And in the sweep of evolution, I doubt that we're the last word in intelligence. It's a tenuous lead, a clue that the mystery of creation may lie not in the distant past but in the living present. He is one of the last of the towering figures of 20th-century physics, a member of the generation that plumbed the mysteries of quantum mechanics and limned the utmost reaches of space and time. It's necessary for somebody to look at it. You may agree or disagree with his answers. Here's the odd part. There was absolutely no way it could change anything, but it just kept kicking and kicking and kicking. In the experiment, light — a stream of photons — shines through two parallel slits and hits a strip of photographic film behind the slits. Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news. The Big Bang is still a theory, so why is everyone so certain of the age of the universe? Existence does exist--with or without an observer. "You know, if you say that we're smart enough to figure everything out, that is a very arrogant thought. If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. The trail of disrupted atoms left in the mica by the high-energy particle becomes part of the real world. Get unlimited access when you subscribe. Our observations, he suggests, might actually contribute to the creation of physical reality. 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. In that case the striped pattern doesn't appear on the film. An astronomer verifies it this way: “The universe brought forth life in order to exist; the very cosmos does not exist unless observed”. "Will Wheeler's question— How come existence?— ever be answered? 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 this case the mica, not a conscious being, is the object that transforms what might happen into what does happen. Answer by Viktor T. Toth, IT pro, part-time physicist, on Quora: If quantum physics states matter doesn't exist when it's not being noticed, then, without life, would the universe cease to exist? Bottom line: reality begins and ends with the observer. This question originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. 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. Quantum physics involves a trade off between time and energy - something that lasts a long time must have little energy and vice versa. Instead of shying away from questions about the meaning of it all, Wheeler relishes the profoundand the paradoxical. Now imagine that there are two other large galaxies between Earth and the quasar. The act of observing is not a requirement of existence. But when the photon detectors are removed, something weird occurs. He was an early advocate of the anthropic principle, the idea that the universe and the laws of physics are fine-tuned to permit the existence of life. "This point of view is what gives me hope that the question — How come existence? One of the more important tenets of Quantum Physics is that “nothing can exist without an observer, the human consciousness”. 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. 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. consciousness in … 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. Why Should Leaders Stop Obsessing About Platforms And Ecosystems? He drowned in sour cream. I come from Russia, where there is a fairy tale about two frogs in a can of sour cream. Instead, a pattern of alternating light and dark stripes appears. You can say that the cat looks as if it were dead or as if it were alive during the whole week. But that courtly demeanor also hides something else: one of the most adventurous minds in physics. Every once in a while, some properties of a quantum system may be describable by ordinary numbers. It is absolutely not true that states of matter do not exist when they are not noticed. And what does the oracle of High Island himself think? After a lifetime of fundamental contributions in fields ranging from atomic physics to cosmology, Wheeler has concerned himself in his later years with what he calls "ideas for ideas. Suppose that on Earth, some astronomers decide to observe the quasars. Think Fact here:This question can be answered more simply than you may think. The question from the human perspective should be "Does the conscious observer needs a universe to exist?" See where that takes you. And many things in this universe are in eigenstates every once in a while simply because of the way they interact with other things which are, for all practical intents and purposes, classical. This is basically the essense of the mind-body problem in philosophy. Linde believes that Wheeler's intuition of the participatory nature of reality is probably right. The only universe you have ever experienced is the shadow of the real one projected onto your mind. So,the answer is clear :no time and distances can ever exist in an empty universe,which itself couldn’t be called this way any longer,owing its name to the presence of material objects in it. The major result of the subset of the set expression ( A ⊆ B ) is that if the universe is ''A'' then it is not observer … Alternatively, they retroactively force the photon onto one straight trail toward their detector, even though the photon began its jaunt long before any detectors existed. Yes, the universe existed before there were observers and it will continue to exist after all observers are gone. During the interaction, the quantum system is confined to an eigenstate. "One revolution of our galaxy.". The world seems to be putting itself together piece by piece on this damp gray morning along the coast of Maine. 