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Metaphysics & Psychology

Objective Reality Doesn’t Exist, Quantum Experiment Shows

Objective Reality Doesn't Exist, Quantum Experiment Shows 88
Imagem: © Shutterstock/Juergen Faelchle

Alternative facts are spreading like a virus across society. Now, it seems they have even infected science — at least the quantum realm. This may seem counter intuitive.

Objective Reality Doesn't Exist, Quantum Experiment Shows 89

The scientific method is after all founded on the reliable notions of observation, measurement and repeatability. A fact, as established by a measurement, should be objective, such that all observers can agree with it.

But in a paper recently published in Science Advances, we show that, in the micro-world of atoms and particles that is governed by the strange rules of quantum mechanics, two different observers are entitled to their own facts. In other words, according to our best theory of the building blocks of nature itself, facts can actually be subjective.

Observers are powerful players in the quantum world. According to the theory, particles can be in several places or states at once — this is called a superposition. But oddly, this is only the case when they aren’t observed. The second you observe a quantum system, it picks a specific location or state — breaking the superposition. The fact that nature behaves this way has been proven multiple times in the lab — for example, in the famous double slit experiment.

In 1961, physicist Eugene Wigner proposed a provocative thought experiment. He questioned what would happen when applying quantum mechanics to an observer that is themselves being observed. Imagine that a friend of Wigner tosses a quantum coin — which is in a superposition of both heads and tails — inside a closed laboratory. Every time the friend tosses the coin, they observe a definite outcome. We can say that Wigner’s friend establishes a fact: the result of the coin toss is definitely head or tail.

Wigner doesn’t have access to this fact from the outside, and according to quantum mechanics, must describe the friend and the coin to be in a superposition of all possible outcomes of the experiment. That’s because they are “entangled” — spookily connected so that if you manipulate one you also manipulate the other. Wigner can now in principle verify this superposition using a so-called “interference experiment” — a type of quantum measurement that allows you to unravel the superposition of an entire system, confirming that two objects are entangled.

When Wigner and the friend compare notes later on, the friend will insist they saw definite outcomes for each coin toss. Wigner, however, will disagree whenever he observed friend and coin in a superposition.

This presents a conundrum. The reality perceived by the friend cannot be reconciled with the reality on the outside. Wigner originally didn’t consider this much of a paradox, he argued it would be absurd to describe a conscious observer as a quantum object. However, he later departed from this view, and according to formal textbooks on quantum mechanics, the description is perfectly valid.

The experiment

The scenario has long remained an interesting thought experiment. But does it reflect reality? Scientifically, there has been little progress on this until very recently, when Časlav Brukner at the University of Vienna showed that, under certain assumptions, Wigner’s idea can be used to formally prove that measurements in quantum mechanics are subjective to observers.

Brukner proposed a way of testing this notion by translating the Wigner’s friend scenario into a framework first established by the physicist John Bell in 1964. Brukner considered two pairs of Wigners and friends, in two separate boxes, conducting measurements on a shared state — inside and outside their respective box. The results can be summed up to ultimately be used to evaluate a so called “Bell inequality”. If this inequality is violated, observers could have alternative facts.

We have now for the first time performed this test experimentally at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh on a small-scale quantum computer made up of three pairs of entangled photons. The first photon pair represents the coins, and the other two are used to perform the coin toss — measuring the polarization of the photons — inside their respective box. Outside the two boxes, two photons remain on each side that can also be measured.

Despite using state-of-the-art quantum technology, it took weeks to collect sufficient data from just six photons to generate enough statistics. But eventually, we succeeded in showing that quantum mechanics might indeed be incompatible with the assumption of objective facts — we violated the inequality.

The theory, however, is based on a few assumptions. These include that the measurement outcomes are not influenced by signals traveling above light speed and that observers are free to choose what measurements to make. That may or may not be the case.

Another important question is whether single photons can be considered to be observers. In Brukner’s theory proposal, observers do not need to be conscious, they must merely be able to establish facts in the form of a measurement outcome. An inanimate detector would therefore be a valid observer. And textbook quantum mechanics gives us no reason to believe that a detector, which can be made as small as a few atoms, should not be described as a quantum object just like a photon. It may also be possible that standard quantum mechanics does not apply at large length scales, but testing that is a separate problem.

