Saturday, August 09, 2008

Quantum Mechanics

Welcome our guest today: Hugh Everett III.

He has come up with the idea that some call the most important idea since the theory of relativity. Too bad after his Ph.D, he gave up on academia because nobody would touch his radical ideas. Some simply considered him a raving lunatic. Because he was a rabid atheist, who insisted that his ashes should be thrown out in the trash after he died, he would not like that I am going to use his ideas to justify a view of God.

Over time his ideas have gotten a strong following, and he is no longer rejected as he was when he first proposed his ideas. I am going to take his ideas today, and apply as he would never accept them. To talk about the very nature of God and how we will be judged.

I had a close friend in high school who was Dutch. The interesting thing is that he was raised in Holland and came over at a young age. His parents spoke with a heavy accent, and whenever the kids were at home they did not speak English. They spoke Dutch.

I remembering asking the kids in the family how it was to switch from one language to the next. They told me that sometimes it didn't even register. They weren't conscious of moving from English to Dutch. I asked if this every turned into an issue in real life.

"Oh yes," said the mother. "I remember that one time I was talking on the telephone to a friend. As close as I came remember it, I started the conversation in English, but somehow I switch over to Dutch. I had been talking for quite a while, and the friend was saying nothing. Finally, I realized what I had done, and because my friend did not speak Dutch, they simply did not know what was going on."

I recently had a conversation with my nieces husband where I started to explain quantum mechanics. When I got to the part where I was trying to explain how quantum mechanics formed my views on freewill, I could see that I had so totally lost him that I might as well had been talking in Dutch.

Hopefully, you can stick with me a bit longer today. You need to try and grasp the Dutch.

We have know about Quantum Mechanics for many years, and yet the common person has no idea what Quantum Mechanics actually are. I was in San Jose with some people from my work, and I was describing some interesting Quantum Mechanics. These are all intelligent people, yet they didn't know what I was talking about. As a matter of fact, if not for Quantum tunneling, we couldn't even have hard drives, which is the product that I deal in.

The problem of Quantum physics is that particles simply do not exist unless you observe them. I could spend a lot of time describing this, but the thoughts are so intuitively stupid and unbelievable that it is almost not worth it. You need to take it on faith, when you get to very small particles, they don't exist.

Now, this doesn't seem to be very satisfying. Small stuff doesn't exist? Crazy. Yet, we look at big stuff all around us, and that exists. It the big stuff made out of the small stuff?

The answer is yes, and the difference between the big stuff and the small stuff is that the big stuff is observed and the small stuff may not be. As soon as we observe something, it turns into "real stuff."

Thus the age old question, "If I tree falls in the forest, and if there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound?" is simply reframed. In our new world, the question is if a neutron is split into two particles and nobody sees it, does either particle have a definite state. The answer to the second question is "no."

Now, you may ask "how do you expect me to believe this? I would have to see it with my own eyes." I will answer this is actually not that big of a deal. The scientific community have many experiments that will show that particles are not particles until you observe them, and you can run an experiment yourself to see it. The problem is "why" particles are not particles until you see them.

This is the rub. We can come up with math that describes these particles very nicely. This math is based around carryng around vectors that have probability embedded in then. Once you observe a particle, it goes from a chance of a particle to a real particle, and once it is a real particle it instantaneously communicate to any other particle it is related to and causes those particles to also snap into reality. This is called collapsing the wave function.

Without getting into quarks (which make up atoms), lets say we split a sub-atomic particle into two pieces. Whenever we split this particle, we can tell that one particle has an "up" value. The other particle has a "down" value. So, we find out that the particle that we broke apart only has quarks with 1 "up" value, and 1 "down" value. So, if we see that one particle is "up," then we know that the other particle is "down."

However, if you remember from the previous discussion, particles aren't really present until you observe them. So, lets say that the two particle you observe are flying in different directions. One is flying to the north universe 7.5 billion light years away, and the other particle is flying to the south galaxy 7.5 billion light years away. Now, in 7.5B light years, the two particles are 15B light years apart from where you started them. However, as we discussed, they aren't particles until you observe them. If you then view just one particle, you know that the other particle must have the opposite value. So, you observe one particle, and you see that it is an "up" particle. The math tells us that the opposite particle 15 billion light years away instantaneous turns into a "down" particle. This means that somehow information is passed faster than the speed of light. Even though the particles are 15B light years apart, they instantaneously communicate to each other.

