A longstanding issue in attempts to understand the Everett (Many-Worlds) approach to quantum mechanics is the origin of the Born rule: why is the probability given by the square of the amplitude? Following Vaidman, we note that observers are in a position of self-locating uncertainty during the period between the branches of the wave function splitting via decoherence and the observer registering the outcome of the measurement. In this period it is tempting to regard each branch as equiprobable, but we (...) argue that the temptation should be resisted. Applying lessons from this analysis, we demonstrate (using methods similar to those of Zurek's envariance-based derivation) that the Born rule is the uniquely rational way of apportioning credence in Everettian quantum mechanics. In doing so, we rely on a single key principle: changes purely to the environment do not affect the probabilities one ought to assign to measurement outcomes in a local subsystem. We arrive at a method for assigning probabilities in cases that involve both classical and quantum self-locating uncertainty. This method provides unique answers to quantum Sleeping Beauty problems, as well as a well-defined procedure for calculating probabilities in quantum cosmological multiverses with multiple similar observers. (shrink)
This book provides an account of the nature of time, especially time's arrow and the role of entropy, at a semi-popular level. Special attention is given to statistical mechanics, the past hypothesis, and possible cosmological explanations thereof.
I discuss "Poetic Naturalism" -- there is only one world, the natural world, but there are many ways of talking about it -- both as a general concept, and how it accounts for our actual world. I talk about emergence, fundamental physics, entropy and complexity, the origins of life and consciousness, and moral constructivism.
To the best of our current understanding, quantum mechanics is part of the most fundamental picture of the universe. It is natural to ask how pure and minimal this fundamental quantum description can be. The simplest quantum ontology is that of the Everett or Many-Worlds interpretation, based on a vector in Hilbert space and a Hamiltonian. Typically one also relies on some classical structure, such as space and local configuration variables within it, which then gets promoted to an algebra of (...) preferred observables. We argue that even such an algebra is unnecessary, and the most basic description of the world is given by the spectrum of the Hamiltonian and the components of some particular vector in Hilbert space. Everything else—including space and fields propagating on it—is emergent from these minimal elements. (shrink)
Cosmological models that invoke a multiverse - a collection of unobservable regions of space where conditions are very different from the region around us - are controversial, on the grounds that unobservable phenomena shouldn't play a crucial role in legitimate scientific theories. I argue that the way we evaluate multiverse models is precisely the same as the way we evaluate any other models, on the basis of abduction, Bayesian inference, and empirical success. There is no scientifically respectable way to do (...) cosmology without taking into account different possibilities for what the universe might be like outside our horizon. Multiverse theories are utterly conventionally scientific, even if evaluating them can be difficult in practice. (shrink)
It is commonplace in discussions of modern cosmology to assert that the early universe began in a special state. Conventionally, cosmologists characterize this fine-tuning in terms of the horizon and flatness problems. I argue that the fine-tuning is real, but these problems aren't the best way to think about it: causal disconnection of separated regions isn't the real problem, and flatness isn't a problem at all. Fine-tuning is better understood in terms of a measure on the space of trajectories: given (...) reasonable conditions in the late universe, the fraction of cosmological histories that were smooth at early times is incredibly tiny. This discussion helps clarify what is required by a complete theory of cosmological initial conditions. (shrink)
We provide a derivation of the Born Rule in the context of the Everett (Many-Worlds) approach to quantum mechanics. Our argument is based on the idea of self-locating uncertainty: in the period between the wave function branching via decoherence and an observer registering the outcome of the measurement, that observer can know the state of the universe precisely without knowing which branch they are on. We show that there is a uniquely rational way to apportion credence in such cases, which (...) leads directly to the Born Rule. Our analysis generalizes straightforwardly to cases of combined classical and quantum self-locating uncertainty, as in the cosmological multiverse. (shrink)
Some modern cosmological models predict the appearance of Boltzmann Brains: observers who randomly fluctuate out of a thermal bath rather than naturally evolving from a low-entropy Big Bang. A theory in which most observers are of the Boltzmann Brain type is generally thought to be unacceptable, although opinions differ. I argue that such theories are indeed unacceptable: the real problem is with fluctuations into observers who are locally identical to ordinary observers, and their existence cannot be swept under the rug (...) by a choice of probability distributions over observers. The issue is not that the existence of such observers is ruled out by data, but that the theories that predict them are cognitively unstable: they cannot simultaneously be true and justifiably believed. (shrink)
It seems natural to ask why the universe exists at all. Modern physics suggests that the universe can exist all by itself as a self-contained system, without anything external to create or sustain it. But there might not be an absolute answer to why it exists. I argue that any attempt to account for the existence of something rather than nothing must ultimately bottom out in a set of brute facts; the universe simply is, without ultimate cause or explanation.
