Issues in Quantum Mechanics
I would like to present a point of view on the relation between science and religion, particularly the mystical aspect of religion. My scientific background is that of a physicist who has investigated the interpretation of the mathematics of quantum mechanics for three decades.
To explain the point of view, suppose that each of us still exists after we die; that is, we can still perceive, act, and experience emotions (although not physically). That would imply there is a nonphysical component to existence. This raises the question of whether science — primarily quantum mechanics — is consistent with there being both a physical and a nonphysical component to existence. The further question is whether or not we can glean information on the nature of the nonphysical component, assuming there is such, from the structure of quantum mechanics. In my opinion, finding answers to these questions is the primary reason for studying the relation between science and mysticism. I will outline my answer to the first question.
1. The Wave Function and Particles in Quantum Mechanics. In trying to understand how the mathematics of quantum mechanics relates to what we perceive, it is usually assumed that the wave function describes the behavior of objectively existing particles. It can be shown, however, that there is no way to PROVE that particles — electrons, protons, atoms — objectively exist. Based in the current experimental evidence and mathematical formulations, it is just as likely that only the wave functiion exists as it is that particles exist. We are therefore free to assume that only the wave function exists.
2. Classical vs Quantum. Determinism vs Many Possible Futures.
2A. In classical mechanics, there is an objectively existing world. In the mathematics of the classical world, the future is completely determined by the present (or past) state of matter. There is no room for choice or creativity of any kind.
2B. By contrast, in the MATHEMATICS of quantum mechanics, there is no reference to an objectively existing world composed of particles; the mathematics applies solely to the wave function. It is nearly always assumed, for obvious reasons, that the properties of the wave function refer to or describe the properties of an objectively existing world. But that assumption is indeed just an assumption; it cannot be proven.
2C. From the mathematics of quantum mechanics, we know that the wave function can contain, at a given time, many “branches” which correspond to different possible futures. For example, if one has (the wave function for) a radioactive atom, the wave function contains, at any given instant, one part in which the atom has radioactively decayed, and another part in which it has not decayed. Thus if one sticks strictly to the accepted mathematics of the wave function (and excludes both the conjectured existence of particles and the conjectured collapse of the wave function), there is no unique, objective world. Instead, there are many “potential versions” of physical existence at a given instant.
3A. We know from experience that only one version of the physical world is perceived. But it is not necessary to draw the conclusion that there is a single, objectively existing physical world.
3B. Instead, it could be that only one version of the physical world (that is, one branch of the wave function) is PERCEIVED.
3C. We assume that that is the case; a unique physical world is perceived, not because there is a unique, objectively existing world, but because only one branch of the wave function is perceived.
4. The Perceiving Aspect.
4A. If only one branch of the wave function is perceived, there must be some “aspect” of each of us that perceives it.
4B. If one describes physical existence as everything that is described by the wave function, then one can prove that the perceiving part or aspect must be outside physical existence. It cannot be part of the brain wave function, for example.
4C.Thus we have arrived at the conclusion that the mathematics of quantum mechanics and our perceptions of the physical world are compatible with a thoroughgoing dualism in which there is both a physical and a nonphysical aspect to existence. The physical aspect is the wave function with its many branches, and the nonphysical aspect (VERY roughly, our “soul”) is that which perceives one of the branches.
5. Future Discussions. The justification of the first point (on the nonexistence of particles), as well as the further implications of the dualistic conclusion (for nonphysical intelligence and emotions, for free will and the role of the brain, and for the nature of mysticism and th goals of the mystics) will be left to other communications, if there is interest in pursuing this line of reasoning.
Rutgers University, Camden