Angst… ou Ennui?
Keith G Bowden
or The Paris Texas Hilton Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics
“Why does everybody get to mess around with the fabric of reality except me?” Lisa Simpson
It was raining. The party was over and there was little to do other than clear up the mess. Jerry Cornelius lay on the sofa, one hand on his needle gun and the other on Mitzi Beesley.
“There is no deep underlying physical reality. There are only macroscopic quantum phenomena. The rest is metaphysical baggage.” Jerry Cornelius was in his element, bringing quotes out of a hat, albeit not always accurately. “Quantum physics teaches us to abandon the distinction between information and reality. If reality exists and if we will never be able to make an operational distinction between reality and information, the hypothesis suggests itself that reality and information are the same. We need a new concept which encompasses both.”
“As is well known”, said Jerry, carelessly waving the needle gun in the direction of Alphonsus Pi, “during euphoric experiences such as orgasm, the exercise zone and so on, the bloodstream contains analogs of chemicals such as opiates. In a similar way during religious, meditative and other spiritual experiences the bloodstream has been found to contain analogs of (so called) hallucinogens such as mescaline, psilocybin or lysergic acid diethylamide. Hence I do not distinguish between these experiences. (Others do.) To me they are all examples of ‘direct contact with the void’”.
“Since the void does not exist”, responded Professor Pi, “one could not possibly have any contact with it. I suspect that drugs foster illusions. Of course the void itself (ahem) is an illusion. And existence is also an illusion.” Jerry ignored him and continued, “I have speculated why a chemical structure such as lysergic acid should give one ‘direct experience’ of the void. My hypothesis (such as it is) is that such chemicals may have a molecular structure that, from an Everett point of view, gives direct quantum contact between the Many Worlds.”
“I thought like this for a long time,” said Pi, “but no longer. I believe that the essence of the matter is the state of relaxation ... everyday ego-mind being a high (mental) arousal state anticipative of causal action to be taken; contemplative mind being a medium-to- low arousal state that performs (I believe) quantum computation on perceptions of its surround; and perception of the Void an even lower state, and sans any content - just pure awareness in a state of profound relaxation. So in this view, the presence or absence of any particular molecule is, at bottom, incidental.” Miss Brunner, who also appeared to be somewhere on the settee, groaned.
“I agree, but it’s a matter of causality. The molecules get you there”, replied Jerry irritably. “I do find it a little strange however when people describe such meditative states as "states of relaxation". It is true that, in a sense, one may be able to achieve them by relaxation, or that one is relaxed when one is in such a state, but to refer to them as states of relaxation always seems to me to be missing the point. Well, the main thing is to know where you are going - regardless of how you get there – and to know what to do when you get there.”
The washing machine repair man, who was now well into his new career, chipped in, “I (at least) feel no need to subscribe to the Many Worlds thing for Quantum Mechanics (or meditative experience) to make sense - I think it's a cop-out.” Jerry’s mind was wondering. For some reason he was picturing the day he took his mother to Southend-on- Sea. Mrs. Cornelius started the day by drinking twelve pints of lager. She then became hungry and followed this up with two large portions of fish and chips and an eel pie. Jerry had a vivid image of his mother vomiting noisily over the side of the pier. It was probably the eel pie that did it, thought Jerry.
Jerry recovered his composure. “The Multiverse is not a "copout", it is simply one of a variety of ways of looking at quantum phenomena - or at least this is the general view amongst Theoretical Physicists today - and it was the viewpoint from which I was talking.” Mrs. Cornelius was very resilient. She had picked herself up, drunk some more beer, and proceeded to try every ride in the Coney Island style fun fair that took up most of the seafront at Southend. Her capacity for abusing herself seemed insatiable, thought Jerry, completely forgetting his English. What an upbringing! He wondered to what extent it had influenced his career choices.
“There are however some famous people,” continued Jerry, “including Quantum Computer Scientists - David Deutsch in particular - and - strangely - Cosmologists, who believe (exclusively) in Many Worlds. (There are others who believe in the Quantum Potential in the same way.) I think that this was the point of view from which you were responding. In this case I agree with you - it is a copout (or, at least, a religion).” Jerry suspected that his telephone was being tapped again. Whenever he spoke like this on the phone the telltale clicks and buzzes of interceptor equipment were apparent. When he reverted to more innocuous subjects they disappeared again.
“But do not underestimate the usefulness of Many Worlds for understanding and learning new ideas. The way in which I was using it is, I believe, appropriate. At other times I will switch to the Bohm interpretation, at others Copenhagen, etc. These interpretations are all mathematically equivalent. It does not matter which one you use to calculate, you will always get the same answers. But it does matter which one you use to model. Each will lead to different thinking about the same situation. Some will lead to new insights in one particular situation. Others will lead to different insights in different situations. That is the situation in Physics today, and I find it most satisfactory.”
“Think about the LSD25 molecule from the Many Worlds point of view. If it is shown to have an exceptionally large degree of quantum coherence for its size – and if this turns out to be true of other similar chemicals – it cannot be denied that we should start to think more carefully about the nature of psychedelic experience.” The sights and sounds of both Southend and of Mrs. Cornelius continued to drift unbidden through Jerry’s consciousness.
“However... this is a hypothesis that remains to be tested. One plan is to persuade Anton Zeilinger”, Jerry eyed the needle gun, “to repeat his two slit experiment with the LSD25 molecule. If my hypothesis is right it should show a considerably higher degree of coherence than anything that has been tried before.” Sarah Bellectomice’s lurchers were licking something, which once may have been edible, out of a cardboard carton on the floor. The Archbishop’s daughter rose unsteadily from Jerry’s clutch on the settee and staggered towards the door, kicking the dogs on the way past. The sound of an old Pink Floyd record drifted in through the door. It was “Animals”. Jerry smiled. He never could play the rhythm to “Dogs”.
“Unfortunately” Jerry continued, “lysergic acid diethylamide is not stable enough for Zeilinger’s current approach and the only solution is to simulate the entire experiment.” Nobody seemed to be listening to him. Jerry wondered if they had any idea of the consequences of his proposal. He had access to the most powerful computer in the University, and he had been racking his brains to find a use for it for some time. Jerry looked at his watch. The Multiverse was becoming very unstable. Jherek was up to his old tricks. Jerry sighed. It was time to adjust the chronoflow again.
This story was originally published in a small private circulation physics journal under the pseudonym of Jim Colvin in 2007. It was however generally understood that it was written by Keith Bowden with a little help from his friend Louis H Kauffman who invented the character of Alphonsus Pi and supplied Prof Pi’s dialog, which originated from an email exchange between the two of them.