Interpretations of Quantum Theory: Physics Meets Philosophy

If one believes in the power of mathematics to describe the universe, as the language of God so to speak, a notion which underpins all of Physics in the post Enlightenment Era as reflected in the two pillars of modern Physics, namely Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory, each of which has proven to have tremendously powerful predictive power for the explanation of measurement phenomena at the macrocosmic and microcosmic (subatomic) level of the “physical world” respectively, one is forced to radically change one’s perspective on, and fundamental definition of, “reality”.  This is not a philosophical conclusion, or a theological one for that matter.  This is a rationally deductive conclusion that anyone who understands modern Physics must arrive at if they follow the math.  The two theories are fundamentally incompatible in the sense that they rest on fundamentally incompatible assumptions that have been proven to be mathematically true and again have been empirically verified.  Most Physicists punt on the problem.  They say that the math is a tool to predict the behavior of measurable phenomena in their respective domains and that any interpretation of what the math “means” or “says” about the nature of reality is a problem for philosophers of science, and in effect outside the domain of pure “science”.

The author takes issue with this type of interpretation however, even though it is the “standard” and “orthodox” view offered by Physicists and is most certainly the viewpoint offered by virtually every major textbook on Physics which is used to teach all modern students about science in the West.  This conclusion, which the author deems is inescapable, in turn forces an expansion and redefinition of knowledge itself, one which is typically confined and equivalent to conclusions that are drawn by Science, but one which the science itself forces us to reconsider, as illustrated by any basic understanding of Quantum Theory as well as Relativity Theory, to include and integrate the “observer” as well as the “observed” into some sort of cohesive and coherent model.  No matter what model one chooses to adopt, it is one that must sit “above”, ontologically speaking, any definition that can be offered by Physics or Science as it is understood today, and must incorporate some type of metaphysical intellectual system, back to the beginning really to what Aristotle called first philosophy, i.e. metaphysics, as the specific domain which must be explored and logically and rationally constructed to incorporate these scientific findings into our understanding of reality.

From a pure mathematical perspective, what Quantum Theory tells us is that there exists some sort of basic interconnecting principle that explains the behavior and complex relationship of these subatomic “particles” as we have come to understand them.  While it would be convenient to categorize and define these strange properties and principles of the subatomic realm as the result of some type of “force”, i.e. a field of sorts that interacts between two separate and distinct “things” or “objects” and results in some sort of correlative measurement phenomena that can be described by some sort of mathematical equation that relates the “objects” in question, any and all attempts to describe the behavior of the subatomic world in such a way has unfortunately completely eluded some of the brightest minds in physics for some 70 years or so.  This in fact was the driving force of much of Einstein’s work in the latter part of his career, and one which he was ultimately unable to solve.  It is intellectual driving force (no pun intended) that underpins the conclusions drawn in famed EPR Paper which criticized Quantum Theory as “incomplete” and posited the potential existence of so-called hidden variables, which would theoretically bridge the gap between the Quantum Theory and Relativity, the existence of which have been albeit entirely ruled out mathematically speaking by Bell’s Theorem which deals with the potential existence of hidden variables explicitly.  The only exception perhaps is Bohmian Mechanics, aka de Broglie-Bohm theory or simply pilot-wave theory (more below), which is arguable the best of, if not the only, coherent hidden variable theory that is also fully deterministic that has been put forward since Quantum Theory has become widely accepted and empirically verified since the middle of the twentieth century or so, since the advent of the Quantum Era.

Leaving Bohmian Mechanics aside (a theory which has not been widely accepted by modern Physics for a variety of reasons and is very difficult for the layperson or non-Physicist to understand and arguably violates the principle of Ockham’s razor[1] and is certainly not taught in schools and academia for the most part), our notion and definition of reality must in fact adapt and evolve to support the developments of modern Science, i.e. Physics, which explain the behavior of macrocosmic phenomena, but also subatomic phenomena, the latter of which of course exhibit quite paradoxically both wave like and particle like behavior and also at the same time have been shown to exhibit strange properties such as entanglement.  Following this rationale to its logical conclusion, if we as human beings (and all animals or physical objects for that matter, the entirety of the “animate” and “inanimate” world), both subsist and consist of these elementary particles which exhibit these “non-classical” properties, we must in fact expand upon our notion of “reality” itself to incorporate these characteristics which have proven to be “scientifically” true.  The author rejects the “math is for measurement and predictability only” position as an intellectual cop out of sorts for avoiding the albeit difficult problem of offering up a solution to the question of what it all means.  A solution which must, by definition, delve into the world of metaphysics at some level or another.  Hence the reason no doubt that Physicists are reluctant to wade into these waters.

And therein lies one of the basic underlying problems this work is trying to address really, that the underlying rational for the “its just math” position, that it’s a problem for philosophers of Science and not a problem for Physics as an academic discipline needs to be revised.[2]   Not only must we come up with a wholesale new definition of “reality”, but we need to reformulate our approach and definition to knowledge itself, which must incorporate what we understand as the basic substratum of existence as characterized by the basic characteristics and properties of Quantum Theory as well as Relativity by incorporating and integrating the observer and observable phenomena into a more holistic model, or into at least the presentation of alternative models which satisfy this very basic requirement.  Hence the essays and subject matter of the last part of this work which deal with ontology.  Once this is done, and again the author argues that it must in fact be done if we are to move knowledge forward and continue to evolve, intellectually speaking at least, as a species, we must ultimately confront what any of these alternative models of reality which incorporate and synthesize the notions of the observer and observable phenomena, but also the substratum of existence within which this act of perception is continuously taking place, we must then look at what if any conclusions can be drawn, regarding the meaning of life, the meaning of existence, its ultimate purpose, what we refer to following Aristotle as teleology, and how we as individuals should incorporate said conclusions into our daily lives in the Quantum Era which is dominated intellectually, in particular in the West, by objective realism, a somewhat unintended byproduct as it were of the Scientific Revolution which provided the intellectual platform for twentieth century Physics, i.e. Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory.  Or alternatively, if we adopt a materialistic position and we look upon the domain of Physics as we understand it today as simply providing mathematical tools to drive innovation and make life “easier” or more “efficient”, at least we will be “consciously” adopting such positions rather than having them beaten into us by teachers and educators for virtually our entire early life.

So this is the rationale for providing these alternative, more encompassing theories of reality, for delving back into first philosophy, i.e. metaphysics, and concluding – just as Aristotle did some 2500 years ago – that metaphysics must be understood and covered at length, prior to studying physics, or what he and the intellectual and academic community termed natural philosophy up until fairly recently in fact.  And the implications of this reversal, or really inversal, of domains of study that we are describing and providing the rationale for here have vast and wide-ranging implications not just for Physics and Philosophy, Philosophy in this sense being defined quite broadly, but on our view and definition of knowledge itself.  For once we make this determination, once we come to this conclusion, the entire definition and discipline of what we call “scientific inquiry” must then be broadened to include metaphysics, and in turn – for better or worse – theology.  This is precisely the conclusion that Aristotle came to when he attempted to define and describe knowledge, or that which can be said to be “known”, as reflected by the what he called epistêmê, i.e. epistemology, which has been handed down to us through translation as Science.

