Sunday, March 11, 2007

Quantum mystery, quantum theology

I've been slowly meandering through Gribbin's fascinating book, Schrodinger's Kittens. A chapter on the Copenhagen interpretation of wave function collapse included Wheeler's (serious? frivolous?) speculation that the universe only exists because an intelligent entity perceives it. Bing! A light bulb went off. A small puzzle had just resolved itself.

I'd noticed for a while there were some curious attitudes around discussions of the "reality" (whatever that is) "underlying" the mathematics which predict quantum observations. It's not so much the things that are said, but more the things left unsaid. Now I realized that those curious zones of silence are theological. On one side is a reluctance to state the obvious inference that the First Perceiver would play the role of the typical creator deity, on the other side is a reluctance to admit that the theological implications of the Copenhagen interpretation are very appealing to deists.

Which led me to wonder where the silence is broken. It wasn't hard to imagine a Google search that would expose the discussion: "Did god collapse the wave function of the universe?". The search worked, the Copenhagen interpretation clearly has natural adherents.

The voices are getting louder. In a completely typical bit of modern synchronicity, as I drove home from hockey tonight I heard an NPR guest propose that God could fit readily into the fuzziness of the probability distribution (alas for his credibility, he persistently and repetitively confused "latitude" with "lassitude" -- I hope nobody tells him he was accusing God of laziness).

Quantum physics is bloody weird. It drives big holes in our understanding of time and sequence; it has lots of room for mystery. Humans abhor an intellectual mystery, they always fill it with religion. And so it goes. We shall be hearing quite a bit about the role of God and metaGod in quantum reality. Really, I think theists should focus on the Fermi Paradox instead, but QM is still fertile ground.

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