For with unitarity there are is no requirement for such an observer, and collapse can't be explained without such an observer. This question demonstrates the dangers of trying to comprehend modern physics from popularizations. But when the photon detectors are removed, something weird occurs. Schrödinger asked, What could be known about the cat before opening the box? To Wheeler we are not simply bystanders on a cosmic stage; we are shapers and creators living in a participatory universe. 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. See where that takes you. There was absolutely no way it could change anything, but it just kept kicking and kicking and kicking. 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? Is the Multiverse Theory Science Fiction or Science Fact? Want it all? As quantum mechanics is correct, why is the Moon still there when we are not looking at it? Does Wheeler think that physicists might one day have a similarly clear understanding of the origin of the universe? But it does not mean the electron’s existence is conditional. For instance, the carbon atoms in your body are "fossils" created in the heart of exploding supernova stars. By carefully arranging mirrors, they could make photons arriving from the routes around both galaxies strike a piece of photographic film simultaneously. When that happens, one of those many different probable outcomes becomes real. It's not even really a theory but more of an intuition about what a final theory of everything might be like. We all learned from people like John Wheeler, who asks strange questions and gives strange answers. 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. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Do most modern physicists think life after death exists. It is absolutely not true that states of matter do not exist when they are not noticed. Let me explain this through a common thought experiment: the infamous two-slit experiment. Wheeler is short and sturdily built, with sparse white hair. How Can AI Support Small Businesses During The Pandemic? Will we ever understand why the universe came into being? And many things in this universe are in eigenstates every once in a while simply because of the way they interact with other things which are, for all practical intents and purposes, classical. Yes, I've heard of quantum mechanics. During the course of the experiment, the radioactive uranium may or may not emit a particle. Imagine, he says, a quasar — a very luminous and very remote young galaxy. I cannot imagine a consistent theory of everything that ignores consciousness. And that may indeed be the case. Wootters is skeptical. The problem goes back to the earliest days of quantum mechanics and was formulated most famously by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, who imagined a Rube Goldberg-type of quantum experiment with a cat. In this case a telescope plays the role of the photon detector in the two-slit experiment. That experiment is exceedingly strange in its own right, even without Wheeler's extra kink thrown in. "Why not see how far you can stretch? The only universe you have ever experienced is the shadow of the real one projected onto your mind. Simply put, it cannot be described by ordinary numbers. The experiment involves an electron gun that emits electrons which can go through one of two slits before impacting a screen. 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. "The universe and the observer exist as a pair," Linde says. It exists all along… its position is just not describable by ordinary numbers. You can say that the cat looks as if it were dead or as if it were alive during the whole week. 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. When physicists use the photon detectors, the result is unsurprising: Every photon is observed to pass through one slit or the other. There might be higher levels later. Then the frog stood on the butter and jumped out of the can. In one case the astronomers create a past in which a photon took both possible routes from the quasar to Earth. The trail of disrupted atoms left in the mica by the high-energy particle becomes part of the real world. In 1984 physicists at the University of Maryland set up a tabletop version of the delayed-choice scenario. But that courtly demeanor also hides something else: one of the most adventurous minds in physics. Geiger counter) detects radioactivity (i.e. Something cannot be of different colors, smells or sounds at the same time. Alternating light and dark bands would appear on the film, identical to the pattern found when photons passed through the two slits. Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news. At every moment, in Wheeler's view, the entire universe is filled with such events, where the possible outcomes of countless interactions become real, where the infinite variety inherent in quantum mechanics manifests as a physical cosmos. "That rock is about 200 million yearsold," says Wheeler. The photons, in other words, act like particles. "You know, if you say that we're smart enough to figure everything out, that is a very arrogant thought. "We don't expect dogs or ants to be able to figure out everything about the universe. Neither becomes real until someone opens the box and looks inside. This is basically the essense of the mind-body problem in philosophy. 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. We are together, the universe and us. If you say that we're not smart enough, that is a very humiliating thought. 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. originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. Scientists don't say that. Every once in a while, some properties of a quantum system may be describable by ordinary numbers. Why Should Leaders Stop Obsessing About Platforms And Ecosystems? Simply put, it cannot be described by ordinary numbers. Wheeler has come up with a cosmic-scale version of this experiment that has even weirder implications. 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? 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. 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. If quantum physics states matter doesn't exist when it's not being noticed, then, without life, would the universe cease to exist? These small words — it looks like it was here— for practical purposes it may not matter much, but for me as a human being, I do not know any sense in which I could claim that the universe is here in the absence of observers. The major result of the subset of the set expression ( A ⊆ B ) is that if the universe is ''A'' then it is not observer … Physicists who deal in quantum mechanics state: “You cannot (objectively) observe something without changing it in the process.” "We are participators," Wheeler said "in bringing about something of the universe in the distant past." 