Physics

Art and dreams may be quantum observational acts that spring the rest of the multiverse into existence

The typical image of the multiverse theory is that of comic-book style alternate universes, where for every hero in our universe there is a similar-looking but opposing villain in another one. In these alternate universes, there are Bizarro versions of everything, like instead of a Pax Americana it's a Pax Germania with statues of Hitler everywhere.

But alternate, hypothetical universes could mean anything. At its simplest form, it could include universes that are an exact copy of our current one except with one atom randomly changed. If such a universe exists, then it's conceivable of a hypothetical universe where a trillion atoms have randomly changed, so that all of a sudden I find a rabbit sitting on top of my laptop. Or in the blink of an eye, I'm thrown into an actual replica of Lord of the Rings.

As they say, "There are no limits, except for your imagination." While this cliche implies there are endless possibilities, what if it means the complete opposite, that multiverses are bounded somehow by imagination. After all, the set of all conceivable universes is an infinitesimally small subset of all possible universes.

This puts a new spin on dreams and art. What if the act of having a dream or creating art is an act of observation from quantum mechanics? By the mere act of observing an imaginary world rendered in artwork, that universe with those characters and shapes and laws of physics exist in some way. Perhaps our understanding of the word "existence" is limiting in that existence is all about acknowledgment.

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If the universe is deterministic, why can't all existence just be the tentative states of a pen-and-paper Turing machine?

Consider a DVD of the movie Fight Club. If someone placed it in a DVD player, they'd see that Ed Norton punches Brad Pitt in the face. If they don't put the DVD in the player, it's still true that Ed punches Brad. If all DVD players in the world broke down, but we retained the DVDs, it would still be true that in Fight Club, Ed punches Brad. The absence of the players doesn't invalidate the truth about that movie.

If all the DVDs were gone, people would still remember that Ed punches Brad. There would be no proof, and one could say that if we were to go back in time, we would find that indeed it is the case. This thought experiment could go further and further, asking questions like, "What if we erased everyone's memory?" Which begs the question, Is the medium of an event's existence necessary for the event's existence? Can existence be solely predicated on information, or do zeroes and ones have to be etched into a disc?

Likewise, it's possible that we are in a similar movie, a movie that isn't playing anywhere. It doesn't exist in the memory of any being, but it's just what happens in this particular, abstract, and grand, sequence.

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In the future, the killing of a human-looking creature that can pass the Turing Test will be considered murder

In the movie Source Code, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a character who travels to alternative universes where a train is about to explode from a terrorist attack. While his directives are to ignore everything else and find the terrorists, he feels compelled to save the passengers in these alternative universes. The commanders who give him orders believe that these alternative universes are simply simulations with information necessary for the safety of the main world. But Jake is confronted with such strikingly high-resolution experiences in these other worlds that he can't help but feel compassion.

Consider Jake's viewpoint. Since there is effectively no difference between normal human beings and zombies pretending to be normal human beings, he has no way to access the inner experiences of anybody else. He can only verify his consciousness, and so his ethics shouldn't depend on zombie-verification. Yes, we all want to know whether there is someone truly there receiving pain behind that visage, but in the absence of that certainty, you should err on the side of saving the zombies.

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Just like it was a revolution of thought when Einstein declared that space and time are a continuum, perhaps another revolution of thought will occur when we realize that chemicals and thoughts exist on a continuum as well

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Maybe waking up is the quantum observation that chooses a logically consistent dream world to stand in for reality

The infinite multiverse theory has implications for dreams. Perhaps dreams are samples of those infinite permutations of alternative universes, and when we wake up, that's just the so-called "observation" that forces a choice of a world that is logically consistent, i.e. the version of Earth where objects obey gravity. In other words, dreams could be tentative realities, and choosing to wake up is when we decide we can inhabit them.

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The day we realize we're not much different than unplayable sentinels in video games is the day we understand our universe

Consider this Theory of Everything: The universe is a giant abstract computer that doesn't actually have to be run. The obvious counter-argument is that you can look all around you and see "stuff" that changes over time. And that even if we're in a simulation, there has to be a recipient of that "stuff" that processes it over time and appreciates/reacts to it.

The biggest barrier to accepting this Theory of Everything is our absolute faith in our senses. Here is a thought experiment to help undo this:

What if we built a naivete machine, one that had absolutely no preconceptions of the world? It would have no concept of time or cause-and-effect, just simply the ability to check variables with values filled in. Initially, it would be useless since it wouldn't have access to our world. So we'd give it a pointer to a memory address where we placed a video feed. The computer could run a loop, check the memory address, and notice some bits. And then after one frame, it would notice different bits there. So the computer would notice that as the loop advances, those bits are different than what was there before. Then it could notice patterns. It could notice that the bits make a lot more sense if composed in x-y coordinates. And maybe it could figure out that it's a series of 8-bit numbers, seemingly repeating every three. Those would be to us RGB, but to it, simply (0-255, 0-255, 0-255). The computer at this point would not necessarily have a sense of time, but maybe it would have a sense of a "tick" since it can execute one line at a time. To the machine, it "knows" that at each tick, there is a different value in that field.

It could have a history of the values of all the previous ticks. But it wouldn't know whether or not ticks in the future have to be calculated in order to be known. It would only know that to get information for future ticks would require ticking forward.

Based on the video feed, it could notice objects, but these wouldn't feel solid to the machine. Instead, the machine would see recurring patterns of clumps of bits. Eventually, it could form rules to predict what will happen on the next tick based on where the clumps were in previous ticks.

At this point, what does the naivete machine believe? It doesn't believe in cause-in-effect. It doesn't believe in materialism. It doesn't believe in time. All it believes is that as each tick advances, there is different patterned data in a memory address. Even the language I use to imagine how the machine thinks is prejudicial.