Are Terrible Quantum States Phenomenal?
    By Sascha Vongehr | February 22nd 2012 09:14 PM | 28 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    Do you accept science as far as has been experimentally verified? Are you a modern agnostic knowledgeable about the difference between pseudo-science and the proper stuff? Yes? Good, I was looking for you. Allow me to ask you a question. Well, let me first prepare the background a little, but trust me, I will only ask you one question, namely “Do you honestly believe that?

    Quantum mechanics has been proven valid to an absolutely astounding accuracy totally unusual for theories generally. Quantum physics seems to be the only theory that is not just linear in its early stages. All subfields in science start out linear, like relativity started with special relativity for example, but they never stay that simple for long. Quantum physics seems to be precisely linear, which is also called "unitarity" in this case. Even black holes have been modeled with linear quantum physics in string theoretical approaches. There are those who claim that gravity will introduce non-linearity into quantum science, but according to today’s consensus, they simply divide into different sorts of crack-pottery. Some great names like Roger Penrose are among them, but as far as the elite of high energy particle physicists and string theoreticians in all the prestigious physics departments around the world are concerned, basically all who doubt linearity in quantum physics are more or less serious cases of crackpots (Stephen Hawking has quite recently caved in to that peer pressure).

    Quantum theory as it is presented today holds that all microstates, all configurations of the particles that make up your body and brain and environment, have some finite, non-zero probability of occurring. (This is classically known as Boltzmann freak brains and quantum mechanically discussed also under the heading of quantum fluctuations.) There is even a finite probability for you to tunnel into any possible microstate s at all right now. The probability is extremely small, but if quantum physics is truly linear, all these states are possible, meaning their probability is larger than zero: P(s) > 0. Probability is a frequency in empirical records, a belief that is updated by Bayesian procedures, a degree to which a rational actor expects future. According to today’s quantum theory, even a probability that is much lower than a single occurrence during trillions of lifetimes of the universe subtracts nothing from the internal reality of an improbable state. In some descriptions like chaotic eternal cosmic inflation theory, these states occur an infinity of times [1] (as if that adds anything to occurring once).

    Now I want you to imagine finding yourself in the following situation:

    You are holding a bloody chainsaw in your hands having just cut a horrifically painful and fatal injury into your only beloved eight year old daughter in an ultra perverse act of satisfying a disgusting sexual fetish that you never even had before while all cars all over your city are upside down!

    NOTE: The upside down cars preempt weak defenses against this scenario via inter-subjective reality: All the people around you clearly see that all cars are upside down, and you could not have overturned them all before you raped an innocent child of your own. Also, do not refuse this out of hand lightly via some 'I do not like thus do not enjoy' "modal error". The point here is physics: You enjoy if a suitable cocktail of molecules (e.g. dopamine) are present, and that presence is a perfectly possible microstate! You find yourself in it - no need for smooth history (QM fluctuations).

    I call this the “Terribly Inconsistent Macro-StateS, or short “terrible state”. It is not involving a terrible act in order to shock (say to generate page hits). It is deliberately disgustingly perverted in order to make all you “nice people” out there take a certain position, namely the position that this state S is impossible. You claim not only that this situation is highly unlikely, but that it is somehow inconsistent, say with your memory of that you never had a fetish like that, love children, and would give your own life for your daughter. Yet if the terrible state S is possible, you may find yourself enjoying killing your daughter, perhaps with a missing memory about the ten minutes before, maybe no “strict inconsistency”, but at least inconsistent with what you like to believe could ever be possible.

    With dark energy and dark matter and dark terrible states, suggestions of robopocalypses, global suicide and so on, one could conclude that a seriously dark age, indeed the ultimate one is dooming. Well, and why would that be an impossible conclusion? Perhaps just the "God is dead = the end" mistake?

    If S is impossible, its probability is strictly zero, P(S) = 0, but again, there is this problem with modern science: The many microstates s of this terrible macro state S, meaning all the many arrangements s of molecules that are consistent with the macrostate S, are all perfectly possible according to what modern science knows! If you believe that quantum mechanics is fine as it is and that it will get no further corrections, you must also believe that there is a parallel world (and those do in general obviously "exist") where you have sex with your daughter while killing her with a chain saw! No, it is not only some sort of unlikely event, but quantum physics as we know it today holds that you will find yourself in that state. Even worse: You are doing it already in a parallel universe next door!

    Seriously: Do you honestly believe this?