In other words, the fact that Physicists for the most part refuse to offer up any answers for us as a society as a whole as to what the basic pillars of Physics as we understand them in the modern era mean, or how they should be interpreted with respect to our notion of reality, again what we refer to as teleology, does not make the problem, or any of the proposed solutions to said problem, “unscientific”.  Herein lies the heart of one of the underlying theses of this work, i.e. not only should metaphysics be brought back to its place as first philosophy, i.e. should be studied “before” Physics (which is where the term metaphysics actually comes from, i.e. the reason why Aristotle’s treatise Metaphysics was given its title), but that the academic community at large should be reformed and should teach metaphysics, i.e. first philosophy, before Physics, or even Biology or Chemistry for that matter which were topics covered as part of his natural philosophy.  The problem with this of course is that metaphysics and theology are so very closely linked that it’s very hard to distinguish between the two once you follow any proposed system of metaphysics to its logical conclusion.  For any system of metaphysics to be complete, must – again as put forth by Aristotle – address the underlying “causes”  or “reasons” why some “thing” or some “principle” has been brought into existence.  The “why” questions, our teleology again, that underlie not just Physics, again natural philosophy, but also the individual beings which participate in and are fundamentally integrated with this physical world, ontology.  These questions take us quite naturally into the domains of ethics, morality, theology and Sociology (political philosophy), all of which again must rest, from a rational and logical perspective, upon whatever system of metaphysics we adhere to or adopt.[3]

This approach of course has the benefit of bringing back as it were, all of the branches of knowledge under a single, cohesive and integrated umbrella.  This is one of the primary reasons why Aristotle’s philosophy was so influential for such a long period in the West, arguably representing the cornerstone and basic foundation of “education” in the West for some 2000 years.  His conceptions and definitions of logic, reason and metaphysics and even physics and ethics underpinned almost all intellectual thinking more or less, including Religion as well, before the system was overhauled and effectively split in two as an unintended byproduct of the so-called Scientific Revolution after which Religion and Science have been subsequently become completely incompatible.  Incompatible to the point where common and widely held conceptions of these two domains is that they rest on two entirely distinctive and almost diametrically opposed principles – one called Science, that is entirely objective and is bound by empirically valid and “proven” hypotheses and principles, i.e. laws, and another that is based upon “faith” or “belief” and is entirely subjective and is one that fundamentally cannot be “proven” empirically or otherwise and is therefore “unscientific”.  Taken to the extreme, Science is looked upon as “rational” and Religion is looked upon as “irrational”.  And this of course does not even broach the topic of the potential reality of the so-called “mystical” experience or the nature of consciousness itself which is arguably outside of the domains of Science and Religion at this stage of the intellectual development of human history, despite the existence of mystical disciplines that have persisted and have been written about, and ultimately provide the basis for all Religions, throughout the entirety of human history.

So we must therefore, to advance intellectual development as a whole, and for the good of society and the environment within which we live in fact, look at and analyze various coherent and cohesive intellectual systems, i.e. systems of metaphysics really, which bring together and make sense of these seemingly incompatible basic principles that underlie our modern conceptions of physical reality – i.e. that there is some non-local underlying attribute of the substratum of existence that manifests itself by the fundamental correlative measurement properties of subatomic particles that are separated by distances that cannot be traversed within the boundaries of Classical Mechanical assumptions.  This requires us of course to make sense of what Quantum Theory actually implies, or means – enter teleology again – and in turn what the implications it has on any conception of reality, i.e. ontology, we come up with to explain these basic and seemingly incompatible assumptions, and in turn and expansion of the definition of knowledge itself, epistemology, to take these factors into account.  Although at first glance the exercise might seem to be a purely intellectual one (really a Philosophical one in terms of how this discipline is understood in the modern, Quantum Era) the exercise nonetheless has great merit because at the very least it will help elucidate the limitations, and the subtle and far reaching implications in fact, of the pure materialistic and objective view of reality that prevails in the West today – even if one rejects any of the systems of metaphysics that are put forth herein as put forth in antiquity by Aristotle.

This leads us to questions and topics that fall under the heading of “Interpretations” of Quantum Theory, which arguably fall under the category of what is typically referred to as philosophy of science today but effectively, as keenly understood by Bohm for example, really are ontological questions – i.e. fall directly under the modern Philosophical discipline of ontology, a discipline which studies the nature of reality, or technical being, terminology that harkens back to the very origins of Hellenic philosophy.

There are many interpretations of Quantum Theory, i.e. how to make sense of the model with respect to its implications regarding the nature of the physical universe, physical reality as it were, but there are three in particular that deserve attention due either to their prevalence or acceptance in the academic community, i.e. academia, and/or their impact on scientific and/or philosophical community in particular, which in this domain really amounts to the Physics community more or less.  The fundamental question underlying these varying interpretations of Quantum Theory, what distinguishes them from one another essentially, are philosophical in nature – again ontological primarily.  In other words, the fundamental question along which the various interpretations of Quantum Theory align, or misalign as the case may be, is what does Quantum Theory, given its predictive power, imply about the true nature of physical reality?  We have come to a place in Science where we know that the underlying substratum of existence is bound by such mathematically proven principles such as uncertainty, complementarity and entanglement, and the implicit connection between the observed and the act of observation – all of which fly in the face of our long held beliefs with respect to our understanding of Classical Mechanics, i.e. how the world actually “is”, calling into question the nature of objective reality in and of itself.

On the one hand, we can say that it’s just a predictive model, no need to come to any radical conclusions about what it implies about the nature of the world we live in, much less any metaphysical, ontological, ethical or moral considerations (Copenhagen Interpretation).  On the other hand, we can look at Everett’s relative-state formulation and conclude that the underlying math tells us that we are all, mathematically speaking at least, part of a constantly unfolding universe where the distinction between the observed and the observer is not nearly as clearly defined as we have come to think.  But are there any other alternatives that give us the opportunity, at least theoretically at least, to hold on to our notions of objective reality that we have come to adore and consider to be almost unassailable assumptions about the world we live in?  David Bohm, the main architect of what has come to be known as Bohmian Mechanics, offers an alternative interpretation of Quantum Theory that falls squarely in this camp.

The first is the so-called “Standard” or “Orthodox” interpretation, the one most often compared to or cited in reference to when differing interpretations are put forth and explained and the one presented in the majority of text books on the subject.  This is most commonly referred to as the Copenhagen Interpretation and it basically renders the theoretical boundaries of interpretation of Quantum Theory to the results of the experiment itself and no further.  This point of view can be looked at as a pure mathematical and physical behavioral modelling view of Quantum Mechanics and fundamental rejects any philosophical or ontological implications.

The second is definitely a little out there but still nonetheless carries some weight within the academic community, the Physics and Mathematics community in particular, and is undoubtedly mathematically and theoretically sound, and intellectually interesting, even though its ontological implications are somewhat extreme, abstract theoretically mathematical case.  This interpretation has a few variants but is mostly referred to in the literature as the many-worlds interpretation, or many-minds, Interpretation and it expands upon the theoretical boundaries of Quantum Mechanics by explaining its stochastic nature by proposing the existence of multiple universes, or at least multiple possible universes.

The third interpretation that intellectually is perhaps the most appealing, particularly given its implicit ontological and metaphysical underpinnings, and as such is sometimes the Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory or simply Bohmian Mechanics.  It extends Quantum Mechanics to include a principle it refers to as quantum potential, and while it abandons the classical notion of locality it still preserves the notion of objective realism and determinism upon which Classical Mechanics is predicated. [4]

Of these three, the most widely accepted and commonly taught interpretation, the one that is presented in textbooks on the subject and is most often used as the standard bearer for alternative interpretations, is the Copenhagen Interpretation.  This interpretation is most often associated with Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, stemming from their collaboration in Copenhagen in 1927, hence the name.  The term was further crystallized in writings by Heisenberg in the 1950s when expressing his views on contradictory interpretations of Quantum Theory.  The Copenhagen Interpretation holds that the Quantum Theory does not, and cannot, yield a description of any sort of objective reality, i.e. does not have any ontological implications, but deals only with sets of probabilistic outcomes of experimental values borne from experiments observing or measuring various aspects of energy quanta, entities that do not fit neatly into classical interpretations of mechanics.  The underlying tenet here is that the act of measurement itself, the observer (or by extension the apparatus of observation) causes the set of probabilistic outcomes to converge on a single outcome, a feature of Quantum Mechanics commonly referred to as wavefunction collapse and that any additional interpretation of what might actually be going on, i.e. the underlying “reality”, defies explanation and therefore any interpretation of the model from an ontological or metaphysical perspective is in fact intellectually inconsistent with the fundamental mathematical tenets of the theory itself.

