[asa] Many Worlds Interpretation and ID

From: Iain Strachan <igd.strachan@gmail.com>
Date: Tue Aug 14 2007 - 07:57:50 EDT

I recently had some thoughts about the Everett "Many worlds" interpretation
of Quantum Mechanics, and how this might affect ID hypotheses.

It stemmed initially from stumbling upon the "Quantum Suicide" article in
Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_suicide )

Quantum Suicide is a thought experiment developed by cosmologist Max
Tegmark, that should in principle distinguish between the Many Worlds
interpretation (that at each instant in time, all possible quantum outcomes
actually happen in separate non-interacting parallel universes). This is in
contrast to the Copenhage Interpretation, where the exact quantum state is
determined at the time of the collapse of the wave-function due to an
observation being made.

In the Quantum Suicide experiment, somewhat similar to the Schrodinger's Cat
experiment, a physicist sits in front of a loaded gun. The apparatus then
measures the spin state of an electron, and either fires or doesn't fire
according to the measured result. It is assumed that the physicist's
consciousness is terminated on death. At the point of measurement of the
spin state, the universe buds into two parallel universes; in one the gun
fires and kills the physicist, and in the other it doesn't and the
physicist's consciousness continues. Clearly this process can be repeated
indefinitely, and at every run of the experiment, the physicist's
consciousness continues to exist in the universe where the gun didn't fire.

Therefore if the MWI is true, one can have universes in which incredibly
unlikely events can happen. ID theorist Dembski proposes the "universal
probability bound" of 10^(-150) and that events with probability lower than
this are deemed "impossible" - or the result of deliberate design. However,
the calculation is based on the number of discrete events in a SINGLE
universe over its (currently accepted) lifetime.

To defeat the Universal Probability Bound, one only has to repeat the
Quantum Suicide experiment, say 1000 times in succession ( P approx =
10^(-300)) - and if the MWI is true, then this will happen in some universe,
and a conscious physicist will be sitting there having observed 1000
non-firings - an event that should be impossible in a single universe.
Clearly it can continue indefinitely ( a million times).

It is recommended that you don't try this at home unless you are VERY
convinced that the MWI is true! (And you accept the deep philosophical
questions as to whether it is "your" consciousness that survives).

However, if we now apply this to something like evolution, then one can see
that even if the ID people are correct, that the sequence of mutations
required to get from primordial life to intelligent life is incredibly
unlikely, nonetheless if MWI is true then it will have occurred with
probability close to 1 in some universe, without the need for a designer.
At this point, if you argue "yes but why did this incredibly unlikely event
occur in OUR universe", the answer is simply to invoke the Anthropic
principle - if it didn't happen in our universe, then we wouldn't be here to
ask the question.

It should be noted that this argument doesn't really make a proper
scientific explanation of why we're here. It is akin to a "God of the Gaps"
argument - anything you can't explain by other scientific methods can be
explained away by appeal to MWI, in which all sorts of whacky things can and
will happen, like the molecules in the air spontaneously assembling to form
the Mona Lisa, or kicking a football at a wall, and it passing straight
through it by Quantum Mechanical tunnelling. As an undergrad exercise in QM
classes I was given the task of computing the probability of this happening
- it comes out to something like 1/( 10^10^34). Note the double
exponentiation this is 1 followed by 10^34 zeros! However, it's negligible
compared to the number of new universes that bud off at every instant in
time. Hence the football miracle also happens a lot in the MWI
interpretation. [ Incidentally we also computed the probability of a
thermodynamical "miracle" where all the atoms in the football happen to be
vibrating in the same direction, and it carries it over the wall. This was
immensely greater than the QM Tunnelling probability!].

However, the key point I was going to make is that incredibly low
probability doesn't have to imply design, except it does involve appeal to
"MWI of the Gaps", and one can't, I think make a distinction between the
two.

Any thoughts?

Iain

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Received on Tue Aug 14 07:58:31 2007

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