Consciousness and Multiverse

Introduction

This will be an informal post. It’s not going to be a technical one. I’ll talk about an idea that I’ve been having for some years now, but I never expressed it in a organised manner. I tried to explain to some friends but it sounds so crazy that nobody never paid attention (and I don’t blame them 😅). If you read the full post, probably it will sound crazy to you too 😅. It is about two “hard to grasp” concepts. I’ll show that, if you assume the modern theory of multiverse is true, you can draw some astonishing conclusions out of it. I never saw this idea being talked about elsewhere, so I assume its somewhat original. However, the world is too big. Probably someone else already thought about it and I’m “reinventing the wheel” here. Hence, if you already heard about it somewhere else, please leave a comment. I’d love to know that I’m not alone on this one.

Before I start to babble about it, I have to brief you a bit about the two concepts involved in this idea: Consciousness and Multiverse. So, in the following sections, I’ll try to explain both concepts so you can understand my thoughts. You don’t need to have any technical background to follow. Not much for the concept of consciousness (which is more or less broadly understood) but for the concept of multiverse. Although it sounds very “advanced physics”, it can be understood by everyone without a physics background.

Multiverse

This is a relatively modern subject in physics. The theory is still speculative but it’s mature enough to have been organised and popularised (there is even a Hollywood movie about it 😅). In very very short, the theory basically says that there are infinite universes running in parallel to this one we live in. Our universe is merely one of those infinite ones and we, in principle, can’t communicate or probe the other ones. The theory is a bit more involved than that and there are “levels” of multiverses, but we don’t need to dive into that. What changes between those levels is how and where those multiverses exist.

Movie The One (Source: Imbd.com)

To understand the idea that I’ll talk about in this post, we don’t need to understand the details of how those universes come into existence. Suffice to say that in each of those multiple universes, there are “copies” of you, me, and everything that exists. For now, this is the only thing that you need to know to follow the central point on this post: “There are, somewhere, infinite copies of you”.

Developing a bit more on this notion of “many copies of you”, we now investigate how they are related to each other (the copies). Part of the theory states that those copies live in universes where the laws of physics are the same, but things happened differently. This means that every possible configuration that obeys the laws of physics where you exist, do exist! So, there is a universe where you are fat, skinny, or bald, or hairy, or rich or poor. In some, you might have a disease, have a cat, a dog, live in another country, etc, etc, etc. For everything that CAN happen , there is a universes where it WILL happen.

One of the theories (which I particularly sign up and rally for) explains how this all come about. You don’t need to understand this bit, but I’ll explain just because its so cool 😅. It have to do with the nature of Quantum Physics. In Quantum Physics, the state of everything is modelled by wave functions that tells the probability of that state to exist in a given instant of time t. Everything is made of particles and each particle have a position and a momentum (place where it is and the speed which it is moving). The problem is that, in the light of Quantum Physics, this position and momentum have no exact value. Instead, they have a “wave of probability”. For example, consider that you have a box with one particle moving inside of it. In classical physics, if we measure the position of that particle in a given instant of time t, it would have a specific number to describe the position. For instance, the particle can be in the middle of the box. In Quantum Physics, we don’t have a number. We have a probability distribution. Hence, the particle can be anywhere following that distribution. It can happen that the distribution have more “density” in the middle of the box, so we can say that the particle is more likely to be in the middle of the box. The same can be said about its momentum.

Particle in a box (source: Wikipedia)

Extending this experiment of the particle, we can think of everything being clusters of particles that have probability of being in several places with several momentums. If you suddenly put another particle in the box to interact with the one inside of it, it would “pick a position” from that distribution and act like if it was there. But it could have being any position. We only know when we do the experiment / measurement. This is the famous “collapse of the particle wave”. This is what happen to you and everything that exists. If you throw a rock, it will fly into the air and the tiny air molecules will interact with the rock making it go a bit left or a bit right when it finally arrive in a certain position into the ground. That was the result of a continuum of wave collapses that happens during the flight of the rock interacting with the particles of air. In fact we can’t even say when the collapses started because the very fact that you pick the rock or you came at it, moving your arm, etc, etc, etc, everything is a continuous of wave collapses. All of this is depicted in the very simplistic “cat in a box” experiment proposed by Schrodinger himself (the guy that invented or organised all this theory).