However, the idea of particles not being real is pretty highly disturbing. The idea that one observation can impact another particle 15B light years away is highly disturbing. I have noticed that most scientist simply do not like to think a lot about this. In many ways, the idea of Quantum physics can led directly into religion. Observation leads to reality. I agree with the physicist that think this way. Just because some is bizarre on a microlevel, it does not give rise to the idea that somehow this impacts the world for larger objects. We may not understand the microworld at all. However, this does not mean that we don't understand the macro or Newtonian world.

One of the interesting things about this, however, is that we still must try and deal with the idea that particles are not particles until they are observed. In a famous thought experiment, Schrödinger suggest that if a cat was set up to be killed by a Quantum event, then the cat would neither be dead or alive until somebody observed the event!

To get pass this, Hugh Everett in 1957 came up with the idea that any time we have an event triggered by a Quantum event, two separate universes spun off or there are separate quantum worlds. Although Everett did not call it "Many-worlds interpretation," this is name that has stuck. The idea is that there are many overlapping quantum worlds that take on any possible outcome. In essence, our universe is one of an infinite series of universes. They all overlap in some sense, but they are all separate. Every event in an universe creates at least two new universes. For all practical purposes, there is a mass of infinite universes that had common histories and then split. In other words, even if an event didn't happen in our universe, then it happened somewhere else.

You may has seen episodes like this on Star Trek. There is an alternative universe where there is an evil Kirk. Or where the Enterprise and Jean Picard is destroyed in a black hole. However, there is another universe of "good Kirk" and where the enterprise is not destroyed.

So if we review the current state of quantum physics, we basically have two ideas:

1. Sub-atomic particles don't exist until we see them and if they don't exist, perhaps events that rely on the particle's state doesn't exist.

2. If an event is triggered by the state of a subatomic particle, then multiple time lines are spun off. Each one is a new new world that is decoherent (which means they cannot interact) with each other.

Now, are you grabbing your head? I know it makes my head spin. Now the idea of many worlds probably is seen as a weird idea that isn't generally accepted, but if you dig into the literature, you will find out that many worlds very nicely deal with a bunch of sticky philosophical problems. So much so, that is one of the mainstream models that many physicists accept.

Hawking has used the idea of many worlds to get around the idea that information is destroyed in Black Holes, which is a highly problematic issue in physics. While Susskind and other have come up with other ideas on how to preserve information, my point is that some good minds have accepted the many worlds hypothesis.

Now, why is this important?

While we have bounced around a lot of subjects, the whole of the post so far boils down to the idea that there may be multiple overlapping universes where many different versions of YOU exist. This is a bit odd, but fits inside of one of the models of how to interpret physics.

To some people, they would think that I'm crazy to go down this path. As I started this post, my niece's husband just thought this was crazy.

"I can believe that God would create many versions of us," he stated.

I want to turn this thought on its head. It is not about what is intuitive to us. Quantum mechanics is completely unintuitive. It screams "it makes no sense." Particles are not particles.

Roman 1:20 tells us "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made...."

Really, if the above is true and scripture is the word of God, we need to embrace that the study of the building blocks of nature will give us clarity about his attributes.

So, let us just imagine for a moment that the many worlds interpretation is true. What would this say about our lives?

This would mean that we are living an almost infinite series of lives. We are living lives where circumstances cause us to be the best Christian in the world. We are living lives where circumstances have us do horrible things. There are lives where we are lost at birth. There are lives that we are rich.

This might horrify you. "You mean that there may be worlds that I am not a Christian?" The answer is yes. This would mean that there are worlds where evil men are pious and devoted family men.

The many world interpretation is not scary to me because it means that God would see me and others in all circumstances. He would see how I would have reacted. I believe that over the sum of all these different lives, people's nature will be clearly defined. Are they evil? Then this becomes clear as they are put into all possible circumstances. Are they good? Then the overall series of lives will show them as moving toward God.

