Play the Quantum Lottery!

By John Conway | April 3, 2007 2:43 pm

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…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Philosophy, Science
  • Vince

    “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.”

    Personally, I think humans don’t know how to correctly think of the quantum world, so we shouldn’t take the MWI seriously. Someday, we’ll come up with a theory that doesn’t resort to new universes being created, each one realizing a particular possibility. We just need to be patient.

  • Mark

    Fortunately, I don’t even have to bother to enter, since at least one of my future world-paths will enter, and one of those will win. :)

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    Vince #1: very, very patient, perhaps.

    Many Worlds, and the interpretation issue in general, was a subject of relatively frequent conversation when I was a grad student. One of my fellow grad students adopted the position of ‘why are we trying to work out what a wrong theory means anyway?’

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Hi John, the funny thing about many worlds
    ever wish one would open up when you have toothache
    you know, the one where you don’t have toothache
    or when you have a fender bender in your car
    the world in which the fender bender never took place
    and when you miss that meeting, bus, train or plane
    to find the world in which you were always ‘On Time’

    I agree with you, all possible worlds are right here
    sometimes we are in the one where everything is ‘fine’

    Physical events are observer independent, the hurricane will hit and the plane crash whether we see (or read about) the event, or not
    individual ‘experience’ is wholly experience-observer dependent, no one outside ones head can see ones thoughts (unless 1 manifests them in expressions and express them in words, maths or art), feel ones pain or be aware of whatever nightmare or dream 1 is experiencing or caught (entangled) in.
    Nightmare on Elm St – bring it on Freddie

  • anshul

    #2 Mark,

    Haha! That is got to be the best MWI joke I have heard… :)

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Isn’t there some hypocrisy about many universes, whether the quantum branching type, or the modal-realist style plentitude of universes of all versions of laws of physics (Tegmark, et al.)? Scientists used to say that we shouldn’t believe in what we couldn’t prove, talked about operational definitions of statements (positivism, etc.) Now, if it suits them, they believe what they want, regardless of provability issues – but still pick on others, like philosophers and theologians, who want to believe in something that can’t be found. Maybe the latter is harder to justify, but the principle of the thing is nearly the same.

  • http://www.badastronomy.com Phil Plait, aka The Bad Astronomer

    Pbbbbt. Why enter? She’ll just change the outcome by measuring it.

  • Arun M Thalapillil

    The many world interpretation is very interesting, but how precisely can we define it at the end of the day ? I found this paper interesting :

    http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0609190

    What about the old pilot wave idea of Bohm and de Broglie ?

  • http://thecrossedpond.com adam

    If we have to pick an interpretation, I’d go for the consistent histories/decoherent histories style approach of Griffiths, Omnes, Gell-Mann and Hartle, myself (I guess that the paper Arun linked is in that vein).

    Of course, we don’t have to pick an interpretation.

  • Elliot

    ah if we are going to debate QM interpretations my vote goes to Rothenberg’s information theoretic interpretation.

    MWI – not exactly occam’s razor if you get my drift.

    Elliot

  • Elliot

    I had thought of a different type of Quantum lottery for the far future when humanity is spread throughout the universe and having one global lottery would create a “speed of light” problem in disseminating the winning numbers. If the non-local effects of QM can be utilized then the results would be instantaneously available throughout the cosmos.

    (this is of course if the tickets and lottery machine are entangled ;)

    Elliot

  • Carl Brannen

    If the rest of science had foundations as shaky and disconnected from reality as MWI or string theory, we’d be living in caves.

  • Josh

    In what sense do the possible (but not realized) measurements exist?

    To flesh this out: Suppose I have a wavefunction which is the superposition of 4 eigenstates, each with equal probability of occuring. If I observe the wavefunction in the first eigenstate, how can we say that in an “alternate world” I measured the second eigenstate? The ‘existence’ of the measurement which results in the wavefunction collapsing to the second eigenstate seems to go against our intuitive notion of existence.
    Furthermore, how on earth could we test this alternative world hypothesis? All experiments we construct would inevitably exist in only one world.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Hmmm… No interest in other approaches to the question of space dimensionality, despite the theme here of skepticism about string theory? I hope you could at least check my blog, Tyrannogenius, for curiosity’s sake. I discuss how comparisons of E&M interactions in different spaces show preferability of three large space dimensions. This is not a rehash of existing facts of the specialness of 3-D space, but points to novel inconsistencies found in other spaces.

