The Quantum Nature of Reality – by Anish Bhalerao

This post is also available in: Spanish

In simplest terms, reality is the state of things as they exist. As humans, our realities are limited to our individual perceptions and experiences. However, though our individual realities may be subjective, from the point of view of classical mechanics, an objective reality does exist. This is because it is theoretically possible to make infinitely precise measurements. For example, if we knew the exact position and momentum of each and every particle in the universe, we would be able to know how the universe behaves at any given point in time. Thus, a classical mechanical reality gives us the ability to pinpoint universal truths.

Quantum mechanics refutes the existence of an objective reality. One of the most fundamental principles of quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle, states that it is impossible to measure the position and momentum of a particle with arbitrary precision because the universe is inherently filled with uncertainties. It is therefore impossible to determine how a particular quantum system will behave at some future point in time. Also central to quantum mechanics is the concept of superposition, which means that a quantum system can simultaneously be in multiple configurations before it is observed. When an observer interacts with the system, it collapses into a single state, which is what the observer is ultimately able to perceive. Reality is thus observer-dependent, and what we experience depends on when and how we observe the universe. Because of both the uncertainty principle and quantum collapse, not even an all-seeing observer could experience an objective reality.

The idea of an objective reality is absurd when looked at from the point of view of quantum mechanics. Given that there are an infinite number of configurations of the universe, it is quite possible that an infinite number of realities exist, all but one of which are hidden to us. The uniqueness of each reality renders the concept of an objective reality meaningless. Furthermore, some interpretations of quantum mechanics suggest that the universe is being created as it is being observed. If this hypothesis is valid, then there are two important questions that need to be addressed. First, does the universe behave differently without the presence of an observer? Second, if the beginning of our universe is the result of a quantum phenomenon, then could there have been an observer present at the time of the Big Bang? The first question is very difficult, if not impossible, to answer, because we have to observe the universe in order to determine its behavior. Answering the second question, on the other hand, is entirely possible as we gain more understanding of quantum cosmology and of the universe in general.

See this author’s biography.

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