Saturday, June 1, 2019
by Glenn R. Morton and Gordon Simons
Abstract: Quantum mechanics provides persuasive evidence that Cartesian dualism is valid and materialism is not. This surprising scientific support for the existence of spiritual entities, amongst but separate from the material universe, has largely been overlooked by Christians, perhaps partly because of the technical nature of the subject of quantum mechanics, and partly because it is common for Christians to feel intimidated by science in this secular age. We attempt here to clearly communicate this remarkable message to nonprofessionals.
Another argument for the existence of the immaterial soul works off of free will and can be found Post 156 There is a mathematical description of the problem of including consciousness in quantum calculations at post 51
What are Christians to make of the astounding claims made in the book of Colossians: “He [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Traditionally, Christians have interpreted this as an affirmation that Jesus was the Creator, and remains the Sustainer of the material universe. Astounding claims, indeed, for One who entered into His creation as a human baby! What we call the Incarnation.
Some Christians believe cosmology sheds some light on the creative process … via a “big bang” some 14 billion years ago … via the formation of stars leading to the formation of new kinds of atoms in abundance, including carbon and oxygen, to be thrusted out into the waiting universe as “star dust” … making life in the universe possible and sustainable … yet, fully supervised by God. The broad outline of this process is easy for Christians to understand. However, less accessible to the lay Christian community are quantum mechanical processes, occurring at the atomic level that bear witness to the existence of our souls. This is a story just as interesting as that told by cosmologists. For just as the Incarnation presents us with a remarkable duality illustrating an intimate linkage of God’s spiritual nature with humanity, the findings of quantum mechanics reveal another remarkable duality illustrating an intimate linkage of the soul-like nature of humans with the material universe. This is the story we seek to tell here, communicated to nonprofessionals.
Before going into details, imagine the plight of a “materialist,” someone who believes that the material universe is all that there is. If it can be shown that something nonmaterial exists, anything at all, then materialism becomes philosophically untenable. (Logically, this “anything at all” could actually be “something material-something other,” something that behaves contrary to its material identity, possessing demonstrably nonmaterial properties.) The “coup d'état” for materialism is revealed in the strange, unexpected behavior of quantum mechanics.
This surprising conclusion is most obvious from the perspective of the so-called “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum mechanics, so named in honor of the physicist Niels Bohr, who resided in Copenhagen, Denmark. Naturally, this conclusion has not been well received by some in the physics community, and materialist-minded physicists have sought out and found alternative interpretations, most notably the “Many Worlds interpretation” and a “Decoherence interpretation.” Since the validity of each of these alternative interpretations is accepted by many physicists, our story must include a discussion of all three interpretations, and respond to the philosophical challenges posed in the latter two.
Our intent in telling this story is to present readers, in particular Christians, with a compelling apologetic for a truly remarkable conclusion, drawn from the study of quantum mechanics. Sometimes good apologetic arguments are not accepted by everyone … no less so in the present case of quantum mechanics. So be it. Naturally, we strongly believe in the reasonableness and compelling nature of this apologetic, and hope our readers will as well, but we hold no animus to those who might disagree. The Shepherd David, the Wise Men from the East, now those of us who absorb and accept what cosmology has uncovered concerning God’s creation in the last hundred years ... each, with the data provided in their time, can affirm together that, truly, “The heavens declare the glory of God!” The material here is challenging, but most non-scientists can understand it. For those who persevere, great insight and appreciation await. For truly, as with the heavens, the strange behaviors of quantum-size particles “declare the glory of God!”
Here is an outline of this story: Classical physics, the physics we experience in everyday life, treats the scientist/observer as outside of the workings of the world. We observe the world but our consciousness does not play any part in influencing the outcomes of experiments. This separates the world into two parts, the objective and the subjective, with the corresponding belief that the realm of science is only for what is out there in the objective world. But quantum mechanics, no matter how it is interpreted or formulated, brings consciousness into the realm of science as a major player, indeed as an indispensable element of science, and the decisions of the conscious observer can influence the outcome of scientific experiments – to be sure, an anathematic conclusion in the eyes of some physicists. For “materialist” philosophy denies the existence of anything in the universe with such properties. According to Wiki, “The current consensus of modern science is that there is no evidence to support the existence of the soul when traditionally defined as the spiritual breath of the body. In metaphysics, the concept of "Soul" may be equated with that of "Mind" in order to refer to the consciousness and intellect of the individual.1
But quantum mechanics does provide existential evidence for the soul. That story must begin with a brief but important discussion of philosophy. On this subject, British theoretical physicist Euan Squires writes, “In an endeavor to understand the quantum world, we are led beyond physics, certainly into philosophy and maybe even into cosmology, psychology and theology.”2
1. Philosophical positions
Philosophers have long debated the relationship of our inner experience (consciousness/soul/spirit) with the external world. Much of the philosophical debate of the 19th century revolved around this problem. Because we don't experience the external world directly, but only mediated through light coming to our eyes, which then is converted to nerve impulses, which are then sensed by the consciousness, most 19th century philosophers3 concluded that the ultimate reality was basically mental, not physical. "The idealist holds, on the other hand, that these mental appearances or sense data (past, present, and future) are all there is to the physical object: physical objects are really mental in character and have no existence apart from minds."4
Two centuries earlier, French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes presented a more balanced view, called “Dualism,” which ascribes a genuine reality for our minds, and for matter controlled by the laws of physics. Descartes had doubted the existence of everything but could not doubt that the doubter existed. "Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum"; "I doubt; therefore I think; therefore I am." When Descartes said, "I am," he meant "I exist." From this certitude of the soul's existence, Descartes philosophically rebuilt belief in the external world and thus came to believe that matter and soul are both real.
