Re: Shadows and smeared selves

From: Jeanne Houston <>
Date: Sat, 12 Jun 2004 14:43:11 -0400

I am a quantum physics enthusiast, but merely an amateur who finds the
discussion threads of this group to be quite interesting. I have never
before commented because, to be honest, I am rather lost in regard to the
discussion of first person and third person. I am trying to figure out
exactly what everyone is talking about, but it would be helpful if someone
would point me to some source material on which these discussions are based.
I would like to say however, that I found the idea of shadows and smeared
selves to be a fascinating concept to think about; a delightful mental
exercise. I will read with interest the comments that are bound to come
from those who are the experts in this group.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Giu1i0 Pri5c0" <>
To: <>; <>
Sent: Saturday, June 12, 2004 11:48 AM
Subject: Shadows and smeared selves

> In this note I try to outline my current thoughts on quantum physics,
> for your comments. I am sending this to a few mailing lists with
> overlapping memberships, so you may have received this twice or more.
> I apologise if this is the case and also for the very imprecise
> language and gross simplifications and analogies that I am using to
> make my point. While this is really a sketch of a sketch, I wish to
> discuss the core idea with people who understands these things better
> than I do, so please let me have your comments (even "go back to your
> first year textbook and stop wasting my time").
> I think that, while Everett's Relative State formulation of quantum
> mechanics makes a lot of sense, its popular interpretation as "Many
> Worlds"(MWI) should be taken only as a simple pictorial device useful
> for a first understanding of the theory.
> As a more accurate interpretation, I propose thinking of perceived
> realities as shadows of a more complex reality. I suspect this is what
> some authors, perhaps including Everett himself, were trying to say,
> and that others may have said it explicitly (perhaps Lockwood), so I
> would appreciate any pointer to relevant works.
> I will use poor Schroedinger's cat as an example. Following Everett,
> the cat is in a superposition of [cat dead] and [cat alive] states
> before an observer opens the box and looks inside, and stays so after
> (there is no collapse). After opening the box and looking inside, the
> observer is in a superposition of [observer who remembers having seen
> the cat dead] and [observer who remembers having seen the cat alive].
> The MWI says that after the act of observation (measurement) the
> universe is split in two branches where the first has [cat dead] and
> [observer who remembers having seen the cat dead], and the second has
> [cat alive] and [observer who remembers having seen the cat alive].
> The difficulty that I have is: on the one hand we are saying that
> fundamental reality contains no such things as cats dead or alive, but
> on the other hand we are describing the world(s) with cats dead and
> cats alive.
> To clarify the first part of the statement: as we can choose any two
> directions to form a basis to use for the description of a particle's
> spin, all
> choices generating equally valid descriptions, besides [cat dead] and
> [cat alive] we should be free to use another basis to describe the
> cat. While any pair of independent linear superpositions of [cat dead]
> and [cat alive] will do, of course I have no idea of what such a
> superposition would "look like".
> Since I cannot remember having ever seen one, I do not know what a
> superposition of [cat dead] and [cat alive] would look like, so
> probably I would not recognise one if I saw it. Perhaps this is the
> reason why I cannot remember having ever seen one.
> In other words, perhaps since reality is One Big World too complex for
> our minds to process efficiently, we use a simplified representation
> as Many (small) Worlds for our processing. This is not so surprising
> when we remember that our best computer programs use data compression
> and segmentation techniques, throwing most of the information away, to
> perform complex tasks such as face recognition efficiently. Perhaps
> reducing a complex reality to parallel worlds is a successful trick
> that sentient beings have developed to process reality more
> efficiently.
> I believe thinking of shadows may be a better mental device than
> thinking of parallel worlds. Using this model the realities that I,
> and my doubles in other branches of the MWI model, perceive can be
> thought of as shadows of a more complex reality. Observing a shadow
> permits saying certain things about its source, like size and overall
> shape, but not other things like colour and smell. The shadow does not
> contain such information. Also, much of what we can say about shadows
> has more to do with illumination and the surface where the shadow is
> cast than with the actual source.
> Thinking of multiple worlds as shadows brings us back to Plato's cave,
> but there are two important differences: First, each of us observes
> shadows of the *real* world in a very large number of caves in
> parallel. Second, we are shadows ourselves, our mental computational
> processes being shadows of other, possibly much more complex,
> computational processes.
> In my view of the world, saying "my mental computational processes" is
> just another way to say "I". So what am I a shadow of? I don't know,
> but perhaps by observing the shadow I can develop some plausible
> assumptions on the source.
> I know that I am a conscious being: though I am not able to put my
> finger precisely on what consciousness *is*, I know that it is a
> property that I posses. I also think that consciousness must have
> something to do with complexity: if a computational process is complex
> enough, it may become a conscious process.
> So, since it seems reasonable to think that a source must have a
> degree of complexity not lower than its shadow, we should consider the
> possibility that we are shadows cast by conscious sources.
> Following Greg Egan who outlined something similar in his novel
> "Quarantine", we can use the term "smeared self" to indicate such a
> source. Your smeared self is simultaneosly conscious of a very large
> number of Everett branches, and you, who can only perceive one, are
> the shadow that your smeared self is casting on this specific branch.
> The mental activity of your smeared self may well be much more complex
> than yours, and perhaps the interaction between I who wrote this very
> speculative and imprecise note, and you who are reading it, is the
> shadow of a much more complex interaction between our smeared selves.
Received on Sun Jun 13 2004 - 00:36:52 PDT

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