A quantum leap forward?

Nov 23, 2009
A quantum leap forward?
Jeff Barrett, with an original Hugh Everett III paper in hand, is embarking on an adventure to better understand quantum mechanics theory involving concepts such as parallel universes. Photo by Daniel A. Anderson

The dusty boxes that line the walls of Jeff Barrett's UC Irvine office mark a high point in his academic career. Their contents: pages and pages of notes, most more than 50 years old, penned by late quantum theorist Hugh Everett III.

With $160,000 from the National Science Foundation, Barrett and colleagues are combing through, scanning and preserving documents they hope will shed light on how to understand measurement as a consistent physical process in quantum mechanics - one of physics' most debated puzzles that Everett believed he had solved as a graduate student.

"Everett liked to debunk commonly held beliefs," said Barrett, logic & philosophy of science professor and author of The Quantum Mechanics of Minds and Worlds, a book about Everett's work. "He often was the first to say, 'It can't work like that,' and then he'd try to provide evidence showing he was right."

Everett developed a new way of thinking about quantum mechanics, which explains the behavior of physical objects - the stability of matter, the nature of fundamental particles like electrons and photons, and the function of devices such as personal computers and laser pointers.

Standard quantum mechanics has two rules about how physical objects change over time: one for when an object is observed or measured and a second for all other times. Everett believed the second rule applied to all physical processes, including observation and measurement.

Eschewing the first rule would mean the physical universe is constantly evolving into many parallel, also-splitting universes, each containing copies of every observer and object. Everett's "many-worlds" theory attracted some attention when first published, in 1957, but didn't gain wide popularity until the mid-1970s.

Everett died in 1982, and his son, Mark - lead singer and songwriter of the indie-rock band Eels - inherited documents related to his scientific work.

In 2007, to honor the 50th anniversary of Everett's theory, Scientific American commissioned journalist Peter Byrne to write Everett's biography. Byrne contacted Mark Everett and found a treasure trove - everything from notes on the theorist's days as a college student to personal commentaries on other physicists' interpretations of his work.

Byrne asked UCI's Barrett to help make sense of the more technical documents.

"Most physicists today would agree with Everett's basic proposal, but exactly how it works has never been clear," Barrett said. "Significant disagreement remains about how Everett's interpretation of quantum mechanics should itself be interpreted."

Sifting through the physicist's notes, he says, is "a once-in-a-lifetime chance to read something I care very much about but never knew existed." Adds Barrett: "Everett's reflections on almost certainly will help us better understand his theory and develop options for addressing the quantum measurement problem."

UCI plans to make the documents available online. They will become part of the American Institute of Physics' archive on Everett. Typescripts of the most important work, together with introductory essays and interpretative notes by Byrne and Barrett, are scheduled to be published by Princeton University Press in the 2010-11 academic year.

Source: University of California - Irvine

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frajo
3 / 5 (2) Nov 23, 2009
Everett's "many-worlds" theory attracted some attention when first published, in 1957, but didn't gain wide popularity until the mid-1970s

Popularity is a nice thing. It doesn't, however, replace falsifiability.
Noumenon
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 24, 2009
And it can't be falsified because it's metaphysics, so the only recourse is popularity and belief. It's seems like a tortured effort to retain a ''classical'' pre-quantum revolution understanding.

"Standard quantum mechanics has two rules about how physical objects change over time: one for when an object is observed or measured and a second for all other times. Everett believed the second rule applied to all physical processes, including observation and measurement. Eschewing [aka avoiding] the first rule would mean the physical universe is constantly evolving into many parallel [...] universes"

One can't "eschew" the first rule (state reduction), as observation is Everything with regard to empirical knowledge. What qualifies as an inductive scientific theory is that it provide a model for relating Observable Events. That is it. No more meaning or range can be expected of it.

Noumenon
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 24, 2009
... Epistemologically valid knowledge founded on observation, necessarily involves an a-priori conceptual framework that is dependant on mind. There is no rational justification in supposing that reality as so conceptualized, being dependent on a-priori cognitive facilities, ...would provide a consistent physical understanding ad-infinitum.
Mr_Man
not rated yet Nov 24, 2009
I don't understand why the "many worlds theory" is taken seriously. How can the universe constantly be splitting into new / different realities with every exchange of energy and with copies of everyone and everything?

I know there is more to it than that- but given the laws of physics we know, in no way do I find it possible that there are an infinite number of copies of me out there much less everything in an infinite number of universes stacked on top of each other.

I think we have a lot to learn about dark matter and dark energy and how they might be effecting or influencing particles like photons and electrons before we go on to say that there may be "infinite universes" out there.

Sure, its sparks some interest, but to scientist REALLY believe that is true?

It wasn't that long ago that people believed mice "spontaneously generated" in bags of wheat left in a barn.
zenmonkman
5 / 5 (2) Nov 27, 2009
If we look at the "many worlds theory" from an a priori perspective it could make sense ... for example: I want to take my girlfriend to dinner. First: I have an infinite number of choices/worlds on the restaurant of choice ... once I decide then all the choices existing in parallel collapse into a singularity. THEN: when I arrive at the restaurant I have a vast number of choices a priori from the menu and variations I could request ... again once the choice is made the worlds collapse ... and so on with every action ... the many worlds are not in the future they are in the moment before the observation
frajo
3 / 5 (2) Nov 27, 2009
and so on with every action ... the many worlds are not in the future they are in the moment before the observation

You are free to speculate this way. As I'm free to tell you the tale of the lilac dragon in my garage which is invisible to everyone but me.

As there is no method to disprove my tale or your speculation just in case it should be nonsense, it is not science anymore. Falsifiability is the minimal kriterion of scientific thinking.
Birger
not rated yet Nov 30, 2009
I recall that the total energy of the Universe is zero, so in theory the many worlds explanation would not require more energy. But going from "theoretically possible" to "a proven truth" would apparently be impossible in this case...
KBK
1 / 5 (1) Nov 30, 2009
The 'big solve' is to realize and properly account for the point that time is not dimensionless. To take the obvious, ie, the observation of time that plainly shows it is not dimensionless and properly account for that in physics. The way to do that, is to go back to Maxwell's original (unedited) treatise on electromagnetism. In there..is the small tiny bit of the mechanics of spin where the structure does an infinitely small spiral motion and ends up in a infinitesimally different place at the end of the spin (spiral). This is the 'insignificant' bit that Heaviside threw out and the 'insignificant' bit left over that Lorentz killed - some more-which is the asymmetrical and unidirectional.

These two points explain to utter perfection the specific quanta of what time is in our dimensional viewpoint.

One must understand that Maxwell's original works contained equations to explain this but the math was cut down for engineering purposes. Then we lost the point of the original works.