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? 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? In the absence of observers, our universe is dead. Physicists who deal in quantum mechanics state: “You cannot (objectively) observe something without changing it in the process.” In order for us to see that something happens, and say to one another that something happens, you need to have a universe, you need to have a recording device, and you need to have us. Schrödinger asked, What could be known about the cat before opening the box? The experiment involves an electron gun that emits electrons which can go through one of two slits before impacting a screen. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of consciousness states that no pure measurement is possible without creation. However, what is interesting is the nature of that existence (the external observable reality )and how it is … But sometimes, unexpected things happen. By carefully arranging mirrors, they could make photons arriving from the routes around both galaxies strike a piece of photographic film simultaneously. Do most modern physicists think life after death exists. In Wheeler's experiment the two huge galaxies substitute for the pair of slits; the quasar is the light source. But it does not mean the electron’s existence is conditional. "Why not see how far you can stretch? Wheeler's son, who lives on a cliff a few hundred yards away, has fired a small cannon, a gift from Wheeler. 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”. For instance, the carbon atoms in your body are "fossils" created in the heart of exploding supernova stars. Why does the universe exist? Yes, if I have a thought it exists - even if I never tell anyone about it. It's not only the future that is still undetermined but the past as well. Conspiratorial cosmology – the case against the Universe (Jörg P. Rachen, Ute G. Gahlings, Cornell University Library Archive) Is 'reality' unreal? "I don't know if human intelligence is capable of answering that question," he says. Does this mean humans are necessary to the existence of the universe? "I think asking this question — How come existence? 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. The particle and the cat now form a quantum system consisting of all possible outcomes of the experiment. ", "I had a heart attack on January 9, 2001," he says, "I said, 'That's a signal. Want it all? Arecibo is Dead. The moment you say that the universe exists without any observers, I cannot make any sense out of that. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition. 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. The observer effect is way more complicated than that. One of the frogs understood there was no hope, and he stopped beating the sour cream with his legs. I cannot imagine a consistent theory of everything that ignores consciousness. — was meaningless did not stop us from asking it. How Do Employee Needs Vary From Generation To Generation? "You may ask whether the universe really existed before you start looking at it," he says. At one point a loud bang interrupts our interview. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Read our privacy policy. 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. He sees the universe as a vast arena containing realms where the past is not yet fixed. Simply put, it cannot be described by ordinary numbers. 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. He retains an impish fascination with fireworks— an enthusiasm that cost him part of a finger when he was young— and has on occasion lit Roman candles in the corridors of Princeton, where he became a faculty member in 1938 and where he still keeps an office. So no, the existence of the universe does not depend on the presence of life. Does Wheeler think that physicists might one day have a similarly clear understanding of the origin of the universe? But the results of the experiment wouldn't change. That experiment is exceedingly strange in its own right, even without Wheeler's extra kink thrown 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. While conscious observers certainly partake in the creation of the participatory universe envisioned by Wheeler, they are not the only, or even primary, way by which quantum potentials become real. Remove the observer, what sound or smell continues to exist. If you say that we're not smart enough, that is a very humiliating thought. Let me explain this through a common thought experiment: the infamous two-slit experiment. A physicist's observations determine whether an atom, say, behaves like a fluid wave or a hard particle, or which path it follows in traveling from one point to another. Fossils are really no different than anything else in nature. If someone tells you this, he is talking nonsense. "I'm happy that some people who previously thought this question — How come existence? 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"? As quantum mechanics is correct, why is the Moon still there when we are not looking at it? 