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Multiple Worlds and Black Holes

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Mars, May 2008

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You can count on boodler bc to think the big thoughts: Here on his blog he's discussing black holes as information storage devices:

'What if there was a secret plan for the LHC to actually generate a black hole and gobble up the entire Earth with it, pulling it out of space and time into some sort of stasis, to be restored in the future like a Model A Ford or Ted Williams' head. And like many restorations (some might suggest 'Pebble Beach Concours-level over-restorations') of historic cars, they would make Earth better than it was originally by eliminating some of its shortcomings like non-synchronized transmissions, Global Warming and the Republican Party. '

Somehow in pondering such cosmic concepts he has taken time to write a guest kit for us.


A Dispatch from bc's Spritual Journey to Find Where All This Began, Where It's All Going To End and Who's To Blame For Everything In Between.

By bc


A few weeks ago, Joel Achenbach and I had a conversation about predicting the future, and I brought up the Many-Worlds Interpretations (or MWI) of quantum physics, which postulates that there are an ever-growing number of multiple parallel universes, in each of which any of the probable outcomes of any event in the universe plays out. He said it was fascinating but that it seemed like it "violated some unwritten rule of parsimonious explanations."


After I did a simple check on Dictionary.com to make sure "parsimonious" meant what I thought it did, I decided I'd cook something up in my Easy Half-Baked Oven of Oversimplification and the fundamental nature of Everything regarding MWI in an attempt to explain.


In the Beginning, there was light. This, I believe, is where the problems started.


By the beginning of the 20th century, scientific studies of light found it to be composed of individual quanta called photons. After a lot of pencil chewing, eraser fights and several slide rule fires, scientists found that the only way to quantify photons' state, position, and behavior over time reasonably accurately was as waves of mathematical probabilities. Nothing definite; no report cards, no coordinates on a map, no Government-issued ID cards. Thus, quantum mechanics was Born.


Extending this idea, the interactions of all of the waves of all of the particles in the universe constitute an ocean of probabilities in which Everything is adrift. But we don't directly perceive

probabilites; Isaac Newton didn't feel an apple wavefunction wash over him like a bucket of cold water - he felt a solid thunk of reality crack him squarely on the noggin. Stuff happens.


Several thousand reams of coffee-ring stained, pencil-smudged, formulae-covered, eraser-hole ridden graph paper later, these early-century physicists attempted to explain the translation of probability to "reality" by devising the famous Copenhagen Interpretation. This theory suggests that when an Observer makes a measurement of a particle, this act collapses the wave like a breaker hitting the Prudential rock, leaving a specific result behind in the backwash ("Eww, honey, don't touch that!"). The Observer determines reality within the bounds of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which states than an Observer cannot know all possible aspects of anything at the same time (and which I hereby invoke for any shortcomings in this piece).


For decades, this remained the best answer anyone - including Einstein himself, who disliked the idea of a probabilistic universe immensely - could come up with. Physicists and philosophers noted that since the Universe did not appear to be filled with Observers bearing tape measures, slide rules and scales, perhaps another explanation for Everything was in order. (Theologians, on the other hand, may feel somewhat differently about this.)


In the late 1950s, Hugh Everett developed the Many-Worlds Interpretation with John Archibald Wheeler (who notably coined the term "black hole" which alone should be enough to earn anyone tenure at a prestigious university.). In the MWI, the probabilities within the waves are a form of measurement and actually constitute reality onto themselves; no collapses required or desired to produce apples or Schrödinger's dead cat. Observers and measurements are not necessary, which must be a continual disappointment to the folks at Staples.


Those of you who are still awake after reading this far must be asking yourselves, "But how do you resolve all of those probabilities?" The answer is simple: For each probable event in a given universe, a new "world" or universe is spawned to allow that event to happen, branching off into separate, non-interacting timelines (through a mechanism called "decoherence," which is different from the incoherence that this piece is fast approaching). From each of those "worlds" all possible events branch off to further "worlds," and so on. Infinitely. We end up with deterministic universes from probabilistic quantum mechanics-based MWI, as each of the "worlds" follows its individual course. This should keep our senses, Einstein, and your local theologians happy. [Frankly, I have to wear a crash helmet with the chinstrap buckled when I think about this stuff, so that the top of my head does not simply fly off due to Cosmic Overload.]


From a philosophical perspective, the MWI gives me pause when considering the implications of highly specific determinism on the concept of free will and certainly does not make me feel good about myselves in any case. If every possible thing I could have done was done by essentially infinite alternate versions of me - heck, this isn't a "Many Worlds" theory, this is a Many Mistakes Interpretation. Infinite screw-ups, and infinite opportunities for more. Someday when I have to Answer for My Lives up there at the Pearly Gates, they're not going to show a well-produced documentary of my lives for review, they're going to show a very long Blooper Reel called "Mistakes Were Made."

I'll be watching through my fingers.

I also have a lot of questions while pondering my place in the Infinite, such as: Paper or plastic? [Boom, two more universes!] How far down these parallel Multiverses would/when I have to go before I find the Evil bcs with the goatees? How did I look with that ear piercing and tattoo I thought about getting in High School, and did it help with getting the attention of that pretty French girl? Did my vote for Anderson in '80 tip the scales to the Reagan years? The brunette at that conference in Salt Lake; how was she? And the auburn-haired beauty on K street - what happened when I turned and caught back up with her? How much trouble did I get into for confessing to Mom that I broke the lamp, rather than letting my brother take the rap? Did I leave the oven on, the sink running, the bedroom light on or the toilet seat up somewhen? In some parallel universe, I guarantee that my fly is open as some alternate version of me writes this (and probably doing a better job of it, too). Infinite worries and second-guessing opportunities abound.

Which brings up an interesting thought - how would one describe an essentially infinite system containing all of the possible information of all of the multiverses and all of the events possible in them, continiously creating realities from possibilities?


Holy cow.

I think I just jumped from the Achenblog and the plausibility of a scientific theory to "On Faith."

Well, I'll take one small consolation in all this - at least I'm not going to have to answer for the Infinite Mistakes of George W. Bush.

Almost anything can happen, but do we really want it to? -- bc

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 26, 2008; 8:23 AM ET
 
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