NOT YOUR GRANDFATHER’S PARADOX
MONOLOGUE WRITTEN BY CLYDE LEWIS
I was reading the other day that there is another Matrix movie in the works. Apparently the original cast is on board for the new movie and of course, there will be new mind-bending theories presented about computer simulation, artificial intelligence, and the multiverse. I am also quite excited for yet another Terminator movie that will again combine electronics with time travel and the many theories that are now being formulated as our knowledge about the many dimensions surroundings increases.
What I have been hearing from science fiction enthusiasts is that they do not understand how these time travel movies can bring back old characters that either died or aged or disappeared.
I think this especially happened when we watched the Avengers: End Game film.
In Avengers: Endgame, the Ancient One explains to Bruce Banner that each of the Infinity Stones help keep the core timeline in place. But if the Avengers remove them, they’ll create splinter timelines that would hypothetically each continue alongside the original one.
But when Banner convinces the Ancient One to give him the Time Stone, he theorizes that returning all the Stones back to their rightful places in time will mean that the timeline has been rectified, meaning that nothing in the timeline should be out of place.
The thought of multiple timelines with every action and reaction is a difficult sell when most people are aware of what is called a “Grandfather Paradox” where in theory if you go back in time and kill your grandfather you will cease to exist – scientists have learned that the theory is now as old as your grandfather.
Time travel is a bitch of a narrative device. Like a wild horse, it’ll buck off any and all comers, no matter how well they think they have the idea buttoned down. Most people are satisfied with simple explanations like you see in either ”Back to the Future” or “Hot Tub Time Machine” but as quantum physicists move up in their knowledge of the multiverse we get mind-blowing time travel films like “Interstellar” “Donnie Darko” and perhaps “Source Code.”
There have also been many TV shows dealing in Quantum Immortality and Superposition like the show, OA and many people may remember the TV show, Fringe.
Fifty years ago, Hugh Everett devised the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which quantum effects spawn countless branches of the universe with different events occurring in each.
The theory sounds like a bizarre hypothesis, but in fact, Everett inferred it from the fundamental mathematics of quantum mechanics. Nevertheless, most physicists of the time dismissed it, and he had to abridge his Ph.D. thesis on the topic to make it seem less controversial. Discouraged, Everett left physics and worked on military and industrial mathematics and computing. Personally, he was emotionally withdrawn and a heavy drinker.
He died when he was just 51, not living to see the recent respect that has now been accorded his ideas by physicists.
To science-fiction aficionados, he remains a folk hero: the man who invented a quantum theory of multiple universes.
Everett’s revolutionary analysis broke apart a theoretical log jam in interpreting the how of quantum mechanics. Although the many-worlds idea is by no means universally accepted even today — it sure has been used as a trope to get our favorite science fiction characters out of their troubles. While much of what we know about time travel is limited to what we see on a movie screen – it may be interesting to know that much of what is presented as of late has been gleaned from the likes of Everett and another theorist, research and development engineer Marshal Barnes.
Ever since Avengers: End Game hit movie screens, there’s been a debate over the way they handle time travel, a major feature in the film. Simultaneously, the so-called “rules of time travel” have been a major point of contention with Barnes.
Barnes emphatically states that there aren’t “rules” but laws of time travel physics.
There has been a constant stream of time travel movies and TV shows – at an ever-increasing rate. As a result, the informal establishment of “time travel rules”, sounding as if they’re based on scientific principles – but aren’t. For example, Time magazine’s Eliana Dockterman writes in her article, Breaking Down the Complicated Time Travel In Avengers: End Game, “Let’s say they steal the Space Stone from Tony Stark’s father in 1970. Doesn’t that mean that Tony Stark’s father was never able to study the Stone, thus he never creates the Arc Reactor technology that Tony later uses to power the Iron Man suit? And Iron Man is never born? This is basically a version of the Grandfather Paradox of time travel: Travel back in time to kill your grandfather, and then you are never born — hence you are unable to kill your grandfather.”
However, there’s a greater irony. An Avengers special edition comic book series originally got Marshall interested in time travel and parallel universes.
Eventually, Marshall began writing science fiction based on the existence of parallel worlds, cosmologically. In 1992, he learned from Fred Alan Wolf’s book, Parallel Universes: The Search for Other Worlds, the scientific basis for the concept for parallel universes, and began researching the topic.
Now I have found the whole study of Quantum Mechanics to be fun and mind-bending – I am not a quantum physicist but I know about the terminologies and some the ideas to make me fluent enough to discuss it.
