Quantum Mechanics and the Nature of Reality

atom-grunge-2As Erwin Schrödinger cruises down the highway, a patrol officer pulls him over for a suspicious-looking car. The officer strolls up to Schrödinger’s open window and asks for his license and registration and whether the Nobel laureate will allow a search of his trunk. Schrödinger pops the trunk and the officer looks around. Approaching the window again he asks, “Are you aware you have a dead cat in your trunk?” Angrily, Schrödinger replies, “Well, I do now!”

This joke refers to the eminent physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment involving a cat that exemplifies the oddity of quantum mechanics. In the thought experiment, a box contains a cat and a vial of poison that a radioactive atom will trigger upon decaying. Because the radioactive decay is a quantum event, after one hour the atom will be an equal mixture of a decayed state and an undecayed state. According to some interpretations of quantum mechanics, the cat also exists in a mixture of dead and alive states. The really interesting aspect comes in trying to determine the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Some interpretations argue that the mathematical tools used to do quantum calculations, namely the wavefunction Ψ, reflect the actual reality of the world and that the cat exists simultaneously in a mixture of disparate states. Others contend that the wavefunction represents our lack of knowledge; the cat is either dead or alive but we won’t know the proper state until we open the box. Even after 100 years of studying quantum mechanics, no experiments give a clear answer on the proper class of interpretations, although recent research tends to favor the “wavefunction-as-reality” models.

A third class of models offers a more radical solution based on the existence of a multiverse. These models propose that a repulsive force exists between particles in each of the clones in parallel universes. This repulsive force causes ripples to propagate through all the parallel universes, leading to the weird effects seen in quantum experiments. Computer simulations with 41 such universes reproduce many of these “quantum” effects, including those of the iconic double-slit experiment, and the level of agreement increases with the number of parallel worlds. This suggests the intriguing possibility that future research may determine the number of parallel worlds in the multiverse.1

At this point no one knows the final answer to the question, what is the ultimate nature of reality? Maybe things really exist simultaneously in different states or maybe not. Perhaps quantum effects simply result from interacting multiverses. The very nature of the question assumes an objective physical reality, governed by physical laws, that exhibits an intelligible regularity. Furthermore, this physical reality must not be divine (and thus an object of worship) but it must be good (and thus worthy of study). Finally, to question the ultimate nature of reality requires that the human mind can comprehend all these things. Only the Christian worldview anchors all these necessary requirements for asking questions about the nature of reality. The fact that scientists consider it important to ask such questions, and diligently seek answers, points to the existence of an Intelligence behind the universe.

Notes

  1. Zeeya Merali, “Quantum Physics: What Is Really Real?,” Nature 521 (May 2015): 278–80.
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One thought on “Quantum Mechanics and the Nature of Reality

  1. Jeff:

    As a thoroughly “ignorant and unlearned” (Acts 4:13) layperson, would you please help me with understanding the following, if you’d be so kind:

    ● ● ● ● ●

    “The proposition, foisted upon us by a materialism based on classical
    physics – that we human beings are essentially mechanical automata,
    with every least action and thought fixed from the birth of the
    universe by microscopic clockwork-like mechanisms – has created
    enormous difficulties for ethical theory. These difficulties lie like
    the plague on Western culture, robbing its citizens of any rational
    basis for self-esteem or self-respect, or esteem or respect for
    others. Quantum physics, joined to a natural embedding ontology,
    brings our human minds squarely into the dynamical workings of
    nature…” [p. 117, bottom]

    “It is curious that some physicists want to improve upon orthodox
    quantum theory by excluding ‘the observer’, who, by virtue of his
    subjective nature, must, in their opinion, be excluded from science.
    That stance is maintained in direct opposition to what would seem to
    be the most profound advance in physics in three hundred years,
    namely the overcoming of the most glaring failure of classical
    physics, its inability to accommodate us, its creators. The most
    salient philosophical feature of quantum theory is that the
    mathematics has a causal gap that, by virtue of its intrinsic form,
    provides a perfect place for Homo sapiens as we know and experience
    ourselves.” [p. 143, bottom]

    — The eminent, now retired “Orthodox von Neumann/Heisenberg” mind-brain quantum physicist, Dr. Henry P. Stapp, “The Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer,” 2nd Edition, (2007 – 2011), whose academic “pedigree” is traceable back through four (4) Nobel laureate’s, including such scientific luminaries as Wolfgang PaulI & Werner Heisenberg.

