Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Quantum Mechanics God of Alternate Reality Bibles

This post with an odd title will share a set of distinctly Christian story ideas loosely linked into the Many Worlds Interpretation (or MWI) of quantum mechanics.

So I feel compelled to explain what MWI actually is first. For readers who feel they understand MWI well, feel free to skip down 7 paragraphs, where I will begin talking again about what MWI means and how that relates to a story idea in bold print

In short, MWI sees that all possible alternate histories and futures are real. A way to tie that back into the specific language of physics would be to affirm that this interpretation "asserts the objective reality of the universal wavefunction and denies the actuality of the wavefunction collapse."

For those readers who many not understand the phrase I just used above (I pulled it off Wikipedia, BTW), I'm going to put into my own lay terms what I just quoted, using an electron as my example. According to quantum mechanics, the exact position and motion of an electron cannot be known. Not fully. To keep this as brief as possible, that means the position of an electron (and other quanta) can only be estimated based on probability. The electron can in fact be nearly anywhere, but the chances of it being on the other side of the universe when it just left an atom here on Earth is very close to zero. Note what I just said--the chances are "very close" to zero. But they are not zero. According to quantum mechanics there are very low probabilities (yes very, very low) that an electron that was on Earth just a nanosecond ago is now in the Andromeda galaxy somewhere. Yes, this definitely seems to contradict everything you have heard about the speed of light, that nothing can go faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, which would be about 300,000 kilometers per second. (In more than just this, the physics of quantum mechanics does not agree with the physics of relativity very well.) However, the chances are much greater that the electron is somewhere not far from its last position.

So the situation I just described, concerning the position of any quantum such as our electron being unknown, means in modern physics that the possible locations of the electron are calculated based on where it might be, producing something called a "wavefunction." (Wavefunctions can be combined to provide for all possible locations of an electron. All such possible combinations of wavefunctions is what the term "universal wavefunction" is driving at.)

For reasons I am not going to explain here that have to do with wave interference, it appears that our electron weirdly actually IS in a wide variety of places at the same time when it can be described as a wavefunction. So it isn't just that it is hard to find--it is acting as a different kind of thing, a wave. But when you measure where the individual electron happens to be at any given moment within the wavefunction, it "collapses," which means that instead of being in many places, the act of measuring the electron forces it to actually be in just one place at a time, so all the probable locations become one-and-only-one observed location. 
Note that isn't the same as not knowing where the electron is and finding it. The "finding it" in fact changes its nature and causes it to behave in a completely different way that it would if it were unmeasured (as a "wavefunction," an electron seems to act as a wave of different simultaneous locations, but once the function has "collapsed," it acts as a particle).

The Many Worlds Interpretation says my hypothetical electron seems to be in many places because there are a wide range of universes in which the electron actually is in each possible place it could be. And this variety of universes is seen in the wavefunction characteristics only giving probable simultaneous locations. When I make a measurement about the specific location of an electron, instead of the wavefunction collapsing so that all the possible locations boil down to really only one location, the MWI interpretation says that the electron continues to be in all the separate places it could be--there is no collapse. But we just happen to be living in only one of the possible outcomes for that electron. All the other possibilities continue to exist in other universes which are separated from us.

MWI sees the number of universes as not only for all practical purposes infinite, it sees that with each branching of quanta, with each wavefront collapse, with each decision if we want to think of it that way, the number of universes increases. And there would be a universe in which every possible decision that could be made at the tiniest scale (that's what the term "quanta" describes, the tiniest possible things), was in fact made.

So why did I bother to explain the meaning of the Many Worlds Interpretation? To make a few things clear about it. 1. It is just one way of interpreting physics. It is in no way actually known to be true--there are other possible interpretations. 2. It's a view of the universe based on science. So some very smart people buy into MWI wholeheartedly and think this is how the universe really works (I don't agree with them, but that doesn't matter here). 3. It undergirds the alternate reality sort of story which is very popular in science fiction. 4. I would like to use it as a launching point for a new kind of science fiction story, one that presumes God is real and the Bible is His message.

So, what if the MWI interpretation of quantum mechanics were actually true? How would that relate to the God of the Bible?

Let's suppose, just for the purposes of floating a story idea that at least some readers might take seriously, that quantum universe variations don't apply to God and the original creation, but they DO apply to the universe once God created it. So there would be an alternate universe where Adam and Eve never sinned and the human race lives in a global Eden on Planet Earth. There would be a Moses who did not strike the rock when God told him to speak to it, who would enter the Promised Land instead of dying outside it. There would be an ancient Israel where the kings never strayed from righteousness, which was never conquered by the Babylonians. And another Israel in which the Jewish leaders under Roman domination would have wholeheartedly embraced Jesus. Etc.

Note that God would not be inconsistent in this imaginary story conception. Human beings would have freedom to act and God would simply react to them as they responded to the choices He gave them.

Note also that this is a non-deterministic look at God. God can't have predetermined every single thing for this to work as a story. 
Or at least, if He did predetermine everything, He would need to have done so many separate times, Him allowing (well, actually, sovereignly ordaining) each choice a person could make to be performed throughout the universes. So there would be a plethora, but not an infinite number, of universes all wrapped around individual human moral decisions. Human moral choice would be the source of the division of universes and not the rattling of tiny quanta--which would be one of the key differences between this sort of story and the typical science fiction alternate reality tale.

