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The Many-Worlds Interpretation

In 1957 Hugh Everett surprised his more conventional colleagues by proposing that the Schrödinger Wave Equation as a whole is an accurate description of reality.

This interpretation of quantum mechanics starts from the assumption that scientific theories ought to be self-interpreting. The Schrödinger wave equation in quantum mechanics is smooth, continuous and deterministic. There is nothing in it that corresponds to the collapse of the wave function, so in Everett’s interpretation the collapse of the wave function does not occur.

Instead, whenever there is a choice of experimental outcome, all the possibilities are realised. Somewhere Schrödinger’s cat will be really dead and somewhere it will be really alive (see the related topic: Schrödinger’s Cat and the meaning of quantum theory). With each decision at the quantum level the universe splits into a number of isolated domains, each corresponding to a different outcome. In one universe the cat dies, in another it lives.

Most physicists find this extremely unattractive. One of the most venerable assumptions of the scientific method is Ockham’s razor - entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity. In practice this leads to a very strong aesthetic bias in favour of the simplest possible explanation.

Only quantum cosmologists beg to differ. They attempt to apply quantum mechanics to the entire universe. Clearly this leaves no room for a separate classical measuring apparatus. In this context, a many-universes approach such as was described above may seem an attractive non-theistic alternative to the notion of a transcendent world observer. But one wonders which option requires the larger act of faith!

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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