In this interpretation of Quantum Theory, reality – used here in the classical sense of the term as the existence of natural phenomenon, i.e. “things”, that exist independent of any “act of observation” – is a function of the experiment, and is defined as a result of the act of observation and has no ontological or metaphysical implications independent of the experiment itself which simply yields some measurement value.  In other words, reality in the quantum world from this point of view does not exist independent of observation.  Or put somewhat differently, the manifestation of what we think of or define as “real” is intrinsically tied to and related to the act of observation of the system itself.  Niels Bohr is historically considered to be one of the strongest proponents of this interpretation, an interpretation which refuses to associate any metaphysical implications with the underlying theoretical model.  His position is that given this proven interdependence between that which is being observed and the act of observation itself, no metaphysical interpretation should, or in fact can, be extrapolated from the theory.  Quantum Mechanics from this perspective is simply a tool to describe and measure states and particle/wave behavior in the subatomic realm that are made as a result of some well-defined experiment.

In other words, in Bohr’s view, attempting to make some determination as to what Quantum Theory actually implies about the nature of reality, beyond the results of a given experiment, violates the fundamental tenets of the theory itself.  From Bohr’s perspective, the inability to draw conclusions beyond the results of the experiments which the mathematical models predict, the yielding values or measurements from the experiments which run consistent with the stochastic mathematical models that underpin the theory, is in fact a necessary conclusion of the theorem’s basic tenets and therefore all that can be said about the theory itself, its ultimate interpretation, is defined wholly and completely by the mathematical model itself and that was the end of the matter.  This view can also be seen as the logical conclusion of the principle of complementarity, one of the fundamental and intrinsic features of Quantum Theory that makes it so mysterious and hard to understand in classical terms.  Complementarity, which is closely tied to the Copenhagen Interpretation, expresses the notion that in the quantum domain the results of experiments, the values yielded (sometimes called observables) are fundamentally tied to the act of measurement itself.  In this sense complementarity can be viewed as the twin of uncertainty, or its inverse postulate.

Bohr summarized this very subtle and yet at the same time very profound notion of complementarity in 1949 as follows:

…however far the [quantum physical] phenomena transcend the scope of classical physical explanation, the account of all evidence must be expressed in classical terms.  The argument is simply that by the word “experiment” we refer to a situation where we can tell others what we have learned and that, therefore, the account of the experimental arrangements and of the results of the observations must be expressed in unambiguous language with suitable application of the terminology of Classical Mechanics.

This crucial point…implies the impossibility of any sharp separation between the behavior of atomic objects and the interaction with the measuring instruments which serve to define the conditions under which the phenomena appear…. Consequently, evidence obtained under different experimental conditions cannot be comprehended within a single picture, but must be regarded as complementary in the sense that only the totality of the phenomena exhausts the possible information about the objects.[5]

Furthermore, based upon the model and the principles of complementarity and uncertainty which are both mathematically proven “attributes” of the underlying theory, in order to obtain a complete picture of the state of any given system, one would need to run multiple experiments across a given system.  But any time an act of observation is made the state of the system changes – hence the notion of uncertainty which is a basic principle of any subatomic system that is subject to measurement or observation which again is a function of the underlying complementarity of the associated and related particles or corpuscles that are being measured in said system as fully described by the act of observation, mathematically described as wavefunction collapse.

In this view, the basic characteristics of the subatomic world which is described by Quantum Theory are complementarity and uncertainty, and these characteristics in and of themselves say something profound about the underlying uncertainty of the theory itself from a Classical Mechanics, objective realist perspective.  To Bohr, complementarity is in fact the core underlying principle which underpins the uncertainty principle and these two basic and fundamental characteristics of the model which describes the quantum world captured at some level its very essence.  Furthermore, according to Bohr and within the intellectual framework of the Copenhagen Interpretation generally speaking, these attributes taken to their logical and theoretical limits, do not allow for or provide any metaphysical framework for interpretations of the model beyond the model itself which is bound by a) the measurement values or results of a given experiment, b) the measurement instruments themselves that were part of a given experiment, and c) the act of measurement itself.  All that can be said about the model is contained within the model.

Another common and more recently popularized interpretation of Quantum Theory is that perhaps all possible outcomes as described in the wavefunction do in fact “exist”, even if they could not be seen or perceived in our objective reality as defined by a given experiment of a given system.  This interpretation, which has come to be known in the literature as the many-worlds interpretation of Quantum Theory, actually incorporates all of the stochastic outcomes described within the wavefunction into the definition of reality itself so to speak.  So rather than the wavefunction being a mere mathematical tool as it were, in the many-worlds interpretation the wavefunction is reality.  In other words, if the math itself is viewed as the description of the underlying “reality”, and reality must conform to the basic underlying assumptions of Classical Mechanics – causal determinism, local realism, etc. – then wavefunction collapse which is a hallmark of Quantum Mechanics simply represents “one” of the many possible outcomes, one of the many “realities” that are inherent in the underlying system.  In this respect, the many-worlds interpretation can be seen as juxtaposed with the Copenhagen Interpretation which presupposes that the alternative outcomes implicit in the wavefunction which are not yielded upon the act of observation, i.e. again wavefunction collapse, do not have any real existence per se.  Although on the surface it might appear to be an outlandish premise, this interpretation of Quantum Theory has gained some prominence in the last few decades, especially within the Computer Science and Computational Complexity fields which are driven by pure math more or less.

This original formulation of this theory was laid out by Hugh Everett in his PHD thesis in 1957 in a paper entitled The Theory of the Universal Wave Function wherein he referred to the interpretation not as “Many-Worlds” but, much more aptly and more accurately given his initial formulation of the theoretical extensions of Quantum Mechanics that he proposed, as the relative-state formulation of Quantum Mechanics.  Almost completely ignored by the broader scientific community for several decades after he published his work, the theory was subsequently developed and expanded upon by several authors in the last decade or two and has come to be known, along with its variants that have cropped up, as the many-worlds interpretation.  Everett was a graduate student at Princeton at the time that he authored The Theory of the Universal Wave Function and his advisor was John Wheeler, one of the most respected theoretical physicists of the latter half of the twentieth century.  In Everett’s original exposition of the theory, he begins by calling out some of the problems with the original, or classic, interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, specifically what he and other members of the physics community believed to be the artificial creation of the notion of wavefunction collapse to explain the quantum uncertain to deterministic behavior transitions, as well as the difficulty that standard interpretations of the theory had in dealing with systems that consisted of more than one observer.  These he considered to be the main drivers behind his search for an alternative view, interpretation, or theoretical extension even of Quantum Theory.  He actually referred to his relative-state formulation of Quantum Theory as a metatheory given that the standard interpretation could be derived from it.

After writing his thesis, Everett did not in fact continue a career in academia and therefore subsequent interpretations and expansions upon his theory were left to later authors and researchers, most notably by Bryce Dewitt who coined the term “many-worlds”, and David Deutsch among others.  DeWitt’s book on the topic published in 1973 entitled The Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics in many respects popularized this interpretation and brought it back into mainstream Physics and it included a reprint of Everett’s thesis.  Deutsch’s seminal work on the topic is a book entitled The Fabric of Reality published in 1997 where he expands and extends the many-worlds interpretation to other academic disciplines outside of Physics such as Philosophy, specifically epistemology, Computer Science and Quantum Computing, and even Biology and theories of evolution.  Although Bohr, and presumably Heisenberg and von Neumann as well, whose collective views Quantum Theory’s philosophical implications make up the Copenhagen Interpretation, would no doubt explain away these strange and seemingly arbitrary assumptions as out of scope of the theory itself (i.e. Quantum Theory is intellectually and epistemologically bound by the experimental apparatus and their associated experimental results), Everett finds this view philosophically limiting and at the very least worth exploring tweaks and extensions to the theory to see if these shortcomings can be removed, and in turn what the implications are theoretically speaking when some of the more standard and orthodox assumptions of Quantum Mechanics are relaxed in some sense.

