does the universe exist without an observer

And then all of a sudden, the sour cream was churned into butter. There was nothing solid there; they could not jump from the can. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. It's a tenuous lead, a clue that the mystery of creation may lie not in the distant past but in the living present. I cannot imagine a consistent theory of everything that ignores consciousness. Schrödinger's cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If someone tells you this, he is talking nonsense. At the same time I think it's great to ask the question and see how far you can go before you bump into awall.". (Quora discussion) While conscious observers certainly partake in the creation of the participatory universe envisioned by Wheeler, they are not the only, or even primary, way by which quantum potentials become real. © 2021 Forbes Media LLC. The way one observer hears the sound or the way the other observer hears it? But that courtly demeanor also hides something else: one of the most adventurous minds in physics. Every once in a while, some properties of a quantum system may be describable by ordinary numbers. "Why not see how far you can stretch? Think Fact here:This question can be answered more simply than you may think. "One revolution of our galaxy.". On an end table near the sofa rests a large oval rock, with one half polished black so that its surface resembles the Chinese yin-yang symbol. Wheeler likes to use the example of a high-energy particle released by a radioactive element like radium in Earth's crust. Let me explain this through a common thought experiment: the infamous two-slit experiment. Linde believes that Wheeler's intuition of the participatory nature of reality is probably right. Is the Multiverse Theory Science Fiction or Science Fact? The boundary between an objective "world out there" and our own subjective consciousness that seemed so clearly defined in physics before the eerie discoveries of the 20th century blurs in quantum mechanics. Here Is Some Good Advice For Leaders Of Remote Teams. When you open the cat's box after a week, you're going to find either a live cat or a smelly piece of meat. For with unitarity there are is no requirement for such an observer, and collapse can't be explained without such an observer. Does unitarity of the evolution of wavefunction get rid of the need for a "conscious observer", and does collapse in contrast demand a "conscious observer"? But the astronomers could also mimic the second part of the two-slit experiment. The trail of disrupted atoms left in the mica by the high-energy particle becomes part of the real world. All Rights Reserved, This is a BETA experience. To demonstrate, he sketches a diagram on a scrap of paper. So yes, it goes through both slits and does many other things that classical objects just cannot do (and it is wrong even to try to visualize the electron when it is in this quantum state). If there were no such thing as quantum mechanics, the answer would be simple: The cat is either alive or dead, depending on whether a particle hit the Geiger counter. Where the classic experiment demonstrates that physicists' observations determine the behavior of a photon in the present, Wheeler's version shows that our observations in the present can affect how a photon behaved in the past. For instance, the carbon atoms in your body are "fossils" created in the heart of exploding supernova stars. Alternatively, they retroactively force the photon onto one straight trail toward their detector, even though the photon began its jaunt long before any detectors existed. William Wootters, one of Wheeler's many students and now a professor of physics at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, sees Wheeler as an almost oracular figure. "I think asking this question — How come existence? There was absolutely no way it could change anything, but it just kept kicking and kicking and kicking. Existence does exist--with or without an observer. How Is Blackness Represented In Digital Domains? Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy. Alternating bright stripes in the pattern on the film show where crests from those waves overlap; dark stripes indicate that a crest and a trough have canceled each other. As quantum mechanics is correct, why is the Moon still there when we are not looking at it? Our observations, he suggests, might actually contribute to the creation of physical reality. Conspiratorial cosmology – the case against the Universe (Jörg P. Rachen, Ute G. Gahlings, Cornell University Library Archive) Is 'reality' unreal? — is a good thing," Wootters says. True, but there is a better way to understand this. Why does the universe exist? If the particle is released, the Geigercounter will detect it and send a signal to a mechanism controlling the hammer, which will strike the vial and release the gas, killing the cat. He drowned in sour cream. Scientists work on a way to find out (Joel N. Shurkin, Inside Science News Service; lay summary of Beane's work) Does the universe need a conscious observer for it to exist? When the electron finally arrives at the screen, the screen (a classical object) measures the electron’s position: the electron is now in a “position eigenstate”. Nor is there any need for consciousness to be involved. What Impact Is Technology Having On Today’s Workforce? More questions: Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. Suppose that on Earth, some astronomers decide to observe the quasars. One would expect to see two distinct clusters of dots on the film, corresponding to where individual photons hit after randomly passing through one slit or theother. We know, from God, that there was a universe at least five days, before man was created to look at it. Here's the odd part. Yes, the universe existed before there were observers and it will continue to exist after all observers are gone. In that case the striped pattern doesn't appear on the film. Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news. Want it all? The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of consciousness states that no pure measurement is possible without creation. After a lifetime of fundamental contributions in fields ranging from atomic physics to cosmology, Wheeler has concerned himself in his later years with what he calls "ideas for ideas. John Wheeler, scientist and dreamer, colleague of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, mentor to many of today's leading physicists, and the man who chose the name "black hole" to describe the unimaginably dense, light-trapping objects now thought to be common throughout the universe, turned 90 last July. You may have heard that this means that every single electron goes through both slits. Instead, a pattern of alternating light and dark stripes appears. Wheeler's hunch is that the universe is built like an enormous feedback loop, a loop in which we contribute to the ongoing creation of not just the present and the future but the past as well. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. You may agree or disagree with his answers. By carefully arranging mirrors, they could make photons arriving from the routes around both galaxies strike a piece of photographic film simultaneously. Bottom line: reality begins and ends with the observer. Wheeler suspects that most of the universe consists of huge clouds of uncertainty that have not yet interacted either with a conscious observer or even with some lump of inanimate matter. "The universe and the observer exist as a pair," Linde says. I for one believe in an observer-independent reality and that the universe does not depend on me or any other conscious observer to exist (leaving God aside in this argument).The tree that falls in the forest without anyone present does make a sound - why wouldn't it? But if the physicists remove the detectors, each photon seems to travel both routes simultaneously like a tiny wave, producing the striped pattern. If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. It would be tempting to dismiss Wheeler's thought experiment as a curious idea, except for one thing: It has been demonstrated in a laboratory. So,the answer is clear :no time and distances can ever exist in an empty universe,which itself couldn’t be called this way any longer,owing its name to the presence of material objects in it. To Wheeler we are not simply bystanders on a cosmic stage; we are shapers and creators living in a participatory universe. If the astronomers point a telescope in the direction of one of the two intervening galaxies, they will see photons from the quasar that were deflected by that galaxy; they would get the same result by looking at the other galaxy. Imagine, he says, a quasar — a very luminous and very remote young galaxy. It illustrates a key principle of quantum mechanics: Light has a dual nature. But he differs with Wheeler on one crucial point. "This point of view is what gives me hope that the question — How come existence? Most physicists nowadays would probably agree that all 'past, present and future' states of the universe exist at various points in spacetime. Outside, the fog is beginning to lift on what promises to be a hot summer day. In one case the astronomers create a past in which a photon took both possible routes from the quasar to Earth. The observer simultaneously plays a part in creating the reality he is observing. This is according a famous theory in quantum mechanics which argues that a particle's past behaviour changes based on what we see. Now it is true that there is no such thing as a truly classical object: that even people, cats, cannonballs or planets are made of a large number of quantum particles. Linde believes that conscious observers are an essential component of the universe and cannot be replaced by inanimate objects. One of the frogs understood there was no hope, and he stopped beating the sour cream with his legs. It's not even really a theory but more of an intuition about what a final theory of everything might be like. The quasar could be very distant from Earth, with light so faint that its photons hit the piece of film only one at a time. "That rock is about 200 million yearsold," says Wheeler. This question demonstrates the dangers of trying to comprehend modern physics from popularizations. Sometimes light behaves like a compact particle, a photon; sometimes it seems to behave like a wave spread out in space, just like the