Many worlds:The Many-Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics holds that there are many worlds which exist in parallel at the same space and time as our own. The existence of the other worlds makes it possible to remove randomness and action at a distance from quantum theory and thus from all physics. – Stanford Plato
In any event, both ideas display a discomfort with arbitrariness in the universe, and both stem from
the same human impulse that invents fictional fantasies about parallel worlds and that enjoys
speculating about counterfactual histories.
Which is why, if I call these ideas fantasies, it is not to deride or dismiss them but to keep in view the fact that, beneath their apparel of scientific equations or symbolic logic, they are acts of imagination, of ‘just supposing’. But when taken to the extreme, they become a kind of nihilism: if you believe everything then you believe nothing. The MWI allows – perhaps insists – not just on our having cosily familial ‘quantum brothers’ but on worlds where gods, magic and miracles exist and where science is inevitably (if rarely) violated by chance breakdowns of the usual statistical regularities of physics.
Certainly, to say that the world(s) surely can’t be that weird is no objection at all; Many Worlders harp on about this complaint precisely because it is so easily dismissed. MWI doesn’t, though, imply that things really are weirder than we thought; it denies us any way of saying anything, because it entails saying (and doing) everything else too, while at the same time removing the ‘you’ who says it. This does not demand broadmindedness, but rather a blind acceptance of ontological incoherence.
That its supporters refuse to engage in any depth with the questions the MWI poses about the ontology and autonomy of self is lamentable. But this is (speaking as an ex-physicist) very much a physicist’s blind spot: a failure to recognise – or perhaps to care – that problems arising at a level beyond that of the fundamental, abstract theory can be anything more than a minor inconvenience. If the MWI were supported by some sound science, we would have to deal with it – and to do so with more seriousness than the merry invention of Doppelgängers to measure both quantum states of a photon. But it is not. It is grounded in a halfbaked philosophical argument about a preference to simplify the axioms. More.
By all means, read the whole thing. One of the best reflective pieces on the subject to come along in years.
Although Philip Ball seems to think Many Worlds got started to solve a problem in quantum mechanics, there is reason to believe that it has an enormous philosophical appeal anyway to post-empirical types in science, who have no use for concepts like falsifiability or Occam’s razor.
Science is actually only an ornament, a trinket, in Many Worlds/multiverse reasoning. Sages sitting on a riverbank 2500 years ago could come up with the same sorts of ideas, and the same amount of evidence.
Today it could hardly matter less that there is no evidence for these Many Worlds. Evidence is just not hot any more.
See also: As if the multiverse wasn’t bizarre enough …meet Many Worlds
But who needs reality-based thinking anyway? Not the new cosmologists
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