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Posts from — September 2016

Quantum Jumping

The Limits of the Will and Philosophies of Grandiosity | Part II

Quantum Jumping

In last month’s post we looked at the limits of the will and a few philosophies of grandiosity that deny those limits in the claim that the world, including other people, are constructs of one’s personal consciousness, and that therefore, one can manipulate the world, including other people, by manipulating his or her consciousness concerning them. The examples given were the so-called law of attraction, New Thought “treatment,” and Huna’s ho’oponopono. Fundamentally solipsistic, these popular philosophies discount limits of the will essential to healthy engagement with reality. The argument that I presented disputing such philosophies dealt with psychological implications, viz., that having a well-defined and undistorted sense of our will and its limits is a prerequisite of psychological health. In this post, the second in the series, I want to examine another, relatively new form of grandiose philosophy known as “quantum jumping” or “reality shifting,” which while ingeniously sidestepping solipsism, nevertheless fails to acquit itself of the charge of grandiosity, and so, like the others, is highly misleading and potentially injurious to the psyche and dangerous to others, and therefore, to be scrupulously avoided.

The first section of this article offers a summary of quantum jumping along with some of its main assumptions adapted from the new physics. The three that follow present arguments that expose fallacies in the logic of quantum jumping theory and the dangers of its practice based on scientific, epistemological, and existential grounds. The last section shares some thoughts in conclusion.

What is Quantum Jumping?
Quantum jumping draws from several theoretically established principles in quantum mechanics describing the behavior of subatomic particles. These include superposition (existing in many places at the same time), quantum tunneling, and entanglement (Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance”). Most of these behaviors are accepted by today’s leading physicists as an accurate report of how quantum entities (particle/wave hybrids) behave. Quantum jumping also relies on the Many Worlds model, developed in 1957 by Hugh Everett, which states that with each act of observation, reality splits or “decoheres” into parallel universes, each containing a different outcome of the observed event. Prior to observation, all versions of the event are co-present in state of superposition (see “Schrödinger’s Cat”). At the moment of observation, the quantum decoherence occurs, we observe one version of the outcome, and the others go on their merry way into their respective reality frameworks, each with a new version of the observer, with no two parallel realities ever intersecting. Thus, according to the Many Worlds theory, whatever can happen, does happen—in some parallel reality. The totality of parallel realities make up what has been termed the “multiverse.” Now, according to proponents of quantum jumping, we can, through meditative and various other techniques, intentionally “jump” from one parallel reality to another, effectively relocating to the version of self inhabiting that reality. So, for example, if one is struggling with poverty in this reality framework, one need only enter a meditative state in which one is aware of oneself essentially as energy, turn one’s attention to a parallel universe in which one is enjoying wealth, and direct sufficient energy to this “intention,” whereupon, at some point, one will find oneself physically and more or less seamlessly “jumped” to the new reality.

The Scientific Argument
The quirky behavior of quanta described by quantum mechanics flouts the laws of classical physics—that is, the world of our everyday experience does not behave in the same, weird way that quanta do, and we should count ourselves lucky for it, since if it did, physical objects would appear and disappear, the same object would exist in many places simultaneously, objects would move through other objects, cause and effect would happen backwards, and we might run into a parallel version of ourselves at the market. In other words, the conditions necessary for a world of ordered experience would be swallowed up in a cloud of chaos. Fortunately for us, everyday life is far more stable and persistent, allowing for life as we know it. Whereas quantum objects (particles) have no precise position but exist in all probable positions simultaneously, worldly object do have a precise position. The same can be said of momentum.

There are other discrepancies. If the observing consciousness is rendering reality at the macro level as it does at the quantum level, why do physical objects persist in time and space? If objects behaved the way quanta do, every time we turned around, we’d find them in new positions or otherwise exhibiting momentary and changing properties. In other words, if observation renders objects (an idea Einstein ridiculed), then why is that when we stop observing an object and then turn around and observe it again, we observe the same object? If prior to observation, what becomes the object once it is observed existed in a superpositioned state that gets localized at the moment of observation, like the electrons it comprises, then why does it keep showing up in the same place and with the same properties with each new observation? How does locality arise from multilocality in the transition from the micro to the macro? To these question, quantum mechanics has no answer, yet they are raised by both the Copenhagen and Many Worlds interpretations. The incongruity between the quantum and classical realms has been a thorn in the side of physics the past near century. Because quanta appear to follow a different set of rules than objects in our world, the mathematics that govern the microscopic realm does not work at macroscopic levels. In fact, the attempt to bring these two mathematical models together set the direction for modern physics in the search for the “theory of everything.” In short the claim that the peculiar principles inferred by widely accepted interpretations of quantum mechanics based on the evidence (e.g., the double-slit experiment) operate at the classical level is empirically contraindicated and mathematically unfounded.

