3012. It seems like there ought to be something there. A table certainly seems to be there. And a table is supposed to be made of electrons and protons and neutrons. So you could reasonably expect an electron to be there. And you could reasonably expect it to be in some specific place, not just around here somewhere, probably.

3013. If you lose a baseball, you don’t know where it is, but you still believe that it is definitely in one particular place. You may even say it is 50% likely to be in the living room, and 50% likely to be in the dining room. But when you find it in the dining room, then you say it is very definitely in the dining room, and very definitely not in the living room. Even though you did not know where it was before, now that you have found it in the dining room, you are quite certain that it was in the dining room all along, even though you did not know that before you found it.

3014. If you throw baseballs at a wood fence, and if a couple of boards are missing from the fence, so that it has “two slits”, then each baseball that does not bounce off the fence is definitely going to go through one slit or the other. Even if you were not looking and you are not sure which slit it went through, you are still quite certain that it went through only one slit, and that it did not go through both slits at once.

3015. One could reasonably expect electrons to behave like baseballs, and to be in some particular definite place, even if you do not know where that place is. And you could reasonably expect electrons, like baseballs, to go definitely through one slit or the other, even if you do not know which slit it was.

3016. How can you make a table which is definitely there out of electrons which are only probably there? You would think that a table would be made out of electrons that are definitely there. Can a lot of likely electrons add up to a definite table?

3017. If you have a table made of probable electrons, and if you have enough probable electrons, then statistically you should get enough real electrons so that the table will be there. One might wonder whether some of the real electrons, being only probable, pop out of existence. Maybe they get replaced by other probable electrons, which weren’t there, but which pop into existence.

3018. How can the real world be made out of particles that are not real? What does it mean to be “real”?

3019. Perhaps all these questions are meaningless. But if the electrons are meaningless, does that mean that the table is meaningless? How can you have a meaningful table made out of meaningless electrons?

3020. Einstein did not like this fuzzy and ambiguous world of indecisive existence. He spent a large part of his life trying to resolve this problem. He failed completely.

3021. The so-called “Copenhagen interpretation” does not answer any of these questions. It just says, we’re not going to worry about it.

3022. For a hundred years, a lot of very smart people have tried to answer these questions in some sensible way. They have failed completely.

3023. The theory is that the particle is in a limbo of probability waves until it is observed or detected. When the particle is observed or detected, then the electron gives up its vague and ambiguous existence and makes its presence definitely known. It has been observed or detected, so it must be there. But until the electron is observed or detected, the probability of its presence is described by complicated equations. When it is observed or detected, these equations no longer apply. This is called “the collapse of the wave function”.

3024. Before the particle is observed, measured, or detected, it might be this way, might be that way. It might be here, might be there. Both possible states, or all possible states, exist simultaneously. This is called the “superposition of states”. When the particle is observed, then one of the possible states becomes real and the others disappear.

3025. Erwin Schrodinger posed the question nicely by imagining a cat in a box – “Schrodinger’s cat”. Also in the box is a small piece of radioactive material, which might or might not emit a particle. There is a Geiger counter to detect the particle. If a particle is detected, then the Geiger counter activates a relay, the relay breaks a glass jar containing poison gas, and the poison gas kills the cat.

3026. The question is, if you don’t look in the box, is the cat alive or dead? Or both? Or neither? Or half and half? There is a certain probability that a particle was emitted. And that means that there is a certain probability that the cat is dead.

3027. So it appears that the cat, like the electron, is in a limbo of probability waves, neither alive nor dead. That is, until someone opens the box and takes a look. When someone looks, then the “wave function” collapses, and we have a cat, definitely either alive or dead, unambiguously one or the other, not both.

3028. Schrodinger, like Einstein, did not like this indecisive partial existence which seems to apply to these tiny particles. His purpose in describing the cat in the box was to highlight the absurdity and the bizarre nature of quantum theory.

