Is Reality a Movie? Chapter 2
Although this chapter – ‘Schrödinger The Cat’ – can stand alone. I suggest a quick read of my first chapter ‘Is Reality a Movie?’ first. Or not.
Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger won the 1933 Nobel Prize for Physics. A contemporary of Einstein, Schrödinger was a prolific scientific writer and major contributor to quantum mechanics, as well as a strong opponent of Nazism. However in popular science, the philosophical issues presented by ‘Schrödinger’s Cat’, remain perhaps his most enduring legacy.
In a grossly oversimplified summation, if you place a (hypothetical) cat inside an opaque box with a mechanism that will at some random future time kill the cat, then the external observer does not know at a given time whether the cat is alive or dead. From a certain perspective, the cat is simultaneously both alive and dead. For a better explanation, watch this TedEd video on Schrödinger’s Cat.
Schrödinger proposed the example to show how ridiculous he thought some aspects of superposition were in quantum theory. However the experiment has remained as a touchstone for other theoretical explorations, including the Copenhagen and Many-Worlds interpretations. Cosmologist Max Tegmark proposed a variant call the ‘Quantum Suicide Machine’ which examines the interpretations from the point-of-view of the cat. Let’s say Schrödinger as the cat, or as I’m calling it – Schrödinger The Cat.
Schrödinger The Cat
So let’s change the mental picture. Instead of Shrödinger placing a hypothetical cat in the ‘box of random death’, let’s assume that Schrödinger places himself in the box. Only instead of a box, it is something more akin to a movie than just a box.
Now I’m not suggesting that our ‘reality is a movie’, or maybe I am? You may need to go back and read the first chapter. But for the sake of the mental exercise, let’s explore just one straightforward simulation example.
Schrödinger A (let’s call him Felix) is a consciousness outside of the ‘reality movie’ (let’s call it the black-box of random death — or ‘Box’ for short). He, Felix, is able to place either himself or a simulacrum of himself (let’s call him Garfield) into the Box. Consider this analogous to an Actor playing a part on stage night-after-night in character or as themselves, or alternatively within a movie, where once the movie is ‘in-the-can’ so to speak, the actor (Felix) goes about their normal life while other ‘consumers’ experience them as the character — Garfield — every time the movie is played, a simulacrum of sorts. Perhaps it’s a ‘choose your own adventure’ where multiple or even infinite (did anyone say multi-verse) variations are available. Let’s just keep to a simple analogy for now.
Felix puts his own consciousness (temporarily) into the box (reality movie) as Garfield. He knows the starting-state for Garfield — birth (OK let’s be more biologically accurate – conception) — or if you prefer the really big reality movie (RBRM) — the big-bang. Felix also knows the end-state for Garfield — death — or in the RBRM the big-crunch or big-rip. Felix may or may not know the plot of the reality movie. Perhaps the ‘simulation’ or ‘constrained reality’ is an experiment, or a story, or a dream, or a choose your own adventure, or any other form of limited reality. Once again, the simplest analogy for me is a movie — the Reality Movie.
While Schrödinger is ‘in the movie’ (Box), he is Garfield. Garfield does not know that Felix exists, although he makes up stories about who may have created him and why they made Lasagna taste so good. Garfield has also deduced his end, although he tries not to think about it. Garfield doesn’t know the plot of the movie, he wonders about what happens if he makes certain decisions. Perhaps the plot is singular and pre-ordained (determinism), perhaps every event makes a ground-hog-day split in the movie creating a multitude of outcomes (multi-verse) or perhaps it is just another way for Felix to take a look at his own consciousness and larger reality. To Garfield, it is impossible to know.
Felix may or may not know what is happening to Garfield. It may be just like the original Schrödinger’s Cat, with the external observer unaware of the internal state of the box, only knowing what went in and what will ultimately come out. Maybe the movie runs in linear time, but from outside exists in all times simultaneously, like a movie stored in computer memory, having to be consumed with the passage of time, but existing in one and all moments of time simultaneously when not observed. Or, like a simulation or complex computer game, every time it starts, the pathway changes, ending fortunately or unfortunately with the same result — a dead cat — Garfield but perhaps not Felix.
So how does this analogy help?
Well Schrödinger’s Cat was hypothetical, starting from a dialogue between Einstein and Schrödinger. It wasn’t a proof or even meant to illustrate reality, in fact it was an attempt in the demonstration of how ridiculous some of the physics of the day seemed to Schrödinger – yet the analogy prevails, due to its accessibility, illustration and mental pivot-point for exploring questions that still remain.
A reality movie is equally ridiculous at one level. However it does allow for consideration of why certain obvious forces are inaccessible to us. We experience time as linear, no matter what the physics says, in the same way Garfield experiences the movie as linear progression. We feel we should be able to peel back the veil on life, consciousness, death and existential meaning, but we cannot — at least not yet and perhaps not ever. While Garfield is in the ‘Box’ or the ‘Reality Movie’, he cannot know his origin beyond the plot and character options that lie in front of him in his movie or simulation. He also has to see it through to the end, one way or another.
As Garfield’s audience, we feel for him, we empathize and we still gain from the story, the movie or the simulation. In fact many of us would rather live in a movie theater, a simulation or a constructed and more constrained, deliberate or predictable world. To shift my movie analogy, we still move through the plot of The Titanic, even though we all know the end before it begins. We wonder about the cat inside Schrödinger’s box of random death, what was the experience of existence like for it?
This article continued the ‘Reality Movie’ as a simulation concept. In future articles, a strange turn-of-phrase given this material, I will explore further analogous comparisons along with other simulation and existential theories, to see what they offer by way of a dilettante’s exploration of our own reality.
Please feel free to make comment or pose questions.
Next chapter will be posted later in April 2021.