THE AMY PROJECT
THE AMY PROJECT ATTEMPTS BY PHYSICS EXPERIMENTS ALONE (NO REFERENCE
TO MENTAL PHENOMENA) TO DISCOVER WHETHER THIS WORLD IS A DREAM OR NOT!
In my book "Quantum Reality" I described eight conceivable
interpretations of quantum theory--eight different quantum realities compatible
with the quantum facts. Quantum Reality #7 (originated by Hungarian polymath
John von Neuman) imagines that CONSCIOUSNESS acting outside of material
reality causes quantum possibilities to actualize as observable events.
Like the other seven realities, the von Neuman consciousness-based reality
was long thought to be untestable since, like the others, it seems to predict
exactly the same quantum facts.
However a curious paper by a pair of physicists from South Africa, Bedford
& Wang, proposed an experiment (which they called "an interfering
Schroedinger Cat") which B & D claimed would give different results
depending on whether mind was necessary to "collapse the wave function"
Suppose a photon strikes a half-silvered mirror. Quantum theory obliges
us to believe that, until it is actually observed, we must imagine that
the photon takes both paths. Depending on what we imagine an "observation"
to be, the reality of this split-photon experiment can get quite bizarre.
Suppose we place one photon detector in path A and one in path B. In the
absence of human observation we may imagine (without violating quantum rules)
that both counters are triggered. And we are free to imagine (as did Erwin
Schroedinger in 1935) that detector A operates a mechanism to feed a cat
while detector B operates a mechanism to kill the same cat. Thus in the
absence of human observation, quantum mechanics seems to predict the existence
of a cat that is both alive and dead at the same time. When a human looks
however, his act certainly counts as an "observation" so he sees
only one cat, either alive or dead, but never both. For more than half a
century, the existential status of Schrodinger's famous unobserved cat has
been argued in physics labs all over the world with no definite conclusion.
Bedford & Wang say, forget about cats. Let detector A open an aperture
A and detector B open a nearby aperture B. Don't let human beings see the
apertures. Shine a light on both apertures and focus the light that gets
thru onto a screen. Let a human being (HB) observe only the screen.
Then, B & W argue, if human consciousness is necessary to "collapse
the wavefunction" (Reality One), both (humanly unobserved) holes will
be open at once and HB will see a double-slit interference pattern; if the
wavefunction of the apertures collapses without human intervention (Reality
Two) we should see a one-slit pattern. More accurately, since this experiment
must be repeated to make sense (a single photon is not a pattern), HB will
see (if Reality Two is correct) an incoherent mixture of light from aperture
A and aperture B.
B &W claim, in short, that a mind-caused world (Reality One) leads to
a double-slit pattern; a purely material world (Reality Two) leads to sum
of two single-slit patterns.
The most interesting feature of the B & W experiment is that it claims
to be able to distinguish by purely physical means between a mind-created
world and one that is purely material. This claim prompted the formation
of the AMY group for studying this question in depth. The notion that the
world exists even in the absence of mind is called: Independent Material
Existence (IME). The opposite claim (often called "Idealism" or
Mind-created Reality") is of course Anti-IME or AIME. Which we shortened
for euphony to AMY.
The goal of our AMY group is to test BY PURELY PHYSICAL MEANS whether or
not this world is mind-created. Our first job was to critically examine
Bedford & Wang's proposal.
The founding members of the AMY group were myself, Amit Goswami (author
of a book on idealistic physics),
Professor Casey Blood at Rutgers/Camden, who believes that Bell's theorem
imples an idealist basis for reality and Ludvik Bass from the University
of Queensland, Australia, who was Erwin Schroedinger's last graduate student
at the University of Dublin.
In a series of AMY newsletters we examined the Bedford & Wang experiment,
using density matrices--a more general form of quantum theory than wavefunctions
and more appropriate for calculating the effects of entangled subsystems
on the final result. We convinced ourselves that the B & W claim was
spurious: a simple density-matrix calculation showed that only one aperture
is ever open whether mind collapses the photons at the screen or materialism
collapses the photons at, say, detector A. However some of us wondered whether
the B & W proposal could be modified to actually make the idealist/materialist
distinction experimentally possible.
Nick Herbert came up with a modification of the B&W proposal which he
called RISC for "really interfering Schroedinger's Cat". Herbert
replaced B & W's final viewing screen with a beam splitter which coherently
mixes the photons passing thru apertures A and B and outputs the mixed light
into two new channels C and D. Then he argued, using density-matrix calculations,
that an observation of a single photon in a beam splitter channel, say C,
would collapse the apertures A & B into a S-cat superposition after
which all subsequent photons would be directed into channel C. If the apertures
collapsed on their own (as materialist's would have it) then photons would
go into beam splitter channels C & D with equal frequency.
Herbert presented his RISC proposal--a putative purely physical test of
the idealist hypothesis--at a packed physics colloquium at the University
of Oregon where it was received with great interest and excitement. However
a few days before this seminar, Herbert had received a letter from Casey
Blood demonstrating that whether the slits were in an S-Cat superposition
or were randomly collapsed by some internal material process the observed
outcome would be the same--equal numbers of photons in the C and D beam-splitter
channels. So at the end of Nick's talk he had to reveal that no matter how
exciting this new test of idealism might appear, it had unfortunately been
refuted just a few days before. The AMY program, in this case had failed.
Despite our best efforts we still lack the experimental means to tell whether
the phenomena we see around us are mind-created or would in fact exist if
every mind were annihilated.
The motto of the AMY group, by the way, is William Butler Yeats's poetic
tribute to fellow Irishman Bishop George Berkeley, one of the West's foremost
spokesmen for idealism:
And God-apponted Berkeley that proved all things a dream
That this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world, its farrow that so solid
Must vanish on the instant if the mind but change its theme.