This experiment therefore shows that, at least for local models of quantum mechanics, we need to rethink our notion of objectivity. The facts we experience in our macroscopic world appear to remain safe, but a major question arises over how existing interpretations of quantum mechanics can accommodate subjective facts.

Some physicists see these new developments as bolstering interpretations that allow more than one outcome to occur for an observation, for example the existence of parallel universes in which each outcome happens. Others see it as compelling evidence for intrinsically observer-dependent theories such as Quantum Bayesianism, in which an agent’s actions and experiences are central concerns of the theory. But yet others take this as a strong pointer that perhaps quantum mechanics will break down above certain complexity scales.

Clearly these are all deeply philosophical questions about the fundamental nature of reality. Whatever the answer, an interesting future awaits.

This article was originally published at The Conversation. The publication contributed the article to Live Science’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

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Metaphysics & Psychology

Psilocybin mushrooms sprout in the blood of an ‘experimental’ patient

Psilocybin mushrooms sprout in the blood of an 'experimental' patient 102
Image: Giphy.com

US doctors described the story of a man who tried to relieve depression with psilocybin mushrooms in an unconventional way. He injected an intravenous infusion of mushrooms, causing the mushrooms to continue to multiply in his blood and cause multiple organ failure. The case was reported in the Journal of the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry.

Many drugs that people traditionally use as psychedelics are increasingly becoming the focus of medical attention. Some of them have already been repurposed and started clinical trials: for example, micro-doses of LSD have proven to be at least safe in the case of Alzheimer’s disease, and psilocybin has helped patients with  migraines and  depression. Often in such experiments we are talking about microdosing – that is, the mass of the substance is not enough for a psychoactive effect.

The story of an American who decided to experiment on his own was described by doctors led by Curtis McKnight of Creighton University School of Medicine. According to relatives, the 30-year-old American suffered from bipolar disorder, but shortly before the incident stopped taking his prescribed medications and suffered from alternating states of mania and depression.

When he stumbled upon research on the potential benefits of psychedelics, he boiled psilocybin mushrooms and injected the filtered solution into his vein. A few days after this experiment, relatives found him in a lethargic state with jaundice, diarrhea and bloody vomiting and took him to the hospital.

Doctors discovered the patient had a problem with multiple organs at once: acute renal failure, liver damage, tachycardia, and low blood saturation and ionic imbalance. He was prescribed droppers to normalize the composition of the blood, vasoconstrictors to raise blood pressure, antibiotics and antifungal drugs. Despite this, he developed septic shock and DIC (excessive blood clotting) and needed plasmapheresis. Only eight days later he was discharged from the intensive care unit, and at the time of publication of the article he had already been in the hospital for 22 days.

In the patient’s blood tests, in addition to the Brevibacillus bacteria , there were also Psilocybe cubensis fungi  – the same ones from which he injected himself intravenously. Apparently, due to insufficient filtration of the solution, the fungi entered the bloodstream and multiplied there, causing intoxication and multiple organ failure.

Psilocybin mushrooms sprout in the blood of an 'experimental' patient 103

The authors of the work note that this is not the first such case – at least in the 80s of the 20th century, doctors already described a patient with similar symptoms after an intravenous injection. Therefore, McKnight and coauthors warn their colleagues: since psychedelics are increasingly used as a medicine (at the end of 2020, they began to legalize it in the United States), it is important to remind patients of the inadmissibility of self-therapy. Intravenous administration can be dangerous – doctors still do not know if it has the same psychoactive effect as the classical methods of administration.

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Metaphysics & Psychology

A part of a person’s essence accompanies him throughout his life: this is confirmed by a brain scan

A part of a person's essence accompanies him throughout his life: this is confirmed by a brain scan 104
Photo: pixabay.com

A new method of scanning the human brain has produced amazing results. It turns out that in every person there is a certain part of his essence, which accompanies him all his life from the moment of birth to death.

Scientists believe that this is the core of a person’s self-awareness. It combines memories of the past with fleeting sensations of reality and provides a basis for anticipation of events in the future.

It turned out that a certain part of a person’s consciousness is consistent as they grow older and older.

