Comments on the Possibilist Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, aka Models vs. Reality

Reality is what it is. Everything else is just a model.

From Plato to Einstein to random humans like myself, we are all trying to figure out what makes this world tick. Sometimes I think I get it pretty well, but I know that I am still a product of my times, and therefore my view of reality is seen through the lens of today’s technology and state of scientific advancement. As such, I would be a fool to think that I have it all figured out. As should everyone else.

At one point in our recent past, human scientific endeavor wasn’t so humble. Just a couple hundred years ago, we thought that atoms were the ultimate building blocks of reality and everything could be ultimately described by equations of mechanics. How naïve that was, as 20th century physics made abundantly clear. But even then, the atom-centric view of physics was not reality. It was simply a model. So is every single theory and equation that we use today, regardless of whether it is called a theory or a law: Relativistic motion, Schrodinger’s equation, String Theory, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics – all models of some aspect of reality.

We seek to understand our world and derive experiments that push forward that knowledge. As a result of the experiments, we define models to best fit the data.

One of the latest comes from quantum physicist Ruth Kastner in the form of a model that better explains the anomalies of quantum mechanics. She calls the model the Possibilist Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (PTI), an updated version of John Cramer’s Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (TIQM, or TI for short) proposed in 1986. The transactional nature of the theory comes from the idea that the wavefunction collapse behaves like a transaction in that there is an “offer” from an “emitter” and a “confirmation” from an “absorber.” In the PTI enhancement, the offers and confirmations are considered to be outside of normal spacetime and therefore the wavefunction collapse creates spacetime rather than occurs within it. Apparently, this helps to explain some existing anomalies, like uncertainty and entanglement.

This is all cool and seems to serve to enhance our understanding of how QM works. However, it is STILL just a model, and a fairly high level one at that. And all models are approximations, approximating a description of reality that most closely matches experimental evidence.

Underneath all models exist deeper models (e.g. string theory), many as yet to be supported by real evidence. Underneath those models may exist even deeper models. Consider this layering…

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 8.18.55 PM

Every layer contains models that may be considered to be progressively closer to reality. Each layer can explain the layer above it. But it isn’t until you get to the bottom layer that you can say you’ve hit reality. I’ve identified that layer as “digital consciousness”, the working title for my next book. It may also turn out to be a model, but it feels like it is distinctly different from the other layers in that, by itself, it is no longer an approximation of reality, but rather a complete and comprehensive yet elegantly simple framework that can be used to describe every single aspect of reality.

For example, in Digital Consciousness, everything is information. The “offer” is then “the need to collapse the wave function based on the logic that there is now an existing conscious observer who depends on it.” The “confirmation” is the collapse – the decision made from probability space that defines positions, spins, etc. This could also be seen as the next state of the state machine that defines such behavior. The emitter and absorber are both parts of the “system”, the global consciousness that is “all that there is.” So, if experimental evidence ultimately demonstrates that PTI is a more accurate interpretation of QM, it will nonetheless still be a model and an approximation. The bottom layer is where the truth is.

Elvidge’s Postulate of Countable Interpretations of QM…

The number of intepretations of Quantum Mechanics always exceeds the number of physicists.

Let’s count the various “interpretations” of quantum mechanics:

  • Bohm (aka Causal, or Pilot-wave)
  • Copenhagen
  • Cosmological
  • Ensemble
  • Ghirardi-Rimini-Weber
  • Hidden measurements
  • Many-minds
  • Many-worlds (aka Everett)
  • Penrose
  • Possibilist Transactional (PTI)
  • Relational (RQM)
  • Stochastic
  • Transactional (TIQM)
  • Von Neumann-Wigner
  • Digital Consciousness (DCI, aka Elvidge)

Unfortunately you won’t find the last one in Wikipedia. Give it about 30 years.


Which came first, the digital chicken, or the digital philosophy egg?

Many scientists, mathematicians, futurists, and philosophers are embracing the idea that our reality is digital these days. In fact, it would be perfectly understandable to wonder if digital philosophy itself is tainted due to the tendency of humans to view ideas through the lens of their times. We live in a digital age, surrounded by computers, the Internet, and smart phones, and so might we not be guilty of imagining that the world behaves just as a multi-player video game does? We probably wouldn’t have had such ideas 50 years ago, when, at a macroscopic level at least, everything with which we interacted appeared analog and continuous. Which came first, the digital chicken, or the digital philosophy egg?

Actually, the concepts of binary and digital are not at all new. The I Ching is an ancient Chinese text that dates to 1150 BCE. In it are 64 combinations of 8 trigrams (aka the Bagua), each of which clearly contain the first three bits of a binary code. 547px-Bagua-name-earlier.svg

Many other cultures, including the Mangareva in Polynesia (1450), and Indian (5th to 2nd century BCE), have used binary encodings for communication for thousands of years. Over 12,000 years ago, African tribes developed a binary divination system called Odu Ifa.