Furthermore, Many Worlds—which quantum jumping uses as the theoretical basis of its claims—states that the collapse of the wave into a specific version of particle reality is irreversible. Once the bell is rung, it cannot be “unrung.” The electron may exist in any position within the wave until the moment it is observed, but once it is observed, it is localized, and no act of will by the experimenter can send that particular electron back into a state of probability from which it may then be observed as a different version of itself.

Finally, quantum jumping distorts the quantum theory even further by suggesting that reality can be recast through an act of will, essentially reversing the collapse of the “reality wave”—yet this is prohibited by Many Worlds, which states that the various versions of reality or parallel universes are “orthogonal”—that is, they don’t intersect. Put simply, you can’t get to one from the other. Once observation assigns reality, the split off versions go their separate ways. Yet quantum jumping alleges that one can change realities the way one changes channels on a television set.

There is at present no bridge of theory or experiment that justifies the assumption that the physical world in which we move about is like the quantum world based on the prevailing interpretations of quantum mechanics. Thus and for example, if a particular wave set makes up what we call a “frog” at the classical level (we are allowing here, somewhat generously, that at the quantum level, all versions of the frog exist simultaneously) then according to Many Worlds, all versions of the frog exist simultaneously at the Newtonian level, albeit in different universes. Certainly what Many Worlds posits as true at the quantum level does not appear to be true at the Newtonian level. Furthermore, the two realms are separated by two, currently irreconcilable mathematics. Even if we allow that the frog is “made up” of superposed quanta and wave functions, this in itself does not imply that the larger system comprising these quanta and wave functions is itself superposed. The fallacy here is that of “composition.” What is true of the part is not necessarily true of the whole. Finally, if Many Worlds gives us an accurate description of the innermost workings of reality, then we cannot simply ignore one of its most important features, viz., that decoherence is not reversible. Once rendered, a particular version of reality becomes fixed. The claim that it could then be revised would be a mistaken one.

For these reasons, the inference that what holds at the quantum level holds at the Newtonian level hardly seems justified, or at least bears a burden of proof that cannot be satisfied by assumption alone.

The Epistemological Argument
There is a practical argument against quantum jumping as a philosophy and particularly as a practice. This argument follows from the limitations of our knowledge at any given time. We may desire this or that version of reality, but whether the sudden appearance of that reality would be good, whether it would turn out to be a blessing or a curse in our lives, what else about our lives and the lives of those we affect would change if the wish were granted—these things we don’t know and rarely pause to consider, either individually or as a species. Yet great harm can come from looking no further than the impulse to throw a switch. Assuming for a moment that quantum jumping were possible, there is no way to avoid the problem that a particular jump might have profoundly adverse unforeseen consequences. Scientists split the atom and unleashed a power so massively destructive, all life on the planet hangs in the balance of whether we will find a way to limit and control what we have unleashed. Other worrisome examples abound: the decimation of the earth’s rainforests, the systematic destruction of the ozone layer through unchecked greenhouse gas emissions and resulting global climate change, the widespread pollution of waterways and ecosystems, coal mining and fracking, environmental damage arising from the massive overproduction of plastic and the use of landfills, the problem of how to dispose of nuclear waste—all the result of heedless forays on a road to potentially disastrous consequences that no one anticipated. Once opened, Pandora’s box cannot be closed, and it does not seem anti-scientific to recognize that there are some “boxes” that we are wise not to open. This seems to be a point that quantum jumping proponents as a rule do not bother to consider. If it were possible to access quantum power for the purpose of shifting realities, who can say what that power might do once it’s “out” in the life of the practitioner? The failure to consider consequences, and to acknowledge with humility the all but total limitations of our knowledge before we start picking at the threads of forces we do not understand is hubristic, foolhardy, and dangerous. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should do it.

