But, there is a branch of physics that looks at the question of whether any thing or event can exist without an observer. Remove the observer, what sound or smell continues to exist. Using a light source and an arrangement of mirrors to provide a number of possible photon routes, the physicists were able to show that the paths the photons took were not fixed until the physicists made their measurements, even though those measurements were made after the photons had already left the light source and begun their circuit through the course of mirrors. In that case the striped pattern doesn't appear on the film. I only have a limited amount of time left, so I'll concentrate on one question: How come existence?'". With that observation, an entire consistent sequence of events— the particle jettisoned from the uranium, the release of the poison gas, the cat's death— at once becomes real, giving the appearance of something that has taken weeks to transpire. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not interacting with it.” Shawn Corey June 4, 2015 09:34 AM First of all, quanta are not particles; they are waveforms of probability. The universe doesn't exist if we stop looking at it. Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news. This is according a famous theory in quantum mechanics which argues that a particle's past behaviour changes based on what we see. "The universe and the observer exist as a pair," Linde says. Yes, if I have a thought it exists - even if I never tell anyone about it. By carefully arranging mirrors, they could make photons arriving from the routes around both galaxies strike a piece of photographic film simultaneously. To suggest that time cannot exist without matter or energy is not a particularly meaningful statement, GG, albeit a bloody obvious one. Instead, a pattern of alternating light and dark stripes appears. "Why is a trickier thing." This is precisely what happens when a quantum system interacts with a classical system; i.e., when we “measure” something. More questions: Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. Here's the odd part. One of the frogs understood there was no hope, and he stopped beating the sour cream with his legs. While this misty genesis unfolds, the island's most eminent residentdiscusses notions that still perplex him after seven decades in physics, including his gut feeling that the very universe may be constantly emerging from a haze of possibility, that we inhabit a cosmos made real in part by our own observations. Wheeler points to the example of Charles Darwin in the 19th century and how he provided a simple explanation — evolution through natural selection — for what seemed an utterly intractable problem: how to explain the origin and diversity of life on Earth. When the electron finally arrives at the screen, the screen (a classical object) measures the electron’s position: the electron is now in a “position eigenstate”. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition. Something cannot be of different colors, smells or sounds at the same time. "You can say that the universe is there only when there is an observer who can say, Yes, I see the universe there. "We don't expect dogs or ants to be able to figure out everything about the universe. If you want to try to claim that God existed prior to the creation of the universe and therefore there has always been an observer then your question answers itself. And that may indeed be the case. Want it all? Does an odour continue to exist the way one observer smells it or the way another smells it? John Wheeler, scientist and dreamer, colleague of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, mentor to many of today's leading physicists, and the man who chose the name "black hole" to describe the unimaginably dense, light-trapping objects now thought to be common throughout the universe, turned 90 last July. He drowned in sour cream. Put a cat in a closed box, along with a vial of poison gas, a piece of uranium, and a Geiger counter hooked up to a hammer suspended above the gas vial. The Universe is not Observer-Dependent And this is the final part we have arrived at concerning my view on consciousness and possibilities in the realm of physics concerning it. Now it is true that there is no such thing as a truly classical object: that even people, cats, cannonballs or planets are made of a large number of quantum particles. "I'm happy that some people who previously thought this question — How come existence? But if the physicists remove the detectors, each photon seems to travel both routes simultaneously like a tiny wave, producing the striped pattern. Let me explain this through a common thought experiment: the infamous two-slit experiment. Is the Multiverse Theory Science Fiction or Science Fact? Scientists say nothing definate ever happens outside of our observation and that without an observer only random possibilities exist. The correct statement is that a quantum system usually exists in a state that is not at all like the states of the classical world. This in turn means that, without the observer, it does not even make sense to talk in terms of time and space. "I think asking this question — How come existence? It's necessary for somebody to look at it. But sometimes, unexpected things happen. You may agree or disagree with his answers. And my answer would be that the universe