Monday, July 9, 2012

//EDU SPCL: Science Stuff - Quantum Immortality



Welcome to the world of Quantum Mechanics, a world that is incredibly bizarre and difficult to comprehend, yet at the same time it's endlessly fascinating and awesome. The world of Quantum Mechanics deals with how matter and energy behave on a atomic and sub-atomic scale. The thing about QM is that it's not really...normal. QM is one of the things that does not really mesh with the real world well. As a matter of fact, to try to understand it you need to forget everything about the normal world because the world of Quantum Mechanics has it's own sets of rules that make absolutely no fucking sense in our world.



The thing about Quantum Mechanics, is that even though it's weird as hell, it works. In theory and in practice. As a matter of fact, Transistors, Lasers, and even the Hubble Telescope itself, rely on Quantum Mechanics. It explains Radioactivity, explained the structure of the atom and the nucleus and even predicted the existence of anti-matter.  Now, one of the problems with quantum mechanics is that when you try and take it seriously, you can come across ideas and results that are kind of hard for the human mind to understand and comprehend.  You would deal with mind boggling ideas such as teleportation, time travel, parallel universes, and even the idea that death might not really exist.

Quantum Immortality/Suicide is a thought experiment that was initially devised by Hans Moravec in 1987. It's basically a spin-off  of Schrodinger's Cat. So let's look at it that way.



To put it in the simplest way possible, you have a cat closed in a box with a radioactive material (Spare me the PETA crap), and with it a Geiger counter (a device that measures radioactivity) this material has a 50-50 chance of decaying within the next hour. If the material decays within the next hour, the Geiger counter detects it, goes off, and trips a hammer which results in a veil of poison breaking, thus killing the cat. Alternatively if it doesn't decay, the cat remains alive. Now, according to the nature quantum mechanics, a particle can exist in all of it's theoretical states/positions at the same time, however once you directly observe the particle, you force the particle to exist in one state. So you collapse the wave form, which is randomly determined.

With Schrodinger's cat, the cat is assumed to be both alive and dead at the same time. However until we open the box to reveal the result, the cat will either be dead OR alive, but not both. Quantum Immortality stems from this. According to the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) when the wave form collapses and decides the cat's inevitable fate, the universe splits into another universe. One where the cat is dead, and one where the cat is alive. In the Universe with the dead cat, conscious ceases to exist, so in a way, the cat's consciousness is forced to divert to the universe in which the cat is still alive. Repeat the experiment a thousand times and the cat will still live, from it's point of view.



So that's basically the whole idea of quantum suicide/immortality. But let's take another case example, a more realistic approach. Let's think of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In our world now, Lincoln is dead because he was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth (And Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which already says that Lincoln is kind of immortal - does not play a role here). However according to MWI, when Abraham was shot, the universe split. We still have our universe, in which he remains dead because there's a fucking bullet that's jammed in his skull, but there's another universe in which he is still alive (let's say the gun jammed or something). So he continues to exist, and whenever he is confronted by a choice of death, the universe splits again making him live, and since his conciousness transfers to the other universe, he wouldn't know he died in our universe, thus making him immortal. So it's really not possible for Abe to experience being killed in any shape or form. Only for him to experience that he has survived every possible confrontation.



So in a way, if, ofcourse the Many Worlds Interpretation is true, there will most probably always be one universe in which you are alive, forever.

Quantum Immortality, is mostly speculation, however in reality, the concept of quantum immortality doesn't really violate any known laws of Physics. Maybe just the idea of it is so weird to comprehend that philosophically and psychologically we naturally oppose it and dismiss the idea as ridiculous. But you must understand that no matter what your philosophical views on this matter, this is science, and what you think about this, it doesn't really matter, because science doesn't really give a shit about your views or beliefs.

For further reading:

http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/science-questions/quantum-suicide.htm
http://www.damninteresting.com/quantum-mechanics-and-immortality/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_suicide_and_immortality
http://quantumtantra.blogspot.com/2010/08/quantum-immortality.html
http://higgo.com/qti/
http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/crazy.html
http://www.antiquark.com/2005/07/quantum-immortality.html
http://w-shadow.com/blog/2010/02/03/quantum-immortality-is-useless/