We argue that, under certain plausible assumptions, de Sitter space settles into a quiescent vacuum in which there are no dynamical quantum fluctuations. Such fluctuations require either an evolving microstate, or time-dependent histories of out-of-equilibrium recording devices, which we argue are absent in stationary states. For a massive scalar field in a fixed de Sitter background, the cosmic no-hair theorem implies that the state of the patch approaches the vacuum, where there are no fluctuations. We argue that an analogous conclusion (...) holds whenever a patch of de Sitter is embedded in a larger theory with an infinite-dimensional Hilbert space, including semiclassical quantum gravity with false vacua or complementarity in theories with at least one Minkowski vacuum. This reasoning provides an escape from the Boltzmann brain problem in such theories. It also implies that vacuum states do not uptunnel to higher-energy vacua and that perturbations do not decohere while slow-roll inflation occurs, suggesting that eternal inflation is much less common than often supposed. On the other hand, if a de Sitter patch is a closed system with a finite-dimensional Hilbert space, there will be Poincaré recurrences and dynamical Boltzmann fluctuations into lower-entropy states. Our analysis does not alter the conventional understanding of the origin of density fluctuations from primordial inflation, since reheating naturally generates a high-entropy environment and leads to decoherence, nor does it affect the existence of non-dynamical vacuum fluctuations such as those that give rise to the Casimir effect. (shrink)
Science and religion both make claims about the fundamental workings of the universe. Although these claims are not a priori incompatible (we could imaginebeing brought to religious belief through scientific investigation), I will argue that in practice they diverge. If we believe that the methods of science can be used to discriminate between fundamental pictures of reality, we are led to a strictly materialist conception of the universe. While the details of modern cosmology are not a necessary part of this (...) argument, they provide interesting clues as to how an ultimate picture may be constructed. (shrink)
It is now widely recognised that Britain's comprehensive system was never truly comprehensive. Families with sufficient financial capital were always able to ensure the entry of their children to particularly prestigious ‘comprehensive’ schools by purchasing a home within the appropriate catchment areas. According to government rhetoric, recent legislation established a market of schools, removed catchment areas and gave parents greater choice of school. This case‐study examines the workings of the local quasi‐market of schools within a prosperous town which is part (...) of the larger metropolitan area of the West Midlands. Because of a change in the age of entry to secondary education, Sutton Coldfield was first plunged into the market in 1992. This case‐study shows that the new situation initially caused confusion and anger. Some Sutton Coldfield residents were denied places for their children within the town and were instead offered places for their children in Birmingham working‐class estate schools. The article describes the formation and activities of a local pressure group which opposed these changes, and reports the results of a small‐scale study of a sample of parents’ choice‐making processes in 1993. It is shown that access to financial and cultural capital had become more, rather than less, important in the process of allocating children to secondary schools. (shrink)
We study the conservation of energy, or lack thereof, when measurements are performed in quantum mechanics. The expectation value of the Hamiltonian of a system can clearly change when wave functions collapse in accordance with the standard textbook (Copenhagen) treatment of quantum measurement, but one might imagine that the change in energy is compensated by the measuring apparatus or environment. We show that this is not true; the change in the energy of a state after measurement can be arbitrarily large, (...) independent of the physical measurement process. In Everettian quantum theory, while the expectation value of the Hamiltonian is conserved for the wave function of the universe (including all the branches), it is not constant within individual worlds. It should therefore be possible to experimentally measure violations of conservation of energy, and we suggest an experimental protocol for doing so. (shrink)
We study the question of how to decompose Hilbert space into a preferred tensor-product factorization without any pre-existing structure other than a Hamiltonian operator, in particular the case of a bipartite decomposition into "system" and "environment." Such a decomposition can be defined by looking for subsystems that exhibit quasi-classical behavior. The correct decomposition is one in which pointer states of the system are relatively robust against environmental monitoring (their entanglement with the environment does not continually and dramatically increase) and remain (...) localized around approximately-classical trajectories. We present an in-principle algorithm for finding such a decomposition by minimizing a combination of entanglement growth and internal spreading of the system. Both of these properties are related to locality in different ways. This formalism could be relevant to the emergence of spacetime from quantum entanglement. (shrink)
I defend the extremist position that the fundamental ontology of the world consists of a vector in Hilbert space evolving according to the Schrödinger equation. The laws of physics are determined solely by the energy eigenspectrum of the Hamiltonian. The structure of our observed world, including space and fields living within it, should arise as a higher-level emergent description. I sketch how this might come about, although much work remains to be done.
