Does Quantum Physics Imply That You Are Immortal?

Are you immortal?

Is Schrödinger's Cat immortal? And by extension, does that mean that both you and I will live forever as well?

In the famed thought experiment devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935, a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects the radioactivity from a single atom decaying, the poison is released into the sealed box, killing the cat. But in the weird world of quantum mechanics - or more specifically in this case, the 'Copenhagen interpretation' of quantum mechanics - the cat would supposedly remain in a state of 'superposition', both alive and dead, until an observation or measurement is made by an external observer opening the box, collapsing the wavefunction - and finding the cat either alive or dead. Schrödinger did not see this as a serious possibility - instead, his thought experiment was meant to show a problem with the Copenhagen interpretation.

Another interpretation of quantum mechanics, formulated in 1957 by Hugh Everett, removed the problematic wavefunction collapse. In the 'Many Worlds' interpretation, rather than collapsing from superposition into a single reality, the wavefunction branches into multiple realities consisting of each possible outcome. This interpretation of quantum mechanics carries with it the mind-boggling implication that all possible histories exist, each contained within its very own universe (or 'world', as per 'Many Worlds'). Every time a decision is made, another complete universe splits off from this one.

In the Many Worlds interpretation, Schrödinger's experiment has created two completely separate universes...one in which the cat is dead, and another in which it remains alive. The 'collapse of the wavefunction' is an illusion caused by viewing the outcome from only one of the universes. And if Schrödinger carries out the experiment again, he creates another two universes, one with another dead cat, and another with the cat still alive.

Keen observers might note that, in Many Worlds, among the infinite branching of universes, there remains one branch in which the cat continues to be alive. It is claimed that Hugh Everett saw his theory as guaranteeing immortality to conscious beings: at each branching of universes between death and living, a being's consciousness is bound to continue following the living path (given that consciousness, according to orthodox modern science, does not continue beyond death).

[See this fantastic documentary on Hugh Everett and Many Worlds Theory, as explored by his rock-star son, Mark Everett of Eels, for more insights]

The 'quantum suicide' thought experiment, devised in the 1980s as the Many Worlds parallel of the Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment, illustrates the concept:

A physicist sits in a chair with a gun pointed at his head. The gun is attached to a machine that measure the spin of a quantum particle. Every time the trigger is pulled, the spin of the particle is measured. If the particle spins clockwise, the gun fires, killing the physicist. If the particle spins anti-clockwise, the gun won’t fire – there’ll only be a click.

The physicist keeps running the experiment, but all he ever hears is a click – the gun never goes off. Because each time the trigger is pulled, the universe splits, creating two universes – one where the physicist dies and one where he lives. From the living physicist’s point of view, the gun just keeps clicking. But in all the other universes, there’s a dead body.

The implication is that, among the infinity of universes being created, we will all follow the particular branch that guarantees our immortality. That's not to say you haven't died though. We will all experience the deaths of our friends and family at some point, as they - at some point - diverge from our personal 'branch of immortality' and follow their own. That car accident where you can't understand how you weren't killed? You were in another universe, but not the one you're in now. In that other universe, your family grieved your passing, while in this one we carry on.

But before you begin celebrating your god-like quantum immortality, note that the theory has been criticized. Physicist Max Tegmark has explained that life and death situations are not always dependent on binary events like the quantum experiment. And it's difficult to understand how, as aging beings, we can overcome the ticking clock of time in slowly destroying our physical body and brain.

Unless maybe in your branching universe you discovered the secret to eternal youth...

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jupiter.enteract's picture
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21 January 2005
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Very well summarized, Greg. I've been reading up on Everett's work lately (as well as that of his rock-star son, Mark!) (his autobiography is a page-turner), and am increasingly blown away by what he came up with.

jupiter.enteract's picture
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For those who haven't seen it, this documentary about Mark Everett and his father, Hugh, is excellent, and it touches on some of these points:

http://vimeo.com/58603054

Greg's picture
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jupiter.enteract wrote:

For those who haven't seen it, this documentary about Mark Everett and his father, Hugh, is excellent, and it touches on some of these points:

http://vimeo.com/58603054

Thanks Ray - it's a great documentary. Posted about here on TDG a few years back:

http://dailygrail.com/Fresh-Science/2011...

Kind regards,
Greg
-------------------------------------------
You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

Salamandra's picture
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The eternal realist/contrarian in me has to point something out. Supposing this quantum immortality is valid (and I see no reason why it couldn't be) who says you are one of the lucky ones. In fact if you consider that there are infinite possible outcomes wouldn't we each be infinitely unlikely to be the lucky one even though such a one must exist?

AncientSkyMan's picture
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Salamandra, it's will to power. You make your own luck.

emlong's picture
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Why would universes have to "branch?" Isn't it more likely that they too would be in superpositions of each other?

jupiter.enteract's picture
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As I undertand it, there are a number of variations on the "many worlds" notion--a) universes branching off, as Everett suggests, b) eternally existing probabilities in infinite dimensions, of which we experience just one, c) multiple physical universes like our own existing side-by-side as a result of inflation, and still others. I don't claim to understand all this--I heard a talk by Max Tegmark once in which he laid some of these out, but I've since forgotten most of what he said--but if anyone else here can clarify these distinctions, I'd appreciate it.

parish pump's picture
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Very internesting theory all this multi-verse but it seems ultimately irrelevant at any level that i can measure. At most you get two choices in life you either say yes to a thing or no to a thing. You cannot have your cake and eat it. Sometimes you don't even get a choice. Some spoiler justs explodes a bomb near you. As someone once said when you stop believing in different things what is left is reality. What is out there is out there, it is only your relationship with it that changes.

jupiter.enteract's picture
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If the version of "many worlds" that posits infinite-probabilities-are-always-present happens to be true (vs. the simpler two-realities-branching-off version), that opens up reality a bit more in terms of our choices, and our ability to influence them.