For Descartes, it seemed natural to justify soul-existence without reference to matter, and matter-existence without reference to soul. Each is real, and each stands on its own merits. By way of contrast, quantum mechanics justifies soul-existence in terms of the observed properties of matter. It is as if, “The human soul makes it presence known by ‘casting its shadow’ on the material universe through quantum mechanics.” Soul and matter are both real and interlinked, but we shall argue that matter itself cannot be the residence place of the soul.
Materialism, also called “ontological naturalism,” is a commonly held view today, a view that only matter and the laws of physics exist, implicitly rejecting Dualism (and the existence of God). In this view, consciousness/soul/spirit arises from the laws of physics, and thus is a product of matter.
Ontological naturalism arises from “methodological naturalism,” an approach to science that fences off theological considerations. One form of this is popularized under the acronym NOMA by the influential paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould. NOMA stands for “Non-Overlapping Magisteria,”5 with the objective of placing science and religion in “separate domains of enquiry.” In essence, Gould is agreeing with Benjamin Franklin’s aphorism, “Love your neighbor; yet don’t pull down your hedge.”6 Methodological naturalism also seeks to fence off human observers from science, and this became problematic in the study of quantum mechanics. For the “hedge” between “human observers and science” has now been “torn down,” not by choice but because of the realities of quantum mechanics, yet not without resistance from some scientists:
In support of materialism, Sukopp writes,
"Strong naturalism asserts that the distinction between nature and a realm over or beyond nature is preposterous...This naturalism is no arbitrary supposition but rather follows from methodological principles of science. In consequence of these well-known and widely accepted principles, hypotheses and theories should be testable.”7
In this view, consciousness/mentality/soul arises from the laws of nature and there is nothing unique about this inner feeling we call “I." It is an illusion. Indeed, New Scientist, Sept 8, 2018 had a cover story entitled, "The You Delusion" that asserts, “A mind is just an object that some brains can model, and so become aware of.” The ontological naturalists never seem to explain how consciousness arises, how the mind is 'modeled' nor, as we shall see below, why mind is so crucial to quantum mechanics. The belief, without demonstration, that mind must arise from the laws of nature is often stated unquestioningly. However, there is no proof that methodological naturalism requires or is equivalent to ontological naturalism, and thus no disproof of the existence mental/spiritual entities.
Thus, from 19th century philosophy to 21st century atheism, what is commonly called “the human soul” has been demoted from a status of assumed preeminence to assumed nonexistence. Theologians have objected to this demotion. Polkinghorne8 offered an interesting view on the soul. He is a “dual aspect monist” and believes that the soul and matter are really one object with two faces. His view is based upon Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy9 more so than upon genuine scientific data. As explained below, the study of quantum mechanics suggests a soul that is firmly planted in dualist philosophy.
According to Wiki, “Important applications of quantum theory include quantum chemistry, quantum optics, quantum computing, superconducting magnets, light-emitting diodes, and the laser, the transistor and semiconductors such as the microprocessor, medical and research imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging and electron microscopy.”7 Quantitative predictions of quantum mechanics have been shown to be correct to a high degree of accuracy, in one case cited by Wiki, to within 1 part in 100 million.10
The basic theoretical foundations of quantum mechanics were established in the first half of the twentieth century, but the philosophical foundations remain unsettled, including the role of human observation. Highly regarded physicists, experts in the theoretical foundations of quantum mechanics, have commented on this state of affairs. Richard Feynman once said, "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics,”11 and Steven Weinberg has commented, "There is now in my opinion no entirely satisfactory interpretation of quantum mechanics."11
It is common for physicists today to profess no interest in the philosophical foundations of quantum mechanics, content that it works so well, providing them with the numerical answers they seek. Fair enough!
But this does not provide a justification for Christians to ignore the philosophical underpinnings of quantum mechanics … that reveal genuine theological content … the fingerprints of God. For we are told in the book of Romans that we should be able to observe in nature “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature.” And indeed, we can … if we but look! We close this section with a revealing quote from Steven Weinberg (an outspoken atheist), how he believes science should work, without human intervention:
"Fundamentally, I have an ideal of what a physical theory should be. It should be something that doesn't refer in any specific way to human beings. It should be something from which everything else--including anything you can say systematically about chemistry, or biology, or human affairs--can be derived. It shouldn't have human beings at the beginning in the laws of nature. And yet, I don't see any way of formulating quantum mechanics without an interpretative postulate that refers to what happens when people choose to measure one thing or another."12
Weinberg’s shunned “interpretive postulate” implicitly refers to the ubiquitous “observer problem” that arises whenever a human observes a quantum-size object such as a photon or electron.
In the next section, we describe the manifestation of the observer problem within the context of a "double-slit experiment," showing that a human observation alters the result of the experiment. In Section 3, we argue that this alteration is limited to conscious observation. In particular, recording devices such as a computer are excluded. It follows that some aspect of the human mind (and possibly of some animal minds) is apart from and above matter. Whatever this is, we are calling it the “quantum soul.” Further, it follows from that, that materialist philosophy is untenable. Two popular challenges to this interpretation of the observer problem are discussed in Sections 4 and 5, respectively, one based on the so-called "many worlds interpretation," proposed by Hugh Everett in 1957, and another based on a concept called "decoherence," introduced by German physicist H. Dieter Zeh in 1970. In Section 6, we briefly present a knowledge-based interpretation of quantum, and how it requires consciousness. Finally, in Section 7, we present the compatibility of quantum with an active and miraculous God.
