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The Quantum Suicide Experiment

The Quantum Suicide experiment is a little-known thought experiment carried out to highlight some of the darker possibilities of our reality and the scientific observations we’ve come to know.

Bordering somewhere in between legitimate horror novel and science fiction, the quantum suicide experiment is something to terrify, something that’s straight out of an episode of the Twilight Zone. In the Quantum Suicide Experiment you never die…

We’re all quite familiar Werner Heisenberg’s scientific concept of The Uncertainty Principle which serves as the foundation of what would become the Quantum Suicide Experiment, right? Just in case, I’ll provide a little backdrop of the necessary scientific ideas which serve as the structures from which the quantum suicide experiment was built.

The idea behind the Uncertainty Principle is the proposition that any object cannot be measured in both position and velocity at the same time, not even in theory. Everything that “is” or can be measured can only be approximately measured, seeing as position and velocity are dependent upon one another, one could essentially only accurately measure one or the other.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle served as the roots of another famous thought experiment in the world of quantum mechanics, Schrödinger’s Cat, which employs Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in the form of a question:

When does a thing stop existing as a superposition of states and officially become one or the other of the possibilities that it could be?


Quantum Superposition

Before we get into the world of quantum suicide, we need to take a brief journey down the bizarre road of quantum superposition. Quantum superposition basically states that any object exists in multiple possible states all at once, and it’s not until it’s actually observed by a conscious agent within the universe that a definite position and velocity solidifies within reality.

Right now, the chair behind me in my bedroom as I write this story could have been knocked over by the dog. Quantum superposition states that the chair is by all probability, both knocked over and NOT knocked over at the same time, and it’s only when I set eyes on it and see for myself that it actually takes a definite form — until then, it’s suspended in its “superposition.” Freaky, right?

The idea is that reality, on the quantum level is actually a blurred reality, resembling a weird, blurred, gradient, particle-soup more so than macro-level, dense, concrete objects we’re used to.

Schrödinger’s Cat

The Schrödinger’s Cat experiment utilizes this principle, and is a thought experiment whereby a theoretical cat is locked away in a steel box with an elaborate bunch of contraptions whereby there’s an approximately 50/50 chance of the cat dying within the box in 1-hour, almost like a weird quantum physicist’s version of the movie Saw.

(Note: This happens in the blurred, quantum soup your imagination, not in reality; no cats were harmed in the making of this thought experiment)

Schrödinger then goes on to say that the theoretical cat would be technically both alive and dead inside of the box for about 1 hour until we opened the box and saw for ourselves, at which point, the cat would take form and whatever happened on the macro-level, the reality scale that we live in and experience every single day.

Quantum suicide takes the observer from the cat experiment and puts them in the box.


Quantum Suicide

Now let’s say that the many-worlds interpretation of superposition is true, that means that for every single instant of our lives, ALL possible outcomes happened somewhere out there in the multiverse.

If you failed a test in high school which set you back a year, in another world out there in the quantum multiverse, you passed that test and went on to live a very different life.

We can multiply this “multiverse” out into a mind-numbing infinity of worlds where literally everything that could have happened to you, did happen somewhere.

Now let’s say you took a gun right now and put it to your head and pulled the trigger. There is some slight probability that the bullet would be a dud, that the round would not fire, and that you would actually, in fact, survive.

If we split this possible scenario into two accounting for each of the multiple possibilities in the multiple worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, let’s say in this world the experimenter did die (which is why I DO NOT suggest you try this at home), and in some far off universe somewhere they survived, the one who survived would be called the second iteration. The first iteration of the experimenter died, the second survived.

Now here’s where things get really twisted — what happens when the second iteration pulls the trigger again? Say the second iteration died, but now there’s another split, and a third iteration which has survived attempting to shoot themselves in the head twice. And yet again, we can say that the third iteration pulls the trigger YET AGAIN. The third would die, and a fourth would come about who’s now survived several attempted suicides.

If we think about it, according to our most concrete science, quantum mechanics, somewhere out there is a version of you who simply couldn’t take it anymore, took a gun, put it to their heads and tried to pull the trigger, but survived. So they tried again, and survived again. And again, and again, and again, and again, and onward to infinity, because, there’s a slight fraction of probability that creeps in every single time, each time with a new iteration where what has the scarcest chance of happening actually did happen, where you go on indefinitely and are completely immortal, because all of the things that could have killed you, killed you somewhere else, in some other universe. Are you that iteration that survives everything in your life and never dies? The only way to find out is to wait and see, because we’re the participants inside the box in this world, not the cat.

And that, is the quantum suicide experiment. Quite nightmarish and fun, isn’t it? The experiment was actually invented in the late 1980’s by several people independently of one another, Hans Moravec in 1987 and Bruno Marchal in 1988, as a way to contrast the two dominant ideas of quantum mechanics, The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics and the Many-Worlds Interpretation. More on this can be found here.

© 2019; Joe Duncan. All Rights Reserved

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