Did Science Just Prove Multiple Realities? Oh, And Now Time Can Run Backwards. Seriously.

Twenty-four hours of epic weirdness in the world of quantum physics

I’ve been waiting for a good opportunity to post this picture, an obvious homage to Heavy Metal!

Two great strides in quantum physics have been reported in the past twenty-four hours: one, MIT Technology Review reports that reality may not be objective, that different observers may witness the same event and both be 100% right about what they witnessed (thus possibly proving the existence of multiple realities), and two, Nature reports that scientists in America and Russia have demonstrated that time can run backwards.

Ow! Yes, my brain hertz, frequently.

Let’s tackle the less momentous event first, the demonstration that time can run backwards, thus presenting an existential threat to the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

The article in Nature is a bit of a slog for non-scientists like myself, so Newsweek thoughtfully made things clearer for the rest of us:

Magic, indeed.

To be sure, this study only demonstrated this effect on the quantum level. There is thus far no indication that this effect can be duplicated on anything above the quantum level, so we husbands can forget about unsaying that Really Dumb Thing we said before getting the silent treatment from hell. Girls know what I mean…but for guys who’ve never been in a long-term relationship with a girl, well, you’ll learn the hard way. We always do.

But I digress. Since the effect has only been seen on the quantum level, until such time that this can be put into practical use, we should see this in the same vein as the discovery of the Higgs boson: it’s incredible and it pegs the “cool meter”, but not yet of practical value beyond that of scientific understanding. Or, to put it another way:

Not much. Yet.

In my opinion, the more important of the two discoveries was the report that reality is not objective, that what one observer sees in an event may literally be in a different reality from what was witnessed by a second observer. Explaining this requires going deep into the quantum weeds for a while.

Remember Schrödinger’s Cat? Here’s a simplified version from WhatIs.com:

See that last sentence? It is proven that observation itself influences outcomes. We also know that when two particles are entangled, when the state of one particle is changed by observation, the other entangled particle is changed as well. Bear in mind, too, that there is no limit of either distance or time when it comes to quantum entanglement (yes, a particle can be entangled with another particle in the past). In other words, when you go out and look at the stars at night, the light you see are photons from stars many light-years away. Let’s say you’re looking at Betelgeuse, the red giant that is the “right shoulder” of the Orion constellation. It’s about 520 light-years (+/- 73 ly) away. If one of those photons striking your eyeball is entangled with a photon in the roiling, boiling hell that is the surface of Betelgeuse, then your observation of the photon striking your eyeball not only changed the state of that photon, but also at the same instant changed the state of its entangled partner photon in the surface of Betelgeuse 520 light years away!

Just don’t change entangled particles from Betelgeuse three times!

Is it weird enough for you yet? Wait - it gets better!

Okay, so we’ve established that the observation of a quantum particle changes the state of that particle. Ready to have your mind blown? What happens if two people observe the same particle at the same time?

Two different observers, two different outcomes, two different realities…and both are right. This essentially proves the “Wigner’s Friend” thought experiment, if anyone still wants to wade even deeper into the weeds.

But it’s about to get weirder yet! Here’s a question: now that each scientist observed a different reality, is either one still in the same reality as before? Or are both in realities that have branched away (if infinitesimally so) from the one they shared prior to the observation of that photon? The thing is, when the scientists each observed the change of state of that single photon, the event didn’t happen in a vacuum, for all matter and energy are made up of particles and waves that change state all the time. Observation of photons by human beings changes the state of those photons, but is human observation is required in order for the states of photons or particles to change?

From LiveScience.com: “the rules of quantum physics state that an unobserved photon exists in all possible states simultaneously but, when observed or measured, exhibits only one state.”

So does this mean that quantum particles cannot change state until they are observed? Of course not.

The article goes on to describe problems with the “Copenhagen interpretation”, and then describes three alternatives:

The author clearly prefers the third alternative and makes a sensible case for its veracity…

…but the experiment described at the beginning of this article may have proved the second, the “many worlds interpretation” (MWI). Look at the bolded sentences above: every possible outcome of an observation comes to pass in its own separate universe. It should be noted that there are different “versions” of MWI, and that this particular version of MWI was first described by Bryce DeWitt in 1970. It essentially states that everything that can happen, does happen, beginning at the quantum level (with quantum particles continually existing in every possible state), and so affecting every single possible result above the quantum level…and that each and every different state of every quantum particle in existence exists in its own reality. Yes, this would mean that there is a reality wherein Stephen King writes best-selling children’s nursery rhymes, and Donald Trump, PhD., is a world-famous astrophysicist/comedian even though he’s confined to a wheelchair by ALS. And he’s married to a transgendered man named Nancy Pelosi and loves him dearly.

But wait — there’s more! If this version of MWI holds true, then it may require that there is a different reality for every different combination of states of quantum particles in the universe. In other words, quantum particle Alice here on earth is in state 0, while quantum particle Bob over in Betelgeuse (or Andromeda or wherever) is also in state 0, but also shifts to state 1…and there would be a separate reality for each combination of Alice and Bob, which combinations would create even more branches of reality whenever Alice or Bob change state again. And this has been going with every single particle or wave every instant that any such particle or wave changes state, since at least the beginning of the Big Bang.

If this is sounds beyond ludicrous, look again:

We’ve gone way past ludicrous. Now we’ve gone plaid! (apologies to anyone who hasn’t watched Spaceballs)

There is one last caveat (from the same article): … it is important to remember that this new research has still not been analyzed by other academics just yet, but will no doubt be thoroughly studied in the future.

So it’s not certain (yet), but if it’s verified, there may very well be a reality where you and your spouse and kids are getting dressed, eager to go see Dr. Donald Trump and his spouse/caregiver Nancy Pelosi show you the wonders of the universe from his wheelchair at a planetarium on the south side of Chicago.

P.S. I am not a scientist by any means, so any and all errors above (no matter how inane or egregious) are mine alone. The slings and arrows of outrageous comments are welcomed with open arms and gritted teeth.

Retired Navy. Inveterate contrarian. If I haven’t done it, I’ve usually done something close.

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