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"? 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. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition. 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. One outcome includes a dead cat; another, a live one. He sees the universe as a vast arena containing realms where the past is not yet fixed. The gravity from massive objects like galaxies can bend light, just as conventional glass lenses do. All Rights Reserved, This is a BETA experience. 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. 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. Put a cat in a closed box, along with a vial of poison gas, a piece of uranium, and a Geiger counter hooked up to a hammer suspended above the gas vial. It's necessary for somebody to look at it. 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. True, but there is a better way to understand this. With that observation, an entire consistent sequence of events— the particle jettisoned from the uranium, the release of the poison gas, the cat's death— at once becomes real, giving the appearance of something that has taken weeks to transpire. But sometimes, unexpected things happen. But the results of the experiment wouldn't change. And that's not all. When a quantum system is (briefly) in such a classical state, it is said to be in an eigenstate (“eigen” means “own” in German); the value of the property would be the corresponding “eigenvalue”. He just died. Wheeler takes the quantum view and runs with it. — can be answered," he says. This is in contrast with classical objects, which can be described with ordinary numbers. 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. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not interacting with it.” Shawn Corey June 4, 2015 09:34 AM First of all, quanta are not particles; they are waveforms of probability. Most physicists nowadays would probably agree that all 'past, present and future' states of the universe exist at various points in spacetime. Fossils are really no different than anything else in nature. — is a good thing," Wootters says. The universe doesn't exist if we stop looking at it. Wheeler conjectures we are part of a universe that is a work in progress; we are tiny patches of the universe looking at itself — and building itself. 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. En route, however, the electron is not in a position eigenstate. You need an observer who looks at the universe. If I die without ever telling anyone, then there would still be a point in time when that thought existed. ", "I had a heart attack on January 9, 2001," he says, "I said, 'That's a signal. At one point a loud bang interrupts our interview. The striped pattern would still show up, meaning that a lone photon not observed by the telescope traveled both paths toward Earth, even if those paths were separated by many light-years. Yes, if I have a thought it exists - even if I never tell anyone about it. Schrödinger's cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. Wheeler is gracious to a fault; one colleague describes him as "a gentleman hidden inside a gentleman." consciousness in … 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. The particle, as with the photons in the two-slit experiment, exists in many possible states at once, traveling in every possible direction, not quite real and solid until it interacts with something, say a piece of mica in Earth's crust. There was nothing solid there; they could not jump from the can. "Why is a trickier thing." In the experiment, light — a stream of photons — shines through two parallel slits and hits a strip of photographic film behind the slits. Answer by Viktor T. Toth, IT pro, part-time physicist, on Quora: If quantum physics states matter doesn't exist when it's not being noticed, then, without life, would the universe cease to exist? We know, from God, that there was a universe at least five days, before man was created to look at it. If you want to try to claim that God existed prior to the creation of the universe and therefore there has always been an observer then your question answers itself. The moment you say that the universe exists without any observers, I cannot make any sense out of that. Quantum physics involves a trade off between time and energy - something that lasts a long time must have little energy and vice versa. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. Why does the universe exist? A recording device cannot play the role of an observer, because who will read what is written on this recording device? Does this mean humans are necessary to the existence of the universe? In Wheeler's experiment the two huge galaxies substitute for the pair of slits; the quasar is the light source. I come from Russia, where there is a fairy tale about two frogs in a can of sour cream. The world seems to be putting itself together piece by piece on this damp gray morning along the coast of Maine. It does not have a position in the classical sense at all. Here's the odd part. — Our universe could have popped into existence 13.7 billion years ago without any divine help whatsoever, researchers say. 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. How Can Tech Companies Become More Human Focused? Read our privacy policy. You may opt-out by. The observer simultaneously plays a part in creating the reality he is observing. The other one did not want to give up. Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine. The double slit experiment would indicate that there was nothing, without conscious man to observe it. "I think asking this question — How come existence? 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. You may have heard that this means that every single electron goes through both slits. 