum the personal realities. This sum exists because it results from summing the vectors that generate those realities.

My approach also avoids the awkward problem of having to consider "real" things that we have no knowledge of - like a deity. There is no evidence for a deity, but if reality consists of things that exists in themselves regardless of us, then such a being exists as a scientific possibility.

Why do we like to imagine a self-existent reality? It is sometimes said that people invent a deity because they like the idea. The same could be said of reality. We like the idea of a self-existent body of truth that we can obtain knowledge of, so we invent it. As to why we like knowledge, it is because each of us wants to feel superior to others, and knowledge of a would-be universal truth seems a good way of showing our superiority over others.

If we avoid inventing a reality and accept my hypothesis as an alternative account of the world, the world stays exactly the same as we see it today, and science carries on almost exactly as now. So there is nothing to fear. One of the changes for science is that man might turn up as a boundary condition in physics. Another is that scientists will not attempt to find a physical correlate of the phenomenon of subjective belief. Perhaps the biggest change would be to our attitude regarding knowledge. Under my hypothesis, scientific knowledge would not be knowledge of a universal truth but the construction of an exterior world to match what we collectively believe. If we believed differently, reality would be different. I admit that I do know all the ramifications. I feel sure that scientists will continue to be esteemed for how good they are at writing the scientific narrative and solving human problems.

"Our" world In conventional science it is generally agreed that our world is a selection from all possible worlds. But how is the word "our" to be defined? If we want our world to be independent of us humans, we need to find some way of defining our world without reference to us. That would appear to be impossible. (It might be possible if we had an infinite list of facts unique to our world.) The definition is simple under my hypothesis. The single resultant vector that defines a person can be added to the vectors from everybody else to form a single grand resultant vector that points at a world of reality. That vector defines our world and provides scientific accommodation of the word "our".

The binding problem In biology (or neuroscience) there is a problem explaining how the multitude of facts pertaining to a person can be bound into a singular resultant to be identified with the 'I' of the person themselves. In my hypothesis the multitude of scalar facts is replaced by a multitude of vector beliefs. Vectors have the useful property of being summed into a resultant - a single entity - that entirely replaces the components. The resultant encodes all of the information from the beliefs that make it up.

A form of the binding problem also exists for inanimate objects. When we refer to an object and use the singular case, we are summarising a bunch of quarks and electrons and distinguishing them from neighbouring bunches. How does each bunch define itself as a singular entity? It is easy for humans to make the definition (it is what my hypothesis is about) but how does the object itself do it? To put it another way, what singular entity corresponds to the singularity of the word "it" when we talk about it. If we say that the object exists "in itself", how is the word self to be defined? Current science seems to have an assumption that there are "natural" boundaries between objects, and that "we all know" what the object is even if the object cannot tell us. This lack of precision is unsatisfactory.

In my hypothesis, each person defines just one object, their world, and all other objects are formed by ever-deeper analysis of that object. Science does the same thing, drilling down from the world of reality believed to exist. An object is created the moment the scientists believe it to exist, meaning it now takes part in the world's logic whereas it didn't before. This is similar to the way a tossed coin lying on the floor obtains a real value when it is viewed and not before. The explanations are much simpler once we have man pulling the strings.

Libet's experiments on free will Benjamin Libet attached probes to a volunteer and found that the person decides to lift their arm up to a half second before they are conscious of making the decision. Roger Penrose explains this by the suggestion that the decision is unconscious. My hypothesis agrees: free will is implemented unconsciously. More accurately, it is implemented subjectively.

The objectivity of our world Scientists treat our world as an object for study, but an object is only an object in relation to some logical point of view outside the object. What or where is that point of view? If it resides in the scientists, then they are logically outside the world and science should recognise that boundary condition. It would be incoherent to suppose that the viewpoint of reality resides in reality itself. An object needs a (notional) subject outside itself to validate the object's existence as an object.

The scientific answer tends toward saying that logic is the outside viewpoint. Some body of logic, hopefully in the form of mathematically formulated truth, generates the world. My hypothesis agrees that logic is the correct answer. However, the logic includes our human beliefs. Mathematical physics would seem incapable of providing the answer if it continues to rely on axioms and initial conditions chosen by man.

Time and its direction Our physical equations allow for time to flow either way but we only see it moving forwards into the future (to use familiar speech). Why do our equations have an apparently unused facility to evolve in the reverse direction? The answer, according to my hypothesis, is that the reverse direction of time allows the future to "cause" the past via the Anthropic Principle. I put cause in quotes to indicate that it is different from normal causation. The past is "required to be that way" rather than assembled from earlier-in-time antecedents. There might exist antecedents but it is logically impossible to know what they are at the time. They are virtual. They only get real values when the future decides.

In my hypothesis, time is a parameter tracking our beliefs. Our unconscious beliefs have a logical progression but we cannot see the progression because our beliefs are subjective. We invent time as an external parameter that we can see and associate with the reality we invent.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics Roger Penrose says that if we observe the present and use our observations to deduce how conditions must have been a few moments ago (or a week or a billion years) we would decide that the past was more disordered than the present. That is because probability does not have a direction. If we think the future will be more disordered, we ought to make the same judgement about the past, judging from the present.

But if we judge from a wider view, not just from the present, we find that the past was more ordered than the present and the Big Bang exceedingly so. Where does this order come from? Under my hypothesis, the order of the Big Bang - the precise point in phase space that was the origin of our universe - is caused by billions of humans in the future unconsciously specifying how their deterministic personal worlds shall be constituted. The Big Bang tries to accommodate all these "requests" and ends up in a very precise spot as a result.

Entanglement If I measure an entangled twin in my laboratory, I determine its reality and simultaneously define the reality of the other twin a billion light-years away. The effect is instantaneous because defining something does not need physical propagation. This solution is only possible if we give up the idea of a pre-existing external reality, in line with my hypothesis.

Personally, I see no need to be precious about the existence of an external reality. What matters is the logic of our existence, not would-be facts presumed to be supporting the logic. Something is real if-and-only-if it contributes to the logic of our world. (Which is why God should not be considered real.) The reference to our world implicates us humans and leads to the conclusion that reality centres on us. And that is the essence of my hypothesis.

-----

Links

Reality First Vs Logic First An alternative treatment of the above, from a different starting point

The Religious Account of the World How monotheism introduces humans and explains reality