Measurement Problem / Observer Effect / Uncertainty Principle

The peculiar discovery known as “The Quantum Measurement Problem” ultimately shows the inseparability of the observer from the observed.  All quantum experiments have confirmed that there is no measurable, solid reality “out there” independent of the measurer.  What is “out there” when we’re not looking is an infinite wavy cloud of criss-crossing possibilities.  Then when we focus our attention on something, the wave function collapses into a defined particle in a definite location for us to observe.

If you want to see fear in a quantum physicist’s eyes, just mention the words, ‘the measurement problem.’  The measurement problem is this: an atom only appears in a particular place if you measure it.  In other words, an atom is spread out all over the place until a conscious observer decides to look at it.  So the act of measurement or observation creates the entire universe.”  -Jim Al-Khalili, Nuclear Physicist

An electron is not a precise entity, but exists as a potential, a superposition, or sum, of all probabilities until we observe or measure it, at which point the electron freezes into a particular state.  Once we are through looking or measuring, the electron dissolves back into the ether of all possibilities.”  -Lynne McTaggart, “The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe,” (102)

Physicist Fred Alan Wolf uses the term “popping the quiff” (QWF for Quantum Wave Function) to describe the role of the observer in creating reality.  Before being consciously observed, quanta (the “building blocks” of all matter) exist only as a boundary-less wave of undifferentiated quantum energy.  In this state there is no matter as such, no particles or “things” with attributes and definite locations – just an infinite expanse of energy, Zero-Point, The Field.  However, when a conscious observer focuses attention, they “pop the quiff,” collapse the quantum wave function into a solid particle of experience with definable attributes and location.

One of the fundamental laws of quantum physics says that an event in the subatomic world exists in all possible states until the act of observing or measuring it ‘freezes’ it, or pins it down, to a single state.  This process is technically known as the collapse of the wave function, where ‘wave function’ means the state of all possibilities … Although nothing exists in a single state independently of an observer, you can describe what the observer sees, but not the observer himself.  You include the moment of observation in the mathematics, but not the consciousness doing the observing.  There is no equation for an observer … According to the mathematics, the quantum world is a perfect hermetic world of pure potential, only made real …when interrupted by an intruder.”  -Lynne McTaggart, “The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe,” (103)

These findings are so significant because they prove that the classical Newtonian model of physics (now being termed “the old physics”) is fundamentally flawed.  The old physics described a mechanistic material universe “out there” existing regardless of whether or not there was a conscious being alive to perceive it.  The new physics shows that matter doesn’t even exist without consciousness.  Without a conscious observer to “pop the quiff,” there is no substance, no “materiality” to that which is – just an unlimited, undifferentiated field of energy.  As stated in the excellent quantum physics documentary, What the Bleep Do We Know, “When you are not looking, there are waves of possibility.  When you are looking, there are particles of experience.

What is real depends on whether I look and the way I look.  This is not just a philosophical question.  We can see this in experiments.”  -Anton Zeilinger, Quantum Physicist

Cause-and-effect relationships no longer hold at the subatomic level.  Stable-looking atoms might suddenly, without apparent cause, experience some internal disruption; electrons, for no reason, elect to transit from one energy state to another.  Once you peer closer and closer at matter, it isn’t even matter, not a single solid thing you can touch or describe, but a host of tentative selves, all being paraded around at the same time.  Rather than a universe of static certainty, at the most fundamental level of matter, the world and its relationships are uncertain and unpredictable, a state of pure potential, of infinite possibility.” -Lynne McTaggart, “The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe,” (10-11)

Another interesting anomaly of the quantum world is known as “The Uncertainty Principle” discovered by German physicist Werner Heisenberg.  Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle states that a particle’s position and its momentum can never be precisely measured simultaneously.  We can obtain precise information about a particle’s position as long as we ignore its momentum, or we can obtain precise information about its momentum as long as we ignore its exact position, but in no way can we obtain precise knowledge about both quantities, and this limitation has nothing to do with our measuring techniques; it is a fundamental limitation inherent in atomic reality.