Schrodinger’s cat (Source: Wikipedia)

That was too much of quantum physics, but it will help to understand better the next bit of the story. I never was very fond of this “collapse” of the wave… It always sounded imprecise and “made up” to explain reality. What is a measurement? There is no way to separate the measurement itself form the very fact of assembling and preparing it. Apparently I wasn’t alone. Another way that some physicists explain this “collapse” is that there is no collapse at all! What happens is that the particle REALLY IS in all the positions at the same time, but in different universes! What we perceive as our universe is the one where the particle really IS in that particular position and interacts with other particles that ARE in their respective positions and have their respective momentum. The continuum of collapse that we perceive is, then, the universes evolving to all possible outcomes that can follow from that particular distribution in that particular time t for each particle that exists. It is like the universe is constantly “bifurcating” to “execute” all the possible outcomes dictated by all the waves of probabilities for all the particles. That would explain why we arrive at the mathematical conclusion that particles are waves of probability but we can’t “probe” it. What we see is our own thread of events that probably originated with the big bang. You might ask: “Is everything possible? Maybe, there is a universe where all the particles that make up my body moves up a bit, and then up a bit more, and up and up until there is a universe where I suddenly fly of my chair, defying the laws of gravity.”. How come that the laws of physics are respected in this crazy scenario? The answer is that the laws of physics dictates the shape of the densities of the waves. They are not uniform! Even the particle in a box cannot be in all positions equally likely. Hence, the laws of physics that we perceive are the ones that dictate how those probabilities densities evolve, interact and are shaped the way they are.

Bifurcating universe (Source: Wikipedia)

At this point I might have lost half of my audience 😂. Sorry for having to dig too much into this quantum crap, but I promise it will help to understand my point later. So, in summary: “There are infinite universes and they all are constantly bifurcating to all possible physical valid outcomes”. So, the universe you are in is the one that you read this post until here. There WILL BE infinitely many from now on. Some of them, you will continue reading. Some of them you will be bored to death and will stop reading now. All that physically CAN happen, WILL happen.

Consciousness

Now we change the subject dramatically. We must talk about consciousness. In particular, what it means to be conscious and what defines you as you. To understand what I’m about to tell you, we need to agree that what makes you is not your body, your hair, or the combination of particles that make up your physical self. Instead, what makes you, you, is the configuration of neurons in your brain with the synapses and connections in the exact form and place as they are now!

This idea of you “being” your consciousness, is not new at all. In fact, there are rivers of movies and TV series about it. From The Matrix and The 13th Floor to Black Mirror. Scientists and the general public are already very comfortable with the idea that we can “live” as copy of ourselves even inside a computer. But this post is not about transferring consciousness. It is more about having “copies” of it.

The Matrix (Source: Imdb.com)
Black Mirror (Source: Imdb.com)

If you agree with that definition, lets imagine the following thought experiment: You go to sleep and someone makes a perfect, particle level, copy of you, including your brain as it is exactly in the moment you were put to sleep. Now you “both” (notice the quotes on the work both) are placed next to each other and your mother (or someone that knows you very well) is placed in front of the two copies. The problem is that you mother came in AFTER you were copied and she does not know who is the “original” and how is the “copy”. Now you both wake up. You are both dizzy from the cloning procedure, so the doctor says that you mother can bring only ONE of you home. The other one will have to be killed (very humanely without pain). Which one should her pick? If you were one of the cloned ones, what would be YOUR opinion? Would you argue with you mother something like: “take me! take me! I’m the original!!”. How would YOU know if you were the original?

