Quantum suicide and immortality
In quantum mechanics, quantum suicide is a thought experiment, originally published independently by Hans Moravec in 1987 and Bruno Marchal in 1988 and independently developed further by Max Tegmark in 1998. It attempts to distinguish between the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics and the Everett many-worlds interpretation by means of a variation of the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment, from the cat's point of view. Quantum immortality refers to the subjective experience of surviving quantum suicide regardless of the odds.
Keith Lynch recalls that Hugh Everett took great delight in paradoxes such as the unexpected hanging. Everett did not mention quantum suicide or quantum immortality in writing, but his work was intended as a solution to the paradoxes of quantum mechanics. Lynch said "Everett firmly believed that his many-worlds theory guaranteed him immortality: his consciousness, he argued, is bound at each branching to follow whatever path does not lead to death"; Tegmark explains, however, that life and death situations do not normally hinge upon a sequence of binary quantum events like those in the thought experiment.
The quantum suicide thought experiment involves the same apparatus as Schrödinger's cat – a box which kills the occupant in a given time frame with probability one half due to quantum uncertainty.[note 1] The only difference is to have the experimenter recording observations be the one inside the box. The significance of this is that someone whose life or death depends on a qubit can distinguish between interpretations of quantum mechanics. By definition, fixed observers cannot.
At the start of the first iteration, under both interpretations, the probability of surviving the experiment is 50%, as given by the squared norm of the wave function. At the start of the second iteration, assuming the Copenhagen interpretation is true, the wave function has already collapsed; thus, if the experimenter is already dead, there is a 0% chance of survival for any further iterations. However, if the many-worlds interpretation is true, a superposition of the live experimenter necessarily exists (as also does the one who dies). Now, barring the possibility of life after death, after every iteration only one of the two experimenter superpositions – the live one – is capable of having any sort of conscious experience. Putting aside the philosophical problems associated with individual identity and its persistence, we may assert that, under the many-worlds interpretation, the experimenter, or at least a version of them, continues to exist through all of their superpositions where the outcome of the experiment is that they live. In other words, we may say that a version of the experimenter survives all iterations of the experiment, whichever its number. Since the superpositions where the experimenter lives occur by quantum necessity (again, under the many-worlds interpretation), it follows that their survival, after any realizable number of iterations, is physically necessary; hence, the notion of quantum immortality.
A version of the experimenter surviving stands in stark contrast to the implications of the Copenhagen interpretation, according to which, although the survival outcome is possible in every iteration, its probability tends towards zero as the number of iterations increases. Due to the many-worlds interpretation, the above scenario has the opposite property: the probability of a version of the experimenter living is necessarily one for any number of iterations.
In response to questions about "subjective immortality", Max Tegmark made some brief comments: He acknowledged the argument that "everyone will be immortal" may follow if a survivor outcome is possible for all life-threatening events. The flaw in that argument, he suggests, is that dying is rarely a binary event; it is a progressive process. The quantum suicide thought experiment attempts to isolate all possible outcomes for the duration of the thought experiment. That isolation delays decoherence in such a way that the subjective experience of the superposition is illustrated. It is only within the confines of such an abstract quantum scenario that an observer finds they defy all odds.
Physicist David Deutsch, though a proponent of the many-worlds interpretation, states regarding quantum suicide that "that way of applying probabilities does not follow directly from quantum theory, as the usual one does. It requires an additional assumption, namely that when making decisions one should ignore the histories in which the decision-maker is absent....[M]y guess is that the assumption is false."
Tegmark also believes experimenters will only expect a normal probability of survival, not immortality. The experimenter's probability amplitude in the wavefunction decreases significantly, meaning they exist with a much lower measure than they had before. Per the anthropic principle, a person is less likely to find themselves in a world where they are less likely to exist, that is, a world with a lower measure has a lower probability of being observed. Therefore, the experimenter will have a lower probability of observing the world in which they survive than the earlier world in which they set up the experiment. This same problem of reduced measure was pointed out by Lev Vaidman in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- "The Many Minds Approach". 25 October 2010. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
This idea was first proposed by Austrian mathematician Hans Moravec in 1987
- Moravec, Hans (1988). "The Doomsday Device". Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence. Harvard: Harvard University Press. p. 188. ISBN 978-0-674-57618-6. (If MWI is true, apocalyptic particle accelerators won't function as advertised).
- Marchal, Bruno (1988). "Informatique théorique et philosophie de l'esprit" [Theoretical Computer Science and Philosophy of Mind]. Acte du 3ème colloque international Cognition et Connaissance [Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference Cognition and Knowledge]. Toulouse: 193–227.
- Marchal, Bruno (1991). De Glas, M.; Gabbay, D. (eds.). "Mechanism and personal identity" (PDF). Proceedings of WOCFAI 91. Paris. Angkor.: 335–345.
- Tegmark, Max The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: Many Worlds or Many Words?, 1998
- Tegmark, Max (November 1998). "Quantum immortality". Retrieved 25 October 2010.
- See Eugene Shikhovtsev's Biography of Everett: Keith Lynch remembers 1979–1980
- Deutsch, David (2011). "The Beginning". The Beginning of Infinity. Penguin Group.
- Tegmark, Max (2014). "Is Time An Illusion?". Our Mathematical Universe. Vintage Books.
- Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics
- Mallah, J. Many-Worlds Interpretations Can Not Imply 'Quantum Immortality'
- Higgo, J., "Does the 'many-worlds' interpretation of quantum mechanics imply immortality?", archived from the original on 27 August 2007.
- The 'Everything' mailing list (and archives), A "discussion of the idea that all possible universes exist".