2. Quantum Mechanics Primer and the Observer Problem
Because this article requires some base level knowledge of quantum mechanics (QM), and most people do not understand that level of mathematics, we will give a short non-mathematical primer on QM, to help readers understand the important arguments below. QM applies to the very small particles, like electrons, atoms, and molecules, but an upper limit on the size of applicability might not exist; no such limit has ever been observed. The most important thing for the reader to know about QM is that the very notion of what constitutes a particle at a fixed location at a fixed time becomes fuzzy; locations and times are subject to probabilities, defined by “waves.” The mathematics of QM, described by the Schrodinger equation (SE), calculates not where a particle presently is, and will be in the future, but the probability that the particle will reside at a specified location and time. Thus, it is said “the particle is everywhere at once.” Yet, remarkably, a conscious observer observes a particle in one place, not “everywhere at once.” This difference between what the “SE predicts” and what “we observe” is why QM gives rise to the importance of conscious observers in the universe. In this regard, it important to note that an unobserved particle really behaves as if it is “everywhere at once,” as clearly demonstrated in a “double-slit experiment” with the particle passing through two adjacent slits at the same time, exhibiting its wave-like nature, including interference patterns on the far side of the slits. With the same apparatus, a particle that is observed while passing through the double slit apparatus passes not through both slits but only through one of the slits. Choosing to observe or not observe a particle passing through a double slit is the decision of a conscious mind and affects the particle's behavior. See Figure 1.
Schrodinger’s equation accurately describes the probabilities of where the particle might be, but, importantly, it does not tell us exactly at which place the particle will be when it is observed. This phenomenon is called the “wave function collapse,” referring to the wave function described by the SE's math. Significantly, it cannot describe this collapse to one localized reality. Simple analogues to the roles of “SE” and “wave function collapse” in QM can be found in classical physics that might help readers better understand these abstract theoretical concepts, but no claim is being made here that QM can be understood, as Einstein would have wanted it, as subsumable by the well-established methodology of classical physics. Instead of the double-slit example, just discussed, consider a six-sided die being cast randomly into a box, out of sight of any observer. For this example, the role of the SE for QM is analogous to the statement, “The face-up side of the die has 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 dots, each with probability 1/6 (many possible realities with assigned probabilities).” And the role of “wave function collapse” for QM is analogous to a statement like, “A human, upon opening the box, observes that the face-up side of the die has 3 dots (a ‘collapse’ to a specific reality).”
It is perhaps instructive to examine how this simple example fails to capture the salient features of the quantum world: while “the unobserved die” is superficially analogous to “an unobserved electron,” classical-physics analogues, such as “a die cast randomly into a box,” totally fail to exhibit QM’s “simultaneity property.” A classical die always possesses one single answer, observed or unobserved; paradoxically, a quantum die would possess all six answers simultaneously until it is observed. And a single answer becomes manifest only when observed. (It is this simultaneity property that “quantum computers” would exploit to solve presently intractable problems.)
Theoretical physicist John Wheeler further elucidates the role of the observer with what are called “delayed-choice” thought experiments. (See Fig. 2.)
"Wheeler noted that it is possible to devise a double slit experiment at the cosmic level using light coming from quasars and a galaxy which operates as a gravitational lens on the way to Earth, bending the light inwardly as it passes by massive objects (as predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity). This light would generate an interference pattern showing that light has travelled as waves. But if a measurement would be performed before the screen on which the interference pattern takes form, the pattern would dissolve and the photons would change from waves into particles. In other words, our choice on how to measure the light coming from a quasar influences the nature of the light emitted 10 billion years ago. According to Wheeler, this experiment would show that ‘retrocausal effects operate at the quantum level."13
The light's passage by the massive light-bending galaxy occurred long before there were any people or multicellular life on earth. Yet our decision today determines what happened to that light 2 billion years ago. To paraphrase Weinberg and Wigner, “Human beings are in the cookie jar at the beginning of the laws of QM.” Matter is obeying consciousness. Matter, at its most fundamental level, is NOT master of consciousness; consciousness is master of the matter!
Another retrocausality experiment done by Kim et al, allows the observer to change the equipment after the particles have gone through the double-slit apparatus but before they have hit the screen. Amazingly, the observer's choice still rules over what nature does.14
Wheeler eventually changed his mind, opting for another interpretation of delayed-choice experiments, taking the view that particles don't get their properties until they are observed, meaning, they are neither waves nor particles until the observer decides what equipment he wishes to use. Clearly, this is even a more radical position than that of most 19th century idealists. Such a view places the observer/soul as the creator of the universe and its past. (Move over, God!) Matter is not creating consciousness through biological evolution, but consciousness is creating matter and its history by observation. To paraphrase Descartes famous quote, the observer can say, "I observe; therefore I create; therefore I am [like God]." Hyperbole aside, Christian readers are likely to recall from Genesis 1 that “God created mankind in his own image.” Perhaps we see tangible evidence of this in delayed-choice experiments.
3. What constitutes an observer?
Recording devices, such as a computer, do not alter the observed results in quantum experiments as human observers do (as illustrated in Figure 1 above). A compelling theoretical reason for this is explained in this section.
