The Personal World


The personal world is by no means a new idea. But now there is experimental evidence that supports it. In this section of the site we explore how the personal world comes to exist, the basics of the ontology. The extraordinary way one is connected with all of one’s world is also described. The evidence is presented in the final page, The Holographic Universe.

The Relative World

It is fundamental to quantum theory that there are two competing descriptions of the real physical world. Physicist Lev Vaidman, a specialist in the foundations of quantum mechanics, puts clear definitions to the two types. The first is the ordinary world, as we generally understand it:

A world is the totality of macroscopic objects: stars, cities, people, grains of sand, etc. in a definite classically described state. (2008)

In other words, ordinary real stuff. This is the concept of the world we are all used to. The other type of world is the personal world, which he calls the ‘relative world’:

“In this world, all objects which the sentient being perceives have definite states, but objects that are not under her observation might be in a superposition of different (classical) states. (2008)

In other words, objects not observed are ‘indeterminate’, unreal. It is called the relative world because the world is defined relative to the individual.

It is well established in modern physics that certain facts are relative to the individual. This is the central principle in special relativity, where it applies to position and velocity. But as described in this article in the Guardian by Carlo Rovelli, it seems that all facts are relative. He is the author of Relational Quantum Mechanics, described in detail here at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Wigner’s Friend

Eugene Wigner was a modest genius who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963. His famous thought experiment became known as the Wigner’s Friend Paradox. Wigner’s friend carries out a quantum experiment, and observes the result. Quantum theory tells us that for Wigner, who is elsewhere, the outcome is not just unknown but physically indeterminate. This has now been confirmed. As physicist Alexander Poltorac writes, Massimiliano Proietti and his colleagues tested the Wigner’s Friend Paradox:

They proved that two contradictory realities could coexist. Eugene Wigner was right; the quantum reality is observer-dependent. (2019)

Observer-dependent means the world is a relative world. Coexisting contradictory realities means personal worlds.

But even though the Wigner’s Friend Paradox is simply the direct result of the fundamentals of quantum theory, the whole idea has been given very little attention. The reason, of course, is that it clashes directly with the current scientific worldview, the generally accepted understanding of the world. The key problem is that there is no ontology, no basic explanation of how this could be. This is the new concept presented here.

The Superworld

The resolution arises in the context of Hugh Everett’s famous Many Worlds interpretation of quantum theory. He demonstrates that the great paradox of quantum theory, the ‘measurement problem’, is resolved if all possible worlds exist. This is increasingly accepted.

One of the direct implications of the many worlds is that there are a great many copies of a specific individual in the many worlds, as described by cosmologist Max Tegmark in his paper Parallel Universes (2003). The new idea is very simple. The many worlds all exist in the same place at the same time, superposed. As we shall see, this means that there is only one of this individual, who is present in all those worlds all at once. In this case, from the subjective perspective of this individual, the world is the superposed sum of all of them. This automatically has the properties of a relative world. This is the ontology of the personal world.

Superposition

The superposition principle is fundamental to all physics. A common example is the way waves superimpose, and the result is the sum of the different waves. This image on the Wikipedia page illustrates the idea very nicely.

Waves on water are superposed
Waves on water are superposed

The principle simply means that when systems are superposed, the resulting system operates like the sum of the whole.

This applies even to solid physical systems. This is because at the quantum level, all physical reality is defined by a wave of probability, the ‘wave function’. So when physical states are superposed, it works just like slides on a projector. This is illustrated with the images of the butterfly below. The last image is the superposed sum of all the possible wing positions. In this superposition, only the body of the butterfly is the same in all the images, so only the body is solid and definite. The wings are the superposed sum of all the possible variations, so the image of the wings is indefinite.

Superposition of different wing positions
Superposition of different wing positions

The same principle applies to the superposition of worlds. All the objects that the individual perceives are the same in all the worlds. So when these worlds are superposed, all these objects are determinate. But for everything that has not been observed the opposite is true. Every possible variation of how things could be is included in the superposition. So the net result is that all that is indeterminate. It is literally the superposition of different (classical) states, as Vaidman describes. This is the ontology of the relative world.

It is not quite as simple as that which is why this idea has not surfaced before. The individual, the sentient being, is not the same thing as the physical body. And this is why this whole concept has been largely invisible in physics. The full explanation of this is given in the next section, The World Hologram.