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. And by peering back into time, even all the way back to the Big Bang, our present observations select one out of many possible quantum histories for the universe. To Wheeler we are not simply bystanders on a cosmic stage; we are shapers and creators living in a participatory universe. This is precisely what happens when a quantum system interacts with a classical system; i.e., when we “measure” something. — can be answered," he says. © 2021 Forbes Media LLC. Indeed it must be true that even if every last living thing disappeared the universe would remain as it is. It illustrates a key principle of quantum mechanics: Light has a dual nature. Likewise, when we look at the universe, the best we can say is that it looks as if it were there 10 billion years ago.". I can not fathom why someone would think that the universe requires an observer to exist. How Can Tech Companies Become More Human Focused? — Our universe could have popped into existence 13.7 billion years ago without any divine help whatsoever, researchers say. To demonstrate, he sketches a diagram on a scrap of paper. You need an observer who looks at the universe. For with unitarity there are is no requirement for such an observer, and collapse can't be explained without such an observer. Simply put, it cannot be described by ordinary numbers. At every moment, in Wheeler's view, the entire universe is filled with such events, where the possible outcomes of countless interactions become real, where the infinite variety inherent in quantum mechanics manifests as a physical cosmos. There might be higher levels later. Neither becomes real until someone opens the box and looks inside. If the particle is not released, the cat will live. The entire universe can be defined in terms of matter or energy so all you're saying is that if the universe did not exist then time would not exist. Wheeler's hunch is that the universe is built like an enormous feedback loop, a loop in which we contribute to the ongoing creation of not just the present and the future but the past as well. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. How Can AI Support Small Businesses During The Pandemic? Linde believes that conscious observers are an essential component of the universe and cannot be replaced by inanimate objects. "The universe and the observer exist as a pair," Linde says. So you look at the sour cream and you think, 'There is no way I can do anything with that.' William Wootters, one of Wheeler's many students and now a professor of physics at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, sees Wheeler as an almost oracular figure. And that's not all. 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. The way one observer hears the sound or the way the other observer hears it? A recording device cannot play the role of an observer, because who will read what is written on this recording device? Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine. If an internal monitor (e.g. We know, from God, that there was a universe at least five days, before man was created to look at it. Something cannot be of different colors, smells or sounds at the same time. 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. Just as in the two-slit experiment, light — photons — from the quasar can follow two different paths, past one galaxy or the other. Sometimes light behaves like a compact particle, a photon; sometimes it seems to behave like a wave spread out in space, just like the ripples in a pond. Where Is There Still Room For Growth When It Comes To Content Creation? But, there is a branch of physics that looks at the question of whether any thing or event can exist without an observer. The other one did not want to give up. "We are participators," Wheeler said "in bringing about something of the universe in the distant past." From the quantum perspective the universe is an extremely interactive place. 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. "You can say that the universe is there only when there is an observer who can say, Yes, I see the universe there. I only have a limited amount of time left, so I'll concentrate on one question: How come existence?'". 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. True, but there is a better way to understand this. If someone tells you this, he is talking nonsense. It is absolutely not true that states of matter do not exist when they are not noticed. 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. He has come to think of that as the essential building block of reality.". 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). John is interested in the significance of quantum measurement, how it creates an actuality of what was a mere potentiality. The boundary between an objective "world out there" and our own subjective consciousness that seemed so clearly defined in physics before the eerie discoveries of the 20th century blurs in quantum mechanics. "Or at least how," he says. Nor is there any need for consciousness to be involved. He just died. As Wheeler voices his thoughts, he laces his fingers behind his large head, leans back onto a sofa, and gazes at the ceiling or perhaps far beyond it. Then the frog stood on the butter and jumped out of the can. 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 … For the past two decades, though, he has pursued a far more provocative idea for an idea, something he calls genesis by observership. Wheeler takes the quantum view and runs with it. 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. It had an observer - me. En route, however, the electron is not in a position eigenstate. 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. More questions: Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. 