  • http://eipipuz.blogspot.com Guillermo Alcántara

    Neil B, they believe on multiples universes, as long as it makes sense. Theists believe it, no matter what. The confusion arise from 2 meanings of “believe”.

    Scientists believe in A, means: “I’ll take it as true because evidence/math says it could be, yet I’ll change my belief as soon as new info arrive”.

    Theists believe in A, means: “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or wants, this is true”.

    There’s no hypocrisy if you understand, that scientist use ideas as long as they’re useful. I don’t think anyone believes-like-a-theist in quantum immortality, as to try it personally.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Guillermo, you may have a point, as far as “credibility” goes. However, don’t forget the points philosophers have made about empirical provability as well. And, I’m not so sure the idea of multiple universes has any real theoretical credibility either. Other than wanting it to avoid “undesirable” quantum consequences, what validity of any kind does the idea of multiple universes have at all? Based on what ur-theory of reality, of comparative physics, etc?

    PS – Why don’t you check my blog post about why space is three-dimensional.

  • http://www.quantumphilosophy.net wah


    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.

    No, we don’t all live in many worlds all the time. There is one world that each of us perceives in pieces. The superimposition of many possible states is a function of your lack of perception, not a function of a lack of concrete reality.

    The problem with MWI, IMHO, is that is utterly non-testable….and terribly ego centric. Considering that it “does away with the observer” by turning the scientist into the only observer, and their observations into the only universe via constant burfurcation, would make any and allexperiments non-repeatable. Which is not exactly the kind of science I consider science.

    BTW, as a philosophical/phychological aside…you don’t really want to hang out with people who believe they live in a Universe where it is impossible for them to die. They tend to take a lot of others with them…from the Universes they leave behind.

  • DB

    “Could [MWI ideas] 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?”

    It’s appealing to imagine that possibility is a dimension (like space or time), but it doesn’t really work. A dimension should be measurable with a meterstick, and you should be able to rotate “x” or “y” or “z” into it.

    By that definition, of course, it once seemed crazy to imagine that time is a dimension, until Einstein showed that in fact you can measure it in meters, and that space does rotate into time (Lorentz transformation).

  • DB

    It was a long time ago (1989?), but I thought Eric Carlson wrote a paper claiming that MWI was experimentally distinguishable from Copenhagen. The experiment involved a Stern-Gerlach-type splitting of an electron beam, and then recombining the two output beams. Copenhagen says the result depends on whether the two intermediate beams are observed, while MWI says it does not. Or something like that.

    Sorry to bring you into this, Eric, if I’m wrong :-)

  • Ellipsis

    Elliott, and all — you should read The Babylon Lottery by J.L. Borges if you have not already — one of the finest and most amazing short stories of the past century. IMO it should be mandatory reading in quantum mechanics class.

  • Elliot

    Ellipsis,

    Yes it is quite well written, provocative, and on-topic. It’s a short read everyone so click on the link and just read it. And then thank Ellipsis for pointing it out.

    Elliot

    (sean isn’t it time for another poetry thread???)

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    Does this mean that for each small success that we have achieved, alternate versions of ourselves have failed in innumerable different ways?

  • dm

    The quantum definition of immortality reminds me of Douglas Adams definition of flying – by “throwing yourself at the ground and missing”. You achieve immortality – not by living forever, but by not dying. So.. if a whole series of events will inevitably lead to your death, does your consciousness just somehow skip over them and choose another line?

  • Elliot

    hey I just entered which means I .

  • Elliot

    means I (won|lost) Bra-ket nomenclature confuses the web.

    Elliot

  • Mark

    >Personally I have little metaphysical difficulty with the idea of many worlds.

    Nor do I… A lot of the objection to it seems to be arguments from incredulity, e.g. “How could there be space for all these universes?” (To which I would reply, “How could there not?”) Though the fact that there is not a shred of evidence to support it (nor is there likely to ever be) is still pretty damning.

    Still, I want to turn this idea on its head and invent a device that quantumly chooses the numbers that I would play in the government-run lottery. It would have to be small enough to take into the place where I’d buy the tickets — I wouldn’t want to choose the numbers at home, and then have to go through all the many-worlds branches I’d encounter on the walk to the store. This, of course, is ridiculous, but I’ve had the idea for a while and think about it occasionally…

  • chemicalscum

    >means I (won|lost) Bra-ket nomenclature confuses the web.