For this task, we borrow heavily from material in the book “Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics” by John von Neumann, a leading mathematician, physicist and computer scientist in the 20th century. In this seminal work, von Neumann argues for an inviolable, albeit somewhat arbitrary, disconnect between the “observer” and the “observed system” (what is observed), here described via a generic example that seemingly has nothing at all to do with the subject of quantum mechanics:
"We wish to measure the temperature. If we want, we can proceed numerically by looking to the mercury column in a thermometer, and then say: 'This is the temperature as measured by the thermometer.' But we can carry the process further, and from the properties of mercury (which can be explained in kinetic and molecular terms) we can calculate its heating, expansion, and the resultant length of the mercury column, and then say: 'This length is seen by the observer.' Going still further, and taking the light source into consideration, we could find out the reflection of the light quanta on the opaque mercury column and the path taken by the reflected light quanta into the eye of the observer, their refraction in the eye lens, and the formation of an image on the retina, and then we would say: 'This image is registered by the retina of the observer.' And were our physiological knowledge greater than it is today, we could go still further, tracing the chemical reactions which produce the impression of this image on the retina, and in the optic nerve and in the brain, and then in the end say; 'These chemical changes of his brain cells are perceived by the observer.' But in any case, no matter how far we proceed - from the thermometer scale, to the mercury, to the retina, or into the brain - at some point we must say: 'And this is perceived by the observer.' That is, we are obliged always to divide the world into two parts, the one being the observed system, the other the observer. In the former we can follow all physical processes (in principle at least) arbitrarily precisely. In the latter, this is meaningless. The boundary between the two is arbitrary to a very large extent. In particular, we saw in the four different possibilities considered in the preceding example that the 'observer'--in this sense--need not be identified with the body of the actual observer: In one instance we included even the thermometer in it, while in another instance even the eyes and optic nerve were not included. That this boundary can be pushed arbitrarily far into the interior of the body of the actual observer is the content of the principle of psycho-physical parallelism. But this does not change the fact that in every account the boundary must be put somewhere if the principle is not to be rendered vacuous; i.e., if a comparison with experience is to be possible. Indeed, experience only makes statements of this type: 'An observer has made a certain (subjective) observation,' and never any like this: 'A physical quantity has a certain value.'”15
The take-home message in this example is that “we are obliged always to divide the world into two [non-overlapping] parts, the one being the observed system, the other the observer.” What von Neumann has described is an inherent Descartes-like dualism, universally applicable in science, perhaps with the observer identifiable with the “I am” in Descartes’ famous declaration, "I doubt; therefore I think; therefore I am." But, strictly speaking, it remains unsettled in this von Neumann example whether what he calls “the observer” could be a computer rather than a conscious observer. To get at this question, we need to consider another example within the relevant context of quantum mechanics:
“He considered a measuring apparatus, a Geiger counter, for example. It is isolated from the rest of the world but makes contact with a quantum system, say, an atom simultaneously in two boxes. This Geiger counter is set to fire if the atom is in the top box and to remain unfired if the atom is in the bottom box. Von Neumann showed that if the Geiger counter is a physical system governed by quantum mechanics, it would enter ‘a superposition state with the atom’ [meaning that they should be viewed as one combined system, hence with one active (un-collapsed) Schrodinger equation-grm,gs] and be, simultaneously, in a fired and an unfired state.
Should a second isolated measuring apparatus come into contact with the Geiger counter - for example, an electronic device recording whether the Geiger counter has fired - it joins the superposition state and records both situations existing simultaneously. This so-called ‘von Neumann chain’ can continue indefinitely. Von Neumann showed that no physical system obeying the laws of physics (i.e., quantum theory) could collapse a superposition state wave function to yield a particular result."16
The concept “superposition” in QM, referred to above, is comparable to what one observes at an ocean beach when an arriving wave shows evidence of another wave that has joined it. In QM, it is literally a second wave function being added, in a mathematical sense, onto a first wave function, forming a new composite wave function, describable by a single SE (applicable to the new wave function). In “von Neumann’s chain,” this process of addition is repeated again and again, naturally. See Fig 3.
The word superposition appears later in this story and has the same meaning. Objects that are in superposition are said to be “superposed.” This concept of “superposition” plays an important role in Section 6 below.
This latter example resolves our question: a computer, used to record data, becomes part of the von Neumann chain, representing a new link in the observer system, and, therefore, cannot qualify as an observer, while a “conscious observer,” who is capable of collapsing a superposition state, does qualify as an observer.
While this resolves the question, London and Bauer provide some additional helpful intuition. They consider a von Neumann chain consisting of the particle to be observed, the apparatus and the observer. As noted earlier, the mathematics of Schrodinger equation lacks a collapse mechanism. Particles can't collapse themselves because the mathematics doesn't allow it. But consciousness can collapse the wave function. London and Bauer say that this is because none of particles can “know” of their states; they lack a mind and they lack introspection. But the observer possesses ability, via his consciousness, to track his quantum state, and thus break the superposition and create the objective world.
"The observer has a completely different impression. For him it is only the object x and the apparatus y that belong to the external world, to what he calls 'objectivity.' By contrast he has with himself relations of a very special character. He possesses a characteristic and quite familiar faculty which we can call the 'faculty of introspection.' He can keep track from moment to moment of his own state. By virtue of this 'immanent knowledge' he attributes to himself the right to create his own objectivity." .... Thus it is not a mysterious interaction between the apparatus and the object that produces a new [state] for the system during the measurement. It is only the consciousness of an 'I' who can separate himself from the former [wavefunction] and, by virtue of his observation, set up a new objectivity in attributing to the object henceforward a new function."17
To further emphasize the need for a conscious being in the workings of quantum mechanics, consider what other physicists, besides Steven Weinberg (above) said.
Another Nobel laureate, Eugene Wigner:
"When the province of physical theory was extended to encompass microscopic phenomena, through the creation of quantum mechanics, the concept of consciousness came to the fore again: it was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness." 18
One reason that QM can't be separated from the observer is explained by Eisberg and Resnick:
"According to Einstein, the belief in an external world independent of the perceiving subject is the basis of all natural science.' Quantum mechanics, however, regards the interactions of object and observer as the ultimate reality. It uses the language of physical relations and processes rather than that of physical qualities and properties. It rejects as meaningless and useless the notion that behind the universe of our perception there lays a hidden objective world ruled by causality; instead it confines itself to the description of relations among perceptions."19
Computers don't have perceptions; only conscious beings do. So, this fact implicitly rules out measuring devices as 'observers' within the workings of quantum mechanics.
