The idea that an external observer was required to ‘collapse the wavefunction’ of reality obviously didn’t sit well with physics, as it seemed to require a ‘big’ external observer to make the universe real. Physicists didn’t like that one bit, and eventually salvation came in the form of Hugh Everett III, a brilliant theoretical physicist (and father to E of the band Eels) whose ‘multiverse’ thesis had lain gathering dust for years…until it was rediscovered and embraced by the quantum community. It proposed that each quantum event precipitated a split – a new universe was created. Thus the ‘objective reality of wavefunction collapse is denied.’ And the script for Sliding Doors was born. And the need for an ‘external observer’ is removed.
This ‘Many Worlds Interpretation‘ is not without its problems though. One major theoretical obstacle is that it appears to make us eternal. At the point of our death a ‘quantum event’ occurs, and in one universe we die, while in a parallel one we continue to live. In this parallel universe where we are still alive, we may then again come to death, and once again there is a quantum event, and we continue to live in one universe and die in another. Thus, the MWI has major theological implications, and were it able to be proven true – rather than just mathematically water-tight as a theory – it would be a genuine deal-breaker for pretty much the whole of orthodox theology.
However, physicists are still undecided as to whether MWI is a good theory or not. What is clear is that the development of quantum theory and the new physics has led science into a very strange place, which requires some serious leaps of faith into very hard to believe areas: near-infinite parallel universe, constantly splitting apart and being created because of hard-to-pin-down quantum events.
They have then, perhaps, come full circle to stand with us theologians. As we both seek to understand this strange world, using all the faculties that we have, we end up in places of faith and doubt and apparent miracle. It is no good for the theologians to dismiss science as cold reason, nor for scientists to dismiss theology as untestable nonsense. We need to work and think together, to probe this strange world for its truths, while humbly accepting that we will never see the whole truth clearly.