    Most, even most quantum scientists, do not believe this, meaning they believe that this is not true, regardless of how much science supports terrible states. Scientists are not different from other humans: rationalizing believers. Additionally and at the same time, so many look down upon those who venture to suggest corrections to quantum theory! This is one more instance of the usual hypocrisy in established science, where the mass of mediocre scientists often strongly defends a perceived consensus none of them actually fully grasp.

    Quantum physics is close to the final answer to "everything". Quantum physics is about the interference of different alternatives of what can be phenomenal – it is not mechanics of a world so much as consistency of phenomena. It is not about small stuff; a radio wave photon can be hundreds of meters long. Quantum physics is our starting to find the description that contains all possibilities. At first we thought this encompasses only the alive and the dead Schrödinger cats in our particular universe, but it includes all the ways a universe may be described to unfold out of its own Schrödinger box, so it contains anyway all possible universes; everything possibly phenomenal for consciousness as such is included. This ultimate fundamentality is precisely why quantum mechanics may stay linear!

    However, this does not mean that we already know everything there is to know about what states are phenomenal, about what is actually a situation an observer can be conscious about. It is conceivable and I have defended this against resistance from pseudo-skeptics, that “consistency” (in a wider than merely logical sense) of consciousness plays a role at the foundation of physics where quantum science meets phenomenal actualization (This can be made quite convincing via certain variants of quantum calculations and for example the EPR paradox). The microstate s of the terrible macro-state S may be “possible” according to quantum physics as we know it (P(s) > 0), but terribly inconsistent macro-states S that are based on those s could nevertheless have strictly zero probability (P(S) = 0) in terms of the frequency with which they occur in empirical records of conscious observers.

    Research into these questions has the aim of letting the P(S) = 0 hypothesis guide the search for “nonlinearities” that may “cut off” P(s) > 0 if it is too small**. This small probability cut-off and similar suggestions would for the first time in a long while make philosophical considerations guide physics, making philosophy of science at least marginally useful for once. However, I have not found any funding for these questions, neither from physics nor from philosophy.

    If quantum physics as we know it today has no corrections from phenomenal consistency, if terribly inconsistent macro-states are possible, is there no more to be said than that their low probability, whatever probability is, makes us label those states as madness? Do we plainly not identify with those of us who tunnel into S, although S remembers having been us? This surely is a philosophical question.


    ** Similar has been proposed for example via “larger” universes “mangling” smaller ones and of course via gravity cut-offs to small probability. I do not see it necessary to have the cut-off naively physical in a too mechanistic sense.

    [1] A. De Simone, A. H. Guth, A. Linde et al: "Boltzmann brains and the scale-factor cutoff measure of the multiverse" Phys Rev D (2008)


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    If every possible quantum state exists then there is a universe where quantum physics is nonlinear. And why couldn't it be ours? Of course, in such a universe every possible quantum state does Not exist.

    With the first sentence I almost agree, namely in the sense of that fundamental linearity ensures empirical records (world branches) where the world seems classical (instead of quantum) even after having employed strict scientific methods. The rest: Do not confuse the internal consistency of empirical records with some ill-conceived "existence" of universes.
    Is there not some inconsistency in QM claiming (via Heisenberg and Plank principles) that physical quantities are quantized and have 'indeterminate' measures at best, and the formalism that commands to take probability as a 'classical', continuous variable? Is there not some possibiliy of 'quantizing' and/or 'undetermining' probabilities?

    Is there not some possibiliy of 'quantizing' and/or 'undetermining' probabilities?
    In fact, I tried to "sell" this as "third quantization" (quantum physics has only action-quantization, however, in field theory one speaks often of "second quantization"). I am of course not alone in having suggested low probability cut-offs (quantization). The problem is generally that naive cut-offs will mess up quantum physics to a degree that should be measurable already. Moreover, there are extremely low probabilities that nevertheless are phenomenal worlds (your genetic makeup is unbelievably unlikely to ever occur, yet here you are!). That is why I start out thinking straight away about this problem from the phenomenological end rather than with "mechanistic" physics. Just like with relativity theory, we need the correct symmetry first, then work out the details. This has not been done for quantum mechanics yet, where the symmetry is not space-time-motion relativity, but Everett relativity in the form of modal-realism (as I explained in several previous posts).
    I am neither a creationist nor a scientist but does that imply that there is a probability for an almighty complex entity (God) to pop out of existence under the laws of quantum mechanics? I mean given the infinite amount of time of the absolute vacuum, everything is eventually probable? Just like the universe might have popped out of quantum fluctuations at some point of the infinite time.