One further item should be discussed about computers as 'observers'. When people say that computers are observers, they certainly are not speaking of the outer casing and screws holding the motherboard in place as being part of the observer. They must be referring to the semi-conductor chips which are doing the observing. Semi-conductors are subject to the laws of quantum, from the quantum mechanical Fermi-Dirac statistics, which govern the flow of electricity in them, to the existence of valence and conduction energy bands. Quantum applies to everything made of atoms, and it forces the matter to follow the Schrodinger equation, which lacks any collapse mechanism. Computers, like other objects subject to the Schrodinger equation, can't collapse the wave function. To conclude, a conscious observer is required for this collapse, and this poses a serious challenge to materialist philosophy. For it means that a mind/soul exists as a separate, essential and existential object, in science.
Below, in Sections 4 and 5, respectively, we discuss two interpretations of quantum that are commonly thought to avoid the consciousness problem, and we explain why this is mistaken.
4. Many Worlds
As we were working on this paper, one physicist tried to escape the problem of the soul by claiming that wave function collapse only applies to the “outdated Copenhagen interpretation" of QM, the interpretation that holds that physical systems and objects don't have reality until they are measured by the observer. Thus, the observer causes the properties to come into existence. However, this issue does not rest on the Copenhagen view, which is held by about 40% of all physicists. This person was advocating that the many worlds view, held by about 20% of physicists, avoided the observer problem.
The many worlds view of quantum mechanics was first proposed by Hugh Everett as a solution to the observer problem.20 He claimed that there was never a collapse of the wave function because the universe split into multiple universes at each quantum observation, each universe having a different answer to the quantum question, and each consciousness is only able to see the universe he is in, not any of the others. The view has practical implications. If you are hit by a car, you survive in one universe but die in another. See Figure 4. Further, if Bob and Alice are determined to remain faithful in marriage, and are successful, sadly, they both are unsuccessful and unfaithful in some other universe, according to this view.
The many worlds interpretation is adequate for the double slit experiment discussed in Section 2, but the MWI must accommodate actual splits into more than two independent universes, depending on the particulars of the wave function. For instance, if the wave function corresponds to three possible outcomes, predicted to occur, respectively, with probabilities ½, ¼ and ¼, say, then the spit, also called a “branching” as in a tree, must be into three distinct universes. Clearly, there is no obvious role, if any, for these probabilities in this branching process. Moreover, some splits must evidently be into an infinity of universes: for instance, where is an electron located within a magnetically bound sphere (with its infinity of potential locations)? Does each possible point on the sphere correspond to a distinct universe if a branching occurs? It seems so. Evidently, the MWI comes with some perplexing complications.
Whatever one thinks about the MWI, we must discuss it within its own terms. It would not be adequate to say that it is contrived by materialist-minded physicists to get around the need for human observers, nor adequate to argue that it is too complicated to be correct; it could still be correct.
Seemingly, the MWI successfully sidesteps the observer problem, and a need for a conscious observer. But some recent research reveals otherwise. In order to explain this clearly, we must begin with some preliminary material (generally applicable under any interpretation of QM), that will set the stage for discussing the recent research:
Consider what would happen if five physicists, all in the same universe, watched the same experiment, and each physicist saw a different result. Physicist 1 saw one thing; physicist 2 saw something else, and so on. Such a situation would be the end of science. Science depends on repeatability, and upon everyone objectively seeing the same results. But interestingly, following the laws of quantum can lead to observers seeing different things. Such contradictions arise in what is called the “Wigner's Friend paradox.”21
Following the laws of quantum leads different observers to see different things and this is a problem. We know that in our universe, generally speaking, we see the same experimental results, so the question is, “Why does the application of quantum laws lead to a situation we don't observe?”
In 1961, Eugene Wigner solved this problem by saying that observer minds are not subject to the laws of quantum. By assuming this, the contradictions disappear. Wigner said:
“... the very study of the external world led to the conclusion that the content of the consciousness is an ultimate reality.” 22
Clearly, an observer’s brain is biological, and hence “material,” but Wigner is implicitly asserting that a conscious human brain is “something material-something other,” something that behaves contrary to its material identity, possessing demonstrably nonmaterial properties.
Now, turning to the MWI, let us assume, for the moment, that mind is subject to the laws of quantum mechanics? What happens to the contradictions then? Consciousness unavoidably pops out in other places. A recent experiment run by Proietta et al. confirms statistically that the contradictions are real and to be expected. But that raises a problem they discuss in their paper, how are all the contradictory observations made consistent? After examining all of their assumptions, only one way was found to avoid having everyone see different contradictory, experimental results, they concluded that there must be a “privileged” observer over all the multiverse (the totality of universes, hypothesized in the MWI). It is this privileged person who determines facts and makes everyone see the same set of facts in the same universe. Proietta et al. concluded:
"...one way to accommodate our result is by proclaiming that ‘facts of the world’ can only be established by a privileged observer — e.g., one that would have access to the ‘global wavefunction’ in the many worlds interpretation"23
Of the MWI, American theoretical physicist Lee Smolin wrote:
“This formulation preserves the idea that there is a single objective view of reality by the extreme means of making that the view of an observer who does not live in the world." "It seems to me that the only possible name for such an observer is God..."24
To conclude, it appears that the many worlds view can either have consciousness independent of matter, or have a conscious God above it all who is independent of the multiverse. But it doesn't seem to be able to avoid the problem of consciousness, as its advocates claim.