German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz is generally credited as developing the modern binary number system in 1679, based on zeros and ones. Naturally, all of these other cultures are ignored so that we can maintain the illusion that all great philosophical and mathematical thought originated in Europe. Regardless of Eurocentric biases, it is clear that binary encoding is not a new concept. But what about applying it to the fundamental construct of reality?

It turns out that while modern digital physics or digital philosophy references are replete with sources that only date to the mid-20th century, the ancient Greeks (namely Plato) believed that reality was discrete. Atoms were considered to be discrete and fundamental components of reality.

A quick clarification of the terms “discrete”, “digital”, “binary”, “analog”, and “continuous” is probably in order:

Discrete – Having distinct points of measurement in the time domain

Digital – Having properties that can be encoded into bits

Binary – Encoding that is done with only two digits, zeros and ones

Analog – Having continuously variable properties

Continuous – The time domain is continuous

So, for example, if we encode the value of some property (e.g. length or voltage) digitally using 3 values (0, 1, 2), that would be digital, but not binary (rather, ternery). If we say that between any two points in time, there is an infinitely divisible time element, but for each point, the value of the measurement being performed on some property is represented by bits, then we would have a continuous yet digital system. Conversely, if time can be broken into chunks such that at a fine enough temporal granularity there is no concept of time between two adjacent points in time, but at each of these time points, the value of the measurement being performed is continuously variable, then we would have a discrete yet analog system.

In the realm of consciousness-driven digital philosophy, it is my contention that the evidence strongly supports reality being discrete and digital; that is, time moves on in “chunks” and at each discrete point in time, every property of everything can be perfectly represented digitally. There are no infinities.

I believe that this is a logical and fundamental conclusion, regardless of the fact that we live in a digital age. There are many reasons for this, but for the purposes of this particular blog post, I shall only concentrate on a couple. Let’s break down the possibilities of our reality, in terms of origin and behavior:

  1. Type 1 – Our reality was created by some conscious entity and has been following the original rules established by that entity. Of course, we could spend a lifetime defining “conscious” or “entity” but let’s try to keep it simple. This scenario could include traditional religious origin theories (e.g. God created the heavens and the earth). It could also include the common simulation scenarios, a la Nick Bostrom’s “Simulation Argument.”
  1. Type 2 – Our reality was originally created by some conscious entity and has been evolving according to some sort of fundamental evolutionary law ever since.
  1. Type 3 – Our reality was not created by some conscious entity, and its existence sprang out of nothing and has been following primordial rules of physics ever since. To explain the fact that our universe is incredibly finely-tuned for matter and life, materialist cosmologists dreamt up the idea that we must exist in an infinite set of parallel universes, and via the anthropic principle, the one we live only appears finely-tuned because it has to in order for us to be in it. Occam would be turning over in his grave.
  1. Type 4 – Our reality was not created by some particular conscious entity, but rather has been evolving according to some sort of fundamental evolutionary law from the very beginning.

I would argue that in the first two cases, reality would have to be digital. For, if a conscious entity is going to create a world for us to live in and experience, that conscious entity is clearly highly evolved compared to us. And, being so evolved, it would certainly make use of the most efficient means to create a reality. A continuous reality is not only inefficient, it is theoretically impossible to create because it involves infinities in the temporal domain as well as any spatial domain or property.

pixelated200I would also argue that in the fourth case, reality would have to be digital for similar reasons. Even without a conscious entity as a creator, the fundamental evolutionary law would certainly favor a perfectly functional reality that doesn’t require infinite resources.

Only in the third case above, would there be any possibility of a continuous analog reality. Even then, it is not required. As MIT cosmologist and mathematician Max Tegmark succinctly put it, “We’ve never measured anything in physics to more than about sixteen significant digits, and no experiment has been carried out whose outcome depends on the hypothesis that a true continuum exists, or hinges on nature computing something uncomputable.” Hence there is no reason to assume, a priori, that the world is continuous. In fact, the evidence points to the contrary:

  • Infinite resolution would imply that matter implodes into black holes at sub-Planck scales and we don’t observe that.
  • Infinite resolution implies that relativity and quantum mechanics can’t coexist, at least with the best physics that we have today. Our favorite contenders for rationalizing relativity and quantum mechanics are string theory and loop quantum gravity. And they only work with minimal length (aka discrete) scales.
  • We actually observe discrete behavior in quantum mechanics. For example, a particle’s spin value is always quantized; there are no intermediate states. This is anomalous in continuous space-time.

For many other reasons, as are probably clear from the evidence compiled on this site, I tend to favor reality Type 4. No other type of reality structure and origin can be shown to be anywhere near as consistent with all of the evidence (philosophical, cosmological, mathematical, metaphysical, and experimental). And it has nothing to do with MMORPGs or the smart phone in my pocket.

Flexi Matter

Earlier this year, a team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, led by Randolf Pohl, made a highly accurate calculation of the diameter of a proton and, at .841 fm, it turned out to be 4% less than previously determined (.877 fm).  Trouble is, the previous measurements were also highly accurate.  The significant difference between the two types of measurement was the choice of interaction particle: in the traditional case, electrons, and in Pohl’s case, muons.