The biggest problem with this interpretation is from a scriptural viewpoint. We know that hoses that call on the Lord will be saved. If there are lives where we live that we are not saved and lives where we are saved, then which set of lives determine how we will be saved. If we have an almost infinite set of selves, does this mean that eventually we will have one life where all are merged together? Or do we have multiple sets of heaven?

The problems for this viewpoint are strong and many.

However, I can also see places where this viewpoint could solve a lot of issues. In this viewpoint, all of these lives are somehow tied back together again at the judgement. In this viewpoint, we are completely without excuse. God can objectively point to all of our lives and say "it is clear that given an infinite numbers of circumstances, you consistently chose those paths that were evil." In this viewpoint, God does not "force" any of us down a path. Instead, all paths are explored. In this viewpoint, we have complete freewill.

I've taken you through a lot of thoughts, and if you have never studied the idea of Quantum Physics, I might as well be speaking Dutch. However, before I conclude this post, I want to wrap this back into another aspect of science and the way that we should think about this possibility of the multiple world hypothesis.

Mathematics allow us to explore virtually all of the known universe. I am hoping that you took enough high school math to come across a very simple idea. This is the idea of the formula as written as y =f(x). What does this mean?

It means that given a certain input of x, we can run it through a formula or function f( ), which will transform x into y. There are only two things that matter as inputs and outputs. The input is x. The output is y.

Every formula can be broken down into this idea. For a given input x, we get out another output called y. The interesting thing about this idea is not x and y. This is so common that we always refer to these ideas simply as x and y.

The interesting thing is the f(x) or the function of x. The formula can be as simple as

a. y = x + 1

or a quadratic equation

b. y = x*x + 2x + 1

or to much more difficult equations.

Now, let us stop thinking about this as a simple equation. Let us say we are the equation. I'm saying that our life is the equation.

The output or y is the things that we do: we feed the poor, we accept Christ, we are bad, or we are good. The x is the things that are feed into our life: are we raised as Christians, were we well treated, or did we get killed at a young age.

In many mathematical formulas of similar class, you can get any y out of the formula by changing the x. And this is what we argue with God about.

"Well, God, you can't judge me because I wasn't told about Christ," we might say.

"God, I had a mental problem that kept me from being righteous," is another excuse.

What we are saying is that our function (or us) is lacking because we didn't get the right circumstance in our life. And this is a problem in elementary mathematics because if we just looked at one x and one y, we have no idea of what the equation is. All we have is a single input and a single output.

So, what we learn to do in mathematics is graph out the function. In other words, we put many, many different x's into the equations to get out many, many y's. Once we have done this many, many times, we can step back from the equation to see the shape of the equation. We can see where the equation dips. We can see where it soars. We can get a good idea of the nature of the equation.

It is well understood that graphing out an equation is a prerequisite of understand mathematical formulas. Everybody does this.

If the multiple world hypothesis is correct, then what is happening is nothing other than many different inputs are put into our nature to determine what we are actually made of. In the same sense that man can only see the math formula by graphing out the formula, maybe the only way for us to understand our true nature at judgment is to have all of our lives shown in many different circumstances.

A strange thought? Absolutely. Logical? Disturbingly so.

We'll see at judgement.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Test Of Elijah

My niece and her husband are thinking of switching to the Greek Orthodox church, and I was asking them why they were going to change. This got into why we believe what we believe. This then got into a conversation on what truth is.

To them, truth is simply Christ Jesus and Christ Jesus is the truth. To me it is not that simple. As I like to say, nowhere inside of the scriptures does it say to blindly believe.

It is fine to discuss this in abstract, but I came up with a scenario which revolved around the Christian college that we went to. Although this college was supposed to be evangelical, the religious department was very liberal. As my niece said, "...that professor said that he was going to demolish any idea that scripture was the inerrant word of God." Now, she is a very strong and evangelistic Christian, so she was unhappy with the approach the college took.