For centuries, scientists and philosophers have been interested in the question: can this sense of “personal self” be stable throughout life? A new psychological study with the results of a brain scan made it possible to conclude that a certain part of a person’s consciousness really accompanies him throughout his life.

It is consistent as it gets older and older. Miguel Rubianes, a neuroscientist at the Complutense University of Madrid, says the aim of the study was to answer the question: Are we the same person throughout life? In combination with the results of other studies, scientists have concluded that there is a certain component that remains stable from birth to death.

The other part of consciousness remains susceptible to current changes. The scientists recognized independence as the basis of identity. And every time a person uses the word “I”, he means a thread that connects together all the events and experiences that have occurred in life.

Experience gained over the years changes a person, changes the components of his identity. Each case associated with personal experiences, a broken heart, a successful career step, expected or unexpected failure lead to the fact that a person compares himself to himself before and after these events. It is a neurological programming scheme that involves visual self-knowledge as an indicator of connection with your impressions of yourself.

This effect makes it possible to cope with memories and recognition of information when it is associated, for example, with one’s own photograph of an infant. Although this principle has a lot of evidence, scientists believe that the very mechanism of the brain involved in this remains a mystery.

This study was published in the journal Psychophysiology.

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Metaphysics & Psychology

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop 105

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we sometimes do not notice how time flies past us, what miracles surround us. We do not have time to listen to the rustle of leaves in the wind and we miss those minutes when the crimson moon hangs at the very horizon.

Below are 10 films that reflect the beauty and diversity of our world. You watch such a movie and forget about everything.

Kytice

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

7 fairy tales-ballads based on Czech folklore are filmed colorfully and poetically. 

They endure a time when people were closer to nature, believed in miracles and the spirits of the forest, when the terrible and the beautiful were merged together.

Ashes and snow

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

Gregory Colbert’s documentary has no plot, but it attracts with its stunning, unrestrained beauty, reflecting the unity of man with nature.

The film was shot for 13 years in the most exotic corners of our planet: Burma, Ethiopia, India, Antarctica, Sri Lanka, Tonga islands and many other picturesque places.

The fountain

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

The main character Thomas tries to find a cure for his wife Isabelle. Every day she gets worse, and he cannot be near, because he puts experiments in the laboratory. In his soul, love, the desire to be with Isabelle and the desire to extend her life are fighting. 

Darren Aronofsky’s philosophical drama was filmed in vivid colors, despite the fact that the director did not use computer special effects.

Samsara

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

This is a beautiful one and a half hour trip to the most amazing places on the planet. 

Director Ron Fricke showed the inextricable connection of all people and events on earth, the cycle of death and birth, the versatility of our world, where beauty coexists with nondescriptness, and the end means the beginning.

The Bear

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

The story of a bear cub that lost its mother and nailed to a large wounded bear. Together they have to go through many trials, the worst of which is meeting the hunters. 

The wonderful plot of the film is combined with stunning music that helps you immerse yourself in the world of nature and feel it with your whole body.

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

The harsh Siberian nature, untouched by man, the majestic Yenisei River and the small village of Bakhta with a simple way of life. 

People live and survive in these parts, rely only on themselves and also ask only themselves. Four seasons – four lifestyles for each of them.

August Rush

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

Young musician August Rush does not know his parents, but he really wants to find them and for some reason is sure that if he plays, they will hear and recognize him by his music. 

Mesmerizing music permeates the entire film and works wonders to dispel the evil spell of separation.

Baraka

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

A documentary masterpiece, a philosophical essay accompanied by superb cinematography and music, goes without words. The only and main actor here is life in all its diversity and unity. 

The gaze of a monkey sitting in a hot pond is equal to all the depths of cold space, and the dances of the aborigines are synchronized with the movements of the forest.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

This is a beautiful and unhurried philosophical parable about a wheel of time moving into infinity. Each time, with the beginning of a new cycle of rotation, life on earth is renewed, and everyone has the opportunity for a new rebirth. 

The film by Korean director Kim Ki-dook tells about two monks – a teacher and his student – and the obstacles that must be overcome on the way to finding harmony.

Chronos

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

The main characters of the documentary narration are cultural and historical monuments. 

They absorbed the life of the people who created them, and have remained for centuries as an imprint of bygone eras.

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