Figures have been checked and rechecked and both types of measurements are solid.  All sorts of crazy explanations have been offered up for the discrepancy, but one thing seems certain: we they don’t really understand matter.

Ancient Greeks thought that atoms were indivisible (hence, the name), at least until Rutherford showed otherwise in the early 1900s.  Ancient 20th-century scientists thought that protons were indivisible, at least until Gell-Mann showed otherwise in the 1960s.

So why would it be such a surprise that the diameter of a proton varies with the type of lepton cloud that surrounds and passes through it?  Maybe the proton is flexible, like a sponge, and a muon, at 200 times the weight of an electron, exerts a much higher contractive force on it – gravity, strong nuclear, Jedi, or what have you.  Just make the measurements and modify your theory, guys.  You’ll be .000001% closer to the truth, enough to warrant an even bigger publicly funded particle accelerator.

If particle sizes and masses aren’t invariant, who is to say that they don’t change over time.  Cosmologist Christof Wetterich of the University of Heidelberg thinks this might be possible.  In fact, says Wetterich, if particles are slowly increasing in size, the universe may not be expanding after all.  His recent paper suggests that spectral red shift, Hubble’s famous discovery at Mount Wilson, that led the most widely accepted theory of the universe – the big bang, may actually be due to changing particle sizes over time.  So far, no one has been able to shoot a hole in his theory.

Oops.  “Remember what we said about the big bang being a FACT?  Never mind.”

Flexi-particles.  Now there is both evidence and major philosophical repercussions.

And still, The Universe – Solved! predicts there is no stuff.

The ultimate in flexibility is pure data.


Complexity from Simplicity – More Support for a Digital Reality

Simple rules can generate complex patterns or behavior.

For example, consider the following simple rules that, when programmed into a computer, can result in beautiful complex patterns akin to a flock of birds:

1. Steer to avoid crowding local flockmates (separation)
2. Steer towards the average heading of local flockmates (alignment)
3. Steer to move toward the average position (center of mass) of local flockmates (cohesion)

The pseudocode here demonstrates the simplicity of the algorithm.  The following YouTube video is a demonstration of “Boids”, a flocking behavior simulator developed by Craig Reynolds:

Or consider fractals.  The popular Mandelbrot set can be generated with some simple rules, as demonstrated here in 13 lines of pseudocode, resulting in beautiful pictures like this:

Fractals can be used to generate artificial terrain for video games and computer art, such as this 3D mountain terrain generated by the software Terragen:

Terragen-generated mountain terrain

Conways Game of Life uses the idea of cellular automata to generate little 2D pixelated creatures that move, spawn, die, and generally exhibit crude lifelike behavior with 2 simple rules:

1. An alive cell with less than 2 or more than 4 neighbors dies.
2. A dead cell with 3 neighbors turns alive.

Depending on the starting conditions, there may be any number of recognizable resulting simulated organisms; some simple, such as gliders, pulsars, blinkers, glider guns, wickstretchers, and some complex such as puffer trains, rakes, space ship guns, cordon ships, and even objects that appear to travel faster than the maximum propagation speed of the game should allow:

Cellular automata can be extended to 3D space.  The following video demonstrates a 3D “Amoeba” that looks eerily like a real blob of living protoplasm:

What is the point of all this?

Just that you can apply some of these ideas to the question of whether or not reality is continuous or digital (and thus based on bits and rules).  And end up with an interested result.

Consider a hierarchy of complexity levels…

Imagine that each layer is 10 times “zoomed out” from the layer below.  If the root simplicity is at the bottom layer, one might ask how many layers up you have to go before the patterns appear to be natural, as opposed to artificial? [Note: As an aside, we are confusing ideas like natural and artificial.  Is there really a difference?]

The following image is an artificial computer-generated fractal image created by Softology’s “Visions of Chaos” software from a base set of simple rules, yet zoomed out from it’s base level by, perhaps, six orders of magnitude:


In contrast, the following image is an electron microscope-generate image of a real HPV virus:


So, clearly, at six orders of magnitude out from a fundamental rule set, we start to lose the ability to discern “natural” from “artificial.”  Eight orders of magnitude should be sufficient to make natural indistinguishable from artificial.

And yet, our everyday sensory experience is about 36 orders of magnitude above the quantum level.

The deepest level that our instruments can currently image is about 7 levels (10,000,000x magnification) below reality.  This means that if our reality is based on bits and simple rules like those described above, those rules may be operating 15 or more levels below everyday reality.  Given that the quantum level is 36 levels down, we have at least 21 orders of magnitude to play with.  In fact, it may very well be possible that the true granularity of reality is below the quantum level.

In any case, it should be clear to see that we are not even closed to being equipped to visually discern the difference between living in a continuous world or a digital one consisting of bits and rules.