Saturday, September 22, 2007

Quantum Physics: End of Story?

News has just reached me via that auspicious source of scientific information, Norwich’s Eastern Daily Press (20 September) of a mathematical break through in quantum physics at Oxford University. Described as “one of the most important developments in the history of science” my assessment of the report is that multiverse theory has been used to derive and/or explain quantum physics.

The are two things that have bugged scientists about Quantum Physics since it was developed in the first half of the twentieth century; firstly its indeterminism – it seemed to introduce an absolute randomness in physics that upset the classical mentality of many physicists including Einstein: “God doesn’t play dice with the universe”. The second problem which, in fact is related to this indeterminism, is that Quantum Theory suggests that when these apparently probabilistic events do occur distant parts of the universe hosting the envelop of probability for these events, must instantaneously cooperate by giving up their envelope. This apparent instantaneous communication between distant parts of the cosmos demanding faster than light signaling also worried Einstein and other physicists.

Multiverse theory holds out the promise of reestablishing a classical physical regime of local and deterministic physics, although at the cost of positing the rather exotic idea of universes parallel to our own. It achieves this reinstatement, I guess, by a device we are, in fact, all familiar with. If we select, isolate and examine a particular instant in time in our own world we effectively cut it of from its past (and future). Cut adrift from the past much about that instant fails to make sense and throws up two conundrums analogous to the quantum enigmas I mentioned above; Firstly there will be random patterns like the distribution of stars which just seem to be there, when in fact an historical understanding of star movement under gravity gives some insight into that distribution. Secondly, widely separated items, will seem inexplicably related – like for example two books that have identical content. By adding the time dimension to our arbitrary time slice the otherwise inexplicable starts to make sense. My guess is that by adding the extra dimensions of the multiverse a similar explanatory contextualisation has finally – and presumably tentatively - been achieved with the latest multiverse theory.

Not surprisingly the latest discovery looks as though it has come out of the David Deutsch stable. He has always been a great advocate of the multiverse. By eliminating absolute randomness and non-locality multiverse theory has the potential to close the system and tie up all the lose ends. Needless to say all this is likely to proceed against a background of ulterior motivations and may well be hotly contended, not least the contention that Deutsch has made the greatest discovery of all time!
1. The tying of all loose ends is only apparent; all finite human knowledge can only flower out of an irreducible kernel of fact.
2. Multiverse theory, unlike the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, suggests that quantum envelopes do not collapse at all, but always remain available for interference. Hence it should in principle be possible to detect the difference between these two versions of Quantum Theory experimentally.

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