    &lt won|lost &gt

    use ampersand lt and gt.

    You certainly did in another world.

  • chemicalscum

    Damn !

    &lt won|lost &gt

    works in preview but not when posted.

  • chemicalscum

    It can be done though

    Dirac be praised !

  • chemicalscum

    Wrong again !

  • Hrvoje N.

    Somebody asked what about the theory of de Broglie and Bohm.
    Well, it is quite much like string theory.
    1. It is more philosophy than science.
    2. It is not even wrong.
    3. Most physicists do not find it very promising.
    4. It does not contradict any existing measurement.
    5. It recovers the predictions of the standard theory.
    6. It is much more elegant than the standard theory.
    7. It even leads to new predictions, but the experiments are not achievable at the moment.
    If it didn’t convinced you that there is a relation between de-Broglie-Bohm theory and string theory, then the following might:
    http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0512186
    http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0605250
    http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0702060

  • test

    >

  • test

    <ha|ha> I can <do|it> ;) !

  • http://www.quantummotion.org Shan Gao

    God Does Play Dice With the Universe!

    We live in a classical world. Yet, there is a ghostlike atomic world underneath. Everyone knows that a ball is composed of atoms. But nobody knows what atoms look like, and especially, how in hell atoms move. They don’t look like small balls at all; for instance, a single atom can pass through two slits at the same time. The more stunning fact is that we don’t exactly know how a ball moves either. It appears to move in a continuous way. This, however, is a mere illusion. Even the greatest scientists Newton and Einstein were also deluded by the appearance.

    This book will reveal a deep secret of nature for the first time. It is that every object in the universe, no matter it is an atom or a ball or even a star, jumps in a random and discontinuous way. In a famous metaphor, God does play dice with the universe…

    More on http://www.quantummotion.org/gdpc.html

  • Paul Valletta

    You may all want to consult this new paper by Max Tegmark first:
    http://arxiv.org/abs/0704.0646

    What happens if you choose a number that ends up in a Universe, where numbers have not been discovered?..or dare I state it, a Universe where Quantum Mechanics does not exist!

    This is based upon what a lot of people state: That all “possible” situations/=, even a “non_quantum_world” is probable.

    If the MWT has any basis on fact, then there would be Universe’s that have no Quantum realms, and thus no need for any bizzare intepretations.

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    Actually, I don’t think you would want to experience quantum immortality in the sense as described in the wiki article. You would then experience growing older, yet you would still stay alive and be forced to experience this until the end of time.

    If a multiverse exists, then (generically) there exists an infinite number of copies of everything. This means that if you are close to death, then you are sure to survive with memory loss as another copy.

    Also, you can think of time evolution as an information conserving mapping between different static universes. In this interpretation, “yesterday” exists in the same sense as today and tomorrow exist. If you die today, you are “still” alive in the “yesterday” universe. :)

  • jeffw

    Actually, I don’t think you would want to experience quantum immortality in the sense as described in the wiki article. You would then experience growing older, yet you would still stay alive and be forced to experience this until the end of time

    Not a pleasant prospect. Suicide wouldn’t even be an option.

    In this interpretation, “yesterday” exists in the same sense as today and tomorrow exist. If you die today, you are “still” alive in the “yesterday” universe

    But “yesterday” and “tomorrow” are all based on the concept of “now”, plus or minus one day. Such an ordinary word. You might be tempted to think of “now” as a giant “cursor” moving through the universe, but (as far as I know), it is not a physical concept. In physics, time is a stretchable line segment of possible nows, but there is no actual “real” now. It was a bit surprising to realize that, until physics comes up with a definition of “now”, the only way to define it is by referencing your own consciousness. So how do you know that the “now” you experience is the same that someone else experiences? Are they 10 years in the past or future? Or does it even make sense to ask the question?

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    Jeffw, I don’t believe in a “now”. As you point out, physics doesn’t single “now” out of all possible ones.

    If you just take the set of all possible “observer moments” that exist in the multiverse (Sean thinking of Astrophysics, me reading his blog etc. etc.), then you can define a partial ordering on this set according to some notion of logical order. Subjective time that we experience must be defined using such a notion. At least that’s how I see it. :)

  • Pingback: Why is many-worlds winning the foundations debate? « Quantum Quandaries()

  • jeff

    Jeffw, I don’t believe in a “now”.