There is no answer to that thought experiment. The important thing is that whoever she picked, YOU would live on normally. If the original one had being killed, the copy wouldn’t know that he was the copy! Hence, it makes NO difference. Of course that if you are a religious person, that’s absolutely easy to answer: “She should pick the original one because he have a soul and the copy is just a soulless mimicking zombie”. Well, if you are a radical anti-science religious person, this post is not for you. It is just that, to follow what I’m about to explain, you need a certain level of logic thinking and skepticism that is lacking on the minds of extremists religious people. You still may have a religion and be ok with all this reasoning, you just need to conciliate your beliefs with the science knowledge about nature.

In summary, to be alive is a matter of having your consciousness up and running. You are you regardless of how many copies of yourself exists and how the copies evolve. Of course that, if the other copy would suffer and live suffering for the rest of its life, YOU would risk to be that copy and perceived that suffering.

Consciousness and Multiverse

Some years ago, I was walking down to my university and reading some news on my cellphone. One of the news was about a guy that was struck by lightning 7 times and survived! Although I knew that it IS physically possible to be struck 7 times and survive, I thought to myself: “In what universe is this guy such a lucky bastard!”. Then I thought again: Wait a minute! This guy actually DIED 6 times in 6 other universes! Actually, he died many many times from different reasons (burning, hospital complications, the lightning shock itself, etc). This lucky strike of having survived 7 times is just a low probability thread of universes in which this particular guy were struck 7 times and survived. It just happened that I AM in the same thread that this luck son of a gun.

Lucky guy

Another “epiphany moment” I had was when I was doing an endoscopy. During the procedure, they put you to “sleep” (its not sleeping per se, but it certainly feels like sleeping). The drug they use is such that you don’t remember anything when you wake up. The thing is that there is a small chance that something goes wrong with the procedure and you never wake up 😱. Although this chance is very very small, people are afraid of this kind of “anesthesia”, fearing that they would never wake up. You might think: It IS physically possible that something goes wrong, and in some universes it will! However, there is a chance that things goes OK too, and in some other universes it will! But the question is, will I wake up or not? And the answer is, YES YOU WILL. ALWAYS! This is exactly like the case with the clone experiment. What defined you is your consciousness, so, regardless of the “copies” of you that didn’t wake up, you only need ONE to keep going.

Now we can make up another thought experiment; Say that you decided to play Russian Roulette (real one with real bullets). You dare someone, 1 million dollars, that you are brave enough to do it 10 times in a roll! According to the multiverse theory, you will die 59 (10 \times 6 – 1) times in 59 universes. But you will live like a millionaire in one of them! Remember that after those minutes playing, your conscious will live regardless of the 59 times you died. After all, it IS physically possible to win in a Russian Roulette. Of course that the ethics involved in that experiment is absolutely questionable to say the least. You would be leaving 59 suffering family and friends, etc… I do not intend to dive into this (not in this post).

Finally, we can draw the astonishing conclusion that I promise in the beginning. According to our interpretation of consciousness and if the multiverse theory is correct, EVERYBODY will live as long as it is physically possible to keep conscious. Would it be 130 years? For your current copy, would it be dictated by how many telomeres you have in your DNA? The thing is that, FOR YOU, you will NEVER die of a car accident or of cancer. In some universe, that metal bar won’t pierce your heart or the cure for cancer would be invented just in time. All that is physically possible to keep you conscious, WILL happen for SOME of the copies of you. Much much more discussion and debates can arise from this topic. Ethics of trying to cheat like the Russian Roulette, risk of being in a universe where the accident made you tetraplegic, how we view suicide on this matter (is it really possible to commit suicide?), among others.

If you read up to here, thank you. It was nice of you to endure such nonsense form my side 😅. Maybe this would turn into a movie or some other episode of Black Mirror and I would get rich selling the idea. Maybe it was you that shared this post and help me to sell the story, sharing the fortune with me. Maybe we share a Nobel prize for it! Well, in some universe this will happen, there is nothing physically impossible about it! 😉

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