Furthermore, loudly dogmatic proponents may insist that their model captures the nature of physical reality, any explanation of reality may be telling us more about ourselves and how we measure and interpret the results of measurement than it does about what we’re measuring. A model is essentially a map, and therefore at best an approximation of the territory it represents. The argument that a model is proved by the fact that it “works,” e.g., allows for accurate predictions or lends itself to technological application, is specious. Many models work, even ones that disagree or derive from radically different views. Aristotelian logic works; so does Boolean logic. Euclidean geometry works; so does Riemannian. Newtonian assumptions work, as far as they go; so do those of quantum mechanics, though they don’t seem to play well together. Every model has its limitations, for it is based on axioms and assumptions that are themselves not demonstrable within the model and so are more like articles of faith than scientifically established and incorrigible principles. This is why the word “interpretation” is a good one; it implies an appropriate humility before even our most convincing explanations to date. Many proponents of one model or another seem to lack this humility. They take their conclusions as the final word, a hallmark of science at its worst, as the history of science has shown us again and again. David Deutsch, for example, a physicist at the University of Oxford, has been quoted as saying that calling Many Worlds an interpretation “is like talking about dinosaurs as an ‘interpretation’ of fossil records.” Yet paleontology has frequently had to revise its “interpretation” of dinosaurs based on the fossil record as new discoveries and findings came to light demanding a reassessment of what we thought we knew. None of this leads to skepticism. I am not proposing that we discard what we know on the basis of the inevitability that our knowledge is approximate, never absolute—only that we wear our conclusions lightly, remember that even the most ingenious model is necessarily interpretive—not the fact but a way of looking at the fact, and that even our best and most convincing models are fallible and subject to revision.

While the Copenhagen and Many Worlds interpretations of quantum mechanics are widely accepted, they are not the only ones consistent with the behavior of quanta described in the double-slit experiments. Pilot-wave mechanics, also known as De Broglie-Bohm or Bohmian mechanics, offers an alternative way of understanding this behavior that seems to be making a comeback. It eliminates the wave/particle duality paradox of the Copenhagen and Many Worlds interpretations, fits the experimental data of seemingly anomalous quantum behavior such as multilocality and tunneling without having to resort to classically paradoxical, probabilistic, or counterintuitive explanations, and does a much better job of conforming to Occam’s Razor.

The Existential Argument
At the foundation of the interest in quantum jumping is an existential immaturity primarily preoccupied with a magical way to “get things,” as are all philosophies of grandiosity. Quantum jumping manages to avoid solipsism in a clever way; as it posits an infinite number of parallel realities, the objectivity of the world is preserved to some extent. In other words, the otherness of others is not reduced to the shadow world of subjectivity, because all versions of the other objectively exist in some parallel framework. Rather than construing the world and others as constructs of personal consciousness, the practitioner is merely “tuning in” to a desired reality in which the other’s otherness conforms to the desired version. The result is that, while one has changed the world through changing one’s consciousness, the otherness of others is conserved. That said, there is still an underlying assumption that happiness, the good life, fulfillment, etc. consist in securing certain worldly conditions. This comes down to what I have come to think of as the “” view of the universe. If I visualize, if I repeat affirmations, if I pray, if I intend, if I quantum jump—then the universe will deliver the goods, perhaps even in two days if I apply myself and become a “prime member” of the community of quantum jumpers. The existential problem here is that there is more to happiness, the good life, and the fulfillment of human life than getting things. The ancient Greeks knew this, and nowhere is it presented more beautifully than in the life and teachings of Socrates. Happiness, Socrates tells us, is a well-ordered soul. What the world brings us—this is our fate, and we may have little to say about it. How we meet our fate, however—this is a matter of our character, and it is through the cultivation of character and excellence in all we are and all we do that we discover true and abiding happiness. In these terms, any philosophy that reduces us to consumers placing orders with the universe misses the point of what it is to be human, and what we need in order to flourish. Even if we could quantum jump into every desired reality we could want, even if the forces with which such attempts tamper turned out to be benign, we would not be any happier or wiser or better off for it.

