Quantum Suicide

July 28, 2010


The ICHEP 10 comes to an end today in Paris. As I, however, browse over all that was talked about during this conference, I preceded to ponder over a thought experiment that some scientists had mentioned. Surely you remember the Large Hadron Collider. It’s a device built by physicists to test some theories some of us will never understand, at the improbable cost of destroying the world. The device has failed to work numerous times ago. Some physicists came up with a reason why which centers on the role of… sabotage, from unknown time-traveling forces:

A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather. …

According to the so-called Standard Model that rules almost all physics, the Higgs is responsible for imbuing other elementary particles with mass. ???It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck,??? Dr. Nielsen said in an e-mail message. In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, ???Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God.??? It is their guess, he went on, ???that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.???

This malign influence from the future, they argue, could explain why the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, was canceled in 1993 after billions of dollars had already been spent, an event so unlikely that Dr. Nielsen calls it an ???anti-miracle.???

You’d think that this is the sort of nonsense which one could dismiss off-hand. But there were some more trouble:

The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, just cannot catch a break. First, a coolant leak destroyed some of the magnets that guide the energy beam. Then LHC officials postponed the restart of the machine to add additional safety features. Now, a bird dropping a piece of bread on a section of the accelerator has, according to the Register, shut down the whole operation.

While it is a paradox to go back in time and kill your grandfather, physicists agree there is no paradox if you go back in time and save him from being hit by a bus. In the case of the Higgs and the collider, it is as if something is going back in time to keep the universe from being hit by a bus. Although just why the Higgs would be a catastrophe is not clear. If we knew, presumably, we wouldn???t be trying to make one.

I haven’t heard this thrown around, but it should also be quantum suicide at play. Imagine you flip a coin and kill yourself if you hit heads. You flip a coin, and find yourself split into one world in which you survive and another in which you cease to be a conscious entity. But from the point of view of the non-dead copies of the you, it just came up tails. You can keep flipping coins. You’ll die half of the time. But from your own point of view, because you can only observe the world in which you survive, it’s always tails. You are, they say, immortal in a quantum sense.

Similarly; humanity may only survive in those states of the world in which the LHC fails to operate; so of course we are alive, look around, and find that the device does not work.

I should add that none of this makes sense to me. That’s fine, as there’s no reason to think that our intuitions–which evolved at non-relativistic speeds etc. etc.–need to match up to how the world works. But I still very much hope that physicists one day discover that we live in a reasonable universe