Since God's character would remain the same in this Christian version of MWI, there would still be a sacrifice for sin, if sin in fact were to be introduced into the given world (it would seem sin would be a part of all possible worlds except only for one, the one in which Adam and Eve obeyed perfectly). But Christ would have to die in separate circumstances for each reality, each separate universe having its own version of the Savior for the universe at that point. Christ dying once for sins, as the New Testament says He did, would only apply to once for any given universe.

So, what if for each possible choice presented to human beings by God in Biblical times, a version of the Bible existed which covered the choices made? Where every alternate action would have actually HAPPENED in an another universe?

So there would be a plethora of possible Bibles. Not an infinite number, because the moral choices God mandated human beings make in Scripture are not infinite in number. Say there were 10,000 different Bibles across the universes. Or 7,000--that's more of a Biblical figure. :) (though if we were to count small changes, 7 million might be more like it)

Why shouldn't a Christian author of science fiction feature a story where God is consistent but the people who responded to God did radically different things? So as people somehow cross into an alternate reality, as so often happens in stories like this, they would find ALL possible realities contain a Bible and Christianity (or something essentially like it), but the Bibles were not in fact the same in each alternate world? And the very worlds people lived in were different as well, based on differing Biblical influences?

I see no problem extending this moral decision-making past Biblical times. So there might be 7,000 versions of the Bible, but each individual Bible would have separate alternate universes branching off from it, separate universes in which that particular original text was used. 

So the universe that produced our Bible, as we have it, would have separated further after Scripture was written. So it would represent perhaps tens of millions of alternate realities, each reality based on moral choices made in relation to God post the writing of the Bible. 

Likewise there would be tens of millions of alternate realities linked to other Bible versions. Variations in Scripture and translations could become the most important means of figuring out which universe you were in--or at least in which SET of universes you had entered.

Wouldn't it be interesting if also all versions of the Bible, no matter what they are, ALL had essentially the same first and last chapters, even if everything else in them changed? That God would bring all the different quantum universes to the same eternal state, just as all of them came from the same initial creation.

I have more thoughts to share on this story idea, but I believe what I can say next will stand alone well as its own blog post. And that perhaps I have written enough on this idea for now, anyway. :)


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Walking Dead--Maybe it's Time For me to Stop Watching

This blog post commits no real spoilers concerning The Walking Dead season 7 opener. I'll say it's brutal but not necessarily highly realistic, without divulging anything more specific than some general comments on story events which are widely-known and some other comments about head injuries. And I mention that the featured bad guy is surprisingly charismatic and charming. I won't even bother to say his name.

That this bad guy kills should be known by everyone even vaguely familiar with the show and all its advertised hype. That he does so with a special baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire should also be known. Also that the killing is brutal should be known, perhaps the most violent actions shown on "regular" television in the USA--all that has been the talk of the Internet of late.

I suppose realism would be the justification for showing as much gore as the episode does. However, what was shown actually wasn't highly realistic. It could be argued that reality is significantly worse and there's a point to that. For example, the scalp is notorious for bleeding heavily. On one particular occasion, hitting my head on the ground hard on my 3rd jump at US Army airborne school, with a helmet not quite fitting right, the jerking helmet net gave me cut on the top of my scalp not one inch long. And that little cut bled quite a bit, so much so that another soldier said I looked like an extra from Braveheart, my face wholly covered in red--and I barely felt any pain. Of course not all scalp cuts are equally that bloody. But what happened to me wasn't highly unusual. Scalp injuries, in general, bleed. A lot.

So strict realism would require a lot more blood at first than what was actually shown. Really it would. And then a bit later, a lot more white and gray matter (I'll abstain from more details on that topic at the moment).

"So what?" Somebody might reply. "Are you complaining it wasn't brutal ENOUGH?" No. That wasn't my intent at all. But at least in my mind, strict medical realism would have provided some kind of cover, some kind of excuse to get so messy.

What is the point in showing gore and blood which isn't actually real? To just be disgusting? Just to horrify the audience or provoke an emotional reaction from them? I mean, isn't that what slasher horror films are famous for, whether they are realistic or not?

Or perhaps the show's producers would have gone further into realism but censors would not let them...I don't know about that.

I do know I was a fan of this show since season 1. At times things about it concerned me...such as the fact that the most morally upright characters were killed off, on multiple occasions--with surprising regularity, actually. But I did not let myself be too bothered by that particular detail.

The show had the virtue, in my view, of showing that evil really IS evil. It did not pretend that people are basically good, though killing off good characters may imply that evil behavior is a functional necessity in hard times--which is not something I would agree with. And at times the show has gotten close to saying people are essentially good, (only forced to be bad by circumstances), with at least one character (Carol) losing the ability to kill for no particular reason. Yes, I find it more compelling to show that a human who walks the path of extreme brutality will never really be the same again. And that any repentance a person who has crossed that line may experience is an unusual event, not what humans normally do in the worst of circumstances. In fact, changing one's ways away from evil, a.k.a. repentance, is usually an experience linked to deep religious conviction in the real world. The character Carol does not show any profound convictions about the value of life that I observed in the story, religious or otherwise. She simply suddenly found it hard to continue killing. As if her innate human goodness suddenly came surging forward after a long time of doing wrong. Which is not something I find true to what human nature actually is.