The crucial feature of atomic physics is that the human observer is not only necessary to observe the properties of an object, but is necessary even to define these properties. In atomic physics, we cannot talk about the properties of an object as such. They are only meaningful in the context of the object’s interaction with the observer. In the words of Heisenberg, ‘What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.’  The observer decides how he is going to set up the measurement and this arrangement will determine, to some extent, the properties of the observed object. If the experimental arrangement is modified, the properties of the observed object will change in turn.”  -Fritjof Capra, “The Tao of Physics” (140)

Again, the uncertainty principle, as in the double-slit studies, shows the importance of the observer in determining the outcome of quantum experiments.  Another such example of this is often termed the “Watched Quantum Pot” experiment.  Just as the old proverb states, “a watched pot never boils,” likewise in the quantum world this strangely proves true as verified by physicists Wayne Itano, Yakir Aharonov and M. Vardi.  They state that, “If one checks by continuous observations, if a given quantum system evolves from some initial state to some other final state along a specific trajectory … the result is always positive, whether or not the system would have done so on its own accord.

If a quantum system is monitored continuously, we could say vigilantly, it will do practically anything.  For example, suppose you are watching a quantum system in an attempt to determine just when it undergoes a transition from one state to another.  To make this concrete, think of an imaginary subatomic ‘quantum pot of water’ being heated on a similarly sized stove.  The transition occurs when the water goes from the calm state to the boiling state.  We all know pots of water boil, given a few minutes or so.  You would certainly think the watched quantum pot would also boil.  It turns out, because of the vigilant observations, the transition never occurs; the watched quantum pot never boils.  Another example is the decay of an unstable system.  On its own the system would decay in a few microseconds.  But if it is watched continuously, it will never decay.  All vigilantly watched ‘quantum pots’ never boil, even if they are heated forever.”  -Fred Alan Wolf, Ph.D., “The Spiritual Universe” (217-8)

So a watched quantum “pot” (particle) will “boil” (transition states) if you intently observe it to do so, and a watched quantum pot will never boil if you intently observe it not to do so.  Even the radioactive decay of subatomic particles which normally have the lifespan of microseconds can be prolonged indefinitely as long as we are watching.

This implies there is a deep connection between the observer and the observed.  So deep, in fact, that we really cannot separate them.  All we can do is alter the way we experience reality.  This is where intent comes in.  If the system were unobserved, it would certainly undergo the physical transition.  The pot would boil.  The observer effect causes the anomaly to occur.  Let me explain.  When the system is first observed, it is seen to be in its initial state.  When it is observed just a smidgen of time later, well before the time in which it should change, the system is observed with more than 99.99 percent chance to be in its initial state.  In other words, the system is found to be exactly where it was initially.  Now repeat this measurement again and again, each time just a tiny bit of time later, and with a very high probability, the same observation occurs: The system is found in its initial state.  But time marches on, and eventually we pass all reasonable time limits for the transition to occur, yet it still doesn’t happen.  The system ‘freezes’ in its initial state.  The only requirement to freeze the motion is that the observer must have the intent to see the object in its initial state when he looks.  This intent is determined by the frequency of his observations.”  -Fred Alan Wolf, Ph.D., “The Spiritual Universe” (218-9)

We, the observers, cannot be ignored.  Our consciousness and our bodies are integral parts of the universe and thus exhibit measurable effects on whatever aspects of the universe we turn our attention to.  Scientists try to observe the world “objectively” but they, subjectively performing the experiment, are already an integral part of any “objective” measurement being taken.  Specifically, it is their consciousness, their attention and intention which affect the results.