The laws of the quantum world are so bizarre that if you follow them to their logical conclusions, you get some very strange results. That’s why quantum physics is so full of thought experiments.
You may have heard of Schrödinger’s cat, for example: if you put a cat in a box with a vial of poison that has a 50/50 chance of killing the cat, the cat is both alive and dead in a superposition of states, you might say until you open the box.
Then you know for sure.
But there is a more risky thought experiment that I read about that puts you in the same position as the cat except you never die – it is called, Quantum Suicide.
The quantum suicide thought experiment was first posed by Max Tegmark in 1997, and it goes something like this: Imagine a gun is hooked up to a machine that measures the spin of a quantum particle every time the trigger is pulled.
If the particle is measured as spinning clockwise, the gun will fire; if it’s spinning counter-clockwise, it won’t. A man points the gun at a sandbag and pulls the trigger 10 times.
The gun goes off seemingly at random: “bang-click-bang-bang-bang-click-click-bang-click-click.” Then, the man points the gun at his own head and attempts to pull the trigger 10 more times. What does he hear? “Click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click.” He could keep on pulling the trigger for eternity, and the gun would never fire. How is that possible?
Now let’s go back in time to the first moment he pointed the gun at his head. He pulls the trigger, and the gun fires. The man is dead.
How can that happen when we already know the gun never fired?
It’s because every time he pulls the trigger, the universe splits into separate timelines: one where the gun fired, one where it didn’t.
When he was shooting the sandbag, he existed in the timelines created by that series of bangs and clicks. But when he aimed the gun at himself, the only timelines he could exist in were the ones where he survived—and thus, the ones where the gun didn’t go off.
The quantum suicide thought experiment is based on and seeks to prove what has bec¬ome an increasingly accepted interpretation of quantum physics, Everett’s Many-Worlds theory.
According to the Many-Worlds theory, for each possible outcome to an action, the world splits into a copy of itself. This is an instantaneous process Everett called “decohesion.”
It’s kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure book, but rather than choosing between either exploring the cave or making off with the treasure, the universe splits in two so that each action is taken.
One vital aspect of the Many-Worlds theory is that when the universe splits, the person is unaware of himself in the other version of the universe. This means that the boy who made off with the treasure and ends up living happily ever after is completely unaware of the version of himself who entered the cave and now faces great peril, and vice versa.
This is the same case with quantum suicide. When the man pulls the trigger, there are two possible outcomes: the gun either fires or it doesn’t. In this case, the man either lives or he dies. Each time the trigger is pulled, the universe splits to accommodate each possible outcome. When the man dies, the universe is no longer able to split based on the pulling of the trigger. The possible outcome for death is reduced to one: continued death. But with life, there are still two chances that remain: The man continues living or the man dies.
When the man pulls the trigger and the universe is split in two, however, the version of the man who lived will be unaware that in the other version of the split universe, he has died. Instead, he will continue to live and will again have the chance to pull the trigger. And each time he does pull the trigger, the universe will again split, with the version of the man who lives continuing on and being unaware of all of his deaths in parallel universes. In this sense, he will be able to exist indefinitely.
Which brings us back to the discussion of quantum immortality – it tends to be the answer to life after death in scientific level, however, you will have no recollection of your death in another universe – we just keep on living unaware of our previous lives.
So why aren’t all of the people who have ever attempted to kill themselves immortal? What’s interesting about the Many-Worlds interpretation is that according to the theory, in some parallel universe, they are. This doesn’t appear to be the case to us, because the splitting of the universe isn’t dependent on our own life or death. We are bystanders or observers in the case of another person’s suicide, and as observers, we’re subject to probability. When the gun finally went off in the universe or version – we inhabit, we were stuck with that result. Even if we pick up the gun and continue shooting the man, the universe will remain in a single state. After all, once a person is dead, the number of possible outcomes for shooting a dead person is reduced to one.
But the Many-Worlds theory stands in contradiction to another quantum theory, the Copenhagen Interpretation.
For the better part of the last century, the most accepted explanation for why the same quantum particle may behave in different ways was the Copenhagen Interpretation. Although it’s getting a run for its money from the Many-Worlds interpretation lately, many quantum physicists still assume the Copenhagen interpretation is correct. The Copenhagen Interpretation was first posed by physicist Niels Bohr in 1920. It says that a quantum particle doesn’t exist in one state or another, but in all of its possible states at once. It’s only when we observe its state that a quantum particle is essentially forced to choose one probability, and that’s the state that we observe. Since it may be forced into a different observable state each time, this explains why a quantum particle behaves erratically.
