MadSci Network: Physics

Re: quantum measurement problem follow up

Date: Fri Mar 18 11:58:13 2005
Posted By: Ken Wharton, Physics Professor
Area of science: Physics
ID: 1110477440.Ph

While technically there can be no experiments to prove that a consciousness isn't required to collapse a wavefunction, taking the view that a consciousness is necessary takes quite a ridiculous amount of mental contortions.

Computers look at quantum effects all the time... Most of the data from laser experiments are now taken by computer. You can also "observe" quantum interference effects with simple photographic film. The question is, when does the collapse happen? Does it happen when the data is first recorded, or does it happen when someone looks at the computer or the film?

Almost everyone believes the former. To belive the latter, you would have to imagine that the computer itself is in a quantum superposition of all the possible measurments it might make, and that computer doesn't "collapse" into one state until someone looks at the data. If the computer wrote the data onto a CD without conscious intervention, such a view would require that the quantum superposition of all possible CD grooves would be maintained until someone looked at the CD!

As silly as this all sounds, it's probably impossible to prove that this isn't true, because us humans can't check to see whether or not the CD is in a superposition of two states without looking at it to check -- at which point both philosophies agree on the outcome. But if you're going to go as far as to think a consciousness is required, what's to stop you from going so far as to think that your particular consciousness is required? After all, you don't know that these very words that you're reading weren't in a quantum superposition of two possibilities up until the moment that you looked at them, right?

And that way lies madness. :-)

Current Queue | Current Queue for Physics | Physics archives

Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Physics.

MadSci Home | Information | Search | Random Knowledge Generator | MadSci Archives | Mad Library | MAD Labs | MAD FAQs | Ask a ? | Join Us! | Help Support MadSci

MadSci Network,
© 1995-2005. All rights reserved.