In Everett’s original conception of what he called the relative-state formulation of Quantum Mechanics” , is conceived to augment the standard interpretation of Quantum Theory (read Copenhagen Interpretation) which theoretically prevents us from any true explanation as to what the theory says about the nature of “reality” itself, or the real world as it were – a world which is presumed to be governed by the laws of Classical Physics where “things” and “objects”, i.e. measurable phenomena, exist independent of observers.  Where “objects” or “particles”, depending upon the physical context, have real, well defined, static measurable and definable qualities that exist independently of the act of measurement or observation.  This world of course is fundamentally incompatible with the underlying mathematical characteristics of Quantum Mechanics, a model which is stochastic, i.e. a probabilistic, where the outcomes of experiments are effectively defined by their uncertainty and complementarity, which seemingly contradict the underlying assumptions of Classical Mechanics.

Given the implications of this interpretation and again its more widespread adoption in recent years and in popular culture, it’s important that we understand it’s basic principles and tenets as Everett understood them.  Everett’s starts by making the following two basic assumptions:

  • he assumes that all physical systems large or small can be described as states within Hilbert space, the fundamental geometric framework upon which Quantum Mechanics  is constructed, and
  • he abstracts the notion of the observer as a machine-like entity with access to unlimited memory, which stores a history of previous states, or previous observations, and also has the ability to make simple deductions, or associations, regarding actions and behavior of system states solely based upon this memory and deductive reasoning.

His second assumption represents a marked distinction between it and Quantum Theory proper and incorporates observers and acts of observation (i.e. measurement) completely into one holistic theoretical model.  Furthermore, Everett proposes, and this is the core part of his thesis, that if you yield to assumptions 1 and 2, you can come up with an extension to Quantum Mechanics that describes the entire state of the universe, which includes the observers and objects of observation, that can be described in a completely mathematically consistent, coherent and fully deterministic manner without the need of the notion of wavefunction collapse or any additional assumptions regarding locality or causal determinism for that matter from which the standard interpretation of Quantum Theory as it were, can be deduced.

The aim is not to deny or contradict the conventional formulation of quantum theory, which has demonstrated its usefulness in an overwhelming variety of problems, but rather to supply a new, more general and complete formulation, from which the conventional interpretation can be deduced.[6]

Everett makes what he calls a simplifying assumption to Quantum Theory, i.e. removing the need for or notion of wavefunction collapse, and assumes the existence of a Universal Wave Function which accounts for and describes the behavior of all physical systems and their interaction in the universe, completely including the observer and the act of observation into the model – observers being viewed as simply another form of a quantum state that interacts with the environment.  Once these assumptions are made, he can then abstract the notion of measurement, which is the source of much of the oddity and complexity surrounding Quantum Theory, as simply interactions between quantum systems that are all governed by this same Universal Wave Function.  In Everett’s self-proclaimed metatheory, the notion of what an observer means and how they fit into the overall model are fully defined, and what he views as the seemingly arbitrary notion of wavefunction collapse is circumvented.  His metatheory is defined by the assumption of the existence of a Universal Wave Function which corresponds to the existence of a fully deterministic multi-verse based reality whereby wavefunction collapse is understood as a specific manifestation of the realization of one possible outcome of measurement that exists in our “reality”, or our specific multi-verse, i.e. the one which we observe during our act of measurement.

But in Everett’s theoretical description of the universe, if you take what can be described as a literal interpretation of this Universal Wave Function as the overarching description of reality, the other, unobserved, possible states reflected in the wavefunction of any system in question do not cease to exist with the act of observation.  In Everett’s original conception of Quantum Theory, his so-called relative-state formulation, the act of observation of a given system does not represent a “collapse” of the quantum mechanical wave that describes a given system state, but that these other states that are inherent in the wavefunction itself, while they do not manifest in our act of observation of said system do however have some existence per se.  To what degree and level of reality these “states” exists is a somewhat open ended question in this model and is the subject of much debate in subsequent interpretations of Everett’s metatheory, i.e. the relative-state formulation, but regardless according to Everett’s original conception of relative-state formulation, observers and observed phenomena are abstracted to a single mathematical construct which is derived from the wavefunction itself, i.e. the Universal Wave Function, and collectively are entirely descriptive of not just a given state of a given system, but also in turn the entire physical universe, most of which is simply not perceived by us as we “observe” it.

What Everett has put forward with his notion of the Universal Wave Function really, with the so-called relative-state formulation of Quantum Mechanics, is a full ontological description of reality that is implied in the underlying mathematics of Quantum Theory, a complete metaphysics as it were, an interpretation that certainly goes well beyond the standard Copenhagen Interpretation with respect to ontology.  In his own words, and this is a subtle yet important distinction between Everett’s view and the view of subsequent proponents of the many-worlds interpretation , these so-called “unobserved” states exist but remain uncorrelated with the observer in question, an observer that is incorporated and abstracted into his notion of a Universal Wave Function which models all of “reality”, again observed phenomenon and observers themselves.

We now consider the question of measurement in quantum mechanics, which we desire to treat as a natural process within the theory of pure wave mechanics.  From our point of view there is no fundamental distinction between “measuring apparata” and other physical systems.  For us, therefore, a measurement is simply a special case of interaction between physical systems – an interaction which has the property of correlating a quantity in one subsystem with a quantity in another.[7]

This is his great intellectual leap, that measurement systems and observers are intrinsically, from a mathematical and metaphysical perspective, basically the same thing.  The implications of this somewhat simple and elegant additional layer of abstraction upon the underlying math of Quantum Mechanics is that these so-called “unobserved” or “unperceived” states do have some semblance of reality.  That they do in fact exist as possible realities, realities that are thought to have varying levels of “existence” depending upon which version of the many-worlds interpretation you adhere to.  With DeWitt and Deutsch for example, a more literal, or “actual” you might say, interpretation of Everett’s original theory is taken, where these other states, these other realities or multi-verses, do in fact physically exist even though they cannot be perceived or validated by experiment.[8]  This is a more literal interpretation of Everett’s thesis however, and certainly nowhere does Everett explicitly state that these other potential uncorrelated states as he calls them actually physically exist.  What he does say on the matter, presumably in response to some critics of his metatheory, seems to imply some form of existence of these “possible” or potential universes that reflect non-measured or non-actualized states of physical systems, but not necessarily that these unrealized outcomes actually exist in some alternative physical universe which is typically how the many-worlds interpretation of Quantum Theory is commonly understood today (hence the name), again a significant deviation from Everett’s original conception.

In reply to a preprint of this article some correspondents have raised the question of the “transition from possible to actual,” arguing that in “reality” there is—as our experience testifies—no such splitting of observer states, so that only one branch can ever actually exist.  Since this point may occur to other readers the following is offered in explanation.

The whole issue of the transition from “possible” to “actual” is taken care of in the theory in a very simple way—there is no such transition, nor is such a transition necessary for the theory to be in accord with our experience.  From the viewpoint of the theory all elements of a superposition (all “branches”) are “actual,” none any more “real” than the rest.  It is unnecessary to suppose that all but one are somehow destroyed, since all the separate elements of a superposition individually obey the wave equation with complete indifference to the presence or absence (“actuality” or not) of any other elements.  This total lack of effect of one branch on another also implies that no observer will ever be aware of any “splitting” process.

Arguments that the world picture presented by this theory is contradicted by experience, because we are unaware of any branching process, are like the criticism of the Copernican theory that the mobility of the earth as a real physical fact is incompatible with the common sense interpretation of nature because we feel no such motion.  In both cases the argument fails when it is shown that the theory itself predicts that our experience will be what it in fact is.  (In the Copernican case the addition of Newtonian physics was required to be able to show that the earth’s inhabitants would be unaware of any motion of the earth.)[9]

According to Everett’s view then, the act of measurement of a quantum system, and its associated principles of uncertainty and entanglement, is simply the reflection of this splitting off of the observable universe from a higher order notion of a multi-verse where all possible outcomes and alternate histories have the potential to exist.  The radical form of the many-worlds interpretation is that these potential, unmanifested realities do in fact exist, whereas Everett seems to only go so far as to imply that they “could” exist and that conceptually their existence should not be ignored but at the same time their existence need not have any bearing on our conception or notion of “reality”.

