I was reading Robert Lanza’s new book, The Grand Biocentric Design recently, focusing especially on his discussion of the Quantum Suicide paradox and Everett’s multiverse. Briefly, here is the thought experiment summarized:
”A man sits down before a gun, which is pointed at his head. This is no ordinary gun; it is rigged to a machine that measures the spin of a quantum particle. Each time the trigger is pulled, the spin of the quantum particle — or quark — is measured. Depending on the measurement, the gun will either fire, or it won’t. If the quantum particle is measured as spinning in a clockwise motion, the gun will fire. If the quark is spinning counterclockwise, the gun won’t go off. There’ll only be a click.
Nervously, the man takes a breath and pulls the trigger. The gun clicks. He pulls the trigger again. Click. And again: click. The man will continue to pull the trigger again and again with the same result: The gun won’t fire. Although it’s functioning properly and loaded with bullets, no matter how many times he pulls the trigger, the gun will never fire. He’ll continue this process for eternity, becoming immortal.
Go back in time to the beginning of the experiment. The man pulls the trigger for the very first time, and the quark is now measured as spinning clockwise. The gun fires. The man is dead.
But, wait. The man already pulled the trigger the first time — and an infinite amount of times following that — and we already know the gun didn’t fire. How can the man be dead? The man is unaware, but he’s both alive and dead. Each time he pulls the trigger, the universe is split in two. It will continue to split, again and again, each time the trigger is pulled [source: Tegmark].
This thought experiment is called quantum suicide. It was first posed by then-Princeton University theorist Max Tegmark in 1997 (now on faculty at MIT). A thought experiment is an experiment that takes place only in the mind.” https://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/science-questions/quantum-suicide.htm
What this means is that your awareness, your conscious experience, can never not exist. You will always be aware of yourself in some iteration of the world–or, as Lanza states, “The enigmatic issue of death should therefore be understood within the thesis that wave function, relative to an observer and representing his experiences of the world that he lives in, can never cease to exist, and that from an observer’s first-person perspective, there is no death. The observer is always aware of something.” (126) You cannot be aware of yourself as not existing, and since conscious awareness, according to Lanza, is what creates our reality and our worlds in the first place, nonexistence is simply impossible. This, of course, is a very superficial and brief summary of Lanza’s Biocentrism thesis about life creating reality (not the other way around), but the idea that conscious awareness will always play itself out in one form or another is certainly not new or original to Lanza. Whichever theory one chooses to explain the persistence of human consciousness, it remains true that the evidence for our ‘eternity’ is overwhelming. It occurs to me that in the absence of objective time (and this is not a radical idea, but well supported by contemporary physics), all you experience is a continual “now” that appears to change. You can be aware what you believe to be your final moments, but you cannot experience the absence of experience. There is always a conscious observer even in the absence of a supporting, physical system.
What happens, then, when we “lose consciousness”? We never experience the loss; we can’t be aware of no awareness. I remember waking up from my many surgeries. There was no gap in my experience of myself–one moment I was going under and the next, I was coming to in the recovery room. I imagine that death is like that. You are aware of taking your last breath, and then aware of taking your first. The Many Worlds theory creates some fantastic and mind-boggling possibilities here–you could return to a previous state of consciousness in your same body with similar circumstances, or you could wake up as somebody else, but have no idea that you are not simply who you always were. In other words, all consciousness is one and shared; you will experience yourself in a similar way in a variety of bodies, in various circumstances, and at diverse ages. This is where Lanza comes close to the theory of reincarnation, which Biocentrism would explain quite well.
I have had many personal experiences that involve memories of other lives and even an awareness that my lifeline had ‘split’ into another version of myself. In one of my many near death experiences, I remember ‘coming back’ with a sense that I had died after my body shut down due to anaphylaxis (an extreme allergic reaction). Even though my circumstances appeared similar, I noticed slight details that were “off” from my previous sense of myself and my world; I started to wonder if had indeed died in that other world and was now experiencing another reality where my awareness was reinstated in another scenario where I had survived. In fact, every time I woke up from a surgery, an accident, or a near death experience, I had an uncanny feeling that I was starting over, rebooting my awareness in another lifeline. Of course, at the time, I did not have the vocabulary or the theory to understand what that eerie feeling of having died and returned was about, how it could have possibly happened. Biocentrism and the Many Worlds theories make sense of it. Lanza weaves the two theories together to overcome the many objections; namely, that quantum processes do not apply at the macro level of, say, human consciousness. It’s his argument that human consciousness creates the entire scope of reality to begin with, so there is no logical contradiction.
What are the emotional and spiritual implications of never ending awareness? For many, that sounds like a kind of existential torture. We have, however, the gift of forgetting. It’s quite clear to me that to remember everything that we are, to be aware of our multiple iterations or reincarnated selves, would be hellish. Our brains function as reducing valves for consciousness, so that we can focus on a particular set of circumstances and a unique identity. We are limited in our perspective and scope; the mistake mainstream science makes is to assume that our current limitations represent the whole of reality.