It’s important to remember that the equations of quantum physics don’t describe the actual existence of particles.  In other words, the laws can’t tell us where the particles are and how they act once they get there.  They describe only the potential for the particles’ existence – that is, where they may be, how they might behave, and what their properties could be like.  And all of these characteristics evolve and change over time.  These things are significant because we’re made of the same particles that the rules are describing.  If we can gain insight into the way they function, then maybe we can become aware of greater possibilities for how we work.  Herein lies the key to understanding what quantum physics is really saying to us about our power in the universe.  Our world, our lives, and our bodies exist as they do because they were chosen (imagined) from the world of quantum possibilities … Which of the many possibilities becomes real appears to be determined by consciousness and the act of observation.  In other words, the object of our attention becomes the reality of our world.”  -Gregg Braden, “The Divine Matrix” (70-71)

Quantum physics calculates only possibilities, but if we accept this, then the question immediately comes, who/what chooses among these possibilities to bring the actual event of experience?  So we directly, immediately see that consciousness must be involved.”  -Amit Goswami Ph.D., “What the Bleep Do We Know?”

If the underlying unity of energy in the universe exists as an “infinite anything of possibilities,” and it is consciousness which chooses and experiences all manifestations of the infinite anything, then it would seem that consciousness is much more fundamental and primary than classical physics espouses.  If consciousness is what changes waves of possibility into particles of experience, then how could consciousness be some emergent property of the material universe?  The “material universe” doesn’t even exist yet without immaterial consciousness existing to have that experience!

The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiment.”  -Physicist Bernard d’Espagnat, Scientific American, 1979

Leading physicist Lee Smolin has estimated that from its inception, had the primary forces and physical attributes of our universe varied by more than an unimaginably precise one part in 1027 – that’s one part in a thousand trillion trillion! – our complex universe of chemistry, galaxies, and biological life could not have evolved.”  -Ervin Laszlo and Jude Currivan, “Cosmos” (20)

The odds of our universe containing these precise forces and physical attributes are 1 in 1,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000 without which matter and life could not have emerged.  If that’s not a strong case for intelligent design, I don’t know what is.  The old physics claims that life, consciousness, the incredible beauty and diversity of nature is all the result of chance – even though the odds against chance are a thousand trillion trillion to one.  Personally, for me, the idea that our universe exists due to non-intelligent, random, mechanical forces is utterly laughable.  Just by sitting in meditation, smelling a flower, watching an eclipse, hearing children’s laughter, tasting ice-cream, or feeling an orgasm, it is quite clear to me that the universe was intelligently and purposefully designed.

In his 2005 Nature Magazine article, The Mental Universe, Johns Hopkins physics professor Dr. R.C. Henry bluntly recommends we “get over it” and accept the logical conclusion that “the universe is immaterial – mental and spiritual.” In the same article, Cambridge physicist Sir James Jeans is quoted as saying, “The stream of knowledge is heading toward a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter . . . we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.

Matter is not what we have long thought it to be.  To the scientist, matter has always been thought of as sort of the ultimate in that which is static and predictable … We like to think of space as empty and matter as solid but in fact, there is essentially nothing to matter whatsoever.  It’s completely insubstantial … The most solid thing you can say about all this insubstantial matter is that it’s more like a thought – it’s like a concentrated bit of information.”  -Physicist/Psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, “What the Bleep Do We Know?”

British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington said that “physics is the study of the structure of consciousness.  The ‘stuff’ of the world is mindstuff.”  Even Nobel Prize winning physicist Max Planck, the “father” of quantum physics, before his passing in 1947 conceded that, “As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear-headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as the result of my research about the atoms, this much: There is no matter as such!  All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together … We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind.  This Mind is the matrix of all matter.

With these words, Max Planck, the father of quantum theory, described a universal field of energy that connects everything in creation: the Divine Matrix.  The Divine Matrix is our world.  It is also everything in our world.  It is us and all that we love, hate, create, and experience.  Living in the Divine Matrix, we are as artists expressing our innermost passions, fears, dreams, and desires through the essence of a mysterious quantum canvas.  But we are the canvas, as well as the images upon the canvas.  We are the paints, as well as the brushes.  In the Divine Matrix, we are the container within which all things exist, the bridge between the creations of our inner and outer worlds, and the mirror that shows us what we have created.”  -Gregg Braden, “The Divine Matrix” (Introduction)


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