When the new physics was discovered a hundred years ago, the physicists of the world were confronted with a terrible realisation. As stated by DeWitt, quoted on the home page, they were no longer able to define reality. Quantum theory defines exactly what reality is made of at the fundamental level, but it seems to make no sense. As the great physicist, bongo drummer, safe-cracking hobbyist and all-round genius Richard Feynman famously wrote:
Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, “But how can it be like that?” because you will get “down the drain,” into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that. (1965)
The meaning of what is possibly humanity’s greatest discovery has been impossible to divine.
The Relative World
The incomprehensible discovery Feynman despairs at is this. The quantum world changes state when it is observed. Which definitely makes no sense. How can just passively looking at a physical object make any difference to it? This is the famous ‘Measurement Problem‘. The breakthrough concept, presented in the latest interpretations of quantum theory, is a simple but radical explanation. The world we have discovered with quantum theory is a completely different type of world to the ordinary world we take for granted. But no one has been able to say exactly what this is made of either.
This is the personal world. It is known in physics as the ‘relative world’ because it is defined relative to the agent. In this type of world the reality is defined by the observations made, the experiences of the agent. So the measurement problem does not arise. It is obvious why the world changes when it is looked at – because a new observation is added to the definition of the world.
The relative world is not is not widely addressed, let alone adopted. The problem is the lack of ontology. There has been no concept with which to replace our sense of the real world. It can hardly be just experience and nothing more. The new concept shows this is the effect of a different type of world. As described here, the relative world is the automatic result of a superposition of many ordinary worlds. That is the new ontology. And that is “how it can be like that”. That automatically changes on observation. This is the essence of the avant garde science.
As illustrated in Schrödinger’s cat, the solution of the measurement problem is inherent in this type of world. And this explanation has an extraordinary bonus. The whole fraught area of probability is naturally explained in the ontology of the relative world.
Quantum theory seems crazy is because it describes the way things operate at both the different levels of ‘logical type‘. That is why it comes to be like that.
The principle of logical type was discovered by the polymath Bertrand Russell (1908). Although the principle is quite simple it is of vital significance in analysing systems. It states that a class is of a logical type higher than its members. An element of the class is a ‘primitive’ component of the system. It is of ‘first logical type’. The class itself is of ‘second logical type’.
The crucial point is that the class will have different properties, properties that an element of the class cannot have. A marble cannot change colour, but a jarful of marbles can. As Russell made clear, failure to make this distinction of types inevitably leads to nonsense results and paradox.
Just as a population is a completely different type of thing to an individual person, the relative world is a completely different type of thing to an ordinary world. The relative world is a ‘class-of-worlds-as-a-world’, and thus it is an entity of the second, ‘higher’, logical type. This is the ontology of the personal world. It exists at a different level of logical type.
The paradoxical dynamics is the operation of a different type of world, a class-of-worlds-as-a-world. It is the assumption of an ordinary world that has given rise to the great paradox. It is a fundamental ‘category error‘, a concept addressed in detail in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The great paradox is that the world changes on observation. The solution is that what changes is the class-of-worlds-as-a-world.
The great paradoxes of quantum theory are resolved by the personal world. But there is another major conceptual revolution that has also lain incomplete. Relativity is universally accepted as the correct description of the universe, but here there are also great paradoxes. There is no passage of time. And there is no ‘Now’, the present moment, which was of great concern to Einstein who coined the term.
The situation follows automatically from the physics. As described in The Block Universe, the universe is a static, four-dimensional, space-time continuum. There can be no passage of time, and there can be no ‘Now’, meaning the present moment.
The remarkable physicist Hermann Weyl solved both these paradoxes at a stroke back in 1949. His solution is simple, even obvious:
The objective world simply is, it does not happen. Only to the gaze of my consciousness, crawling up the life-line of my body, does the world fleetingly come to life. (1949, 116)
In other words, the passage of time exists only subjectively, only in the experience of consciousness. And this explains the Now perfectly. The Now is simply where the consciousness is along the static life-line of the body.
This is so at odds with the current worldview it is generally ignored completely. But this is the only known explanation. And it works perfectly, as illustrated in The Now.
Weyl’s explanation makes perfect sense. But then we are led to the inevitable conclusion that consciousness is a phenomenon of a very special nature. In order to pass through the static space-time, it must necessarily be a property of the universe itself. It can only be ‘universe consciousness’. This is the insurmountable problem with respect to physics. It is literally metaphysical. So it cannot be part of physics, the science of the physical. But universe consciousness is the only explanation that works.