There is still a dizzying effect from contemplating the truth of immortality, if by that term you mean continuing conscious awareness. You are always you, in whatever form you may experience yourself. There is no “sweet release”, no oblivion, no end point. There may be a Heaven, but it will be just another world that maybe you will be lucky enough, evolved enough, or conscious enough to experience as your current reality. I don’t know how I feel about this information, but I know that it makes sense of my personal experiences and squares with my intuition about my life. The issue that I have with this never-ending parade of lives and experiences is that sometimes, I just want an end point, a sense that I’ve “arrived” instead of continuous departures towards new (or perhaps the same?) adventures.
How does this knowledge change one’s perspective on the day-to-day reality of existence? Oddly enough, the challenges of living remain the same for me. Knowing that I will always be aware of myself doesn’t alter the fact that life here, right now, is often confusing and difficult. I don’t see quantum immortality or any other kind of immortality as a solution to the challenges and the pain that life continuously throws our way. The fact that said challenges never end is rather overwhelming. I suppose that one outcome could be to see even the most dire of circumstances as simply another scenario in a series of infinite possibilities; perhaps that could take the sting out of the feeling that your one and only world is doomed. Perhaps we are only aware of one set of circumstances because the challenge lies there. We all, individually and collectively, have to learn to care for each other and our planet. Put simply, if we fail this test, we are provided endless opportunities to get it right. But “get it right”, we must. We have created a scenario where our very planet is unable to sustain us. And although the idea that we can perhaps escape this reality seems attractive, I imagine dying and waking up to the same, damn problems that we still haven’t solved.
Until we learn our cosmic lessons, it seems, we are going to live out Groundhog Day for a long, long, time.
–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD
3 thoughts on “The Weirdness of Quantum Immortality”
Reblogged this on The Soul Bank: Stories, Research, Essays, (B)Logs.
Hi Kirsten, its been a while, but just reading this blog today – yes, the implications for this continual awareness is staggering and I am glad our brains manage to isolate us from the awareness of multiple life/time lines – I don’t think many of us could handle an influx of other life memories into our current state of consciousness. If they were allowed to happen regularly – I would think if they were, our human brains would have had a bio design feature that could accept the downloads. Maybe there is ? ie. understanding how our pineal glands work as a transmitter? (I don’t know much about this but just going on recall from various sources that mention its use in chakra work) I completely concur with our current situation; our now. Will this world, and its inhabitants see a better outcome, a better day? I always hear how this world is a school and its good to come here for soul growth, but is the suffering that we have created worth it? Some psychic mediums, have told me that world peace and harmony will not happen here, ever because this planet is a school, its designed for testing one’s soul. How depressing is this? Like you mentioned, where’s the end point? The point where we can take stock of all that has happened and rejoice in what we’ve accomplished or come to a place of healing for all that we’ve endured. I posit that at some point there will be a convergence of our multiple consciousness’s for every time line that that we’ve ever experienced but we are not there yet. I suppose it depends on our evolution which in turn would afford us the capacity to understand, embrace and accept all that we’ve experienced. This kind of contemplation is mind boggling to say the least and I realize, how does this help my present now? I worry that because although I can take time participate in reading this blog that interests me, that to most of my peers and family included that the time I use to follow this quest, I ought to be working right now, trying to make bank so that I can retire comfortably in another 20 years or so. But my heart and mind, are not at rest with what I’ve been taught about our reality – I too, am looking for answers because I feel this work needs to be done as it may very well help to shift the outcome of what happens in this world. It will shape our future. Perception of one’s circumstances does influence the choices people make. We need to know we are eternal and we are not to fear what’s next but that we can be intentional, collaborative and can change our circumstances so that our “next” will be more extraordinary. Your musings as to this endless reality are sobering. They are cue for us to wake up. The ground hog day scenario could be very real and we need to ask ourselves how much longer do we want to keep repeating the same old thing? Are we not collectively tired of playing the same games? For the person on the street who’s life situation is vulnerable, they don’t have time to query about such things, they just need to find ways to survive and I would like to think there is some form respite from lifetimes of suffering and duress. That the souls who experience them, are given places and spaces on the other side to simply rest, such that their awareness has time to regroup and be released from the heaviness and hindrances of that life. In the mean time, this work that you do, this work I am so hooked on, can not be ignored or denied either, I feel it needs to be done. It has bold implications for how we choose to organize our lives and I think its essential we start to discover and scientifically quantify these aspects of reality, such as the ones Lanza cites, such that we can make better choices for the planet and for us a species in this here and now.
Oh! Amanda, it so wonderful to hear from you! I am glad to know that you are still out there. I just woke up from a nap feeling that old, existential nausea, when I happened upon your comment and this blog post. Of course, I have no answer for the questions and concerns that you and I have raised. How I wish that I did. I was in one of the Inquisition museums in Granada this morning, utterly sickened by what people are capable of inflicting on others, and all I could think was that we create Heaven and Hell right here on Earth. The “way out” of this nightmarish repetition might be a long arc, a slow evolution of consciousness towards justice and compassion. I certainly hope so. And there may well be a Higher Power that ultimately asks for our surrender, a renunciation of our egos and our fears so that we may see clearly the road ahead. I think answers are there, but perhaps we would rather remain distracted and entertained, because to see the truth would require a radical change of perspective and priorities, and how much easier to eat, drink, and be merry while the world burns.
I missed you. So glad you are back.