    In fact something like this actually has been at least implicitly argued before even by established physicists. Though they mostly pretend the multiverse concept plus observer selection (anthropic principles) are especially secular, they are not above at times pushing a little woo to sell their books. Actually, but this is another subject unpublishable in the establishment peer review system, as it is today, the theories are actually through and through religious, for example the complete multiverse (misrepresented as a directly real structure) as such is only a single such structure, and it happens to allow for life. Why?
    This was a good article but it has an implicit assumption of world autonomy. Given that QM requires absolute time and independent background, the issue of world autonomy is very crucial. If the world is not autonomous or at least quazi-autonomous, then certain states may be prohibited by design. Then, if QM is true desciprion, then certain states are indeed prohibited by design.

    You talk a lot and that is fine. But you should first investigate the issue of autonomy before you talk further. Everything else comes in second place of importance when it goes beyond phenomenology and into structure.

    No idea what you mean by autonomy. In case it means that universes somehow are "really there" by themselves autonomously "existing", they don't and I never claim such. That those who calculate probabilities now assume autonomy is their problem, not mine (perhaps you are confusing the viewpoints here?).

    Stringtheory is not actually background dependent, we just have not gotten a background independent description of the fundamental theory yet. It does as yet not look like as if finding such a formulation will introduce non-linearity into the quantum evolution.
    Autonomy means that the laws of physics completely describe the phenomena. This must be confirmed first before one answers the type of issues you are raising. As you know, it is impossible to prove universally quantified proposition of the form ALL x is y.

    For example, our universe can be some type of computer simualation with predetermined cut-off probabilities. Not everything that is probable is possible in such universe.

    QM may be completely wrong in the realist sense. The problem is that you create some kind of strawman when you start with experimental success of QM and then move to philosophical issues. QM suffers from undetermination.

    There can be words by design in which low enough probability means null event. IMO this is the type of world we have. We have never witnessed in macroscale time reversal although we have played with zillion of machines in the last 300 years and we know Newton's law is time-reversible. So that is probable but not allowed, i.e. impossible. It is by design, until you prove that it can happen. Induction up to now supports the hypothesis that this world is designed. I accept my inductive conclusions. If you believe the world is not designed and has limits on probabilities the burden of proof is on you.

    I propose you start an experiment in your University. Ask a Chinese factory to make 1 trillion little glass squares and feed them to a machine that shoots them against a wall so that they completely shutter. After a billion pieces find out one of them was recreated in a time reversal fashion. If none, you can safely say that not everything probable is possible in the world until proven otherwise. Or you can keep talking forever.

    Autonomy means that the laws of physics completely describe the phenomena.
    "Laws of physics" are nothing else but a description of phenomena. A final satisfying description may be on principle unavailable, but that is very different from somehow assuming a real physics out there different from phenomena. I clearly wrote to not care about "existence" of universes. Your points on "world autonomy" are thus moot.

    I do not create strawmen when quoting the success of QM. Those "straw-men" are real scientists; they write science blogs and are active in the so called "skeptics movement", which basically puts everything they do not understand or think is not politically correct down as crack-pottery and pseudoscience. You may like to read again and differentiate my view from the one that I criticize.
    It is deliberately disgustingly perverted in order to make all you “nice people” out there take a certain position, namely the position that this state S is impossible.
    I would love to be able to say this is the first time I've heard "nice people" used as an insult but I'm afraid Bertrand Russell got there before you, saying that "nice people have nasty minds". Apparently this implies there is no God but I cannot recall precisely how that works.

    Actually, I don't think nice (and therefore there is no God) people do recoil from your "all worlds are equally real" principle because they are upset by all those unpleasant things being real but simply because the idea is so absurd. Still, if I show some reluctance to accept it, you can always blame it on me being nice (and therefore there is no God).

    I think the main reason people don't accept it is because the decomposition of a wavefuntion into components - especially given that this can be done an infinite number of ways - does not imply that each of the components is a world.  The wavefunction remains intact according to decoherence and I suspect most people think of themselves as being in a superposition of states rather than a multiplicity of distinct ones.

