The Anthropic Principle and Quantum Physics

In Newton’s time, humanity has been relegated to the position of “observer” of the Universe, placed apart from it, supposedly able to look at the Universe, live in the Universe, and not participate in it. Since the 1920s, with the advent of quantum physics and the discovery of wave-packets and the superposition of particles, that has begun to change. Not only do people inexorably change the things they observe on the quantum level, but it has been proposed that a persons consciousness of a quantum event forces the particles involved collapse from superposition in all possible locations to a definite location, at the exact time they are observed by a conscious being. But let’s start from the beginning.

You have an electron, spinning around the outer shell of an atom. You want to find out where that electron is, and how fast it’s moving. To do so, you have to whack something into it, like another subatomic particle, because it’s too small to be seen with light. This is something like whacking Earth into Mars to find out the position and speed of Mars. So of course the electron is changed by this rather crude observation of it, which means that one of the two things you wanted to know is changed by your observation, so you really only know one. This the most mundane example of the observer’s involvement with the observed.

But, according to some theories, the observer is still more deeply involved in this quantum event, the determination of the location of a particle. Before the electron gets whacked with the other particle, it is said to be in a state of “superposition,” existing partially in all possible locations. It is at the moment of observation by a conscious mind that the electron “chooses” one of the possible locations to materialize in, collapsing it’s wave-packet and becoming a particle for the split second it takes to be hit by the other particle. David Albert, in the book “Quantum Mechanics and Experience,” says:

“perhaps the collapse occurs precisely at the last possible moment; perhaps it always occurs precisely at the level of consciousness, and perhaps, moreover, consciousness is always the agent that brings it about.”

Albert goes on to say,

“The brain of a sentient being may enter a state wherein states connected with various different conscious experiences are superposed; and at such moments the mind connected with that brain opens it’s inner eye and gazes on the brain, and that causes the entire system (brain, measuring instrument, measured system, everything) to collapse...”

Therefore, if this theory is true, consciousness is essential to the reality of things for it is consciousness that collapses the subatomic particles that make up everything from superposition into a definite position, changing the Universe from an aggregation of probability waves and superposed particles into the somewhat more definite reality that we know. And that, of course, is the meaning of the Participatory Anthropic Principle, that the Universe needs conscious observers to bring it from existing in all probabilities into one reality. We are not detached observers of a movie-reality playing before us that we are powerless to interact with. We are, in a certain sense, the cameramen.





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