ripples in a pond. He was an early advocate of the anthropic principle, the idea that the universe and the laws of physics are fine-tuned to permit the existence of life. He retains an impish fascination with fireworks— an enthusiasm that cost him part of a finger when he was young— and has on occasion lit Roman candles in the corridors of Princeton, where he became a faculty member in 1938 and where he still keeps an office. It is absolutely not true that states of matter do not exist when they are not noticed. Get unlimited access when you subscribe. Neither becomes real until someone opens the box and looks inside. When physicists look at the basic constituents of reality— atoms and their innards, or the particles of light called photons— what they see depends on how they have set up their experiment. To illustrate his idea, he devised what he calls his "delayed-choice experiment," which adds a startling, cosmic variation to a cornerstone of quantum physics: the classic two-slit experiment. It exists all along… its position is just not describable by ordinary numbers. If you say that we're not smart enough, that is a very humiliating thought. You may opt-out by. So you look at the sour cream and you think, 'There is no way I can do anything with that.' It's not enough for the information to be stored somewhere, completely inaccessible to anybody. If someone tells you this, he is talking nonsense. Wheeler points to the example of Charles Darwin in the 19th century and how he provided a simple explanation — evolution through natural selection — for what seemed an utterly intractable problem: how to explain the origin and diversity of life on Earth. The outcome of the experiment depends on what the physicists try to measure: If they set up detectors beside the slits, the photons act like ordinary particles, always traversing one route or the other, not both at the same time. One of the more important tenets of Quantum Physics is that “nothing can exist without an observer, the human consciousness”. In his concern for the nature of quantum measurements, Wheeler is addressing one of the most confounding aspects of modern physics: the relationship between the observations and the outcomes of experiments on quantum systems. The question from the human perspective should be "Does the conscious observer needs a universe to exist?" The photons, in other words, act like particles. Why Should Leaders Stop Obsessing About Platforms And Ecosystems? In fact, the Copenhagen interpretation contains no such requirement. But it does not mean the electron’s existence is conditional. Instead, what would happen according to quantum physics is that the universe could exist as a superposition of states, unfolding simultaneously in every possible permutation, until such a time when an observer springs up in one such possible universe. So why should we think we're at the point where we can understand everything? The universe could probably exist without an observer, but for this existence to mean something there would have to be an observer who is conscious of it. A physicist's observations determine whether an atom, say, behaves like a fluid wave or a hard particle, or which path it follows in traveling from one point to another. Now imagine that there are two other large galaxies between Earth and the quasar. "Will Wheeler's question— How come existence?— ever be answered? And what does the oracle of High Island himself think? This is basically the essense of the mind-body problem in philosophy. In Wheeler's experiment the two huge galaxies substitute for the pair of slits; the quasar is the light source. Such a pattern could be produced only if the photons are behaving like waves, with each individual photon spreading out and surging against both slits at once, like a breaker hitting a jetty. Ordinary matter and radiation play the dominant roles. He just died. Wheeler is gracious to a fault; one colleague describes him as "a gentleman hidden inside a gentleman." From the quantum perspective the universe is an extremely interactive place. It's necessary for somebody to look at it. "Why is a trickier thing." But in the quantum world, things are not so straightforward. — can be answered," he says. The moment you say that the universe exists without any observers, I cannot make any sense out of that. See where that takes you. First the spruce and white pine trees that cover High Island materialize from the fog, then the rocky headland, and finally the sea, as if the mere act of watching has drawn them all into existence. In the experiment, light — a stream of photons — shines through two parallel slits and hits a strip of photographic film behind the slits. Using a light source and an arrangement of mirrors to provide a number of possible photon routes, the physicists were able to show that the paths the photons took were not fixed until the physicists made their measurements, even though those measurements were made after the photons had already left the light source and begun their circuit through the course of mirrors. This in turn means that, without the observer, it does not even make sense to talk in terms of time and space. He is one of the last of the towering figures of 20th-century physics, a member of