Quantum Consciousness

There are those in the Physics community,
A fair percentage in fact,
Who take entirely seriously,
The Many-Worlds Interpretation
Of quantum mechanical reality.
That is the world, to you and me,
Of the tiny things, deep down beneath,
From which we and it and all
Are actually made.
First proposed by Everett* as
´The relative state formulation´.
The term Many-Worlds, or MRI,
Was minted, for popular imagination,
By DeWitt**.

Loosely stated, what it says, is;
That for all the different ways
That all the pieces of the World,
All those little particles,
May or may not wiggle,
In all their combinations,
Then a whole new Universe
Is sloughed for each,
Like a snakeskin,
To accommodate and explore
Just those possibilities;
And that this is happening,
All the time;
Astronomical myriads of you and me,
Bifurcating endlessly,
Down branches of eternity,
Too fast to know or see.
Too fast to even say
How fast, or how many.
A vast tree of Worlds.
A World Tree.

Me? I don´t buy it. Oh, no Sireee.
Why should a Universe,
So precious in its details,
Governed to the tiniest degree
By principles of economy,
And such lugubrious symmetry,
Be so profligate in copies
Of its massed entirety?

Proponents of MRI say, however,
That, ugly as it seems,
This interpretation solves
Slightly more problems
Than are raised in other schemes.
If I was really clever,
Like those really clever guys,
I´d check their maths, real hard,
And say "look here -
What´s this hidden variable that you´ve missed"?
But I´m not that clever, let´s be clear.
And all I´ve got to go on is my gut,
Which is certainly cleverer than me.
And to my gut, all this stuff
Just feels plain wrong,
Horribly untidy.
A steaming pile of horse-hockey.

So, go on then, explain to me why it is,
That, whichever branch of now I turn up in,
There´s a horrible inevitability to the fact
That I will always arrive just in time to witness
The same isotropic tragedy?
This sad but beautiful World appears,
On the largest scales, just as fucked up,
In whichever direction we choose to look,
From all times and all places.
Exhibiting the same overall distribution
Of fear, stupidity and hate.
Whichever when that we end up in
The world is being run and ruined
By the same old usual suspects.
The same gangsters and their lawyers.
The same demagogues and preachers.
Why am I never surprised to find
That things could not turn out
In some other new, refreshing way?

What does feel right to me;
To my grumpy, wise old gut,
Which I´m quite sure
Knows everything worth knowing,
If I had but ears to listen; is that,
For each of these inevitable pearls of now
Strung upon the single thread of time,
The unique and only ´world-line´,
There is a whole cloud of ways,
A quantum Cloud of Unknowing,
Of paths by which we got here,
None more true than any other.

I get to stay this ordinary,
This representative of my class and culture,
By being the sum over all my possible histories,
Which might have led to here,
Which endlessly collapse
Into this one and only present.
By being a wise fool, a craven hero,
A kindly killer, a saintly sinner,
By being quintessential paradox,
I get to be this me, the way I am just now.
And the World, this sad and beautiful World?
She gets to stay the way she is
By our studious, collective avoidance
Of all opportunities for genuine improvement.

So I´m in the car with Niels*** on this one.
He was a helluvah nice guy, by the way.
One of the few Danes to hit the big-time,
And success never ruined him.
A real gentleman.
Churchill had no right to treat him that way.
He it was that formulated
The Copenhagen Interpretation.
In this view, each time we prick
The Cloud of Unknowing with rude demands
To know just how things really stand,
That is, an act of observation, so called,
Then it must spit out some one, and only one
Concrete state of affairs. A random selection,
From all the weighted probabilities,
Of all the various possibilities.

My currently favoured theory of consciousness,
That final mystery from which all value flows,
In an otherwise dead, fictitious Universe,
Is that it too arises out of the
Sustained, real-time collapse,
Out of a vast ensemble
Of virtual quantum brain states,
Variously conditioned by our sensory inputs,
Into a unified experience
Of now, and time, and what´s out there,
And even what´s in here, and maybe,
If we are paying attention,
Blessed beauty.

In the latest jargon,
Quantum computation;
A Holy Grail for the coming century.
New computers that can solve problems
Much too big and long and hard
For ordinary computers, to ever finish,
Stuck, as they are, in just one Universe,
Just like that.
They work by chopping up a problem into bits,
And solving each in a little sideways Universe
All of its very own.
If we ever build such things
Then everything will change again,
Even more.
We will become so much more modern
That we now, of only fifty years ago,
Will seem like Hittites or Etruscans.
Mysterious peoples who left hardly a trace
Of their passing.

And I am suggesting that our brains
Are quantum computers like these.
For if these things can be built at all,
And we´ve good reason to believe they can,
Then who better builder than nature,
Whose still the best at building clever things,
By many a long mile.
And I´m also suggesting that, if we do build such things,
Then we will be able to build conscious things,
Which will be amazing,
Truly beautiful machines.

Whadaya reckon?
Does any of this sound remotely feasible,
Or is just another steaming pile of horse hockey?

*     Hugh Everett III (1930-82) A kooky character if ever there was.
**   Bryce Seligman DeWitt (1923-2004)
*** Niels Bohr (1885-1962)

Copyright © John Ferngrove 2009