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. :)