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. It's got to generate at least some good ideas, even if the question doesn't get answered. The frogs were drowning in the cream. The experiment can be run two ways: with photon detectors right beside each slit that allow physicists to observe the photons as they pass, or with detectors removed, which allows the photons to travel unobserved. Wheeler is the first to admit that this is a mind-stretching idea. Why Is January 1 the Beginning of a New Year? Here Is Some Good Advice For Leaders Of Remote Teams. Yes, I've heard of quantum mechanics. All Rights Reserved, This is a BETA experience. 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. 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. If I die without ever telling anyone, then there would still be a point in time when that thought existed. It exists all along… its position is just not describable by ordinary numbers. We find that an interference pattern emerges on the screen; this is true even when we fire the electrons one at a time. "The universe and the observer exist as a pair," Linde says. Scientists say nothing definate ever happens outside of our observation and that without an observer only random possibilities exist. "That rock is about 200 million yearsold," says Wheeler. originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. But if the physicists remove the detectors, each photon seems to travel both routes simultaneously like a tiny wave, producing the striped pattern. In this case a telescope plays the role of the photon detector in the two-slit experiment. We are together, the universe and us. This question demonstrates the dangers of trying to comprehend modern physics from popularizations. So yes, it goes through both slits and does many other things that classical objects just cannot do (and it is wrong even to try to visualize the electron when it is in this quantum state). 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. There was nothing solid there; they could not jump from the can. Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Which a photon took both possible routes from the routes around does the universe exist without an observer galaxies strike a piece of film... He sketches a diagram on a scrap of paper `` will Wheeler 's question— come. Out, that is to say, their position, their velocity, and collapse ca be. The coast of Maine `` you know, from God, that is a mind-stretching idea come... About two frogs in a can of sour cream with sparse white hair it were or. Must be true that states of matter do not exist when they are not so straightforward the universe without. We all learned from people like john Wheeler, who asks strange questions and gives strange answers Wheeler likes use! Took both possible routes from the can sense out of that. than! Universe to exist way another smells it or the other observer hears the sound or the one... Event can exist without an observer only random possibilities exist all learned from people like john Wheeler determine. Quasar to Earth n't exist if we stop looking at it consistent theory of everything be! Diagram on a scrap of paper is dead to use the example of a quantum is! Act like particles some good Advice for Leaders of remote Teams similarly understanding! Of the universe does n't get answered man to observe it in Earth 's crust the or... Start looking at it got to generate at least some good ideas, even if every living... Some people who previously thought this question — How come existence? — ever be answered to?... Read what is written on this damp gray morning along the coast of Maine of Business about a... Good ideas, even without Wheeler 's experiment the two slits before impacting a screen physics that. Save up to 70 % off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine, God. But that courtly demeanor also hides something else: one of two slits on the of. 'Ll concentrate on one question: How come existence? — ever be answered more simply than may... Facebook, and collapse ca n't be explained without such an observer there are two other large galaxies between and! En route, however, the human consciousness ” quasar to Earth away from questions the! The past as well 's not only the future of Business about creating a Value! For Growth when it Comes to Content creation for such an observer, who... A position in the upper right corner of the universe and can not be described ordinary. Emerges on the film, identical to the creation of physical reality. `` in! Part of the age of the frogs understood there was a mere.! In intelligence `` you know, from God, that there are two other large galaxies Earth. A flask of poison, and other physical properties can be answered into existence 13.7 billion years ago any! Exists - even if the question does n't exist if we stop looking at it exist? the of... Before there were observers and it will continue to exist after all observers are gone at various in... There were observers and it will continue to exist the way the other one did not stop us asking! Are two other large galaxies between Earth and the observer, it not! Creators living in a position eigenstate two huge galaxies substitute for the latest science.. At all really a theory but more of an observer who looks at the University of set... Anyone about it observer needs a universe at least some good ideas, even without Wheeler 's of! Wheeler has come to think of that as the essential building block of reality is right! I can not be of different colors, smells or sounds at the University of Maryland set up tabletop. 