Theology and the New Physics [4] – Reality is a Collapsed Wavefunction

New Physics [1] New Phyiscs [2]New Physics [3]

wavefunctionIn the previous post I extended the argument that it is impossible for a person in a n-dimensional universe to observe with any proper perspective an (n+k)-dimensional universe, to propose that the reverse is also true: an observer in a higher dimensional space can never fully appreciate what life is like in a lower dimensional universe without actually entering it themselves. Theologically put: the incarnation was necessary, because without it God could never fully empathise with the human condition. As Zizek puts it: ‘Christ had to emerge to reveal God not only to humanity, but to God himself.’

I finished by asking the question how that could happen: how could the divine possibly become incarnate? It is a question that has beaten some of the greatest minds, so I don’t hope to offer any profound answer. But I feel that physics may have something to tell us, at least metaphorically.

The history of quantum theory shows it proceeding from the cooly rational of classical physics into the mysterious world of equations. There were to be no more pictures of atoms. There was nothing to see, unless we chose to see it. To put it as simply as I can understand it, the particles that make up matter are not circling like planets, or embedded in something like a plum pudding. They exist as a ‘wavefunction’ – a matrix of all possible possibilities which can then ‘collapse’ into a particular state. This wavefunction collapse occurs when a ‘quantum event’ happens: like an external observer taking a look. Reality, some would go as far as putting it, is no more than a collapsed wavefunction.

What is interesting about this theory is that, given the extent to which we believe our universe to be ‘real’, it requires an external observer to collapse its wavefunction. Could it be that God is this external observer? If so, the poetic idea of God as sustainer of the world takes on a new form: for the universe to be real at all requires a presense to be observing it, to be looking over it.

Physics, as you can imagine, did not like this idea at all, though it took a while for salvation to be found. The solution, however, was perhaps even more strange than the idea it was meant to replace. And we’ll finish this series by looking at that in the next post.


4 responses to “Theology and the New Physics [4] – Reality is a Collapsed Wavefunction”

  1. Based on our understanding of a wavefunction collapse, do multiple observers experience the same event? Is it possible for one observer to observe, and for other non-observers to experience a related effect, without actually observing the event itself?

    I wonder this because it has implications for an understanding of God as observer/creator. If, in fact, one external observer is sufficient to “create” a large-scale reality, I’d agree it provides remarkable evidence of God as “creator and sustainer” on levels we’d never before imagined. However, could human reality instead prove to be a collection of individually observed micro-events? If so, we would find ourselves in a hopelessly isolated position, confined to our own observations and entirely excluded from those of others. Now there’s a nightmare I hope science never asks me to stare down!

  2. That’s a very good question, and becomes a philosophical one too: to what extent is the reality that we experience the same as the reality that other co-observers experience alongside us? Or are we experiencing a subjective form of reality, while God as super-observer is experiencing something more objective? In this sense, God as all-seeing is intimate connected with God as sustainer/originator, and it is the width and scope of that vision that leads to the full objectivity.

    This, I think is the trouble with the classic post-modern position: each individual observer collapses their own reality, and this, as you say, is a lonely and isolating place. One thought-experiment that comes into play here is that of Quantum Suicide and the idea of Quantum Immortality, but I want to deal with that in the next post, as it requires us to think about the Many Worlds Interpretation too.

  3. Willard Quine once said that no two people can see the same object from the same point of view because as they change places the objct ages.

    The philosophical idea that things are real because God observes them is quite an old one and does no require an appeal to quantum theory.

    I find any discussion of quantum theory as if it told us something about the real world less than enlightening. First of all it is still a contingent theory. Secondly such things as “collapsed waveforms” are descriptions of how the mathematics is interpreted within the model. It’s a bit like using geometry in the context of building a house. Talking about points having no size, lines having no width and planes having no thickness is all very Euclid, but it has no useful meaning in the particular context.

    In the end all theories of how the world works are phenomenological. After all, string theorists don’t expect us to think that particles really are little bits of string.

  4. I see my comment on #5 was premature. You already dealt with it here.