3029. The question arises, just what exactly is an observation? Can it be done by a machine? Or does it require a conscious being? If we put the scientist who opens the box and observes the cat into a second larger box, do we need to have a second scientist who opens the second larger box and observes the first scientist, in order to “collapse the wave function” of the first scientist, because the first scientist is in a “superposition of states” until someone observes him?

3030. Some people say that there are many worlds, many parallel universes. Every time there is a quantum state which allows for two or more possibilities, each of those possibilities becomes real in its own universe. There is a different real universe for each possibility. There are a very large number of occasions, and each occasion has a very large number of possibilities. So there are a very very large number of universes, all real, essentially an infinite number of parallel universes. Whatever we see happen is real in our universe. Every other possibility that we don’t see is real in some other universe. These ideas are vigorously advocated by seemingly intelligent grown men.

3031. The many worlds theory is a gross violation of “Ockham’s razor” – the principle that, other things being equal, the simplest theory is best.

3032. It is hard to imagine anything more meaningless or more impossible to test than the proposition that everything that might have happened, really did happen, but it happened in a different universe that we have no contact with. This is, perhaps, a measure of the degree of desperation to which men are driven in their effort to make sense of quantum mechanics.

3033. One can take a slightly different approach to the many worlds theory by saying that for every decision point for everyone in the world, there is a different universe for each possible choice. Did George marry Alice or Carol? Both, but in different universes. Did you have eggs or pancakes for breakfast? Both, but in different universes. Did you get up this morning at 7 o’clock or 8 o’clock? And so forth.

3034. If you have an electron which is probably there, but at the moment it is not there, then is there something else there to indicate to the universe or God or the electron that that’s where an electron is supposed to be probably? If there isn’t anything there, then what’s the difference between a place where an electron probably is and a place where an electron definitely is not?

3035. In the two slit experiment, the electron seems to go through both slits at the same time. But that doesn’t make sense. So we say that it was only a likelihood of an electron that went through each slit. What is a likelihood of an electron? If the electron did not go through the slit, then what did go through the slit?

3036. One might suppose that a probable electron is similar to a dim electron or a faded electron. But the whole point of quantum mechanics is that electrons and photons don’t fade. They come in discrete bundles, in units no smaller than a fixed minimum. So when it’s trying to be less than the minimum, less than one quantum, then it becomes a probability. But what does that mean? How does that work? Just what is an electron?

3037. There is no doubt that quantum theory works very well. But even so, you would think that there might be some humility involved in presenting such a bizarre and outlandish theory. Perhaps even embarrassment. But no. It seems to work the other way.

3038. Like a child with a guilty secret, the scientist pretends that there is nothing wrong, that there is no problem, that he has nothing to hide. He assumes an air of vast authority and wisdom and sneers condescendingly at anyone who has questions or doubts. He says that those questions are meaningless. They cannot be tested. The only thing that matters is the statistical total of large numbers of these very small particles and their probability waves.

3039. Newton’s law of motion and his law of gravity require some mathematics to work with. Einstein’s special theory of relativity requires some mathematics. Quantum mechanics requires a lot of mathematics. General relativity requires a lot of mathematics.

3040. The scientist hides behind his mathematics. Ordinary people do not have either the time or the motivation to learn a lot of mathematics. So the scientist says, “You don’t understand what I’m doing. Therefore you are not entitled to have an opinion about what I’m doing. Therefore you have to believe what I tell you!”.

3041. The ability to do mathematics is a very fine ability. And you cannot do physics without mathematics. But the ability to do mathematics is not a measure of wisdom.

3042. If the scientist is telling you how much fuel you should put into your rocket ship, then you should probably do what he tells you. If the scientist is telling you that all questions of religion, ethics, and politics are meaningless and irrelevant, then you should definitely ignore him.

* * * * * * *

This article is Chapter 99 in *LIBERTY FOR ALL MEN EVERYWHERE – The Theory And Practice Of Freedom* by Dale Samson. This book is available at http://www.libfame.com.

© Copyright 2010 Dale Richard Samson. Partial quotations of this chapter are permitted with attribution. Cite source as Dale Samson's *LIBERTY FOR ALL MEN EVERYWHERE* at http://www.libfame.com.