by Lawrence Downing
Rivka Galchen’s article “Dream Machine” (THE NEW YORKER, May 2, 2011) takes the reader into the world of quantum computing via the work of David Deutsch, the man she terms “the founding father of quantum computing.” It was not quantum computing that caught my attention. I was more interested in the author’s foray into quantum mechanics.
Galchen’s article is not my first venture into the “new” physics and each reading has been a fascinating and mind-expanding endeavor. I am not a scientist! Despite this lack, I find it of interest to consider the theories that arise from a science that disrupts Newtonian physics and ponder implications these theories may assists those of us who are puzzled by biblical mysteries. Examples: How does one explain angels? Scripture writers report an angel’s sudden appearance, sent from heaven to earth at their, or others, pleasure. Daniel prays and in a matter of minutes an angel is sent to assist his understanding of a complex matter. Gideon prepares a meal for an angel of God. The angel sets the meal afire and ascends up in the flames. After Resurrection, Jesus is not limited by matter, he can enter locked rooms. He ascends in a cloud into heaven. Care to calculate the time to reach the first known heavenly planet via an ascending mist?
Physicists ponder multi-dimensions, multiple and parallel universes, strings, worm holes, and other esoteric matters that once would have been considered the product of an over-active imagination. If a theologian, rather than a scientist, proposed the Many Worlds Interpretation it is doubtful colleagues would applaud. In contrast, a number of high-powered scientists, including Deutsch, affirm the Many Worlds theory.
Quantum mechanics, like theology, advocates absurdities. Examples: particles can be in two places at once. Physicists call this quality superposition. Two particles can be entangled to the extent that they can instantly coordinate their properties, regardless of their distance in space and time. The particles can instantly communicate, regardless of the distance. They share information that an observer cannot perceive is there. If we look at the particles we will alter them. When applied to a quantum computer, it is possible to input information into the computer that is then dispersed among the entangled qubits, thus allowing the processing of that information to be spread out as well. (A qubit is like a bit in a regular computer, and like a bit it can be zero or one, but a qubit can also be zero and one, at the same time! It can hold more information than a bit.) Input into a quantum computer can be spread among entangled qubits, which lets the processing of that information be spread out as well. The information that a particle is given will be instantly spread among all the other particles with which it is entangled. (If you wish examples of “absurdities,” i.e. contrary to all reason, we find in theology, think Trinity. Incarnation. Resurrection. God’s omnipresence. The list can be expanded, but these listed may be sufficient to document the point that many of the accounts we find in scripture cannot be reconciled with Newtonian physics.) Quantum mechanics may offer a viable alternative.
In 1957 Hugh Everett published his, The Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. He proposed that “every time there is more than one possible outcome, all of them occur. So if a radioactive atom might or might not decay at any given second, it both does and doesn’t; in one universe it does, and in another it doesn’t.” There is more. The possibilities ripple out until everything that is possible in fact is possible. The many Worlds theory proposes that, instead of a single history there are innumerable branching. In one universe your cat has died, in another the cat is alive, in the third universe, you died in an accident at age seven and never had a cat in the first place, and so it goes. In this scenario, the Many Worlds Interpretation, according to Deutsch, “’the quantum theory of parallel universes in not the problem—it is the solution…it is the explanation—the only one that is tenable—of a remarkable and counterintuitive reality.’”
The theories proposed by quantum mechanics are not theology. They do, however, hold possibilities for thought. Do angels inhabit a parallel universe and participate in a multiple dimension? Angels are unseen and seen. Do they slip from their universe into ours? The parallel universe theory holds that the state of being might be different or opposite in one universe than in another. How might this theory add to our understanding of resurrection, immortality or heaven? Does the theory that there is instantaneous communication between entangled particles have anything to teach us about how prayer might function? When we abide (entangle) with God, what might the implications be? The qubit is at the same time negative and positive. And the Christian faith posits that Jesus is at once human and divine; that the Trinity is three in one.
It is not my intent to employ a set of equations or scientific theories to verify scripture. I do find it fascinating to consider the theories and findings from those who seek to understand and explain the mysteries of our complex and wondrous universe and ponder how the information may relate to biblical conundrums. Telescopes take us to the far reaches of space. Why is there no evidence of heaven’s place? Add the option of parallel universes and the possibilities multiply.
Paul well said, “We see through a glass darkly.” The Light, however, still shines.