Again the category error here is taking physicalism for granted. Although the experiencing consciousness is not a physical phenomenon, it gives rise, subjectively, to the effect of the passage of time in physical reality. But such a concept is routinely rejected because it cannot fit into the science of physics.
Objectively there is no such thing. But it nonetheless explains the effective operation of the dynamics of physics, which are otherwise static. The unpalatable discovery is that these dynamics operate only in experience.
As described in Consciousness, logical type enables us to make sense of this. As described on that page, the experiencing consciousness is of a further, third, logical type. It is to the moments along the worldline as the movie projector is to the frames of the movie.
The Movie of Life
This explains the consciousness ‘in here’. The experiencing consciousness is the ‘I’ that experiences being ‘me’. How can there be this difference in identity? Because the experincing consciouness is the universal spirit, the iterator of the movie of life.
The movement of the viewpoint of consciousness is what brings the two dynamics of quantum physics to life. This defines two incompatible dynamics, ‘linear’ and ‘collapse’. This incompatibilty is the essence of the measurememt problem. The resolution is that they define the operation of the two different types of world. The linear dynamics is the time evolution of the ordinary world. The collapse dynamics is the time evolution of the relative world.
The two dynamics cycle as defined in the von Neumann-Dirac formulation in the textbooks. Time passes in the linear, quasi-classical world. On observation, there is effective change of the relative world of the agent.
As described in The Movie of Life, this cycle is the effect of the Now of consciousness moving through both types of world. This lays out exactly how the world actually works, with graphical illustration.
The key point for us is that it makes clear that the holographic universe in which one lives is ‘participatory’ as described by the eminent theoretical physicist John Wheeler. We have been pilots asleep at the wheel.
We are living through an extraordianry scientific revolution. The term was coined with a specific meaning by the influential philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn. His key concept is that major scientific discoveries about how the world works are always greatly resisted. The latest upheaval is no exception. The radical solution to the great paradoxes has mostly been studiously ignored.
This is nothing new. Max Planck was the pioneering physicist who discovered the quantum and outlined quantum theory, extraordinary breakthroughs. He received the Nobel prize in 1918. And he became deeply frustrated and increasingly infuriated by the endless non-acceptance of his results. As he described:
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. (1949)
This is now known as Planck’s principle.
The current situation is very similar. Everett’s famous many-worlds theory resolved the great paradox of the ‘measurement problem’ half a century ago, but the meaning is still not accepted. It means the physical reality of the conscious subject is defined by experience. And this means personal worlds. But this is simply too alien to the current worldview. Although the purely physical explanation of reality is acknowledged to be incomplete, this new idea has proven an impossible step for an entire century. But now that we have the ontology of this type of world we can hopefully move on. The great new hope for our culture and our race lies in completing the great Scientific Revolution of our time.
A Marvellous Vision
We have discovered that the the universe is even more extraordinary and mysterious than we could have imagined. We live in personal parallel worlds, holographic universes. And we ourselves are in very different relationships to our worlds. We are the directors of our worlds. We are these worlds.
Perhaps this new worldview can fulfil Wheeler’s great vision. Philosopher of science Dirk Meijer closes his article on him with his wonderful optimistic insight:
To know that all of us have a role to play in the universe, should matter to each and every one of us and motivate us to take our personal responsibility. When we become real participants, we may truly make our world, and the universe as a whole, a better place for ourselves and all that is living. Ultimately we may even understand our own position in this grand design, as Wheeler formulated splendidly:
“Someday we’ll understand the whole thing as one single marvelous vision that will seem so overwhelmingly simple and beautiful that we may say to each other: ‘Oh, how could we have been so stupid for so long? How could it have been otherwise!” Wheeler (2002). (2015, 20)
Once we understand the relative world and its ontology it truly is overwhelmingly simple. The ordinary world is the ordinary world. The world one lives in is a holographic universe, a class-of-worlds-as-a-world. We have been stupid only in that we have been unable to even contemplate such a radically subjective solution.
If we can now adopt all this then we have the means to transform our human condition. We discover how to play the game of life, and our race moves on to become tremendously successful. The more we engage with it and expect it the more likely we are to experience it.