This state of existing in all possible states at once is called an object’s coherent superposition. The total of all possible states in which an object can exist; for example, in a wave or particle form for photons that travel in both directions at once makes up the object’s wave function. When we observe an object, the superposition collapses and the object is forced into one of the states of its wave function.
Again this brings us back to that darn cat and what is going on inside the box.
In Schrödinger’s experiment, the cat was sealed in the box. During its stay there, the cat came to exist in an unknowable state. Since it could not be observed, it could not be said whether the cat was alive or dead. It existed instead in the state of both life and death. It’s sort of like quantum physics’ answer to the old Zen question: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Since the Copenhagen Interpretation says that, when observed, an object is forced to take one state or another, the quantum suicide experiment doesn’t work according to this theory. Since the direction of the quark measured by the trigger can be observed, eventually the quark will be forced to take the clockwise direction that will fire the gun and kill the man.
When compared to classical science and Newtonian physics, the theories proposed to explain quantum physics seem insane. Erwin Schrödinger himself called his cat experiment “quite ridiculous”. But from what science has been able to observe, the laws that govern the world we see every day don’t hold true on the quantum level.
Everything only appears to be what it is – or so we should think. Sometimes things don’t appear as they seem and yet people will speak with such certainty about what they see as reality.
The word “paradigm” refers to the conceptual framework, belief system, and overall perspective through which we see and interpret the world.
The dictionary defines paradigm as “a pattern, example, or model.” The word derives from the Greek paradeigma, composed of para, meaning “alongside of, beside or beyond,” and deigma, meaning “example” or “a showing.” So para-digm means “beside or beyond the reality we live.
Our paradigm determines what we are able to see, how we think, and what we do. We do not question its accuracy because we’re usually unaware of its existence. Trying to reflect on our own worldview is like trying to study the color blue while wearing blue-colored glasses.
We cannot distance ourselves enough from it to see how much it affects our perception. We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are. Our paradigms are usually all we know and only become perceptible to us when we encounter ones that are different from our own.
Any scientific paradigm takes place within a cultural context that supports the project of science. While paradigms can exist on many scales, such as personal, family, and community, they flow out from the headwaters of a deeper cultural paradigm that is the context within which our understanding of science or religion exists.
Our core assumptions about the universe are embedded in the metaphors we use – the mythologies we cling to and the religions and philosophies that help us figure it out in a simplified manner.
The world is viewed as a collection of inanimate objects that interact in predictable, mechanistic ways based on mathematical laws developed principally by Isaac Newton and thus known as Newtonian or classical physics Newton, Bacon, and others introduced these concepts in the 17th century.
Modernity established a discontinuity between mind and matter, the subjective and objective, and ultimately between science and religion. Over centuries of struggle between a rising tide of empiricists who battled against an entrenched theology, an uneasy truce developed.
Science claimed the domain of the physical world; religion claimed the domain of the mental world.
Quantum physics is a relatively new discipline, dating back only to 1900. The theories that have been posed on the subject are all just theories. What’s more, there are competing theories that give different explanations for the peculiar happenings that take place on the quantum level. Which one will history show is the correct one?
Perhaps the theory that proves to be the true explanation for quantum physics hasn’t been posed yet. The person who poses it may not have even been born yet.
But given the logic that this field of study has established, is it possible that all theories explaining quantum physics are all equally true at the same time, even the ones that contradict each other.
For the last 300 years, modern society has relied primarily on scientific discovery to tell us about the nature of reality. On the one hand, we have all benefitted enormously from the technologies that science has made possible. On the other hand, many may have felt uneasy when science cannot account for or explain our most significant personal experiences. Many find a deepening mismatch between what they know from their own experience and what they know from science.
Experiences such as out-of-body or near-death events, telepathy, clairvoyance or remote viewing, and the powerful healing effects of intention and prayer are just some of the anomalies that challenge the dominant scientific explanations for how the world works.
However, we are witnessing a remarkable convergence of discoveries on the frontiers of science that appears to support age-old wisdom from perennial spiritual traditions. We are learning, for example, from quantum physics about the way certain aspects of reality transcend our usual understanding of time and space, and we are learning from neurosciences and consciousness studies remarkable connections between mind and body.