As hard as this many-worlds interpretation (sometimes referred to as the many-minds interpretation) of Quantum Theory might be to wrap your head around, it does represent a somewhat elegant theoretically and mathematically sound solution to some of the criticisms and challenges raised by the broader Physics community against Quantum Theory, namely the EPR Paradox and the Schrödinger’s cat problems.  It does also raise some significant questions however as to the validity of his underlying theory of mind and subjective experience in general, notions which Everett somewhat glosses over (albeit intentionally, he is not constructing a theory of mind nor does he ever state that he intends to in any way) by making the simple assumption that observers can be incorporated into his Universal Wave Function view of reality by abstracting them into simple deductive reasoning and memory based machines.  Nonetheless this aspect of Everett’s interpretation of Quantum Theory, his implicit and simplified theory of observation and the role of mind, remains one of the most hotly debated and widely criticized aspect of his metatheory, and one upon which arguably his entire theoretical model rests.[10]

The last of the so-called interpretations of Quantum Theory that are relevant to this study is what we refer to throughout as Bohmian Mechanics, a fully deterministic model of Quantum Theory pioneered by David Bohm, one of the most prolific Physicists of the twentieth century.  David Bohm was an American born British physicist of the twentieth century who made a variety of contributions to Physics, but who also invested much time and thought into the metaphysical, really ontological, implications of Quantum Theory, and in Philosophy in general, topics that in fact most Physicists have steered away from.  In this respect Bohm was a bit of a rebel relative to his peers in the academic community because he extended the hard science of Physics into the more abstract realm of the descriptions of reality as a whole, incorporating first philosophy back into the discussion in many respects, but doing so with the tool of hard mathematics, making his theories very hard, if not impossible, to ignore by the Physics community at large, and establishing a scientific – really mathematical – foothold for some very Eastern philosophical metaphysical assumptions, all bundled together under a notion that Bohm referred to as undivided wholeness.

Bohm was, like Everett and many others in the Physics community (Einstein of course being the most well-known), dissatisfied with mainstream interpretations of Quantum Mechanics, in particular the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation which basically said that Quantum Theory was just a predictive modeling tool and cannot be used as the basis for any sort of metaphysical or ontological interpretation regarding the true nature of reality whatsoever.  This led him, apparently with some prodding by Einstein with whom he had ongoing dialogue toward the end of Einstein’s life, to look for possible hidden variable theories which could take the probability and uncertainty out of Quantum Theory and provide for – at least from an ontological and metaphysical perspective at least – a common set of assumptions across all of Physics.  Bohmian Mechanics is the result of this work, and although it generally speaking has not gained much traction in the scientific and academic community the model does a) prove that hidden variable theories are actually possible (something that still remained in doubt well into the 70s and 80s even decades after Bohm first published his adaptation of de Broglie’s pilot-wave theory which supported multi-bodied systems in the 1950s) and b) actually provided for a somewhat rational (at least rational from a Classical Mechanics point of view) explanation of what might actually be going on in this subatomic world where waves and particles seemed to blend into this non-classical, indeterministic reality – albeit requiring the relaxation of at least one of the prominent assumptions underlying Classical Mechanics, i.e. locality.

The foundations for Bohmian Mechanics were laid by Louis de Broglie in 1927 when he originally proposed that Schrödinger’s wavefunction could be interpreted as describing the existence a central physical particle accompanied by a so-called “pilot-wave that governed its behavior, thereby physically explaining why these subatomic “particles” behaved like waves and particles depending upon the experiment.  De-Broglie’s pilot-wave theory in its original form affirms the existence of subatomic particles, or corpuscles as they were called back then, but viewed these particles not as independent existing entities but as integrated into an undercurrent, or wave, which was fully described by Schrödinger’s wavefunction and gave these subatomic particles their wave-like characteristics of diffraction and interference while at the same time explained their particle like behavior as illustrated in certain experiments.  This represented a significant divergence from standard interpretations of Quantum Theory at the time.  From his original 1927 paper on the topic, de Broglie describes pilot-wave theory as follows:

One will assume the existence, as distinct realities, of the material point and of the continuous wave represented by the [wavefunction], and one will take it as a postulate that the motion of the point is determined as a function of the phase of the wave by the equation.  One then conceives the continuous wave as guiding the motion of the particle.  It is a “pilot wave”.[11]

De Broglie’s pilot-wave theory was dismissed by the broader academic community however when it was presented at the time however due to the fact that the model, as presented by de Broglie, could only be used to describe single-body systems.  This fact, along with the then very strong belief that any variant of hidden variable theories were theoretically impossible as put forth by von Neumann in paper he published in 1932 which led to the abandonment of pilot-wave theory by the Physics community as a possible alternative explanation of Quantum Mechanics for some two decades or so until it was picked back up by Bohm after von Neumann’s thesis that no local hidden variable theories were possible was proven to be false, or at least not nearly as restrictive as originally presumed.[12]

According to Bohm, one of the motivations for exploring the possibility of a fully deterministic/causal extension of Quantum Theory was not necessarily because he believed it to be the right interpretation, the correct one, but to show the possibility of such theories, the existence of which was cast into serious doubt after the development of von Neumann’s mathematical work in the 1930s, and even after Bell’s continuation of these theoretical constraints on Quantum Theory, which did in fact allow for non-local hidden variable theories, in the 1960s.

… it should be kept in mind that before this proposal was made there had existed the widespread impression that no conceptions of hidden variables at all, not even if they were abstract, and hypothetical, could possibly be consistent with the quantum theory.[13]

So in the early 1950s Bohm, driven primarily by the desire to illustrate that hidden variable theories were in fact possible, picked up where de Broglie left off and extended pilot-wave theory to support multi-body physical systems., giving the theory a more solid scientific and mathematical ground and providing a fully developed, alternative theoretical and mathematical description of Quantum Mechanics for consideration by the broader Physics community.  In the new framework, what he refers to as the Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory, Bohm-Hiley extend the underlying mathematics of Quantum Mechanics to include a fundamentally non-local force called quantum potential, a force which provided the rational and mathematical foundations for the explanation of non-local correlations between subatomic particles and their associated measurements.  In his Ontological Interpretation, Bohm-Hiley suggests that it was in fact the actual position and momentum of the underlying particle(s) in question that were the so called hidden variables, values which governed, along with the quantum potential, how a quantum wave-particle would behave, effectively sidestepping the so-called measurement problem, i.e. the need for wavefunction collapse

The force of quantum potential, as Bohm-Hiley describe it is not the same type of force that underlies most of Classical Mechanics, where its effect is a function of intensity or magnitude.  It is this extra variable, one which is inherently non-local in the Classical Mechanics sense, along with the Schrödinger equation, i.e. the wavefunction, which in toto govern and fully determine the behavior of a quantum system and has the potential (no pun intended) to fully describe all of its future and past states, irrespective of whether or not the quantum system is observed or measured.  This is how Bohmian Mechanics can be said to be fully causally deterministic, hence the Causal Interpretation name given to the model in some circles.  It is the notion of quantum potential that is the theoretical glue to speak that keeps Bohmian Mechanics together and, along with the establishment of the actual position and momentum of a given particle (or set of particles) as being fundamentally real, is the mathematical (and metaphysical) tool that is used to explain what’s actually going on in the quantum realm.  In other words – and this implication and assumption which underlies Bohmian Mechanics cannot be overstated – the quantum system not only has some definitive initial state, but it also knows about its environment to a certain extent, information that is embedded in the underlying quantum potential of a given system, a variable which can be added to the more standard mathematical models of Quantum Mechanics without changing any of the predictive results or fundamental attributes or properties of the underlying equations.