    German "Gutmenschen" (= good-humans) means people so naive that their good deeds make everything worse (i.e. vast majority of people). It acknowledges that stupidity is often a much better explanation than evil intentions etc.
    "all worlds are equally real" principle ... is so absurd.
    That is why I avoid "real". A description that counts as a theory of everything must include all possible possibilities, period. Everything else is terminology cluster-f***.
    does not imply that each of the components is a world.
    Precisely - only those perspectives through the quantum totality that are phenomenal are worlds. Thus the question: Are terrible states phenomenal?
    The wavefunction remains intact according to decoherence and I suspect most people think of themselves as being in a superposition of states rather than a multiplicity of distinct ones.
    "Most people" do not understand half of that sentence, but even if, being in a superposition (QM-totality or say Schroedinger's cat) and decoherence only being FAPP (for all practical purposes) while the WF stays intact is exactly what linearity implies, and it implies to be in a multiplicity of parallel, classically seeming worlds. It isn't "... rather than ....", it is these two are both consistent and allow terrible states.
    Er, well, I'm not sure if there is any probability that I would rape and kill my daughter even assuming such a daughter popped out of the quantum vacuum. (That is where they pop out of right?)The probability is low enough that I have not scheduled any time to worry about it. I just don't see the point in obsessing over ways to impose my philosophical priors on the universe.

    Now if you have an actual testable theory then maybe I could schedule some time to try to understand it. Until then I don't know and accept the fact that I will probably die not knowing.

    The probability is low enough that I have not scheduled any time to worry about it.
    That would be perhaps an acceptable standpoint if we knew what probability is at all inside the quantum world. As of now, we have not got a clue - we cannot even normalize probabilities anymore - everything happens an infinite amount of times in the description of eternal chaotic inflation theory.
    The question is: do you believe that you do rape children or, if not, do you at least then not ridicule those who look for non-linear corrections in quantum physics?
    I don't believe. Period. Belief is for those who can't stand not knowing and so pretend to knowledge that they do not posses.

    I have no problem with people who look for non-linear corrections to quantum physics. But like anything there are those who do it well and those who do it poorly. If you use it as another way to impose your philosophical priors on the universe then you are doing it poorly.

    Even if we were sure that there were no non-linear corrections to quantum physics it would still be useful assume there were in order to examine the consequences. Such theoretical exercises can give deeper insight.

    Well, I guess we agree then, except that "philosophical priors", at least where they are based on consistent logic for example (rather than judeo-christian wishful thinking), are of course more relevant than (should be prior to) even employing "the universe" as a useful concept given the topic at hand.
    "...If you believe that quantum mechanics is fine as it is and that it will get no further corrections, you must also believe that there is a parallel universe (and those do in general obviously exist) where YOU [my emphasis] have sex with your daughter while killing her with a chain saw!"

    Why do you assert that that "YOU" is me? Or anyone else in this here universe?

    That entity in that forever unconnected universe is definitely NOT the same as any (similar) entity in this one.

    This issue (personal identity philosophy) is much deeper than one can cover here, so let us assume your rather directly real standpoint (of there being an identifiable me that is in some God's-eye perspective distinguishable from all the other otherwise (physically) indistinguishable microstates that may, for example, occur at different places in a multiverse). Even in that case, I could still be talking about the small probability that YOU tunnel into that state S, just the same as YOU right now tunneled into the state you are in right now (as some tunneling processes inside your body are of course always going on, the topic of this post is just the tunneling into states that we are tunneling into with much lower probability).
    I've spent some time thinking about this question in the past, and my conclusion was that your's is a failure of scope (as was mine). When viewing the parallel multiverse in its entirety, I think the mundane universes would dwarf those freak 'terrible' universes so completely that they could be put in their proper place as things not to fret over. For example, imagine the uncountable numbers of loving father-daughter pairs you would be observing as well, the details of trillions of hours of devoted care, etc. I think we can all agree the human brain is not well adapted to dealing with such large numbers.

    According to the best cutting edge descriptions that start out from a physical world (ontological primacy), all alternatives are instantiated infinitely often. In a less directly realistic description, weird scenarios outnumber usual ones by far (a chair just sits there in one way but can jump at you in many)!

    There is no consistent description in which terrible states are impossible. To "fret over" this is not paranoia but interest in the very foundation of quantum physics.
    imagine the uncountable numbers of loving father-daughter pairs
    You might like to open your eyes toward the reality of the world we are suffering. Anyway, even without social aspects, the "uncountable numbers" are very small! Have you ever actually estimated Nfather/daughter? Even the number of microstate configurations inside a Hubble volume is surprisingly small, yet vastly bigger than Nfather/daughter.
    Thanks for replying btw : ).