One last thought here: Events cannot be entirely separated from the meaning and significance we ascribe to them. This idea has its roots in modern philosophy primarily in Kant’s work, and in ancient philosophy in Plato’s idea of “participation” (in the Forms). Importantly, it is not the physical event that can be consciously manipulated but the event’s meaning or significance—which in effect, changes its essential quality. This idea, that self and world are “entangled,” that the observing (participating) consciousness informs reality, rendering it as the reality that it is, again directs our attention to self-work. Here we have a non-grandiose adaptation of some of the elements of quantum theory. Rather than presuming that there are many superpositioned physical realities, we can imagine that there are many versions of reality in the sense that there are many simultaneously available ways that we can engage reality through the meanings and significances we ascribe. The past can be changed in that we can recognize that what we call “the past” is being informed by our present beliefs, assumptions, stories, and conclusions about it. In this sense, “the past” is a construct of current belief. Subject and object arise interdependently. Any version of reality presupposes our participation in it. When we change ourselves, our reality changes—but self-work is the key and the focus, not trying to change the world or other people. This is a point that all philosophies of grandiosity miss, to the great detriment of those who subscribe to them.

In Conclusion
Even grandiose philosophies, as noted in last month’s post, may contain a seed of truth. Solipsism itself grows out of the truth of the so-called egocentric or subjective predicament. After all, the world upon which we humans look is of necessity a human world, ordered and rendered, as Kant recognized, by the structures of our consciousness, with its uniquely human neurology, perceptual gear, and “categories,” as he called them. We can imagine that a creature different from us in these respects would inhabit a very different sort of objective reality, perhaps one in which, say, infrared and ultraviolet light are visible, or objects are not as solid as they are to us, or what we experience as past and future events occur simultaneously. The quanta of the quantum world thus may be thought of as theoretical representations of Kant’s thing-in-itself, unknown and, as Heisenberg concludes, unknowable, since it is only in the pre-world encounter between this unknowable something and an organizing consciousness that a world of whatever sort springs forth into expression. This gives us the philosophical equivalent of the principle in quantum mechanics of observation “collapsing” or “decohering” the complex of probable realities into the observed, actual one. Human consciousness, then, by definition, brings forth the objectively human world out of itself, but it by no means follows, as quantum jumping and indeed all solipsistic philosophies assume, that any individual has personal access to the levers of this mysterious ontological process, or that it is subject to his or her will or whim. Solipsisms fails because it does not recognize the intersubjectivity that establishes the objective. The organizing, ordering, and rendering structures are hard-wired, so to speak, into our being as the beings we are. To recognize and acknowledge that the objective world of human experience is necessarily rendered by human consciousness is one thing; claiming that you or I or anyone else can personally direct that rendering volitionally is quite another. While the first is true by definition and the inherent nature of the subjectivity of our species, the second requires a leap that even an electron would not be able to pull off.

Whether we live in a multiverse amid a theoretically infinite number of many worlds remains to be demonstrated. Despite the fact that many physicists regard the Many Worlds model as accurate, when we consider for a moment that the entire quantum realm we have been describing constitutes less than five percent of all that’s “out there” in the cosmos, with dark matter and dark energy making up the rest (we think), we begin to appreciate how little we really know of the nature of the universe. Indeed, the only thing we can state with certainty is that we know we don’t know. Science, at its best, becomes Socratic. As we’ve seen throughout the history of science, tomorrow’s discoveries and advances reduce today’s most educated and convincing speculations to ignorance, and so we are wise to hold our conclusions lightly. Even if live in a multiverse of parallel realities, the assumption that we can quantum jump among them is, for now, unfounded, more fiction than science. Furthermore, even if we could hop from one version of our life to another, given how limited our vision is at any moment, how little we can see of the impact that a particular jump would have on our life, it is not overstating the matter to say that we do not know enough to know where to jump. Finally, as long as we remain preoccupied with manipulating our reality in order to get this or that, as long as we view the universe as a great, here to take our orders and deliver what we want to our door, we won’t find what we’re looking for, because we’ll be looking in the wrong place. The universe is not a retail outlet, and we are far more than consumers. Real and lasting fulfillment lies not in having more but in being more. Remembering that and living up to it would be a reality jump worth making.

September 15, 2016   Comments Off on Quantum Jumping