Changing the subject, we recommend an excellent essay appearing on the Internet in 2018 entitled "Why the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics has many problems" (adapted from his award-winning book entitled “Beyond Weird,” copyright 2018), by the British science writer Phillip Ball (a former editor for the prestigious journal “Nature”). It is clearly written for non-professional readers, and it is a fascinating and convincing read. Here are some of the “problems” that Ball perceives:
“The MWI is qualitatively different from the other interpretations of quantum mechanics, although that’s rarely recognized or admitted. For the interpretation speaks not just to quantum mechanics itself but to what we consider knowledge and understanding to mean in science. It asks us what sort of theory, in the end, we will demand or accept as a claim to know the world.”
“The MWI is surely the most polarizing of interpretations. Some physicists consider it almost self-evidently absurd [including Niels Bohr]; ‘Everettians,’ meanwhile, are often unshakable in their conviction that this is the most logical, consistent way to think about quantum mechanics. Some of them insist that it is the only plausible interpretation — for the arch-Everettian David Deutsch, it is not in fact an ‘interpretation’ of quantum theory at all, any more than dinosaurs are an ‘interpretation’ of the fossil record. It is simply what quantum mechanics is. ‘The only astonishing thing is that that’s still controversial,’ Deutsch says. My own view is that the problems with the MWI are overwhelming — not because they show it must be wrong, but because they render it incoherent. It simply cannot be articulated meaningfully.” 25
Ball raises a serious concern that the world splitting is instantaneous but the mind/consciousness can't be aware of it in any universe because the neurons haven't had time to record this split inside the brain. Because of the astronomical number of splits between each instant of time, how can the 'I' gather experience? The 'I' is carried along to different universes, never gathering any experience time in any of them, indeed, never having time for neurons to fire before it is swept away into another universe. Indeed, even the act of neuron transmission is a quantum act, where sodium ions move into the neuron in a wave (which is the mechanism of nerve transmission). Since these particles are subject to quantum rules, each ion's movement is a quantum decision point, splitting the universe with each ion that enters the neuron, the 'I' in the universe where the neuron started firing is a different "I" in a different universe when the nerve ceases firing. Because of this, the universe splits a large number of times during the transmission of the nerve signal, meaning that the person is not in the same universe when the nerve starts firing as he is when the signal reaches the end of the nerve. We think this is what Ball means when he says, "Such an 'I' could never be conscious of its existence." It is never in a universe long enough to have an experience of that universe.
Ball concludes with:
"Its implications undermine a scientific description of the world far more seriously than do those of any of its rivals. The MWI tells you not to trust empiricism at all: Rather than imposing the observer on the scene, it destroys any credible account of what an observer can possibly be. Some Everettians insist that this is not a problem and that you should not be troubled by it. Perhaps you are not, but I am."25
Some readers, by this time, might be thinking to themselves that adherence to the MWI and adherence to the Christian faith are qualitatively similar, in that both depend in large measure on faith rather than sight, the first in the existence of vast forever-unobservable parts of “many worlds,” and the second in presently-unobservable spiritual entities, including God. It seems fair to suggest that the MWI fails to meet the demands of NOMA, that of Stephen Jay Gould’s “Non-Overlapping Magisteria,”5 with its objective of placing science and religion in separate domains of enquiry.
A technical critique of Decoherence can be found here: Post 155
" Some years ago, a physicist would likely use the word "collapse" to describe the process of observation by which a superposition state wave function becomes an observed single reality. Instead of "collapse," a physicist today might use the word "decoherence." It refers to the now well-studied process in which the wavefunction of a microscopic object interacts with the macroscopic environment to produce the result the Copenhagen interpretation describes as collapse."26
As this quote (gleefully?) indicates, the philosophical understanding of quantum mechanics has shifted in recent decades in a direction that is much less friendly to a belief that a conscious observer is a necessary part of the quantum story, the reason being attributed to something called “decoherence.” Physicist Tim Jones advocates the teaching of decoherence in such a manner as to hide the observer problem from view:
"Decoherence offers a theoretical framework in which the measurement problem can be swept under the carpet (pushed into a system larger than that which we can observe). The effect is that quantum mechanics can be studied and presented to a student without the need for the ad hoc ``wave collapse'' being presented as a primary tool of the theory. One can achieve, in many cases, the same apparent effect of a wave collapse without recourse to von Neumann's mysterious first intervention." "Thus, we clarify that decoherence is not a new theory unto itself, but is instead an efficient and fruitful repackaging of theory. It does not solve the measurement problem, and most certainly wouldn't have satisfied the reservations of Einstein in his later years.”27
While many today, including many physicists, believe that decoherence has removed the measurement problem from the quantum “table,” Schlosshauer quotes many leading experts who deny this:
“On the other hand, even leading adherents of decoherence have expressed caution or even doubt that decoherence has solved the measurement problem. Joos (2000, p. 14) writes:
‘Does decoherence solve the measurement problem? Clearly not. What decoherence tells us, is that certain objects appear classical when they are observed. But what is an observation? At some stage, we still have to apply the usual probability rules of quantum theory.’
Along these lines, Kiefer and Joos (1999, p. 5) warn that:
‘One often finds explicit or implicit statements to the effect that the above processes are equivalent to the collapse of the wave function (or even solve the measurement problem). Such statements are certainly unfounded.’
In a response to Anderson’s (2001, p. 492) comment, Adler (2003, p. 136) states:
‘I do not believe that either detailed theoretical calculations or recent experimental results show that decoherence has resolved the diﬃculties associated with quantum measurement theory.’
Similarly, Bacciagaluppi (2003b, p. 3) writes:
‘Claims that simultaneously the measurement problem is real [and] decoherence solves it are confused at best.’ Zeh asserts (Joos et al., 2003, Ch. 2):
‘Decoherence by itself does not yet solve the measurement problem (...). This argument is nonetheless found wide-spread in the literature. (...) It does seem that the measurement problem can only be resolved if the Schrodinger dynamics (...) is supplemented by a nonunitary collapse (...).’"28
In short, claims by some advocates of decoherence that it solves the measurement/observer problem are rebuffed by some of the founders and leading advocates of decoherence theory.
