Quantum Theory of Immortality - research proposal

From: Higgo James <james.higgo.domain.name.hidden>
Date: Mon, 16 Nov 1998 09:48:03 -0000

Give me your feedback, Guys!

        November 1998

                Does the 'many-worlds' interpretation of quantum mechanics
imply immortality?

                James Higgo
                18 Harcourt Terrace
                London SW10 9JR
                e-mail james.higgo.domain.name.hidden

        The Everett 'Many Worlds Interpretation' of quantum physics
postulates that that all systems evolve according to the Schrödinger
equation, whereas the more conventional Copenhagen Interpretation says that
this is true until the moment of observation, at which point the equation
'collapses'. The proposed paper examines some philosophical questions
arising from the MWI interpretation. In particular, it synthesises the
Tegmark (1997) 'quantum suicide' experiment with the Stapp (1998) analysis
of the quantum effects on calcium ions in neural synapses, to develop a
'Quantum Theory of Immortality' (QTI).
The 'Many-Worlds' Interpretation of Quantum Physics

First, a disclaimer for those new to the subject: Niels Bohr, the founder of
modern quantum theory said, "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has
not understood it". And he didn't understand the Many-Worlds Interpretation
(MWI). The quantum mechanics (QM) presented here is quite mainstream, even
though it still seems crazy to physicists, who have no choice but to accept
it. The major assumption I have made is to adopt Everett's (1957) MWI,
which is just one of half a dozen competing interpretations of QM. According
to various polls, MWI and the original 1927 'Copenhagen Interpretation' now
have a similar share of the votes among physicists, but many of the 'big
names' (Hawking, Feynman, Deutsch, Weinberg) are said to () have subscribed
to the MWI.

The weirdness of quantum physics can be seen in the famous parallel-slit
experiment. This shows that individual photons seem to split into two
particles which can nevertheless interfere with each other as if they were
waves. The 'Copenhagen Interpretation' of the phenomena and the equations
which describe them, agreed at the 1927 Solvay conference, essentially says
that the 'wave packet' somehow associated with a particle 'collapses' when
it is observed - this necessitates a relationship between the observer's
consciousness and the particle. The MWI, on the other hand, holds that the
equations used to predict quantum mechanical events continue to hold after
observation - it is just that all things happen simultaneously, but due to
'decoherence' we do not actually see, for example, a radioactive source both
decay and not decay. For an explanation of how this implies parallel
universes, see Vaidman (1996).

There is one way of proving that the MWI is true and the Copenhagen and
other interpretations are wrong. Unfortunately, the experimenter can only
prove it to himself, and never persuade anyone else of its validity.

The Tegmark 'Quantum Suicide' experiment

Tegmark (1997) describes the 'Quantum Suicide Experiment' as follows (I have
simplified the text and removed the mathematical proofs):

        The apparatus is a "quantum gun" which each time its trigger is
pulled measures the z-spin of a particle [particles can be spin up or spin
down, seemingly at random]. It is connected to a machine gun that fires a
single bullet if the result is "down" and merely makes an audible click if
the result is "up".... The experimenter first places a sand bag in front of
the gun and tells her assistant to pull the trigger ten times. All [QM
interpretations] predict that she will hear a seemingly random sequence of
shots and duds such as
"bang-click-bang-bang-bang-click-click-bang-click-click". She now instructs
her assistant to pull the trigger ten more times and places her head in
front of the barrel. This time the "shut-up-and calculate" [non-MWI
interpretations of QM] have no meaning for an observer in the dead state...
and the [interpretations] will differ in their predictions. In
interpretations where there is an explicit non-unitary collapse, she will be
either dead or alive after the first trigger event, so she should expect to
perceive perhaps a click or two (if she is moderately lucky), then "game
over", nothing at all. In the MWI, on the other hand, the ... prediction is
that [the experimenter] will hear "click" with 100% certainty. When her
assistant has completed this unenviable assignment, she will have heard ten
clicks, and concluded that the collapse interpretations of quantum mechanics
[all but the MWI] are ruled out to a confidence level of 1-0.5n ~ 99.9%. If
she wants to rule them out "ten sigma", she need merely increase n by
continuing the experiment a while longer. Occasionally, to verify that the
apparatus is working, she can move her head away from the gun and suddenly
hear it going off intermittently. Note, however, that [almost all
instances] will have her assistant perceiving that he has killed his boss.

What this means is that, in most universes, there is one less experimenter,
but the experimenter herself does not experience death.