Quantum potential in Bohm’s view is a force that is universally present not only in the quantum realm but underlying all of Physics, a force that effectively becomes negligent as the quantum system becomes sufficiently large and complex and is transformed from a system that exhibits both wave and particle like behavior to a system governed by Classical Mechanics as described by Newton.  It provides us with an explanation for wavefunction collapse and quantum measurement uncertainty as put forth by Heisenberg, von Neumann and others by positing that the Schrödinger’s wavefunction does in fact fully describe quantum system behavior, that the actual position and momentum of a given quantum state does in fact exist even if it is not measured or observed, and that there exists some element of non-local active information within the environment which explains the observable and experimentally verifiable existence of the correlation of physically separated quantum entities, i.e. correlated observables.  As John Stewart Bell, a proponent in the latter part of his career of Bohmian Mechanics (what he refers to as de Broglie-Bohm theory) puts it:

That the guiding wave, in the general case, propagates not in ordinary three-space but in a multidimensional-configuration space is the origin of the notorious ‘nonlocality’ of quantum mechanics.  It is a merit of the de Broglie-Bohm version to bring this out so explicitly that it cannot be ignored.[14]

Bohmian Mechanics, as Bohm’s exposition of de Broglie’s pilot-wave theory later evolved into its more mature form, provides a mathematical framework within which subatomic reality can indeed be thought of as actually existing independent of an observer or an act of measurement, a significant departure from standard interpretations of the theory that were prevalent for most of the twentieth century, i.e. the Copenhagen Interpretation mostly.  In modern Philosophical terms, it’s a fully realist interpretation of Quantum Theory, providing a full ontological description as it were – one that’s also fully deterministic, albeit non-local – of the reality that underpins Quantum Theory which is implicit to the wavefunction – hence the name that Bohm gives his so-called interpretation of Quantum Theory, i.e. the Ontological Interpretation.  Bohmian Mechanics furthermore is consistent with Bell’s Theorem, which again states that no “local” hidden variable theories could ever reproduce all the predictions of Quantum Mechanics, and also at the same time directly addresses the concerns regarding completeness of Schrödinger’s wavefunction as a description of the subatomic world that were raised by the famed EPR Paper.[15]

Furthermore, Bohmian Mechanics is fully deterministic, proving that once the value of these hidden variables of position and momentum of the underlying particles within the system are known, and once an additional non-local attribute is added to the system state (i.e. quantum potential), all future states (and even past states) could be calculated and known as well.  This solution effectively relieves and solves many of the problems and paradoxes that were/are inherent in standard interpretations Quantum Theory such as uncertainty and complementarity (i.e. entanglement), as well as getting rid of the need for wavefunction collapse.  It furthermore provides us with a mathematically sound description of Quantum Mechanics which rests on almost all of the same basic underlying assumptions of Classical Mechanics, everything except the notion of locality.  Bohmian Mechanics falls into the category of hidden variable theories.  It lays out a description of quantum reality where the wavefunction, along with the notion of quantum potential, together represent a fully deterministic, albeit again non-local, description of the subatomic world – mathematically speaking.  With respect to the importance of Bohm’s work in Quantum Mechanics, Bell himself, albeit some 30 years after Bohm originally published his extension of de Broglie’s pilot-wave theory, had this to say:

But in 1952 I saw the impossible done.  It was in papers by David Bohm. Bohm showed explicitly how parameters could indeed be introduced, into nonrelativistic wave mechanics, with the help of which the indeterministic description could be transformed into a deterministic one.  More importantly, in my opinion, the subjectivity of the orthodox version, the necessary reference to the ‘observer,’ could be eliminated. …

But why then had Born not told me of this ‘pilot wave’?  If only to point out what was wrong with it?  Why did von Neumann not consider it?  More extraordinarily, why did people go on producing ‘‘impossibility’’ proofs, after 1952, and as recently as 1978? … Why is the pilot wave picture ignored in text books?  Should it not be taught, not as the only way, but as an antidote to the prevailing complacency?  To show us that vagueness, subjectivity, and indeterminism, are not forced on us by experimental facts, but by deliberate theoretical choice?[16]

Again, in this model it is the “actual” position and momentum of said particle which is the so-called hidden variable which in turn determine the result of a given experiment or observable result.  Bohmian Mechanics agrees with all of the mathematical predictions of standard interpretations of Quantum Theory, i.e. its mathematically equivalent, but it extends the theoretical model to try and explain what is actually going on, what is driving the non-local behavior of these subatomic “things” and what in fact can be said to be known about the state of quantum systems independent of the act of measurement or observation.  With this notion of quantum potential, Bohm provides a mathematical as well as metaphysical principle which “guides” subatomic particle(s), gives them some sense of environmental awareness, even if the reality he describes, again the so-called Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory, does not necessarily abide by the same principles of Classical Mechanics gives its assumptions regarding locality – i.e. that all objects or things are governed by and behave according to the principles of Classical Mechanics which are bound by the constraints of Relativity and the fixed speed of light, principles which have been demonstrated to be wholly inconsistent with Quantum Mechanics, causing of course much consternation in the Physics community and calling into question local realism in general.

Bohmian Mechanics contribution to Quantum Mechanics, and Physics as a whole in fact, is not only that it calls into question the presumption of local realism specifically, what Einstein referred to as “spooky action at a distance”, but also in that it proved unequivocally that hidden variable theories are in fact theoretically and mathematically possible and still consistent with the basic tenets of Quantum Mechanics.  Bohm in fact “completes” Quantum Mechanics in the very sense that the EPR Paper described when published in 1935 which is illustrated in their famed EPR Paradox. Bohmian Mechanics, whether you believed its underlying metaphysical assumptions about what was really going on in the subatomic realm, constructed in a very sound mathematical and theoretical model that was entirely consistent with Quantum Mechanics, the grounding of physical reality and existence itself as it were, brought very clear attention to the fact that our notions of time and space, and the perception of reality itself, was in need of a wholesale revision in terms of basic assumptions.

What Bohmian Mechanics calls our attention to quite directly, and in a very uncomfortable way from a Classical Mechanics perspective, is that there are metaphysical assumptions about reality in general that are fully baked into Classical Mechanics that must be relaxed in order to understand, and in fact explain, Quantum Mechanics.  Furthermore, it was these same subatomic particles (and/or waves) whose behavior which was modeled so successfully with Quantum Mechanics, that in some shape or form constituted the basic building blocks of the entire “classically” physical world – this fact could not be denied – and yet the laws and theorems that have been developed to describe this behavior, i.e. Classical Mechanics, were and still are fundamentally incompatible with the laws that govern the subatomic realm, specifically the underlying assumptions about what is “real” and how these objects of reality behave and are related to each other.[17]

While the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory holds that the model is simply a calculation tool and is bound by certain metaphysical constraints that are inherent to the theoretical model itself, Bohmian Mechanics, as well as Everett’s relative-state formulation in fact, provide explanations to what Quantum Theory’s underlying mathematics tells us about the nature of the universe we live in, about reality itself or again in Philosophical terms with respect to ontology (albeit drawing very different conclusions about the nature of the reality that is being described), arguably requiring us to reconsider the underlying assumptions that sit at the very foundation of Classical Mechanics.  In Bohm’s own words:

…in relativity, movement is continuous, causally determinate and well defined, while in quantum mechanics it is discontinuous, not causally determinate and not well-defined.  Each theory is committed to its own notions of essentially static and fragmentary modes of existence (relativity to that of separate events connectible by signals, and quantum mechanics to a well-defined quantum state).  One thus sees that a new kind of theory is needed which drops these basic commitments and at most recovers some essential features of the older theories as abstract forms derived from a deeper reality in which what prevails is unbroken wholeness.[18]

And Bohm didn’t stop with his Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory, he expanded its theoretical foundations to establish a grounding of a new order, an order which could encompass not only Classical Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics, but one that encompassed the role of the observer, consciousness itself, as well.  This is his notion of the implicate order and holomovement, principles upon which a sound logical, rational and holistic metaphysical framework could be constructed which encompassed all of existence; physical, mental and psychological, and in many respects covering all of the theological and philosophical ground that rested at the core of Descartes’s notion of res cogitans, res extensa and God but encompassing Physics as well.  To Bohm, both Classical Mechanics as well as Quantum Mechanics could be looked at not as inconsistent with each other, but as different manifestations of what he referred to as the implicate order, an underlying order which reflected pre-spatial phenomenon which manifested itself in the various physical planes of existence, in the case of various scales, in what he termed explicate orders.