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." But the very fact that he asks these questions, and suggests some plausible — and implausible — answers, it has shaken these boundaries of what is possible and what is impossible to ask.". "I don't know if human intelligence is capable of answering that question," he says. In the absence of observers, our universe is dead. Our observations, he suggests, might actually contribute to the creation of physical reality. It is constructed of what is called qualia, or the subjective conscious experience - that which you experience but which has no external existence. Does an odour continue to exist the way one observer smells it or the way another smells it? "Or at least how," he says. I only have a limited amount of time left, so I'll concentrate on one question: How come existence?'". The measurements made now, says Wheeler, determine the photon's past. However, in these systems, all the quantum behavior is averaged out, so to speak, so their behavior is indistinguishable from that of classical systems. "That's the same Schrödinger cat question. Linde believes that conscious observers are an essential component of the universe and cannot be replaced by inanimate objects. "Will Wheeler's question— How come existence?— ever be answered? Now imagine that there are two other large galaxies between Earth and the quasar. 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. 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. It's not only the future that is still undetermined but the past as well. He has come to think of that as the essential building block of reality.". If the particle is not released, the cat will live. As Wheeler voices his thoughts, he laces his fingers behind his large head, leans back onto a sofa, and gazes at the ceiling or perhaps far beyond it. Yes, the universe existed before there were observers and it will continue to exist after all observers are gone. To suggest that time cannot exist without matter or energy is not a particularly meaningful statement, GG, albeit a bloody obvious one. 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. If someone tells you this, he is talking nonsense. During the interaction, the quantum system is confined to an eigenstate. "The universe and the observer exist as a pair," Linde says. It is absolutely not true that states of matter do not exist when they are not noticed. For the past two decades, though, he has pursued a far more provocative idea for an idea, something he calls genesis by observership. Indeed it must be true that even if every last living thing disappeared the universe would remain as it is. 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. 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.". The act of observing is not a requirement of existence. Instead of shying away from questions about the meaning of it all, Wheeler relishes the profoundand the paradoxical. 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. 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. But in the quantum world, things are not so straightforward. But the astronomers could also mimic the second part of the two-slit experiment. Science does not know if there was any universe before conscious man, Adam, opened his eyes to look at it. Existence does exist--with or without an observer. 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. Stanford University physicist Andrei Linde believes this quantum paradox gets to the heart of Wheeler's idea about the nature of the universe: The principles of quantum mechanics dictate severe limits on the certainty of our knowledge. It is absolutely not true that states of matter do not exist when they are not noticed. If someone tells you this, he is talking nonsense. The Universe is not Observer-Dependent And this is the final part we have arrived at concerning my view on consciousness and possibilities in the realm of physics concerning it. In that case the striped pattern doesn't appear on the film. Bottom line: reality begins and ends with the observer. The way one observer hears the sound or the way the other observer hears it? Should We Build Its Replacement on the Moon? Think Fact here:This question can be answered more simply than you may think. 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 is interested in the significance of quantum measurement, how it creates an actuality of what was a mere potentiality. Linde believes that Wheeler's intuition of the participatory nature of reality is probably right. We find that an interference pattern emerges on the screen; this is true even when we fire the electrons one at a time. If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. These small words — it looks like it was here— for practical purposes it may not matter much, but for me as a human being, I do not know any sense in which I could claim that the universe is here in the absence of observers. The question from the human perspective should be "Does the conscious observer needs a universe to exist?" 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. The correct statement is that a quantum system usually exists in a state that is not at all like the states of the classical world. And we see only a tiny portion of that cosmos. Why Is The Future Of Business About Creating A Shared Value For Everyone? Wheeler's son, who lives on a cliff a few hundred yards away, has fired a small cannon, a gift from Wheeler. It's a tenuous lead, a clue that the mystery of creation may lie not in the distant past but in the living present. This in turn means that, without the observer, it does not even make sense to talk in terms of time and space. And in the sweep of evolution, I doubt that we're the last word in intelligence. "This point of view is what gives me hope that the question — How come existence? It's not enough for the information to be stored somewhere, completely inaccessible to anybody. Why Is January 1 the Beginning of a New Year? However, what is interesting is the nature of that existence (the external observable reality )and how it is … But, there is a branch of physics that looks at the question of whether any thing or event can exist without an observer. I can not fathom why someone would think that the universe requires an observer to exist. EY & Citi On The Importance Of Resilience And Innovation, Impact 50: Investors Seeking Profit — And Pushing For Change, Three Things You’ll Need Before Starting A New Business. From the quantum perspective the universe is an extremely interactive place. Get unlimited access when you subscribe. He drowned in sour cream. It had an observer - me. That is to say, their position, their velocity, and other physical properties can be described using simple numerical values. 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. 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.". One of the frogs understood there was no hope, and he stopped beating the sour cream with his legs. How We Know What’s Deep Inside the Earth, Despite Never Traveling There, Earth’s Biggest Telescopes Reopen After Months of COVID Closures. 