An article in Seed surveys some recent research on quantum physics’s implications for common sense reality. Here’s the problem:
[N]one of us perceives the world as it exists fundamentally. We do not observe the tiniest bits of matter, nor the forces that move them, individually through our senses. We evolved to experience the world in bulk, our faculties registering the net effect of trillions upon trillions of particles or atoms moving in concert. We are crude measurers.
If we could see what’s really going on at the tiniest scales, quantum theory tells us that at least one of the following common sense assumptions is false:
Distant events do not affect one another, and properties we wish to observe exist before our measurements. One of these, locality or realism, must be fundamentally incorrect.
In other words, we as human beings don’t have the physical equipment to measure the world precisely, and if we did we would find at minimum that: (1) everything is holistically entangled; or (2) things possessing definite properties simply don’t exist apart from the mental attention we direct to them.
Both of these may be true, but at least one of them definitely is (if quantum mechanics is correct).
We just do not have the sensitivity to observe the quantum effects around us. In essence we do create the classical world we perceive, and as [theorist Caslav] Brukner said, “There could be other classical worlds completely different from ours.”
Here’s another way to think about this: our attention to an object evokes its most probable quantum state in relation to us (which is why our blue couches don’t suddenly turn red when we look at them again). But that doesn’t mean that the other states aren’t being accessed by some sort of consciousness elsewhere. We just don’t have access to them ourselves. The great test of life is what to do with our attention: what will we make of our local experience?
Attention is akin to a mirrored bathroom cabinet door, closed. When we break attention, it’s as if the mirrored door swings open to face another mirror, exposing a hall of ghostly, subtly different, and uncountable mirrors. A return of our attention closes the mirrored door again, refreshing the single image (the toothbrush, for example, may be in a different place from when we last looked).
Possible states are infinite, but consciousness is singular. What we experience depends on our choice of measuring device (the naked eye, the telescope, the electron microscope, the particle accelerator, etc.), and what will appear is what is most probable (based on the last time we measured).
If we don’t like what we see, we have the power to imagine a different state of things—something logically possible in the great library of possible things—and to navigate our way to it.
If we want to lose weight, for example, we look at ourselves in the mirror, sigh, and set about the task of bringing about a different experience for ourselves, measuring the results each morning on a scale. The “thin you” is out there in the quantum ether—you just have to navigate your way to him or her. If you can’t be bothered to work at it, though, you’ll just experience in consciousness the next most probable quantum state of your collective atoms (the fat you).
To repeat a famous dictum, “All information is physical.” How we get information from our world depends on how it is encoded. Quantum mechanics encodes information, and how we obtain this through measurement is how we study and construct our world.
If we could see the world as it really is, perhaps our experience of it would be akin to encountering quadruplets in a park (except the iterations would be infinite).
As William Blake wrote in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
Of course, we already can experience the world as infinite through imagination. The ways atoms might configure themselves are endless and we have the power to imagine them and navigate our way to those possibilities. But “nature to be commanded must be obeyed.”
Now measure, choose, and work.