Want to enter a lottery where you are bound to win? Here is your chance (no pun intended): A physics student in the UK, Jaspal Kaur Jutla, for her third year project, has devised a quantum lottery in which you pick your numbers on line, and then on May 2, the winner will be determined based on the number of decay counts of cesium 137 in an apparatus she has put together.
Now, as Ms. Jutla points out, you are bound to win. Or at least one of your future world-paths will… In the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, all outcomes of any experiment are realized. Rather than the wave function, a superposition of all possible outcomes, “collapsing” to a single outcome, in the many-worlds interpretation the universe itself branches into all the possible outcomes. This interpretation was proposed in 1957 by Hugh Everett III at Princeton. The physics world thought this inerpretation came along with a bit too much metaphysical baggage to be taken completely seriously. Nevertheless the mathematics are certainly self-consistent, I think. His thesis has been on my shelf since I was a graduate student, and I have always been fascinated by these ideas. Could they not form the basis for a theory with another time dimension, one in which, if you travel, the things that happen (or have happened, or will happen) change? Hmm. Could be useful, no?
Personally I have little metaphysical difficulty with the idea of many worlds. We all live in many worlds, all the time, no? If I have no direct knowledge of what’s happening outside my direct experience, then I must regard that part of the universe as being in a superposition of many, many possible states. Another nice feature of the many-worlds viewpoint is that it removes the special status of the observer; in this view she or he is a quantum state like any other.
Anyway, interestingly, Everett went on to become a defense analyst, later founding a computer consulting firm. He died, far too young, at age 51. (At least, in my world he did.) If he was right, then perhaps he will experience quantum immortality. And so will you…