Vanity thought #1372. Latest weirdness

Just as I was arguing against our common perception of the world science came up with a perfect illustration. Well, maybe not so perfect because it doesn’t seem to convince anyone but me so far, and it’s my interpretation that is perfect for my point, not anybody else’s.

You know how quantum mechanics turned the world upside down in the last century. So did Einstein’s relativity, but Einstein dealt with speeds of light and massive galaxies while quantum mechanics studies things we can fairly easily test down here on Earth and it’s down here on Earth that QM comes up with mind blowing and counterintuitive stuff.

Maybe these days they teach differently but I still imagine atoms as nuclei surrounded by orbiting electrons and I imagine electric current as electrons bumping into each other and passing charges. In QM, however, electron is not a thing flying around, it’s not a point in space and it’s not a particle. It is BOTH particle and a wave.

I’ll start with basics. Imagine electrons shooting out of an electron gun and hitting a target on the other side of the room. Now imagine we put a screen in the middle with two windows. As a particle an electron would have to pass through either of those windows to hit the target, it can’t pass through two windows simultaneously, no one does that. Now imagine this room being half filled with water. You start a wave on your side and register its arrival on the other end. The wave will pass through both windows in the screen, and the windows will also create an interference as the wave exits from them.

So, electrons behave like that – sometimes like waves and sometimes like particles. Okay we all have learned to live with that.

This time, however, people who already spend their lives walking upside down in Australia went a step further. They’ve created an experiment where they isolated a single atom, not an electron, and they shot it through two screens made of lasers. How they achieved that doesn’t really matter. The second screen could adjust the interference created by the wave passing through the first screen or they could turn it off completely.

Basically, they looked at the atom after the second screen, which they manipulated in various ways, and they could tell whether the atom traveled like a wave or a particle when it passed through the first screen. So the atom starts traveling, goes past the first screen, goes past the second screen, and then they take the measurements.

The weird part is that Australians reversed the flow of time here. By manipulating the second screen they could manipulate how atom behaved when it passed through the first screen moments before. In everyday situations the second screen should have no effect on what happened before the atom reached it but in this experiment it did. They thought they changed second screen settings randomly but found that the atom always behaved according to how it was going to be measured, or observation created “reality”. And not just at the moment of looking, but the past reality, too.

The wave vs particle duality is explained in various ways. One easy model is to think of an electron like if it was a cylinder. If you look at the cylinder from the top it looks like a circle but if you look at it from the side it looks like a rectangle. Similarly, the way we measure the electron reveals a different side of its actual nature, either wave or particle.

In this experiment, however, the atom changed its behavior backwards in time, which is what makes it truly weird.

So far there aren’t any easy explanations for this. The math checks out, but scientists still can’t wrap their heads around what it actually means.

There are several theories for this kind of phenomena. Some are more popular, some are more radical, some are better researched, but nothing has been definitely ruled out yet.

One version says that there are multiple universes co-existing in each moment of time and they can overlap or diverge at will. Thus the same atom can behave as a particle in one universe and as a wave in another, but in each universe its behavior is consistent. So, if five minutes later we see it as a particle it could have been only a particle in our universe, and if we see it as a wave it was a wave all along, too. In some other universe the same atom could have behaved in the opposite way.

Another version says that time actually flows backwards and what we see are not results but causes of our past. This is what I suggested just the other day. It’s not that what happens now determines the future, but now determines the past. The history that we think is cast in stone really depends on how we look at it.

It would also mean that we can all look at history differently and it would make total sense to us even while contradicting to other observers – their history depends on how THEY look at it now.

Of course, no scientist is prepared to take this theory that far but it would be a nice side effect, wouldn’t it?

Actually, it would go somewhat against our insistence that there’s only one truth – Kṛṣṇa, and we don’t get to make up our own reality, but an easy explanation is that the reality is indeed one but what we get to make our own are our illusions.

This means there’s no history of the universe as such and our views are extremely subjective. Our perception of history would depend on our attitude towards it today. This conclusion might be controversial but it complies with our observations, it accounts nicely for the diversity of views and for bone-headed stubbornness of the opposing sides. Whatever they say makes sense to them and the same principle applies to all of us, too. We all have our own, personal version of history that is often at odds with how other people saw it.

Quantum mechanics sort of explains how it could have happen.

Now, if we insist that truth is only one and it would set you free, and that might very well be the case, it doesn’t break this theory because people have different illusions, not different truths, and those illusions are not going to liberate them but rather attach a busload of karma. Isn’t it what happens when people twist what we think as the reality and then suffer for it?

I should end with a disclaimer that I have no qualifications to judge the results of that experiment and my interpolations from QM into philosophy might be totally unjustified, but as long as they loosen the grip the illusion has on us it should not be a complete waste of time.


One comment on “Vanity thought #1372. Latest weirdness

  1. Pingback: Vanity thought #1375. Quantum past | back2krishna

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