So my question for the day was "what should have been taught in that class?" To the kids, they were thinking that theology should not be taught at all. Theology is something that is done inside of the confines of worship. Worship is the path to God, and inside of worship and the sacraments can we find truth. Jesus is truth, and experiencing him is all we need. One of the major attractions of the Greek Orthodox church is it reinforcement of the sacraments, which have power in they giving of the sacraments to strengthen our faith. Thus their potential conversion to Greek Orthodox was the the idea that this would strength their faith.

This to me smacks of fideism.

If I had the the curriculum at this college, I would bring the best and strongest defenders of the faith and those that were most against the faith. I would allow an open and honest debate. For me, it is only inside the debate of open ideas do the best ideas win out. If Christianity is not the best idea, then it should not win out. However, if Christianity was true, it would win out.

They thought that this was just a bit too risky. In some ways, the argument is very convincing, since I am not exposing my children to all the influences of the world today. (Some day I will, but I believe in a base before testing.) The most convincing argument on this was my niece's husband who stated that two family members had left the faith because of allowing strong examination of their faith. By doing this, they both had left traditional Christianity, which they considered a tragedy.

In my mind, however, the would have left the faith anyways. See, people who leave the faith do it on the basis of wanting to be be free of the judgment. This fact is obvious as the nose on my face. It is so true that it provoke laughter on Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion" on the radio. In a recent broadcast, he said because a few too many infidelities had happened, the local church brought in an evangelist. The evangelist pointed out that hell and damnation await those that were bad, thus a little bit of pleasure in the short term would not make up for an eternity of punishment.

"You know," Keillor said, "What makes perfect sense loses perspective when are are getting progressively close to the short term pleasure." However, if there is no Hell, then you can do what ever you want.

However, in my faith, I will go back to the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel. I believe that Christianity can take any comers in an open discussion in the same way that Elijah could take on the 450 prophets of Baal. Let the arguments for non-Christianity happen. Let's discuss the other faiths. Let's discuss atheism. If Christianity doesn't win in the end, then it wasn't a faith worth having. If my God can defend his turf, then he is no God at all.

What happened at Mount Carmel? Very simply the mother of all debates happened.

The debate at the time is whose God is better. The God of Abraham or the God of Baal. So to determine this, a show down was called. Elijah suggested a very simple test. Whoever had the more powerful God would simply ask God to consume a sacrifice that they built.

450 prophets of Baal built their alter, and no god came to take their sacrifice. In the subtext of the conversion of the story to text, we lose how exactly strong the contest was. After nothing happened, Elijah started to jeer them. This isn't a nice prophet. This is a prophet that has nothing but contempt for the competition. Although it was been bowdlerized out of the Bible, I have read that the original Hebrew had Elijah yelling, "Hey guys, yell louder. I think your God is taking a crap and can't hear you."

The net sum of of the story is that when Elijah stood up, he called on the Lord and a fire fell from heaven and took the sacrifice. Elijah then turned to the assembly and said, "Kill those false prophets at the Kishon."

The problem with the Church today is that we've gotten completely weak or completely stupid.

What is being completely weak? Completely weak means that we allow anything to happen. Do others have different faiths? Sure let them have different faiths. As long as they don't threaten me, then I won't threaten them. We'll figure out better ways to program our Children through home schooling. They can program their children. This is the cowards way.

The completely stupid way is to have "Might makes right." These people say that "we'll pass laws against homosexuality. We'll legislate morality. We'll pass laws to keep the bad guys out. We'll burn the witch and kill the heretic." By the sword the religion will live and by the sword the religion will die.

I have the third option. Challenge God to show himself. Argue the faith. Show that the only faith that logically hangs together is Christianity. If we do this, we'll abandon positions that are indefensible (the Earth is flat or the Universe is only a few thousand years old), and we'll be forced to find those positions that that make Christianity unique (The Bible is historically accurate or is the only pre 15th century mythos that can be reconciled with the creation of the universe).

I have done my study. The Bible is unique. The mythos is unique. The faith has unique attributes that bring reasonable certainty to our Faith. Now is the evidence circumstantial?

The answer is yes. The evidence is completely circumstantial for us today. However, every legal system today will remove somebody's life based on circumstantial evidence. If we are willing to removed life because of circumstantial evidence, we need to also take up our own life based on excellent circumstantial evidence.