    Hmmm, not sure I can agree with that. It sure seems to exist to me, and apparently to many others as well (assuming an objective universe). In fact, it may be the only thing that actually does exist, since the past exists only in memory and the future only in imagination :) There is something very special about “now”. To deny “now”, is to deny the existence of your own consciousness, and to deny the existence of your own consciousness is to deny the existence of reality (since reality and consciousness cannot be separated). So, not believing in “now” makes you effectively a nihlist :) But who knows? Maybe you’re right…

    However, if someone were ever to discover a physical basis for “now”, it would seem to be a way to bridge the subjective and object realities, which could be very important.

  • Paul Valletta

    Now..Now..Now..?

    How does one comprehend existence:Jeffw, I don’t believe in a “now”.

    Well if like me you can acknowledge that the concept of “Now” is the only evidence of “change”, then I am sure you can grasp your, and everyone else’s existence.

    Now is the “ONLY” period that does not remain the same, in that, the Past cannot and does not change, the Future, cannot and does not change, it has not actually happened, thus the “Now” is the only period that experience can determine change.

    Show me “Now” that does not change, and I’ll show you an absolute universal nothing!

    Relativity, and ultimately Consciousness, is based on the fundemental concept of a changing “Now”. There is no such reality in QM, you end up forever in a “THEN” future and past equal footing?

    From the concept of a “now”, you can determine that the past will not interfere with the future directly, without passing through a moment of change.

  • jeffw

    Well if like me you can acknowledge that the concept of “Now” is the only evidence of “change”, then I am sure you can grasp your, and everyone else’s existence. Now is the “ONLY” period that does not remain the same, in that, the Past cannot and does not change, the Future, cannot and does not change, it has not actually happened, thus the “Now” is the only period that experience can determine change.

    Ok, this may be a more meaningful definition. But change in itself may not be enough. It seems to require that future change be indeterminate, otherwise the future would also be as fixed as the past, and there would nothing remarkable to distinguish it from the events in the past (is a platonic ordering of events enough to confer reality upon them?) This implies that someone or something must make a “choice” at the junction called “now”. Something undefined must become defined, this continual, relentless definition being called “now”. But then there are other questions (such as why is it so relentless and unstoppable?)

    Unfortunately, this still does not assign anything universal to “now”. The definition is still subjective, maybe even more so. So it does not help with grasping everyone else’s existence, or what they may experience as “now”.

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    Actually what I meant was that I don’t believe in a “now” as some sort of pointer in the physical universe. All you need are observers. The person you are one second from now is not exactly the same as the person you are now. If there were no difference then you couldn’t tell that one second had passed.

    So, if you define which observer you are talking about, you are implicitly specifying the “now” he experiences.

  • Paul Valletta

    jeffw: ” But change in itself may not be enough. It seems to require that future change be indeterminate, otherwise the future would also be as fixed as the past, and there would nothing remarkable to distinguish it from the events in the past (is a platonic ordering of events enough to confer reality upon them?) ”

    I do believe the change, from a future speculative point of view, is dependant upon thermal(volume/area) quantities?

    1)The future will be more larger then the past. If the future did not have available space to accomodate sufficient probabilities, then expansion could not occur, and contraction would prevail.

    2)The past was hotter than the future. We may not detect the difference at this moment in time “now” ?..but over a long enough period of change, say from the hot big bang to yesterday, it appears to be so. If you were present in every single moment from the BB to yesterday, took thermal readings, you would have observed the past “now” was hotter than the present_time “now” ?

    3)The future will have less visible light than the past, the future will be visible dark! In the future, some observers would have to maintain that they are the only “galaxy” in the universe. This is to say that, as expansion increase’s, every galaxy would not recieve any light from their nearest/next, galaxy. Thus every galaxy that has observers would have to conclude “their” home galaxy was unique.

    The future changes are determined by “local” thermal signatures, the closer one gets to absolute zero, the closer one gets to the big-_-crunch. All future galaxies will be seperated by enough distance (one can see these as isolated islands?), so as not to interfere with the oncoming crunch_bang.

    One can really class all future changes occur within “single” galactic localities, and all galaxies, that are sufficiently lightcone isolated, are sources of thier own big_bangs?