looks as if it existed before I started looking at it. The question from the human perspective should be "Does the conscious observer needs a universe to exist?" When a quantum system is (briefly) in such a classical state, it is said to be in an eigenstate (“eigen” means “own” in German); the value of the property would be the corresponding “eigenvalue”. Should We Build Its Replacement on the Moon? Schrödinger's cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. So why should we think we're at the point where we can understand everything? The trail of disrupted atoms left in the mica by the high-energy particle becomes part of the real world. If an internal monitor (e.g. And in the sweep of evolution, I doubt that we're the last word in intelligence. It's not even really a theory but more of an intuition about what a final theory of everything might be like. The way one observer hears the sound or the way the other observer hears it? Simply put, it cannot be described by ordinary numbers. In one case the astronomers create a past in which a photon took both possible routes from the quasar to Earth. Wheeler likes to use the example of a high-energy particle released by a radioactive element like radium in Earth's crust. When you open the cat's box after a week, you're going to find either a live cat or a smelly piece of meat. This is in contrast with classical objects, which can be described with ordinary numbers. Such a pattern could be produced only if the photons are behaving like waves, with each individual photon spreading out and surging against both slits at once, like a breaker hitting a jetty. The act of observing is not a requirement of existence. Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine. It's got to generate at least some good ideas, even if the question doesn't get answered. You need an observer who looks at the universe. If the astronomers point a telescope in the direction of one of the two intervening galaxies, they will see photons from the quasar that were deflected by that galaxy; they would get the same result by looking at the other galaxy. Ordinary matter and radiation play the dominant roles. And we see only a tiny portion of that cosmos. We know, from God, that there was a universe at least five days, before man was created to look at it. "Or at least how," he says. And what does the oracle of High Island himself think? When physicists look at the basic constituents of reality— atoms and their innards, or the particles of light called photons— what they see depends on how they have set up their experiment. Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. You can say that the cat looks as if it were dead or as if it were alive during the whole week. Linde believes that conscious observers are an essential component of the universe and cannot be replaced by inanimate objects. The moment you say that the universe exists without any observers, I cannot make any sense out of that. Does unitarity of the evolution of wavefunction get rid of the need for a "conscious observer", and does collapse in contrast demand a "conscious observer"? If the particle is not released, the cat will live. — Our universe could have popped into existence 13.7 billion years ago without any divine help whatsoever, researchers say. If the particle is released, the Geigercounter will detect it and send a signal to a mechanism controlling the hammer, which will strike the vial and release the gas, killing the cat. Although Wheeler's face looks careworn and sober, it becomes almost boyish when he smiles, as he does when I extend a hand to help him from the couch and he says, "Ah, antigravity." EY & Citi On The Importance Of Resilience And Innovation, Impact 50: Investors Seeking Profit — And Pushing For Change, Three Things You’ll Need Before Starting A New Business. Now imagine that there are two other large galaxies between Earth and the quasar. The observer simultaneously plays a part in creating the reality he is observing. At one point a loud bang interrupts our interview. Scientists work on a way to find out (Joel N. Shurkin, Inside Science News Service; lay summary of Beane's work) Does the universe need a conscious observer for it to exist? So you look at the sour cream and you think, 'There is no way I can do anything with that.' Most physicists nowadays would probably agree that all 'past, present and future' states of the universe exist at various points in spacetime. We all learned from people like John Wheeler, who asks strange questions and gives strange answers. The observer effect is way more complicated than that. The double slit experiment would indicate that there was nothing, without conscious man to observe it. This question originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. But it does not mean the electron’s existence is conditional. The outcome of the experiment depends on what the physicists try to measure: If they set up detectors beside the slits, the photons act like ordinary particles, always traversing one route or the other, not both at the same time. The fluorescent screen has no consciousness at all, but it does confine the electron to an eigenstate because it itself is a classical object (or so close to being classical as to be indistinguishable from it). A photon is useful to explain the observer effect but it doesn’t create the observer effect besides of that