What If Everything Is Quantum

When I use the word “quantum” I am not thinking of the miniscule aspects of quantum physics but of how it reveals a very “squirrelly” physical reality. I will start with a quite old, in physics, illustration of this.

The physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935 created a famous thought experiment to illustrate the strangeness of quantum mechanics. The experiment involves a cat placed in a box, in a way it cannot be observed, along with a radiation source and a vial of poison. The radiation source has a 50% probability of emitting a particle during the time of the experiment. If it does emit a particle, the vial is broken and the cat dies. The emission or the non-emission of the radioactive particle represents potentialities for the cat. But the actuality of what happens to the cat cannot be determined until the event occurs and the state of the cat is observed.

The point of Schrödinger’s illustration was that the cat was in a state of quantum superposition, simultaneously dead and alive during the experiment, until the box is opened and the cat observed. At this point the cat is either dead or alive and thus back to being a part of the world we live in. It has not been noted by anyone I have read who described the experiment that it could have been an actual experiment. The only reason for it being a thought experiment is not to put a cat at risk just to illustrate a physical principle.

Superposition is a hard concept to grasp but what if it is the key to understanding all of physical reality. Let me explain my idea by presenting analogies to the objects in Schrödinger’s experiment. Think of the cat as any object, from the smallest subatomic particle to the universe itself. The radiation source and the vial represent the potentialities for the future state of the object. The object as it is seen when the box is opened is the extent of our available knowledge of physical events. The box represents the inability we have of knowing both the future outcomes and the available potentialities regarding all physical existence.

Schrödinger could have added other possible outcomes to his experiment. A mouse could have been released into the box or the cat could have been provided with food, water and kitty litter for a kinder, gentler outcome. The point here is that the potentialities in regard to a given event are always suited to the nature of the object but it cannot be known regarding any occurrence that the potentialities include all possible outcomes.

Where does this get us in regard to what happens in all of physical reality? If all of physical existence is the result of the actualization of potentialities, then we have to concede that if there could be something that controls the available potentialities then the physical reality we experience is the result of the generation and control of the potentialities available for any given event. This idea I have of everything being quantum invokes the principle of superposition developed by quantum physics and extends it to all events. What happens in Schrödinger’s box is unknowable until an event is observed. This uncertainty is not a lack of knowledge of potentialities that will someday be overcome by an advance in scientific knowledge. It is inherent in physical reality.

This idea of quantum everything is not a version of the God of the Gaps idea proposed by some Christians. It suggests that there is an uncertainty in our knowledge of physical events that is, to use a technical term, invincible.

To illustrate this let me turn to the world of sports. This is a good place to look for uncertainty because the essence of sports is uncertainty of outcome. There is an important figure, Chris Berman, at ESPN who does a swami routine to pick the weekly winners of NFL games. The funny part of it is not his shtick but that you or I could do as well in selecting winners by flipping a coin. This is not to say that the outcomes are random but that there are a large number of variables involved. Materialists would claim that the problem is lack of sufficient data and may think that in the era of Big Data the problem can be solved. This thinking brings in two levels of belief. One is that all the data can be known and properly used to arrive at knowledge of a certain outcome of a particular game, and two is that there are no relevant variables outside their knowledge. The reason this thinking involves faith is that Schrödinger’s box is opaque. What potentialities are in the box and what will certainly happen as a result of these potentialities are, scientifically, I think, unknowable.

It would be belaboring my point to go through every type of occurrence, not only physical but historical, economic, cultural and so forth, and show they all look quantum. It is remarkable that in their quest to get to the bottom of physical reality quantum physicists have become, as some will admit, philosophers. It may be even worse than that. I think string theory and M theory, and the mathematical need for 11 dimensions, has led physicists in the direction of becoming metaphysicists. This is dangerous ground for materialists because it brings them closer than many of them would like to theology.

Science can study the potentialities, although their origins are unknown, and their totality (for example dark energy and dark matter) still not established. Science can observe the actualizations that come out of the box. However, what is in the box and what occurs there must remain a mystery as far as scientific understanding is concerned. Thus it is not unreasonable or irrational to think there is a place in the box for God to act to accomplish his purposes for the universe he created by controlling the potentialities in the box. I think most times these potentialities consist of natural laws and probabilities. However, we cannot show whether this is always the case.

We are comfortable when we see a purpose to our lives and a solid connection between cause and effect but these do not always accurately describe our experience of life. The human condition, just like all the rest of physical reality, is far more complex than we can possibly understand. The quantum idea of everything, though, allows us to pursue science to its utmost limits while at the same time giving those who chose it a confidence in a higher reality—a divine reality beyond our understanding.