Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Universe We Created

John Wheeler (1911-2008) was an eminent physicist, dreamer, colleague of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, mentor to many of today’s most eminent physicists, and the coiner of such terms as black hole, quantum foam, and wormhole. And he is also the creator of an intriguing thought experiment in quantum physics which may mean that we are the creators of our own universe.

One of the main tenets of quantum mechanics is that our observation of the universe directly affects its properties and behavior. In the traditional double slit experiment, the way one observes a photon, for example, determines whether the photon travels like a wave or a particle.

Delayed Choice Experiment
Wheeler’s thought experiment, called the delayed choice experiment, took it one step further. What if one makes the decision of whether or not to observe the photon at the last moment, after the photon has already passed a certain point and “has already made its decision” of whether it will be a particle or a wave? Wheeler proposed this thought experiment on a grand scale by proposing that we observe light from a quasar, light which has been traveling for billions of years long before there were any humans to observe it. The measurements made now, according to Wheeler, would determine the photon’s past.

Since he proposed his thought experiment, several groups have conducted actual experiments in the lab which confirm his hypothesis that an object’s past can be changed by observing it in the present. (1,2,3) In the most recent experiment, a group led by physicist Anton Zeilinger (4) in Vienna have shown that “the decision of whether two particles were in an entangled or in a separable quantum state can be made even after these particles have been measured and may no longer exist.” (5) According to Zeilinger, “Within a naïve classical word view, quantum mechanics can even mimic an influence of future actions on past events.”

The Chicken and the Egg
In his final years, Wheeler devoted his time to asking the big questions of where the universe came from and whether it existed before there were any humans to observe it. Wheeler’s thought was that the universe exists in a quantum state of uncertainty until someone observes it and retroactively “creates” it. This brings up the idea that we created our universe retroactively in order for us to evolve in it so that we can look back and create it, an intriguing circular argument. Who is the chicken and who is the egg?

But this brings up all sorts of other outlandish questions.

· In the multiverse model, quantum theory predicts untold number of universes which possess physical laws that do not permit life to evolve. So do they even exist if there is no one there to observe them, or is simply our hypothesizing that they exist enough to create them?
· If we created our own universe, why didn’t we do a better job of it? Why did we create a universe based on natural disasters, carnivorous animals, disease and death?
· Could intelligent design advocates have a point? Could we be our own designers? Could that explain how sloppy our design is?
· As we “evolve” to be more intelligent, could we retroactively design a more intelligent, benevolent universe?
· Could we retroactively better design ourselves?

Which brings me to a Zen-like hypothesis:

God created man so that man may create God.

1.     C.O. Alley, O. Jakubowicz, W.C. Wickes, Results of the Delayed Random Choice Quantum Mechanics Experiment With Light Quanta and Proposal of a New Type of EPR Experiment Using Light Quanta Produced by a Nonlinear Optical Process, In Namiki M et al. (eds), Proceedings of the 2nd International Symposium: Foundations of Quantum Mechanics in the Light of New Technology. Tokyo, Physical Society of Japan, 1987, pp. 36-52
2.     Cho, Adrian. After a Short Delay, Quantum Mechanics Becomes Even Weirder. ScienceNOW Daily News. 16 February 2007
3.     Castelvecchi, Davide. Tight Deadline. Photons: Decide what to do – and do it yesterday. Science News online. May 23, 2008
4.     Xiao-song Ma, Stefan Zotter, Johannes Kofler, Rupert Ursin, Thomas Jennewein, Časlav Brukner, Anton Zeilinger. Experimental delayed-choice entanglement swapping. Nature Physics, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/NPHYS2294
5.     University of Vienna (2012, April 23). Can future actions influence past events? Experiment mimics quantum physics 'spooky action into the past'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 6, 2013, from­ /releases/2012/04/120423131902.htm