This last quote by Zeh, is exactly our position. Since the Schrodinger equation contains no collapse mechanism, the only real solution would require a modification of the equation to insert a collapse mechanism. Decoherence doesn't do that, and ignores the von Neumann chain which arises directly from consistent application of the mathematics of quantum mechanics.
We now turn our attention to the concept of decoherence itself, explained in nonprofessional language, so that readers can understand what all this fuss is about, stripped of hype.
The English dictionary Dictionary.com defines “decoherence” as “the process in which a system's behaviour changes from that which can be explained by quantum mechanics to that which can be explained by classical mechanics,”29 and it goes a long ways toward capturing the current focus of attention of physicists today, in contrast to that of several decades ago when quantum mechanics research was primarily about tiny “coherent” objects such as protons, electrons, photons and the like. We will dispense with a formal mathematical definition of decoherence, and turn to the commonly accepted definition, as “the process in which quantum-size objects become entangled with multiple larger objects in its environment.” As described in Section 3, the wave function of a quantum-size object “superimposes” with multiple objects in the environment, forming a single composite wave function– as described by von Neumann. A quantum-size object devoid of environmental entanglements is viewed as being “coherent.” Figure 1 in Section 2 applies to coherent objects. This process of entanglement is natural and ubiquitous in the every-day world, and occurs extremely rapidly.
The controversy arises when mental attempts are made to parse this composite wave function into its component parts - the original quantum-size object and the multitudinous entangled environmental objects (which could be far away from the quantum-size object at the time of the attempted parsing). This is not something that can literally be done in the real-world context. Yet, it is sometimes said that “information from a quantum-size object is leaked into the environment.” And then it is concluded that the state of the quantum-size object is like that of a similar object, devoid of entanglements, when observed by a conscious being - resulting in “wave-function collapse,” in the vernacular commonly used several decades ago. Though von Neumann would strongly beg to differ (as would we), some physicists then conclude that decoherence has explained away the observer problem.
The problem is still, as von Neumann said above, "at some point we must say: 'And this is perceived by the observer.'” Applied here, the observer must look to see that coherence has been lost; thus, decoherence has not resolved the observer problem.
6. Is quantum mechanics about knowledge?
If quantum mechanics validates the existence of a “quantum soul” and tells us where it cannot be – namely as part of the material universe - we are still left with an unanswered question, as to where it came from. British physics Rudolf Peierls had a knowledge-based interpretation of quantum mechanics. He believed that the Schrodinger equation was about the knowledge of the observer. But this formulation of quantum also requires an observer who is not material. He writes:
"The moment at which you can throw away one possibility and keep only the other is when you finally become conscious of the fact that the experiment has given one result .... You see, the quantum mechanical description is in terms of knowledge, and knowledge requires somebody who knows." 30
Who is this knower Peierls speaks of? He clarifies his concept in another book. He starts with an assumption he will eventually prove is wrong. That assumption is the materialist assumption that the human mind arises from matter and is subject to the laws of quantum mechanics; the mind is subject to and described by quantum. If one tries this, then the information, the knowledge, contained in the quantum description of the mind, has no mind with which to know that knowledge. Peierls says:
“Another objection which is sometimes raised is the following: Suppose we include in our quantum description the observer and his brain. In practice, the resulting Schrodinger equation would be prohibitively complicated even to formulate, let alone to solve, but it should be possible in principle. What is then the significance of the state function occurring in this equation; whose knowledge does it represent, and when do we decide to contract it? [to collapse the wave function--grm,gs] "This question seems to pose an insurmountable difficulty. But it is based on the assumption that living beings, such as our observer, can be described by the existing laws of physics, .... The difficulty about how to formulate the acquisition of information, which we have met, is a strong reason for doubting this assumption."31
What assumption is Peierls doubting? He is doubting the ability of quantum to model human consciousness. If human consciousness can't be modeled by quantum, then it is not part of the material universe.
Recent work supports this view: a still controversial article in Nature by Frauchiger and Renner entitled "Quantum mechanics cannot consistently describe the use of itself"32 presents a thought experiment which forced the authors to give up one of three cherished assumptions. Their paper says we must either give up the materialism of the soul (quantum doesn't apply to the observer), or give up logical consistency in science, or give up the idea that we see only one reality. It is hard to give up seeing only one reality, because that is all we see. Giving up the expectation of consistency in science (different observers seeing different things) means that science can't bring us knowledge. Like Wigner and Peierls, we think giving up on the idea that consciousness is a quantum phenomenon is the least damaging option. If we give up the idea that quantum applies to conscious beings, then we can still have science and knowledge. The experiment by Proietti et al.,23 discussed in the many worlds section, was designed based upon elements of Frauchiger and Renner's paper and it is, in part, experimental verification of Frauchiger and Renner's paradox.
And here we leave discussion of the observer problem … by questioning the idea that mental processes can be described by quantum. A controversial suggestion, indeed!
Having shown in all of the above that the soul exists apart from matter, we believe the question “from whence it comes” is definitively addressed in the first chapter of Genesis. From God, of course, and that leads us into our final section.