I think....

Aquila ka Hecate's picture
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21 October 2011
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Surely the Quantum Suicide scenario only works if you assume that consciousness ends at death?

red pill junkie's picture
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Great point ;)

Also, not to start the week with a brooding mood, but... what if you really REALLY want to kill yourself?

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
_______________
@red_pill_junkie

emlong's picture
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Memory gets very amnesiac at death in one universe or rather the other universes don't remember stuff like that very well, ie, most of us do not remember our other incarnations very well.

red pill junkie's picture
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Maybe that's the real reason behind Alzheimer's! All the alternative 'yous' in those other universes start kicking the can, and the collective memories stored in your personal 'cloud drive' slowly begin to fade away ;)

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
_______________
@red_pill_junkie

emlong's picture
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So many ghosts are suicides that it makes you wonder if the manner of their death has prevented them from going universe hopping in the usual manner. They are "stuck."
An interesting study - what kind of a ghost do deceased Alzheimer's sufferers make? Do they regain their faculties in the afterlife?

Aquila ka Hecate's picture
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...but my Mom did take years to come through, unlike my Dad. She died with Alzheimer's, he didn't.
This could be construed as my own inability to re-member Mom without the disease. I just don't know.
And RPJ - great hypothesis about memory!

itisus's picture
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Driving down a two way country highway a car pulled out to pass a long line of traffic. Speeds were high, the sky was clear and the road was long and straight. I slowed just enough to allow the oncoming car to complete the pass. The car pulled back in at the last second only to reveal another car in my lane right behind it. Less than a second from a head on collision the next thing I was aware of was the metallic sound of small gravel pinking inside the fenders of my bike. I wondered. Then I was aware again. I was rolling slowly down the paved shoulder of the road with the clutch pulled in and my hand holding the throttle open a bit. The opposing traffic was long gone west down the road with no sign of mayhem.
So, either that big heavy cruiser is magically nimble and I am a far better rider than I think I am, even when I black out, or perhaps I died that day and there are many worlds with a law of conservation of consciousness and we all die in bed of old age slowly sublimating to the unconscious. Perhaps there is only one consciousness in all the many worlds, in two states, conscious and unconscious with infinite avatars and in this world this avatar doesn't play chicken with oncoming traffic.

ithinkiam's picture
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I read the article with great interest thinking about this theory I developed about a car accident I was in 20 years ago.I have thought for a good many years that perhaps I actually was killed that day and that I somehow ended up in a paralell universe and there in the article, the car accident. I felt Like I was being addressed personally. there it was, what i had considered possible all these years, written almost as if I had written it. A guy ran a red light, hit my car, I was ejected out the closed passenger window, 37 feet as I was told by the officer later.I landed in a busy street where the orange spray painted outline of my body was for a few years.I don't remember any of that. I have a vague memory of firemen loading me into an ambulance. I was told later that a nurse and then a doctor pulled up in traffic to help me.I was knocked unconcious and woke up 3 hours later on an operating table with a crowd of medical people surrounding the table. I had a skull fracture,a broken nose. no broken limbs and lost all the hearing in my right ear.To this day, I am not certain I survived in the reality I had previously inhabited.That was on a Friday morning. They made me leave the hospital the following Tuesday.I didn't know anything about this theory. Since I have already thought of it and possibly experienced it, I accept it as not only being possible but as being probable.

RicoYung's picture
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Wonderful! I also have had on 3 occasions this car accident death (not) scenario happen to me, where I felt after it almost happened
"I just died back there" but I'm still puttering down the road, the feeling was very strong. Makes me happy to know I am not the only one who has had that feeling. ;) Oh, and on 2 of those occasions there was no almost accident, I was out in the middle of no where on a country road on a sunny day.

"We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them." (Albert Einstein)

emlong's picture
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http://www.eliasforum.org/digests/blinki...

"TED: “Yesterday, Luanne and I were in another city. We spent the night, and when she came out of the shower, she did not recall where she was or why we were there or what we were going to do while we were there. We worked through that yesterday and returned to our home area, to Grady’s [Marj’s] home, and talked to C9 (2), who identified that Inez [Luane] had been exchanging places with another aspect of herself, and that aspect had not been communicating with her normal conscious self, and she was kind of at a loss as to where she was. Is this correct information that C9 has given us?

ELIAS: Now; this provides you with an example of the element of distortion, for I shall express to you, yes, in one respect the information is correct, but it also may be confusing to you, for it implies that one aspect of self holds no knowledge of what another aspect of self is creating, and this is not the case."

emlong's picture
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Time to once again insert "terminal lucidity" into the conversation. Mind "is" another dimension, and the infinitude of mind is "immortal."

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stafford-b...

"In the meantime, cases of terminal lucidity continue to occur, and there are lessons to be learned for all of us. One of Batthyany's respondents confessed how she used to consider her advanced Alzheimer's patients as "human vegetables." A single instance of TL changed her outlook completely: "Had you seen what I saw, you could understand that dementia can affect the soul but not destroy it. I only wish I had known this earlier.""