the observer has the ability to modify the particle, you don’t need photons for that, you need quantum information, if you have information you have consciousness. You may opt-out by. Wigner doesn't have access to this fact from the outside, and according to quantum mechanics, must describe the friend and the coin to be in a superposition of … Just as in the two-slit experiment, light — photons — from the quasar can follow two different paths, past one galaxy or the other. And that's not all. He just died. Alternating light and dark bands would appear on the film, identical to the pattern found when photons passed through the two slits. In the experiment, light — a stream of photons — shines through two parallel slits and hits a strip of photographic film behind the slits. All Rights Reserved, This is a BETA experience. Yes, I've heard of quantum mechanics. Instead of shying away from questions about the meaning of it all, Wheeler relishes the profoundand the paradoxical. The photons, in other words, act like particles. It does not have a position in the classical sense at all. Why Is The Future Of Business About Creating A Shared Value For Everyone? consciousness in … It would be tempting to dismiss Wheeler's thought experiment as a curious idea, except for one thing: It has been demonstrated in a laboratory. Outside, the fog is beginning to lift on what promises to be a hot summer day. To illustrate his idea, he devised what he calls his "delayed-choice experiment," which adds a startling, cosmic variation to a cornerstone of quantum physics: the classic two-slit experiment. "I don't know if human intelligence is capable of answering that question," he says. Stanford University physicist Andrei Linde believes this quantum paradox gets to the heart of Wheeler's idea about the nature of the universe: The principles of quantum mechanics dictate severe limits on the certainty of our knowledge. An astronomer verifies it this way: “The universe brought forth life in order to exist; the very cosmos does not exist unless observed”. Conspiratorial cosmology – the case against the Universe (Jörg P. Rachen, Ute G. Gahlings, Cornell University Library Archive) Is 'reality' unreal? From the quantum perspective the universe is an extremely interactive place. The universe could probably exist without an observer, but for this existence to mean something there would have to be an observer who is conscious of it. The striped pattern would still show up, meaning that a lone photon not observed by the telescope traveled both paths toward Earth, even if those paths were separated by many light-years. On an end table near the sofa rests a large oval rock, with one half polished black so that its surface resembles the Chinese yin-yang symbol. What Impact Is Technology Having On Today’s Workforce? Where the classic experiment demonstrates that physicists' observations determine the behavior of a photon in the present, Wheeler's version shows that our observations in the present can affect how a photon behaved in the past. Why does the universe exist? It is absolutely not true that states of matter do not exist when they are not noticed. If someone tells you this, he is talking nonsense. "You may ask whether the universe really existed before you start looking at it," he says. See where that takes you. a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison, which kills the cat.The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. — can be answered," he says. We are together, the universe and us. "The universe and the observer exist as a pair," Linde says. Here Is Some Good Advice For Leaders Of Remote Teams. In his concern for the nature of quantum measurements, Wheeler is addressing one of the most confounding aspects of modern physics: the relationship between the observations and the outcomes of experiments on quantum systems. If someone tells you this, he is talking nonsense. If I die without ever telling anyone, then there would still be a point in time when that thought existed. There was nothing solid there; they could not jump from the can. Wheeler believes the quest for an answer to that question inevitably entails wrestling with the implications of one of the strangest aspects of modern physics: According to the rules of quantum mechanics, our observations influence the universe at the most fundamental levels. It illustrates a key principle of quantum mechanics: Light has a dual nature. We find that an interference pattern emerges on the screen; this is true even when we fire the electrons one at a time. True, but there is a better way to understand this. Wheeler is gracious to a fault; one colleague describes him as "a gentleman hidden inside a gentleman." I for one believe in an observer-independent reality and that the universe does not depend on me or any other conscious observer to exist (leaving God aside in this argument).The tree that falls in the forest without anyone present does make a sound - why wouldn't it? Wheeler conjectures we are part of a universe that is a work in progress; we are tiny patches of the universe looking at itself — and building itself. When physicists use the photon detectors, the result is unsurprising: Every photon is observed to pass through one slit or the other. Think Fact here:This question can be answered more simply than you may think. 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