An award-wining biologist takes us on the dramatic expeditions that unearthed the history of life on our planet. Just 150 years ago,most of our world was an unexplored wilderness.Our sense of how old it was? Vague and vastly off the mark. And our sense of our own species’ history? A set of fantastic myths and fairy tales. Fossils had been known for millennia, but they were seen as the bones of dragons and other imagined creatures. In the tradition of The (...) Microbe Hunters and Gods, Graves, and Scholars, Sean Carroll’s Remarkable Creatures celebrates the pioneers who replaced our fancies with the even more amazing true story of how our world evolved. Carroll recounts the most important discoveries in two centuries of national history — from Darwin’s trip around the world to CharlesWalcott’s discovery of pre-Cambrian life in the Grand Canyon; from Louis and Mary Leakey’s investigation of our deepest past in East Africa to the trailblazers in modern laboratories who have located a time clock in our DNA. Join him in a rousing voyage of discovery, from the epic journeys of pioneering naturalists to the breakthroughs making headlines today. (shrink)
Effective Field Theory (EFT) is the successful paradigm underlying modern theoretical physics, including the "Core Theory" of the Standard Model of particle physics plus Einstein's general relativity. I will argue that EFT grants us a unique insight: each EFT model comes with a built-in specification of its domain of applicability. Hence, once a model is tested within some domain (of energies and interaction strengths), we can be confident that it will continue to be accurate within that domain. Currently, the Core (...) Theory has been tested in regimes that include all of the energy scales relevant to the physics of everyday life (biology, chemistry, technology, etc.). Therefore, we have reason to be confident that the laws of physics underlying the phenomena of everyday life are completely known. (shrink)
Collins, John Francis; Carroll, Sandra The publication of the 'Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons and Guidelines for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons' by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, in August 2016, has renewed focus on the role of permanent deacon. This article uses a heuristic structure to discuss the role of the permanent deacon in the Catholic Church in Australia. It then provides a historical perspective and background on the worker priest movement from the mid-twentieth century (...) to explore the possibility of its application to the contemporary role of permanent deacon. (shrink)
The effect of lactation on menstrual cycles, ovulation and conception was studied in a group of non-contracepting Amerindian Mopan Mayan women. Anthropological observations of relevant events were made over a 21-month period. Blood samples were assayed to determine the plasma concentrations of prolactin, luteinising hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, human chorionic gonadotrophin, placental lactogen, oestrogen, progesterone and cortisol. The data show that: frequent and prolonged breast-feeding was associated with a marked increase in plasma prolactin concentrations to levels similar to those in (...) lactating Gaing but higher than those in lactating Scottish women; ovulatory menstrual cycles and pregnancy occurred during frequent lactation; in lactating menstruating women there was an inverse correlation between fat weight and months post-partum. These data suggest that other factors as well as suckling account for the effects of lactation on fecundity. (shrink)