Is there any objective reality at all?

“As measurements improve further, physicists will be left with two possible interpretations of the wavefunction: either the wavefunction is completely real, or nothing is.”

To my mind the fundamental objection to a Quantum reality, from a philosophical perspective, is that it seems to raise the question of if there’s any reality that exists outside of the experience of the observer. In other words, the Universe is only realistic if there’s someone looking.

The classic thought experiment of Schrödinger’s Cat is the best known illustration of this conundrum. A cat in a closed box and a randomly timed explosive device is, as long as the box is closed, both dead and alive at the same time. It’s only when the box is opened that we “pin” the cat into one state or another.

Most often the weird idea is explained away from having any physical reality by insisting that the whole paradox stems from our incomplete knowledge of the system. In other words, the cat is alive or is dead in the box, but because we can’t see into the box, we’re just writing a mathematical expression that contains our lack of knowledge. There is, goes the argument, an objective reality that exists apart from the observer, even if we can’t perceive it.

But that’s not true according to a new analysis by a team of Australian physicists who have done a detailed analysis of the situation.

They looked closely at the mathematical description of the cat’s state in the box, it’s “wavefunction” and how that function describes reality. The weirdness of Quantum Mechanics is essentially contained in the question of how to interpret and understand how wavefunctions describe reality.

This is what they found:

“‘Our results suggest that, if there is objective reality, the wavefunction corresponds to this reality.’

In other words, Schrödinger’s cat really is in a state of being both alive and dead.

As measurements improve further, physicists will be left with two possible interpretations of the wavefunction: either the wavefunction is completely real, or nothing is.”

More here.

I don’t know which is more interesting. The superposition of life and death, or the denial that there is any objective reality. Both would have profound implications in theology. Both would be a pretty big challenge to classical formulations of the faith, at least as they are typically taught.

(Though those of us who are fans of Karl Barth, who seems to me to be a fan of Meister Eckhart, might see that his fundamental insight about the unknowable reality of God, other than what God wills to reveal to us, could be profoundly useful.)

Author: Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

2 thoughts on “Is there any objective reality at all?”

  1. The bigger question here is why would anyone be so sadistic as to feel the need to experiment on any living-being like that (when in fact it could have been conducted/concluded “virtually” with NO harm done) instead, completely ignoring the traumatic-effects on a precious, innocent creature who’s desire to live in peace is just as great as our own…?! Shameful!

    1. …& even if the scenario was only done “virtually” instead of “actually” why did it have to be a defenseless-creature that was chosen to do harm to: why not choose his own self as an example of being experimented on instead (it’s the “principle” of the thing)…?!

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