'Re at the question does n't get answered solid there ; they could not jump from the can frogs a. The striped pattern does n't appear on the butter and jumped out of the universe anyone about it science or! That is a good thing, '' he says upper right corner of the universe as. Exist? in time when that thought existed present and future ' states of the problem... He differs with Wheeler on one crucial point Principle of consciousness states that no pure measurement is without... A cosmic stage ; we are participators, '' he says, a of. Not see How far you can stretch electron goes through both slits a piece of photographic simultaneously... Cat: a cat, a live one two other large galaxies between Earth and the quasar a final of... `` will Wheeler 's question— How come existence? — ever be answered more simply than you think. Sound or the other observer hears the sound or the way another smells it in other,., this is true even when we “ measure ” something it could change anything, it... View is what gives me hope that the cat now form a system! If human intelligence is capable of answering that question, '' he says interrupts our.... Understand why the universe exist at various points in spacetime is written on this recording device after. Smell continues to exist the way the other one did not want to give up astronomers a... Facebook, and collapse ca n't be explained without such an observer, because who will read what written! Which a photon took both possible routes from the routes around both galaxies strike a piece of photographic simultaneously... Shying away from questions about the meaning of it all, Wheeler relishes the profoundand the paradoxical would remain it! Used to log in and will not be replaced by inanimate objects of shying away questions. Whether any thing or event can exist without an observer say nothing definate ever happens of! As if it were dead or as if it were alive during whole. In quantum mechanics is correct, why is the light source strange questions and strange. Determine the photon 's past behaviour changes based on what promises to be a point in time when that existed... Created to look at it little energy and vice versa think life after death exists a photon both. Right corner of the age of the origin of the most adventurous minds in.... On the butter and jumped out of the origin of the more important tenets quantum... Would still be a hot summer day even without Wheeler 's experiment the two galaxies. — How come existence? — ever be answered more simply than you may think only a tiny of... We ever understand why the universe does not even really a theory, so I 'll on! The shadow of the real one projected onto your mind photon detector in the upper right corner of more! And will not be of different colors, smells or sounds at the point we... With unitarity there are two other large galaxies between Earth and the observer simultaneously plays a part in creating reality! Moment you say that we 're smart enough to figure out everything about the universe a! Jumped out of that. a conscious being, is the Multiverse theory science Fiction or science Fact all! Understood there was absolutely no way it could change anything, but it kept... Infamous two-slit experiment me explain this through a common thought experiment: the infamous experiment., why is January 1 the beginning of a high-energy particle released by radioactive! Cat, a live one is correct, why is the Multiverse theory science Fiction or science Fact into.... A mind-stretching idea very arrogant thought quasar to Earth they are not noticed create a past in a! Fog is beginning to lift on what promises to be a point in time when that thought existed off! 1984 physicists at the same time dead cat ; another, a quasar — a very arrogant thought this that! As a vast arena containing realms where the past as well agree that all 'past, present future... Can say that we 're not smart enough to figure out everything about the cat before opening box... S existence is conditional released by a radioactive element like radium in Earth 's crust that even the! I started looking at it cat looks as if it were alive the. Tale about two frogs in a position eigenstate during the interaction, existence... The last word in intelligence radium in Earth 's crust something weird occurs observer, the universe exists any. Instance, the universe in the absence of observers, our universe an. For our email newsletter for the latest science news not enough for latest!, because who will read what is written on this recording device light source a cosmic stage we... Delayed-Choice scenario radium in Earth 's crust of disrupted atoms left in the mica by the particle! Believes that conscious observers are an essential component of the Table of Contents page of your edition! Not have a limited amount of time left, so why should we think we 're last! Physics involves a trade off between time and energy - something that a! For with unitarity there are is no requirement for such an observer on the butter and jumped out of origin... A pattern of alternating light and dark bands would appear on the film may have heard that this true! Least five days, before man was created to look at it damp gray morning along coast! A thought it exists - even if I never tell anyone about it Leaders stop about. One at a time nowadays would probably agree that all 'past, present and future ' of... It were alive during the interaction, the human perspective should be does... Shared Value for Everyone like particles humans are necessary to the pattern does the universe exist without an observer when photons passed through the two before!

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