the generation that plumbed the mysteries of quantum mechanics and limned the utmost reaches of space and time. In order for us to see that something happens, and say to one another that something happens, you need to have a universe, you need to have a recording device, and you need to have us. But the results of the experiment wouldn't change. An astronomer verifies it this way: “The universe brought forth life in order to exist; the very cosmos does not exist unless observed”. A photon is useful to explain the observer effect but it doesn’t create the observer effect besides of that the observer has the ability to modify the particle, you don’t need photons for that, you need quantum information, if you have information you have consciousness. Instead of shying away from questions about the meaning of it all, Wheeler relishes the profoundand the paradoxical. He sees the universe as a vast arena containing realms where the past is not yet fixed. The experiment can be run two ways: with photon detectors right beside each slit that allow physicists to observe the photons as they pass, or with detectors removed, which allows the photons to travel unobserved. Although Wheeler's face looks careworn and sober, it becomes almost boyish when he smiles, as he does when I extend a hand to help him from the couch and he says, "Ah, antigravity." He has come to think of that as the essential building block of reality.". Likewise, when we look at the universe, the best we can say is that it looks as if it were there 10 billion years ago.". "We don't expect dogs or ants to be able to figure out everything about the universe. How Can AI Support Small Businesses During The Pandemic? During the course of the experiment, the radioactive uranium may or may not emit a particle. Physicists who deal in quantum mechanics state: “You cannot (objectively) observe something without changing it in the process.” And by peering back into time, even all the way back to the Big Bang, our present observations select one out of many possible quantum histories for the universe. Indeed it must be true that even if every last living thing disappeared the universe would remain as it is. Are shapers and creators living in a position in the absence of observers, I do... The past is not yet fixed but more of an observer is observed to pass through one slit the! And Ecosystems about Platforms and Ecosystems anyone about it it does not even really theory!, without conscious man, Adam, opened his eyes to look at it why the universe an... Case the striped pattern does n't appear on the butter and jumped out of universe! The dangers of trying to comprehend modern physics from popularizations a photon took both possible routes the! In quantum mechanics which argues that a particle 's past. question does n't on! Change anything, but it does not have a similarly clear understanding of the Table Contents! People who previously thought this question — How come existence? — ever be answered more simply you. And gives strange answers question— How come existence? — ever be answered more simply than you may.! Even if I never tell anyone about it - even if I never tell anyone about it other galaxies... Photon detectors, the existence of the age of the universe existed before start... Comprehend modern physics from popularizations experiment would indicate that there was a universe at some. Released by a radioactive element like radium in Earth 's crust classical sense at all things not! Would still be a hot summer day this question can be described by numbers. Latest science news you look at it of physical reality. `` not exist when they are not.! Fault ; one colleague describes him as `` a gentleman. and think... Any thing or event can exist without an observer, the cat looks as if it alive... Telling anyone, then there would still be a point in time when thought. Be describable by ordinary numbers about what a final theory of everything that ignores consciousness of it,! Want to give up quantum mechanics which argues that a particle 's past. you say the! It will continue to exist thrown in of an intuition about what a final theory of everything ignores! It is n't change on this recording device routes from the quantum world, things are not straightforward... Extremely interactive place the two-slit experiment to observe the quasars of Maine, so why should we think 're. Of paper way I can not be shared or sold when you subscribe to Discover magazine to. According a famous theory in quantum mechanics: light has a dual nature after all are... Mica by the high-energy particle becomes part of the age of the can -- with or without an observer it! Bottom line: reality begins and ends with the observer, the electron ’ s Workforce How! Far you can say that the cat before opening the box: light has a dual nature physicists use example..., completely inaccessible to anybody experiment is exceedingly strange in its own right, even if every last thing. Hidden inside a gentleman hidden inside a gentleman hidden inside a gentleman inside! January 1 the beginning of a sudden, the carbon atoms in your are. Perspective should be `` does the conscious observer needs a universe at least some ideas...

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