Ghost Universes and Phantom Photons

The probability wavefunction; a creature whose characteristics propose the existence of simultaneously dead and alive cats, observational dependent existence, and other hard to swallow quantum truths, may have collapsed- indefinitely.

As a reminder, the probability wave function is the way of describing the state of a quantum mechanical system. For such a system, the most that can be known before measurement is the probability of it being in a certain state. There may be it a high probability it is in state X and a low probability it is in state Y and all this information is mapped out with the wavefunction. Then when a measurement is made, to assume a value of the state, the probability wavefunction collapses to one single point.

Now, quantum mechanics has often been characterized as the quasi-sci-fi realm of physics and when one enters this rabbit hole to the quantum world they are confronted by a vast array of weirdness. See ‘The Nature of Reality‘ for some examples. However, Professor Howard Wiseman, physicist at Griffith University in Brisbane Australia, along with Dr. Michael Hall and Dr. Dirk-Andre Deckert of University of California, Davis have come up with a new ‘Many Interacting Worlds’ (MIW) theory which seeks to present Quantum 2.0 – without the weirdness (well not as much).

Firstly a little bit of history – a theory of many worlds* has been around for quite some time. The ‘many-worlds interpretation’ (MWI – an annoyingly very similar acronym) of quantum mechanics was introduced in 1957 by Hugh Everett. Everett suggested that instead of a simple collapse of the probability wavefunction every time a quantum measurement was made, resulting in one distinct outcome – all possible outcomes happen, each occurring in its own separate universe. The probability predicting a particle may be here or there actually reflects that in one universe it is here and in another universe it is there. As an illustration if a coin is flipped, the probability of it landing heads or tails is 50:50, however instead of one outcome occurring, both occur, both heads and tails but in different parallel universes. As the coin is flipped, crudely speaking in this example, the universe “splits” in two, in each with a future occurring heads or tails, and you in each of these universes looking at the outcome thinking your reality is the only reality. The MWI claims to reconcile how we can perceive non-deterministic events, such as the random decay of a radioactive atom, with the deterministic equations of quantum physics.

Throughout the life of quantum mechanics, the probability wavefunction has been a core entity providing the understanding for fundamental quantum properties such as wave –particle duality. Wiseman however interjects stating ‘You can’t think of the wave function as a real thing.’ The MIW  does away with the wavefunction entirely and the complexity of Schrodinger’s equations that come along for the ride. Instead, it postulates that the parallel universes have always existed, they are not a by-product of quantum measurement and conversely the quantum effects we detect arise from the interactions between these worlds themselves. Wiseman and colleagues claim that the quantum weirdness is the resulting effect of the particles in these worlds interacting with each other via repulsive forces between corresponding particles as soon as they diverge a tiny bit. The interaction only occurs under very specific conditions and the particle twins need to be on roughly a nanoscopic distance scale. However it is believed the resulting minute interactions under these strict conditions are enough to explain quantum behavior.

Wiseman uses the famous double-slit experiment to support his case that particles in or universe feel the presence of their corresponding particles living alongside in the ‘ghost universes’. In this experiment, a beam of photons is fired at a barrier in which two slits have been cut. The light that passes through the barrier in then recorded on a photographic plate. Even when firing single photons, which if in accordance with Newtonian mechanics should act as bullets, going through one slit or another, a wave interference pattern still occurs, commonly only produced by interfering particles on a wave front. The MIW theory proposes it is the interaction with these phantom photons residing in the parallel universes that causes the interference pattern to arise. In fact Wiseman showed that taking a framework where only 41 worlds exist, the same interference pattern as observed would arise.

The beauty of this theory resides in the satisfying ‘visual’ picture it paints. If there was only our world the mechanics would reduce to the familiar Newtonian workings. However if the number of worlds is colossal, or perhaps infinite, quantum mechanics becomes the natural fall out due to Many World Interaction. The apparent weirdness is only construed as weird from our perspective because we are unable to see outside of our own universe, we are unable to see the full stage of actors in play. The ghost universes and phantom particles remain in their very nature hidden from our analysis and according to Wiseman leave traces of their presence in the form of quantum quirks.

* Here, a “world” means an entire universe with well-defined properties, determined by the classical configuration of its particles and fields.

14 responses to “Ghost Universes and Phantom Photons

  1. I hope this doesn’t sound like a silly question. As a non-scientist and geek, there was a Justice League animated movie that played on the idea of “multiverses” (Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths). It went with the idea that IF the ORIGINAL world was destroyed, it would destroy all of the others. How would this theory take that?

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    • Not a silly question at all! (I myself love DC & Marvel) Now to this my thoughts would be that the original world has no special importance. The Many Worlds Theory states that every time there is a quantum mechanical event with probabilities of different outcomes, each outcome occurs in a separate universe. Now once this ‘splitting off’ has happened these universes are distinct and have no direct influence on the workings off the other apart from these ‘ghost-like’ interactions observed in quantum level experiments like the double slit experiment. So yes I should think if this one was ‘destroyed’ I shouldn’t not affect the others apart from a slight tweaking of the quantum mechanical results of experiments carried out in these other worlds.
      (However I should reiterate that these theories and their workings are very speculative so don’t take my reasoning as gospel! I shall try and do another post on this theme soon to try and clarify the current scientific stance a bit further) I do hope this made some sense!

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      • It makes perfect sense. I enjoy reading science posts that “spill over ” to TV, movies, etc.. I really enjoyed this post and I am looking forward to reading more.

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    • To this I would say I think that’s what science is inherently – trying to construct theories about phenomena we don’t understand in order to try and better understand. Now if I understand your point (correct me if not) you’re asking if it is scientific to come up with a theory about something we can’t empirically test? To this I would say yes, definitely. Why should we as human beings in this vast universe believe that all the phenomena that exist should be empirically testable with our level of technology or our current understanding as a species? To me this screams a level of hubris on our part. Now saying this however there are quantum effects that we can (with our currently technology) detect and a particular interpretation of them is the Many Worlds Interpretation – so yes I believe the theory is definitely a sound one. A theory is after all just a theory, unless we try to claim it as truth I believe it can do no harm.


  2. Thanks for your helpful answer. I agree with you that science should boldly go, to quote Star Trek! As long as it doesn’t become too much like religion, that is … the empirical tradition is an important element in preserving logic in an illogical age.

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    • Wise words, I completely agree! An empirical element must be preserved but often in the field of theoretical physics one has to work with the maths as opposed to experiments so things can get tricky… but perhaps we’re on the right track & our experiments just aren’t advanced enough yet to probe the phenomena

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