    As an ignorant layperson, yet wholeheartedly committed disciple of the Lord Yeshua/Jesus, in addition to staunchly defending what now appears to be the scientifically inferred (or implicated) “worldview” of reality itself, revealed to mankind in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures – e.g., “Mind IS Ultimate Reality,” (John 1:1; Genesis 1:1; Deut.8:3b; Isaiah 42:5; 46:9-10; Jer.10:12; Psalm 33:6; Matt.24:35; Col.1:15-18; 2Tim.1:9; Titus 1:2-3; Heb.11:3; Rev.4:11; 13:8 etc.) – I simply cannot understand why seemingly ZERO scholars and/or scientists (either Christian or secular) with whom I’m familiar, including you at RTB, of whom I have the highest regard, seemingly NEVER?? refer to the work of Dr. Stapp who’s “taken up the torch,” so to speak, and followed in the footsteps of his utterly brilliant scientific predecessors in QM, i.e., Einstein, Born, Bohr, Dirac, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, von Neumann, Pauli, Wigner, Wheeler et al., of whose efforts have since gone about scientifically, with almost breathtaking mathematical rigor at that, certifiably establishing the now philosophically troubling, or ideologically unsavory “existence,” of the immaterial/subjective “observer” that just won’t yield-or-budge one iota – in mind-brain quantum physics.

    Why is this the case Jeff? Is it because you, Dr. Ross, and so many, many more, are simply unaware of the now-retired (in his 80’s) Henry Stapp, whose more than 50-years of indefatigable scientific research in this very area, virtually stands alone as a thoroughly credible, and still unchallengeable scientific “voice of one crying in the wilderness”; yet those “intellectual gatekeeper’s” still clinging to the “now-falsified” view of nature that’s held-sway in Newtonian mechanics for the last few centuries, simply refuse to allow him a “seat at the table”??

    And yet he’s continued to seemingly refute all naysayer’s – that would be those committed “a priori” to materialist philosophy – as his speaking engagements/symposium’s carry-on undeterred. Have you, or Dr. Ross, as brilliant scientists in your own fields – with comprehensively razor-sharp mathematical insight – ever even attempted to seriously engage any of Dr. Stapp’s prodigiously published work & conclusions in mind-brain quantum physics, found on his website?

    He’s even mathematically/scientifically confirmed that “free-will” is anything BUT “an illusion; of whose favored-son descriptive status in “scientism’s” a priori, evolutionary-premised fields of current neurobiological and/or neuroscientific research – e.g., “you are your brain”; “humans are nothing more than a bag of chemicals”; “the mind is, what the brain does”; or “my amygdala made me so it!”, (can you say evolution’s “human UNexceptionalism”?) – has literally been wreaking cultural havoc upon humanity in this country; not to mention the “Body of Messiah Jesus,” and throughout the West as well, just like our brother Phillip E. Johnson had begun to warn us about, in his highly provocative (’95), “Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law & Education”!

    Jeff, are you, Hugh Ross, Ken Samples, Fuz Rana et al., even aware that the very paradigm into which you’d been educated, and with which I’m certain you’ve been intimately and acutely involved throughout your collective academic lives – meaning the “old physics” of Newtonian mechanics, or “classical physics” – has been “overwhelmingly invalidated” (or unquestionably “falsified”); and this profoundly unsettling observation – to so many still profiting from its excesses, as Thomas Kuhn had compellingly argued in his very important “TSOSR” – has been boldly proclaimed through Mr. Stapp’s own published works, and public statements, when speaking & teaching openly in scholarly circles regarding the present “mounting evidence” adduced in support of mind-brain quantum physics, with the existence of its immaterial, subjective “participating observer” – WHO seems to “lie squarely,” at the very center of reality itself??

    (BTW: That sounds an awful lot like mind-brain QM, has scientifically/mathematically confirmed (or inferred/implies?) the actual existence of the long-since jettisoned concept of the “spiritual” Imago Dei [i.e., Gilbert Ryle’s the “ghost in the machine”] resident within the only rational/moral animal species, called Homo sapiens…at least it does to me.)

    So please forgive the long-windedness of this post, but I’ve been greatly perplexed over this issue for a few years now, and joyfully found your article above, to be the necessary catalyst in finally voicing what’s been percolating within me for quite sometime.

    And please CORRECT me in this matter, where appropriate, as I’m acutely aware, due to my own profoundly UNlearned intellect, that I simply could be glaringly WRONG about so much that’s related to this issue; so your helping me finally sort through these knotty philosophical and scientific challenges, of which are clearly biblically-related (namely its “worldview”) – will be of inestimable value toward enhancing my own defense of the “gospel of God,” in keeping with 1 Peter 3:15!

    Thank you so very much Jeff!

    Respectfully, and humbly (I hope) tendered,

    David Huston
    Pensacola, FL.

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