My attitude is that the mathematics of the quantum theory deals primarily with the structure of the implicate pre-space and with how an explicate order of space and time emerges from it, rather than with movements of physical entities, such as particles and fields. (This is a kind of extension of what is done in general relativity, which deals primarily with geometry and only secondarily with the entities that are described within this geometry.)[19]

Bohm, and Basil Hiley who contributed to and co-authored their text that described in detail their Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory, not only proved that non-local hidden variable theories of Quantum Mechanics were possible, but also that in order to truly understand what was happening at this underlying substratum of existence, the notion of intellect, or at some level what could be construed as consciousness, had to be considered as an active participant in the model that explained what was going on – this is again what sits behind their notion of quantum potential, the means by which a quantum system is “informed” of its environment as it were, underpinning the notion of active information that complemented and augmented the wavefunction to govern elementary behavior – behavior that Bohm and Hiley at least considered to be “intelligent” in a way, or at the very least aware of the various elements of the environment beyond any Classical Mechanical boundaries.  Their idea of active information, which is a, if not the, revolutionary idea that they propose to explain the subtleties and mysteries of subatomic behavior, implies that there is some sort of awareness the overall interconnected quantum environment which must be considered in order to fully explain quantum system behavior, an aspect which by its very nature violates some of the core assumptions of Classical Mechanics, namely that of local realism, i.e. that the behavior of any given “object” or system of objects is independently real, exists independent of the act of measurement or observation, and is governed entirely by the properties or qualities of said object or system or any forces which act on said system.

In Bohm’s Philosophy, his metaphysics (and we’re no longer in Physics proper just to be clear), he believed that the quantum reality, its explicate order that we perceive and can measure and interact with by means of various experiments, is further governed by a higher implicate order that stems from some cognitive aspect of consciousness – i.e. the human mind or some aspect of cosmic mind, even if he isn’t explicit in using this terminology.  That in fact we cannot get away from considering the role of mind, the role of the perceiver, in completely understanding quantum behavior or Quantum Theory in general.  He perhaps best describes his notion of the implicate order, its relationship to various explicate orders, and what he means by holomovement, and how these metaphysical constructs from his perspective can be used to understand the seemingly non-local forces/interaction that appear to be at work in Quantum Mechanics, with an analogy of a fish swimming in an aquarium being looked at and perceived through different camera lenses, each yielding a different perspective on what the fish looks like but at the same time describing the same fish:

Imagine a fish swimming in an aquarium.  Imagine also that you have never seen a fish or an aquarium before and your only knowledge about them comes from two television cameras – one directed at the aquarium’s front and the other at its side.  When you look at the two television monitors you might mistakenly assume that the fish on the screens are separate entities.  After all, because the cameras are set at different angles, each of the images will be slightly different.  But as you continue to watch you will eventually realize there is a relationship between the two fish.  When one turns, the other makes a slightly different but corresponding turn.  When one faces the front, the other faces the side, and so on.  If you are unaware of the full scope of the situation, you might wrongly conclude that the fish are instantaneously communicating with one another, but this is not the case.  No communication is taking place because at a deeper level of reality, the reality of the aquarium, the two fish are actually one and the same.

All things found in the unfolded, explicate order emerge from the holomovement in which they are enfolded as potentialities, and ultimately they fall back to it.  They endure only for some time, and while they last, their existence is sustained in a constant process of unfoldment and re-enfoldment, which gives rise to their relatively stable and independent forms in the explicate order.[20]

From a conceptual perspective, one can think of Bohm’s idea of implicate and explicate order using the analogy of a game of chess.  In chess, the game itself is governed by an explicate order, where the boundaries of the board and the rules of the overall game are established – who is white, who is black, the capturing of individual pieces, the goal of trying to capture the king to win the game, etc.  Furthermore, each piece in the game is governed by its own set of rules that determine how it can move across the board, another explicate order as it were that although subservient to the master explicate order of the game itself, represents an explicate order nonetheless.  And yet implicit to the game is the mind and objectives of the two players themselves, who although must operate and behave according to the aforementioned explicate order directives or laws/rules not only of the game itself but also with respect to the individual movements of individual pieces on the board, but yet at the same time, all the while governed by another, higher order, i.e. the objective of trying to “win the game” by capturing the opponent’s king, i.e. the implicate order as it were.  Each of the players (presumably if they are any good at chess) has the vision and intellect, the intelligence as it were, to leverage all of these different yet interrelated explicate orders – the explicate order of the game and the explicate orders which govern the behavior of the individual pieces – in an attempt to achieve the desired outcome, i.e. capture the king of the opponent which represents the underlying implicate order of the game in this analogy.

The implicate order in this case is the mind of the player, from which each of the explicate orders unfolds as he (or she) moves each individual piece.  It is within this higher order that each of the players comes up with their own strategy and framework in mind, processing and reacting to information about the game itself as each move is made.  Each player understands how the game is to be played, what moves he can make as the game evolves and pieces come off the board – i.e. the underlying and always applicable explicate orders which govern the rules of the game – while at the same time the game is governed by a higher-level order which also describes the underlying behavior, the underlying reality” as it were, as to what is truly going on at a higher level of abstraction as it were.  This is the implicate order underlying the game, i.e. that each player is trying to “win”.  [Interesting enough in this example there are really two different implicate orders at play which influence the outcome of the game, both of which obey the same set of rules but the interplay of which governs the overall behavior, the outcome, of not only the individual moves as they are made but the outcome of the game itself.]

In many respects, this notion of implicate order is echoed in Everett’s relative-state formulation of Quantum Theory, i.e. that the underlying correlation of an observed state of a given system reflects our observation, the relative-state formulation of reality as it were, of a given quantum state and not that these other, uncorrelated, states that we do not perceive do not necessarily exist.  Everett’s relative-state formulation of Quantum Mechanics ironically enough, and one of its biggest criticisms in fact, is that is fully coherent only because it incorporates a theory of mind directly into his model – a metaphysical construct which is abstracted into a quasi-mechanical reasoning machine (albeit greatly simplified relative to a functioning human mind) which has access to infinite memory that is capable of  “remembering” prior states of existence or prior observation states, which in turn provides the rational explanation of the collapse of the wavefunction as a misunderstanding of what is actually going on – namely the observance of one manifest, correlated, state, not necessarily the lack of existence of all of the uncorrelated states, leading of course to the seemingly perplex and somewhat confounding notion of the of the existence of many-worlds interpretation.  Bohm’s metaphysics makes essentially the same philosophical leap, namely that it is the existence of an underlying implicate order which contains within it various explicate order which may or may not be manifest depending on which observational state, or perspective, we choose.

To Bohm, and Hiley, this implicate order construct can also be used to incorporate a theory of mind (back) into Physics, reverting back to first philosophy as it were, or in more modern philosophical parlance again, ontology.  To Bohm, it is quantum potential or active information which point to the existence of a basic underlying consciousness or awareness that underpins physical reality – implying that the universe itself when looked at from this grand perspective, one that includes the act of perception along with that which is perceived (which arguably is an artifact and a necessary conclusion of Quantum Theory), points to the necessary conclusion of what he calls undivided wholeness.

