Friday, June 04, 2004

Quantum Entanglement: what does it tell about the nature of reality?

Quantum Entanglement and Information
NPR's science show interviewed a Waterloo physicist on the implications of a recent announcement. Researchers were able to use quantum entanglement amongst three atoms to enhance clock accuracy.

This is one of those announcements that causes some people to nod off, some people to start figuring out investment angles, and others to look for very remote housing locations. The guest speaker pointed out that, in the long run, it was probably no more significant than the deployment of fire, agriculture and electricity. I believe him.

Most of all, however, the call forced me to listen to yet another description of quantum entanglement. Hearing it in the context of industrial applications (quantum encyrption is now a real application, clock enhancement, etc) finally caused me to crack.

Quantum entanglement is just too weird to "fit" a naturally occuring universe. I can see why it freaked Einstein out.

I don't think it even fits all that well with an accidental artifactual universe -- though I suppose it might suggest something about the intent of the designer.

I don't think it fits with an omniscient deity in a physical universe. Too quirky.

No, in all the bizarre scenarios for the nature of reality, it's the closest fit for a simulation. Not a designed part of the simulation, but rather an artifact of the underlying computational system. Were I writing science fiction, I'd say "we" uncovered an imperfection or flaw in the simulation, an artifact resulting from a limitation of the underlying system. Now, as we pull on this thread, we're revealing more and more of what lies ahead.

In the story when we start using quantum computers fully, we'll be starting to indirectly access the computation substrate underlying our so-called reality. Hmm. I wonder what happens then? A buffer overflow might have some interesting consequences. Or maybe, as we start to run "parasitic processes" against our computational framework, we'll merely slow everything down (not that we'd notice directly -- except we might be able to measure some anomalies in our quantum computers).

An alternative narrative would be that the universe is indeed "god's computer" (hey, that dark matter has to do something, right? :-) -- but we're not an intended part of the computation. So it might be running simulation, but we're a side-effect. Or maybe the universe is simply a peripheral.

In this story we're parasitic processes, a sort of common side-effect. The universe was designed for optimum computation, with as few parasites as possible, but these things happen. Maybe it's a fundamental design flaw. As long as we don't consume too much CPU power we're not worth squashing. But once we crank up those quanta ... This also explains why the univese seems so quiet. Other "parasitic processes" occur, but shortly after they develop advanced technologies they start consuming a lot of "CPU" power. So they get squashed.

I think that house in the wilderness, without electricity, is starting to sound better all the time.

I'm sure Vernor Vinge is writing a story about this even now.

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