    Finally, in the future, there will be as many, if not more? Universes than there is “now”, it’s just how one defines them to be in existence, determinate or variable?..our galactic “now” is not imposed upon every other galactic observers “now”, we will become isolated!

  • jeffw

    I do believe the change, from a future speculative point of view, is dependant upon thermal(volume/area) quantities?

    True, the future is indeterminate, yet constrained by previous definitions in the past. But one must ask then, “why this definitional consistency?” What keeps the universe consistent (ordered?), the future with the past?

    It also is interesting to note that events in the past seem to have been “defined” and ordered without me experiencing them as a “now”, although that still does not necessarily make them objective. Perhaps they were actually defined in my “now”, as long as they’re consistent with previous definitions. I think Hawking may believe something like that (top-down universe, the origin of the universe is not truly defined until it ends?)

    The future will be more larger then the past. If the future did not have available space to accomodate sufficient probabilities, then expansion could not occur, and contraction would prevail.

    Does this mean that time would flow backwards? If it did, to experience “now” would mean continual “undefinition”, instead of definition. That might not be the same experience.

    Finally, in the future, there will be as many, if not more? Universes than there is “now”, it’s just how one defines them to be in existence, determinate or variable?..our galactic “now” is not imposed upon every other galactic observers “now”, we will become isolated!

    Ah but see, you’re still assuming your now is the same as mine :)

    The subjectivity of “now” raises even more questions. If “now” is different for someone else, it also means that their past and future are different, which is hard to reconcile with an objective universe, although it may be consistent with an Everett-type scenario.

    BTW, I would never have the hubris to say I that comprehend existence. I suspect the rabbithole could go much deeper than we realize. Perhaps even as deep as we want it to go :)

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Note that if all possible universes exist, even restricting to “having the same laws of physics,” we get the following conundrum for an empirical approach to verifying/confirming truth: Of the 10^10^(1,000,….) universes (not literally infinite if we imagine any kind of discontinuity of space), there will be a subset in which the least probable things happen, as already noted. But instead of peculiar events per se, consider the implications for defining “the laws of physics”: in some universes, for example Co-60 decayed throughout their history on an average of about a few hours instead of five years. (I am one of those who would have been quickly fried in such a universe, or at least where it started during part of my career…) In such a case, what is the meaning of “half-life” etc? Would physicists and thinkers in such worlds be allowed to say from theory that the half-life was “really” about 5 years, and their whole world is a statistical fluke? Or, is empirical verification part of the very meaning of probability of occurance, in which case the subset of universes “really have different laws of physics.”, and many seem not to have any at all about such matters. Well?

  • Paul Valletta

    As the thread linked site (quantum lottery) shows, the lottery is based on the production of a “random” number lottery, which uses the process of “radiocatice decay” within the experimental setup to generate “number_choice”, or number generation?

    The natural process of all radiocative decay + products is based upon the availability of “parents” and “daughters”, so some half_lifes are needed for investigation.

    In this link:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Alfa_beta_gamma_radiation.svg

    the process shows that Alpha particles get stopped fully by a sheet of paper, Beta is stopped by aliminium sheeting, and finally Gamma is quenched by a solid lead block of at least 3 metre thickness.

    So biological proccess (paper or human skin) can influence the decay outcome of Alpha?

    A lot of elements are needed to collect into the product of Aluminium ( out of the standard elemental table process ), for there to be a significant influence of Beta.

    Finally, there must be a very large timescale to have passed in order for there to produce a chunk of lead 3 metres ^ !

    The Universe have a natural history when it comes to element creation, a period of time needs to pass for the generation of certain products, and these products may half_life it away in an instant, or hang around for vast generations?

    So when Gamma Rays are detected we can conclude that there is very little lead elements between the source and ourselves, which implies a very “early” period “short_life”?… of the Universe.

    Alpha particles or Helium Neucleus, implies a long period “long_life” priod is needed.

    Along the decay chain, which do you think has the most influence, early products (parents) or late time (duaghters) products?

    Its a “what comes first”, influences most type question?

    Would the Universe be Alpha rich, if life were not around “now”? Life would not be around for long in a Gamma rich environment?

  • Paul Valletta

    Looks like there are more “grant” losers than winners?
    :
    http://fqxi.org/minigrant-winners.html

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