Forget Emergence: Perception as Entanglement

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Cognitive neuroscience tells us how we perceive objects. Evolutionary and developmental biopsychology tells us what objects we can perceive. Cosmology tries to tell us what objects are there to be perceived. We are forced into anthropic or design arguments to explain “why this universe?” because even quantum cosmology spectacularly fails to do so.

Quantum cosmology asks how the “classical world” of ordinary experience—the world of observers and observable objects—emerges from a quantum universe, one initially packed into a tiny, high-energy dot. The standard answer is decoherence, a process that encodes classical information about a bounded quantum system into its surrounding environment. Decoherence theory allows the precise calculation of what information about any bounded object—an electron, a red Ferrari, a human-habitable planet—its environment provides to observers.

The boundaries between objects and their environments must, however, be specified as inputs to such calculations. The central question of cosmology—”why this universe, and hence these objects?”—is thus left unanswered. I suggest we abandon both the question “why this universe?” and the entire subsequent story about emergence. A quantum universe is an entangled universe. Any two components of an entangled state encode classical information about each other. All such information is relational and conditional, not absolute or universal: it is information of the form “if I am X, my partner is Y.” Viewing observation as entanglement instead of decoherence suggests a universe full of energy but with no boundaries: no space, no time, no objects. What it would mean to live—and do science—in such a timeless, boundary-less universe is fascinating to contemplate.

Find out more about Chris Fields at his website

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