It is now quite clear that if gravity is to be quantised successfully, a radical change in our understanding of spacetime will be needed.  We begin from a more fundamental level by taking the notion of process as our starting point.  Rather than beginning with a spacetime continuum, we introduce a structure process which, in some suitable limit, approximates to the continuum.  We are exploring the possibility of describing this process by some form of non-commutative algebra, an idea that fits into the general ideas of the implicate order.  In such a structure, the locality of quantum theory can be understood as a specific feature of this more general a-local background and that locality, and indeed time, will emerge as a special feature of this deeper a-local structure.[21]

What is arguably the logical conclusions of any reasonable interpretation of Quantum Theory, leaving open the idea of at least some form of metaphysical/philosophical interpretation is possible (which seems rational), is that our notion of “order”, and our notions and assumptions regarding the basic nature of reality – what falls under the discipline of ontology which is a major theme of this work –  need to be radically changed in order to account for all of the strange phenomenon, features and characteristics that come along with the tremendous predictive power of the underlying mathematics.  Some elemental and basic non-local principle must be incorporated into our ontology in order to incorporate the truth and empirical validity of Quantum Theory – that is to say that no matter what interpretation of Quantum Theory you find most attractive, at the very least the notion of local realism which underpins all of Classical Mechanics, all of Western philosophy really, must be abandoned in order to make sense of what is going on.  One would be hard pressed to find someone with a good understanding of Quantum Theory who would dispute this.

In the words of Max Planck,, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century by any measure, and words which you won’t find in any Physics textbook mind you, he sums up the state of affairs as follows:

All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together.  We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind.  This mind is the matrix of all matter.[22]


[1] Ockham’s razor, or lex parsimoniae in Latin meaning “law of parsimony”, is a principle initially forth by the 14th century theologian, philosopher and logician William of Ockham (c. 1287 – 1347), and states that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected and in most if not all cases represents the “best”, or “optimal”, solution.  Ockham’s razor has been a guiding force for scientific theoretical advancement throughout much of the Enlightenment Era and remains a persistent and guiding principle of scientific theoretical analysis, and philosophical and metaphysical inquiry as well, to this day.  See Wikipedia contributors, ‘Ockham’s razor’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 8 December 2016, 02:13 UTC, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Occam%27s_razor&oldid=753591996&gt; [accessed 8 December 2016].

[2] Not all Physicists fall into this category of course, and some have offered various metaphysical insights over the years, Bohm and even to a certain extent Einstein and Bohr representing some of the more prominent examples, but the general albeit prejudicial view still for the most part holds true and is reflected in the discipline of Physics as it is taught in the West which represents “intellectual orthodoxy” if we may use that term in this context.

[3] This is arguably one of the reasons that metaphysics, and its companion subject theology, are not taught in the West outside of advanced classes in private high schools or universities, i.e. institutions that are not publically funded, given the predilection, for sound historical reasons undoubtedly, for refusing to mix not just Religion and Science but religion with “education” as a whole.  Part of the byproduct of the separation of “church and state” as it were.

[4] In the Physics community, and in particular with respect to Quantum Theory in particular, Bohmian Mechanics is viewed as a hidden variable theory within the context of the standard literature and findings with respect to the theoretical implications of the EPR Paradox and Bell’s Theorem.  Depending upon context, the same theoretical framework, which was developed primarily by Bohm but rests on work done by de Broglie, is referred to as the Causal Interpretation of Quantum Theory (given its fully deterministic model), or as de Broglie-Bohm theoryWe shall try and use Bohmian Mechanics throughout as much as possible.  We can find the most detailed description of Bohmian Mechanics in Bohm and Basil Hiley’s book entitled The Undivided Universe which was first published in 1993 although much of its contents and the underlying theory had been thought out and published in previous papers on the topic since the 1950s.  In this work they refer to their interpretation not as the Causal Interpretation, or even as de Broglie-Bohm theory, but as the Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory given that from their perspective its gives the only complete causal and deterministic theoretical model of Quantum Theory where it is the actual position and location of the particle within the “pilot-wave that determines the statistical outcome of the experiment that is governed by the wavefunction.

[5] Niels Bohr (1949),”Discussions with Einstein on Epistemological Problems in Atomic Physics”. In P. Schilpp. Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist. Open Court.

[6] From the Introduction of Everett’s thesis in 1957 “Relative State” Formulation of Quantum Mechanics.

[7] Hugh Everett, III.  Theory of the Universal Wave Function, 1957.  Pg 53.

[8] Deutsch actually posits that proof of the “existence” of these other multi-verses is given by the wave interference pattern displayed in even the single split version of the classic double-slit experiment as well as the some of the running time algorithm enhancements driven by quantum computing, namely Shor’s algorithm which finds the polynomial factors of a given number which runs an order of magnitude faster on quantum computers than it does on classical, 1 or 0 but based machines.  This claim is controversial to say the least, or at least remains an open point of contention among the broader physics community. See http://daviddeutsch.physics.ox.ac.uk/Articles/Frontiers.html for a summary of his views on the matter.

[9] Everett’s thesis in 1957 “Relative State” Formulation of Quantum Mechanics, Note on Page 15, presumably in response to criticisms he received upon publishing the draft of his thesis to various distinguished members of the physics community, one of who was Niels Bohr.

[10] See Bohm and Hiley’s Chapter on Many-Worlds in their 1993 book entitled The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory for a good overview of the strengths and weaknesses mathematical and otherwise of Everett and DeWitt’s different perspectives on the many-worlds interpretation of Quantum Theory.

[11] Louis De Broglie `Wave mechanics and the atomic structure of matter and of radiation’, Le Journal de Physique et le Radium, 8, 225 (1927).

[12] John von Neumann was instrumental in not only laying the mathematical foundations of Quantum Mechanics but also establishing the mathematical boundaries within which interpretations of the theory could be made, which included as it turned out a fairly comprehensive proof that ruled out (certain) classes of hidden variable theories to explain the underlying mathematics, a line of research that was followed by Bell which of course led to an expansion of the theoretical limitations of hidden variable theories, i.e. Bell’s Theorem, which depending on which source you read proved von Neumann’s assumptions to be false, or at best misleading.  Von Neumann also interestingly enough posited the idea of consciousness as an explanation for wavefunction collapse, a notion that of course was not addressed or picked up by the broader physics community given its philosophical implications.

[13] David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, London: Routledge 1980 pg. 81.

[14] From Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Bohmian Mechanics by Sheldon Goldstein, quote from Bell, Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1987, p. 115.

[15] In fact, Bohm’s pilot-wave theory to a large degree inspired Bell’s Theorem.  See Bell’s paper entitled On the Einstein Podolsky Rosen Paradox in 1964, published some 12 years after Bohm published his adaption of De Broglie’s pilot-wave theory.

[16] From Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Bohmian Mechanics, 2001 by Sheldon Goldstein; taken from Bell 1987, “Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics”, Cambridge University Press.

[17] There has been significant progress in the last decade or two in reconciling Quantum Theory and Classical Mechanics, most notably with respect to Newtonian trajectory behavior, what is described in the literature as accounting for the classical limit.  For a good review of the topic see the article The Emergence of Classical Dynamics in a Quantum World by Tanmoy Bhattacharya, Salman Habib, and Kurt Jacobs published in Las Alamos Science in 2002.

[18] David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, London: Routledge 1980 pg. xv.

[19] David Bohm: Time, the implicate order, and pre-space, In: David R. Griffin: Physics and the Ultimate Significance of Time, State University of New York Press, 1986, ISBN 0-88706-113-3, pp. 177–208, p. 192–193.

[20]  [Bohm, David, 1990].

[21] Relativity, Quantum Gravity and Space-time Structures, Birkbeck, University of London (12 June 2013).

[21] Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers.

[22] Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers.



Categories: Essays, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Physics

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1 reply

  1. Do you sit at all?

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