If a conscious observer plays a fundamental role in quantum mechanics, then who is the observer to guide the evolution of the universe before the advent of mankind? At first sight, this appears to be an awkward question. But is it really? Far from being inimical to the existence of God, quantum mechanics is quite God friendly. Euan Squires writes:
"Quantum theory offers at least two possible roles for a 'God', where we use this term for a being that is non-physical, non-human, in some sense superhuman, and is conscious. "The first role is to make the 'choices' that are required whenever a measurement is made that selects from a quantum system one of the possible outcomes. Such a God would remove the indeterminacy from the world by taking upon himself those decisions that are not forced by the rules of physics. Although expressed in non-traditional terms, this is reasonably in accordance with the accepted role of a God. He would be very active in all aspects of the world, and would be totally omnipotent within the prescribed limits. Prediction of his behaviour from the laws of physics would be impossible (note that we are not permitting any hidden variables in this chapter), although from both the theological and the scientific viewpoint we would want to believe that there were reasons for at least some of the choices: otherwise we would be back with random behaviour and the God would not have played any part. It is interesting to note that this role might even permit 'miracles', if we were to regard these as events so highly unlikely that they would be effectively impossible without very specific, and unusual, 'divine' choice. For example, according to quantum theory, there must be a small but non-zero, probability that if I run into a wall, then I will pass right through it. This is a special case of the potential barrier experiment and the wavefunction on the left-hand side, corresponding to transmission is never quite zero. Then, however small the probability for transmission might be, a God would be able to select it as the outcome, if he so chose.”33
So, dear reader, we have come to the end of the story that we especially want Christians to consider; thank you for your patient attention. We believe it provides a very compelling apologetic (or at least an ‘adequate apologetic’ for any who might disagree with some parts of this story), based on factual quantum mechanics, for believing that materialism is completely untenable, while convincingly revealing the existence of the human soul, separate from, yet intimately interwoven, at the quantum level, into the material universe.
Furthermore, claims that science has disproven God are totally unwarranted. Far from disproving spiritual entities, quantum mechanics makes it abundantly clear that they do in fact exist. Truly, as with the heavens, the strange behaviors of quantum-size particles “declare the glory of God!”
2. Euan Squires, The Mystery of the Quantum World, 2nd ed., (Bristol: Institute of Physics Publishing, 1994), Preface
3 “The philosophy of the nineteenth century was dominated by an idealist tradition in which the elaboration of monstrous symbolic machinery (the Hegelian Dialectic1 provides a striking example) was substituted for direct research, and occupied the centre of attention.” C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning, (New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1923), p. 29
4 Arthur W. Burks, “Charles Sanders Peirce, Introduction,” in Max H. Fisch, ed., Classic American Philosophers, (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1951), p. 46
5 Gould, S. J. (1997). "Nonoverlapping Magisteria." Natural History 106 (March): 16–22 and 60-62
6 Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, U.S. C. Publishing, 1914, p. 36 #339
7 Thomas Sukopp, How Successful is Naturalism? in Georg Gasser, How Successful is Naturalism?, (Walter de Gruyter, Jan 1, 2008), p.79 http://wittgensteinrepository.org/agora-ontos/article/viewFile/2043/2242
8. John Polkinghorne, Faith, Science and Understanding, (Trinity Press International, 1991), p. 95-98
10 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_mechanics and see reference 49 in this wiki article.
12 Steven Weinberg cited by Tim Folger, How Does the Quantum World Cross Over?, Scientific American, July 2018, p. 32
13 Antonella Vannini e Ulisse Di Corpo, "Quantum Mechanics (QM), Syntropy 2007, 1, pp. 119-129, p. 127 http://www.sintropia.it/journal/english/2007-eng-1-2.pdf
14 Yoon-Ho Kim, et al, Delayed “Choice” Quantum Eraser Phys. Rev. Lett. 84(2000), p.1; See the video explaining this experiment at https://youtu.be/U7Z_TIw9InA
15 John von Neumann, Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics: New Edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press), p. 272-273
16 Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, Quantum Enigma, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 184
17 Fritz London and Edmond Bauer, The Theory of Observation in Quantum Mechanics, in John Wheeler and Wojciech Hubert Zurek, Quantum Theory and Measurement, (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1983) p. 252.
18 Eugene Wigner, "Remarks on the Mind-Body Question," in John Wheeler and Wojciech Hubert Zurek, Quantum Theory and Measurement, (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1983), p.169
19 Robert Eisberg and Robert Resnick, Quantum Physics, John Wiley & sons, 1986), p. 80
20 Hugh Everett, "The theory of the Universal Wavefunction," Ph. D. Dissertation, 1957
22 Eugene Wigner, Remarks on the Mind-Body Question, in Eugene Wigner, Philosophical Reflections and Syntheses, Springer, 2012, p. 257
23 Massimiliano Proietti et al, Experimental rejection of observer-independence in the quantum world https://arxiv.org/pdf/1902.05080.pdf, p. 4
24 Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 264
25 Phillip Ball, "Why the Many-Worlds Interpretation Has Many Problems," https://www.quantamagazine.org/why-the-many-worlds-interpretation-of-quantum-mechanics-has-many-problems-20181018/
26 Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, Quantum Enigma, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 160
27 Tim Jones, https://www.physics.drexel.edu/~tim/open/main/node2.html
28 Maximilian Schlosshauer, Decoherence, the measurement problem, and interpretations of quantum mechanics https://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/0312059.pdf, p. 2,3
30 Rudolf Peierls, in P. C. W. Davies and Julian Brown, The Ghost in the Atom, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) p.74
31 Rudolf Ernst Peierls, Surpises in Theoretical Physics, Princeton University Press, 1979, p. 33
32 Frauchiger, D. & Renner, R. Quantum theory cannot consistently describe the use of itself. Nature Communications 9, 3711
see also Richard Webb, The Reality Paradox, New Scientist,March 23, 2019, p 28-33 and https://www.quantamagazine.org/frauchiger-renner-paradox-clarifies-where-our-views-of-reality-go-wrong-20181203/
33 Euan Squires, The Mystery of the Quantum World, 2nd ed., (Bristol: Institute of Physics Publishing, 1994), p.66-67