Carol's change of character and a few other events lead me to a more honest evaluation of how TWD represents morality. Which would be to say the show has muddied the waters between good and evil at least a bit. Termnians were evil but something had to happen to make them that way, something awful, something beyond the need to survive and a world in which rules of good behavior are no longer enforced (which are more than enough for the worst of human nature to surge forward in my view). Gay characters have been shown exclusively in a positive light, as if being gay is a guarantee of innate inner goodness and invulnerability to temptations to do evil, which it isn't. While religion (of any kind) has only informed the lives of far fewer characters than you'd expect in the setting, the US South, i.e. THE BIBLE BELT. And not in all cases when it has been portrayed has it been shown to be good--which isn't unrealistic, but in fact gay people are portrayed better on the show than religious people. And last I checked we are all human and capable of abandoning the behavior civilization works hard to put into each one of us.

By the way, wouldn't a realistic portrayal of a zombie apocalypse in Georgia show a lot of people suddenly developing a deep interest in their Christian roots? A lot of people praying? Which would have nothing to do with promoting faith in any way, it would simply be realistic for the area. Right? But that's not what TWD has done.

So I am afraid I need to abandon what I used to claim. That the show is realistically showing people as they actually act under very bad circumstances (note, I never claimed the zombies themselves were realistic).

No, it isn't doing that. The show is treating us to a carefully scripted view of what is right and wrong, one I don't think is actually correct. And there is more that's false in the story than its moral issues--to give just one example, have you ever noticed how the grunge of the zombie apocalypse manages to keep everyone's hair still looking good? I can't recall a single case of messed up "hat hair" in the show...not among the main characters anyway...even though they at times wear hats. Not that hair is vitally important--but it is just another way that TWD fails any careful test for realism.

What The Walking Dead has produced is in fact the equivalent of the 10 dollar Rolex for sale on a street somewhere. At first glance it looks good--in fact, looking good it what it delivers more than anything else. But its inner workings are defective. It isn't real. It's a fake, albeit one that acts as if it's something more than an imitation.

"OK, this show is a fantasy," someone will say. "We all knew this or should have. What's the big deal?"

To perhaps push my previous analogy a bit far, that to me is like saying, "Hey, if you see a Rolex for sale for 10 bucks, you should have known it was fake the whole time. Buy one if you like or not, but you have no right to complain about it."

Yeah. Sort of. Yes, I should have known better. But no, I don't have to continue to like a show I thought of as realistic in some aspects, but which has wandered away from the realism which mattered to me. I do have some grounds to complain.

And there's the issue with the series 7 opener that showed the designated bad guy as charming and charismatic. Sure, it is actually realistic to show a charismatic villain, because there have been plenty of those in world history. Perhaps I should be applauding the realism. But what I fear is true instead ("fear" is the right word instead of "believe" or "think," because I'm not 100% sure), is that this change is in no way driven by a sense of what is real. Instead, it came from the writers of the show hoping the charismatic leader would rivet viewers to the screen. As would the guessing over the brutal actions that leader would take prior to them happening and the flood of raw emotion for most viewers as the episode's on-screen splatter took place.

In other words, it isn't realism driving this new villain but a desire to bring in a larger audience. "Well, duh," will say the you-should-have-known-better people. True, it isn't shocking or shouldn't be that a show will do anything to bring in more viewers. It isn't surprising that previous gruesomeness in the show has not proven to be enough, that like spectators of gladiatorial matches in ancient Rome, the fans of TWD expect things to get worse, not on a continual basis mind you, but in fits and starts.

So that leaves me with a tough personal question--do I really want to consider myself a fan of that? Of a show that has only gotten more brutal over time and which shows no signs of stopping? 

I used to say that the increased brutality was for realism's sake--and that particular perceived realism was the main thing I LIKED about the show, actually. But it ISN'T for realism. It's for ratings...and it seems to be having the effect of rewarding the desire in people to see more and more violence. To seek out the novelty of something that is worse than the last time, creating a cycle of the series continually growing worse. Even though the show's portrayal of violence isn't altogether real, the way it is going I fear will wind up desensitizing its viewers to the genuine article, to real violence.

You know, I very much believe in freedom of individual choice in most matters. I also believe that moral choices matter--and the things we watch help shape who we really are deep inside. That as individuals, people ought to be vigilant about what they do and do not chose to watch. And I also believe that maybe I have had enough of The Walking Dead's escalating cycle of violence.

A reader of this post may not concur with anything I said in the paragraph above or with not enough to be in fundamental agreement with me. Fine. I don't dispute your right to an opinion of your own. By all means, make the right moral choice for yourself.

But as far as my choice goes, I believe it's time for me to stop watching The Walking Dead.