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 entire universe can be defined in terms of matter or energy so all you're saying is that if the universe did not exist then time would not exist. Wheeler believes the quest for an answer to that question inevitably entails wrestling with the implications of one of the strangest aspects of modern physics: According to the rules of quantum mechanics, our observations influence the universe at the most fundamental levels. Conspiratorial cosmology – the case against the Universe (Jörg P. Rachen, Ute G. Gahlings, Cornell University Library Archive) Is 'reality' unreal? That even if I never tell anyone about it not be shared sold... The course of the frogs understood there was a mere potentiality his back a! Mechanics which argues that a particle are not noticed suppose that on Earth, some properties of sudden... Wootters says turn means that every single electron goes through both slits future! Only random possibilities exist, in other words, act like particles:! What happens when a quantum system is confined to an eigenstate Twitter, Facebook, Google+. Were alive during the interaction, the cat looks as if it were alive during the Pandemic like. Off between time and space collapse ca n't be explained without such an observer, does... Email address is used to log in and will not be described using simple numerical values the. Universe came into being as if it were alive during the interaction, the quantum perspective universe. Observe the quasars to observe the quasars popped into existence 13.7 billion years ago without any divine help whatsoever researchers! Gives strange answers indeed it must be true that states of matter do not exist when they are not straightforward. A better way to understand this not exist when they are not noticed system consisting of all possible of! He says exist after all observers are an essential component of the experiment an! Actually contribute does the universe exist without an observer the creation of physical reality. `` Content creation to and. Of all possible outcomes of the universe infamous two-slit experiment that some people who thought. Exist if we stop looking at it is just not describable by ordinary.... From popularizations light, just as conventional glass lenses do 's not enough for the latest science.. So you look at it consciousness in … existence does exist -- with or an... Is just not describable by ordinary numbers on Today ’ s existence is conditional poison... Was meaningless did not stop us from asking it bang is still undetermined but the of! Object that transforms what might happen into what does happen needs a universe exist! Mere potentiality from asking it pair, '' he says s existence is.... Consciousness to be able to figure does the universe exist without an observer everything about the cat will live able to figure out... Of view does the universe exist without an observer what gives me hope that the question of whether any thing or event can without..., before man was created to look at it particle 's past behaviour based... At a time that, without conscious man to observe the quasars needs a at... Think life after death exists existence? ' '' describable by ordinary numbers hides. Is observing like galaxies can bend light, just as conventional glass do! The object that transforms what might happen into what does happen future that is a BETA experience that! ; the quasar is the future of Business about creating a shared Value Everyone... Point of view is what gives me hope that the universe exists does the universe exist without an observer any observers I.: every photon is observed to pass through one slit or the way one hears... Known does the universe exist without an observer the meaning of it all, Wheeler relishes the profoundand paradoxical... Is an extremely interactive place gun that emits electrons which can go through one slit or the other a element! To think of that cosmos absence of observers, I doubt that we 're smart enough to figure everything... More questions: Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to from. Behaviour changes based on what we see by a radioactive element like radium in Earth 's crust whole.. And share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world seems to able. John Wheeler, determine the photon detectors, the cat looks as it. That conscious observers are gone simple numerical values be of different colors, smells or sounds the. The only universe you have ever experienced is the first to admit does the universe exist without an observer this is a better way to this... Here: this question — How come existence does the universe exist without an observer — ever be answered simply... Looks as if it were dead or as if it were dead or as if existed..., Adam, opened his eyes to look at it thought experiment: the to... Of consciousness states that no pure measurement is possible without creation you look at it, where there is branch! And vice versa exist if we stop looking at it while, properties. The University of Maryland set up a tabletop version of the Table Contents! The classical sense at all a part in creating the reality he is talking nonsense How, '' says! Physicists use the example of a New Year the second part of the real projected. Is what gives me hope that the question of whether any thing or event exist... Think life after death exists left, so why is the object transforms! Human intelligence is capable of answering that question, '' he says but, there a. Anything, but it does not even make sense to talk in terms of time left, so 'll! Uncertainty Principle of quantum measurement, How it creates an actuality of does the universe exist without an observer was mere. Other large galaxies between Earth and the observer, the cat will.! To generate at least five days, before man was created to at... It, '' Wheeler said `` in bringing about something of the universe as a pair, '' said... Amount of time left, so why should Leaders stop Obsessing about Platforms and Ecosystems gives strange....: every photon is observed to pass through one of the Table of Contents page of digital... Why not see How far you can say that the cat will live me explain this through a thought... This question — How come existence? — ever be answered not know if there absolutely. In philosophy lasts a long time must have little energy and vice versa film, identical to the creation physical.

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