The QTI is formed by reformulating the 'Quantum Suicide' experiment so that
the movement of a calcium ion in a brain is used as a proxy for the
spin-watching 'quantum gun', following the work of Stapp.

Stapp's work on 'Quantum Theories of the Mind'

Stapp does not accept the MWI, but prefers the Copenhagen Interpretation for
reasons - essentially matter of philosophical preference - given in Stapp
(April, 1996) and (July 21, 1998). This does not affect the useful analysis
he puts forward concerning the quantum effects inside synapses.

Stapp shows that quantum effects are indeed important in the way the brain
operates. In fact, they must have a dramatic effect on the function if the
brain - perhaps allowing it to function as a 'quantum computer' and take
advantage of search algorithms, perhaps similar to that proposed by Grover

Stapp's (April, 1996) evidence that quantum effects must be present in the
brain is as follows:

        a) A calcium ion entering a bouton through a microchannel of
diameter x must, by Heisenberg's indeterminacy principle, have a momentum
spread of hbar/x, and hence a velocity spread of (hbar/x)/m, and hence a
spatial spread oin time t, if the particle were freely moving, of
t(hbar/x)/m. Taking t to be 200 microseconds, the typical time for the ion
to diffuse from the microchannel opening to a triggering site for the
release of a vesicle of neurotransmitter, and taking x to be one nanometer,
and including a factor of 10-5 for diffusion slowing, one finds the diameter
of the wave function to be about 40 times 10-8 centimeters, which is
comparable to the size of the calcium ion itself.

In other words, it is quite feasible that in some universes a
neurotransmitter will activate its target, whereas in others it will not,
simply due to the 'Heisenberg uncertainty principle'.

This is important when trying to understand how the brain can act as a
'quantum computer', and very interesting when we take these ideas in
conjunction with Tegmark's experiment.

Integrating Tegmark and Stapp

Consider a calcium ion which has a 50% probability, according to
Schrödinger's equations, of activating its target receptor. Imagine that
that receptor will make the difference between two possible states of mind:
one corresponding with a motorcyclist's decision to overtake a car on a
dangerous road, and the other corresponding with the opposite decision.
Assume that the overtaking manoeuvre would be fatal.

The motorcyclist is the experimenter in Tegmark's quantum suicide. According
to the MWI prediction, the cyclist will perceive that he has made the
decision corresponding to the staying-alive outcome with 100% certainty. Of
course, onlookers in 50% of universes will see a messy accident.

The Quantum Theory of Immortality developed here avers that all
life-or-death decisions correspond with the same quantum mechanical
equations. In all life-or-death decisions, the 'experimenter' finds that he
has chosen life.

Further implications

Deutsch (1997) argues that it follows from MWI that anything possible exists
- somewhere in the 'multiverse'. If this is true, we can say that there are
many universes (but a very tiny proportion of the multiverse) where you,
dear reader, are a billion years old.

Could it follow that you, the experimenter's consciousness, will inevitably
'end up' in one of those universes? If so, we are immortal - from our own
point of view.

Problems with Quantum Theory of Immortality

The QTI rests on some contentious premises: Deutsch's development of the
Everett 'many-worlds' hypothesis; the Tegmark 'quantum suicide' experiment,
Stapp's work on quantum effects on the brain and, most tentatively, the idea
that the specific case of the 'quantum gun' can be generalised into any
life-or-death scenario.


1. Deutsch, David, The Fabric of Reality, (Penguin Books, 1997)
2. DeWitt, B. S. and N. Graham, eds., The Many Worlds Interpretation of
Quantum Mechanics, (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1973).
3. Grover, L. K, 'Quantum mechanics helps in searching for a needle in
a haystack', Phys. Rev. Lett 79, 325-328 (1997)
4. Stapp, Henry P, Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics
(Springer-Verlag, Berlin, New York, 1993)
5. Stapp, Henry P., On Quantum Theories of the Mind, (Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory, May 29, 1997)
6. Stapp, Henry P., Quantum Ontology and Mind-Matter Synthesis
(Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, July 21 1998)
7. Stapp, Henry P., Science of Consciousness and the Hard Problem
(Proceedings of the Conference Toward a Science of Consciousness, University
of Arizona, April 8-13,1996)
8. Steane, Andrew, Quantum Computing (unpublished, July 1997)
Tegmark, Max, 'The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: Many Worlds or Many
Worlds', preprint September 15, 1997
Received on Mon Nov 16 1998 - 01:52:10 PST

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