    To me, the terrible state you mentioned was disconcerting (to the subject) because everything appeared to have followed the usual laws of physics, as far as he knows. There were no 'impossible' things going on, like all the air going to the corner of a room, or walking through a wall, would seem. I agree that there are many, many 'weird' configurations that a human size volume could take, but I would think almost all of these would result in instant death, which to me is different than a string of unlikely events conspiring to look like everyday stuff.

    I'm going to have to think about this a little more.


    thank you, Science.

    now i'm utterly confused about what "exists" means. Is there a scientific definition of this word?

    could someone clarify?

    There is no agreed upon definition, therefore such confusing terms must be avoided if actual insight is desired. I am forced to employ "exist" at times, else there is no bridge to where readers are at. In your own thinking, start out advancing by relativising "exist" similar to how relativity relativised time and velocity for example, i.e. split the useless "exist" into "detectable relative to a certain operational procedure" and "actualized relative to a certain observer or parallel branch" or whatever else best describes the concept you are interested in.
    John Hasenkam
    There is no agreed upon definition, therefore such confusing terms must be avoided 

    That is such an important point but so often ignored. Public debate about issues is so often riddled with bad concepts as to make personal involvement in said debates problematic. It is very frustrating in that realm and infuriating when it happens in intellectual disciplines where higher standards should be maintained. Sascha you are an entertaining character and I wonder if at times you feel like a shag on a rock(Australian term for feeling adrift, not belonging to the mob). 

    PS: not having a go at mijj! Legitimate and important question. 
    infuriating when it happens in intellectual disciplines where higher standards should be maintained
    Certain intellectual disciplines "deliberately" (effectively) confuse. This allows established camps/schools to reply forth and back, thus doing well in the publish-or-perish culture. This is how the systemically "deliberate" confusion evolved: it out-competes all those who insist on making progress.
    Every evolved system has its co-evolved defense mechanisms, so finding yourself "a shag on a rock" must be expected. I would not employ "mob" however; intellectuals are the opposite of stupid mob. Few dare to say it, as far as I know only
    Noam Chomsky clearly said it many times: Especially Westernized first world intellectuals are the (happily self) deceiving, exploiting, upper class snobs of this technological age.
    > "PS: not having a go at mijj!"

    it didn't even occur to me you were having a go, until i saw you deny it! 8-)

    (.. beware, non-scientific ranting below)

    speaking as a (make-it-up-as-you-go-along) gnostic, i take science to be a branch of practical gnosticism. Ie. all world models are relative to one's own experience and insight. Hence the need to have repeatable experiments in order to share the phenomena-generating experience which is the foundation of an internal world model.

    So, in a strict "gnostic" way, describing something beyond oneself as having existence is puzzling, because there only exists the phenomena one experiences and one's inner world models (intuitive or calculated). I would have thought a scientific position is that existence beyond oneself is irrelevant (that being a matter for religion).

    John Hasenkam
    Few dare to say it, as far as I know only Noam Chomsky clearly said it many times 

    There are many people, particularly in the USA, who regard Chomsky as the devil incarnate. I loved his Year 501: The Conquest Continues. It's almost trivially obvious but and typically ignored that so much of what we call culture is about power. 

    "Idiosyncratic trauma needs no explanation, but a cultural pattern of thwarting human needs suggests a cultural purpose. By systematically traumatizing its members, especially in their most impressionable and formative years, a society can recast the image of man to achieve its own ends. ... One inevitable end of civilized societies is the maximization of power, ... "A fulfilled person at peace with the world is an instrument of limited utility. But frustrate him enough, and his energies turn to rage which can be channeled for his society's power."

    Andrew Schmookler, Parable of the Tribes.

    We're still doing that, and academia is no exception. Academia(how much of academia?) has become too institutionalised, which appears to be inevitable for any ongoing institution. We should consider the idea of breaking any institution pass a certain timeframe, if only to disrupt the power structures that have become entrenched. Institutions are very effective at controlling behavior. Attempting to eliminate the tails of the distribution curves for various human traits, a goal which the psychiatric community sometimes seems hell bent on(cf, latest DSM fiasco), is not going to help us. We need to be very careful about how much constraint we place on people, both behaviorally and conceptually. As noted long ago:

    The amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained. That so few dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time. 

    John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1869 cited in The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac,Quantum Genius, Graham Farmelo
    "...a description of the universe with no observer..."