Quantum scrambling could lead to resurrection of the dead

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

There have been many cases where people, animals, and certainly microbes have been thought to be dead only to return to life. Microbes and some insects can be frozen and then brought back. Cryogenics aside, human beings can survive for a short time while being effectively “dead”.

All of these are examples of revival. That is, something alive has had its vital functions slowed or stopped to near nothing, and then it is reanimated to life.

Resurrection, however, is very different. A being that is resurrected is not reanimated or revived. It is dead, decomposed or disassembled, and then reassembled and reanimated.

The Greek word for this is anastasis and the authors of the New Testament of the Bible were very careful to use this word when referring to the resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, anastasis has come to mean this specifically and in the Gospel of John (11:25–26), just before raising Lazarus, Jesus says he is the anastasis, the resurrection.

The New Testament authors’ descriptions of the resurrection (and for the raising of Lazarus) are careful to assure the readers that this person was, as Dickens said of Marley in A Christmas Carol, “dead as a doornail”. From talking about Lazarus’s body’s smell to the piercing of Jesus’s side to the way that his wrappings were somehow carefully removed (as if his body just vanished from under them) despite their being strips of cloth covered in scented oils. No chance that they could just be revived.

Anastasis is important to Christians theologically because resurrection is part of the promise God made through Christ, for all to receive new bodies, not just to continue on in some spirit form, not just to be revived, but to be reconstructed in a new creation. It was also a common belief among the Jews at the time known as the Pharisees who appear frequently in the Bible as Jesus’s verbal sparing partners.

Resurrection is the only true immortality because, while revival can prolong life, it can never prevent the possibility that the body will simply be destroyed one day. All medical breakthroughs are designed to prolong life or revive the dead, but no medicine has ever been able to resurrect anything alive. Clone yes, rebuild from scratch molecule by molecule, no.

One mechanism for resurrection might be to “download” and “backup” one’s mind into a computer. With the mind intact, the body can be regrown from DNA or a new body, perhaps artificial, supplied. This approach assumes that downloading or backing up the mind is even possible and that this would actually be a continuance of one’s life and not a mere copying, a destruction of one life and a beginning of another.

Another possibility is perhaps more intriguing and that is the promise of teleportation via quantum scrambling. Recent experiments with the transmission of information through quantum scrambling have shown how quantum bits can be completely scrambled and then reconstructed at some later time, effectively teleporting the original bits. Since this is a form of quantum teleportation, the transmission of a particle state to another one with the destruction of the original, it is also a form of resurrection if the reconstruction occurs at a time later than the destruction as with scrambling.

Now, this leads into a philosophical paradox. If somebody made an exact duplicate of me in every way, that duplicate would not be me because I would go on being me. On the other hand, if I were destroyed and an exact duplicate made, would I be the new person? Probably not though you would have no way of knowing.

Yet, suppose I simply died and everything I was and knew became scrambled into the environment? All my thoughts, memories, my own conscious self, would, potentially, spread out into the universe with the quantum bits that made up who I was becoming scrambled with the atoms that make up the Earth and anything in the vicinity.

These atoms would essentially store my information, just like a computer, but without any technology. It is just the way the universe works. According to quantum mechanics, information is never, ever lost. That includes the information that makes up a person.

Quantum scrambling suggests that while information appears to disappear, it is still there, just spread out. This is similar to when you speak and the information in your words gets passed through a chaos of air molecules. An ear or a microphone can pull that sound out and a brain or computer can then reconstruct the information from the sounds.

Hence, a once coherent mind (and body as well in theory) can reemerge from scrambling at some future date as if it had been teleported. All it takes is the right conditions to reconstruct it, and, considering that the universe contained the right conditions to construct you in the first place, it seems that it will, one day, have the right conditions to reconstruct you.

But this reconstruction isn’t random. Rather, it is a form of teleportation from death to life again that is enabled by the emergent phenomenon of quantum scrambling. That is, you and who you are is ever present in the universe both before you were born and after you die. You are like an echo that is looking for the right listener to understand you.

What are the objections to this picture?

Well, first there is the aforementioned paradox. If you die and your information is encoded into the universe and one day teleported by quantum scrambling to some new place, is it really you or some copy that is exactly like you but isn’t you?

That really depends on what constitutes the human mind. If it is some form of quantum entanglement of the brain as Roger Penrose suggests, then that would suggest that constructing an exact copy of you would require a quantum teleportation of your mind’s entangled state.

The no-cloning theorem, however, proves this to be impossible. We cannot be sure to create an exact copy. This theorem, proved mathematically in 1982, shows that quantum mechanics does not allow you to duplicate quantum states, which includes people. You can teleport them but not copy them.

Another objection might be whether unscrambling can actually occur. In the history of the universe, this has never happened. While people have made claims about being reincarnated, the evidence is sketchy. But, it may be that there just hasn’t been enough time for unscrambling. You are made of an enormous quantity of information. To unscramble all of it would require the correct configuration of quantum matter to receive your information into it.

Might the universe suffer some kind of heat death before that?

It is not known how the universe will end. It could be that new universes are produced from it out of black holes or other phenomena. It could be that the universe actually will collapse in on itself even though the evidence suggests it will expand forever. We don’t understand enough about cosmology (the study of the universe) to say exactly what will happen. What we do know is that there is no reason to believe that quantum information is not conserved over an unlimited amount of time during which literally anything can happen. Moreover, because the resurrection is quantum teleportation rather than random chance, there is no reason to believe that an enormous quantity of time would be required, only the correct circumstances.

Another objection is whether the whole person would be reconstructed or just part.

This is more serious than the others. For, while your conscious mind might be reconstructed, all your memories and knowledge might not make it with you through the scrambling and teleportation process. This would mean that you would be born not knowing where you came from or anything about your past life. This form of reincarnation would be a continuance of life but you would not be the same person. You would live a new and different life, perhaps as some alien being.

We know from Alzheimer’s and other dementia that people can lose memories, even of the ones they love and who they are. And so, it may be that this information, while not lost to the universe because of quantum mechanics, may not coalesce into the resurrected person again as we might want them to be.

Thus, while it seems possible that resurrection can occur, it is unclear what form it would take. The parts of us that make up our identities, relationship, memory, and sense of self are actually not us but separable from us like any appendage. We think of them as us, but they can be severed.

Then again it depends on what kind of receiver of the teleportation is. A form of teleportation that is able to unscramble a complete person, including their memories, might be created by some advanced being. Then again we might not want that. With all the good comes all the bad as well, would we really want resurrection as ourselves now or as something better?

In any case it appears that the scrambling theory offers a genuine method for resurrection because it involves disassembly, scattering, and reconstruction of quantum information that could hypothetically constitute a person. While technology may not be able to achieve it, perhaps the universe can.

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Tim Andersen, Ph.D.

Written by

Studied statistical mechanics, general relativity, and quantum field theory. Principal Research Scientist at Georgia Tech.

The Infinite Universe

Dedicated to exploring the philosophy and science of time, space, and matter.

Tim Andersen, Ph.D.

Written by

Studied statistical mechanics, general relativity, and quantum field theory. Principal Research Scientist at Georgia Tech.

The Infinite Universe

Dedicated to exploring the philosophy and science of time, space, and matter.

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