May 4, 2010

The Copenhagen Interpretation of Lost

Lost.jpg



If you follow Lost, you know that there are two parallel universes, one in which Jack et al are on the Island conflicting with Locke/Black Smoke Monster; where Charlie drowned and Faraday is a physicist who is killed by his future mom; and the other universe in which Jack is a practicing doctor, Desmond a rich playboy, Charlie's alive, and Faraday wants to be a musician.  &c.

All are free to speculate about what it means.    But it's valuable for other reasons to offer two understandings of the concept of parallel universes.

In the popular understanding of parallel universes, every decision or possibility splits the universe into simultaneously existing, equally "real" and autonomous universes, e.g the cat is alive in one universe, and dead in another:



350px-MWI_Schrodingers_cat.jpg




So when you choose A over B, your universe proceeds accordingly, but another is split off next to it.

But you see that the possible universes trail behind you.  You make a choice, there's a split, and you leave exhaust and a universe behind.  What's particularly interesting about this idea is that while it purports to be a solution to the difficulties of quantum mechanics, it actually doesn't require quantum mechanics at all.  It's a purely semiotic interpretation: the universe splits.  No math, no confusion.  You can't communicate with that universe in any way, so is it "real?"

The Copenhagen Interpretation has it the other way.  In this case, all possibilities exist before you (to varying probabilities), but once a selection has been made, all other choices are obliterated.  Reality becomes a series of successive obliterations of potential realities.  Just like middle age!

It's immediately arguable that since these are all statistical functions, they do not necessarily apply to an individual case (i.e. to your choice of A or B) but instead describe the system of such events.  In the same way, an equation might describe how oxygen molecules (O2) are dispersed in a room, but it doesn't predict in reality where each molecule is. 

The point, for Lost, is that by having Desmond, Charlie, Jack, et al become aware of this other universe (e.g. Desmond's flash of Charlie drowning in the car) they are not jumping to the other universe, but in fact obliterating the one they are in, in favor of the other (Copenhagen interpretation.)  This makes Locke/Smoke Monster's desire to leave the island, and the feared consequences ("everything will cease to be") more accurate.  Locke isn't just changing universes, he is causing that one to obliterate.

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Comments

So I can be in the middle o... (Below threshold)

May 4, 2010 12:51 PM | Posted by David: | Reply

So I can be in the middle of an activity in another universe and upon ceasing it, the other universes are annihila

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Reality becomes a series... (Below threshold)

May 4, 2010 3:09 PM | Posted by Jack Coupal: | Reply

Reality becomes a series of successive obliterations of potential realities. Just like middle age!

So true

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TV will rot your brain... (Below threshold)

May 4, 2010 3:14 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

TV will rot your brain

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Really interesting interpre... (Below threshold)

May 4, 2010 3:20 PM | Posted by Colin: | Reply

Really interesting interpretation. There is a very similar theme running through the current series of Doctor Who. You can read the synopsis (spoiler) for more details.

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As a strict many-worlder (o... (Below threshold)

May 4, 2010 3:21 PM | Posted by Aurini: | Reply

As a strict many-worlder (occham's razor suggests that the exploding universe is 'simpler' from a programming standpoint - RAM isn't culled by the theory) I'm really frustrated by interpretations which refer to individual choices.

QM discusses actions on the subatomic level, while minds work on the chemical level. Aside from the occasional divergent world where a cat dies, everything is going to pretty much cancel out at the macro level; in all likelihood decades and centuries go by, with billions of many-world splits, without any noticeable effect on history. Quantum decay just isn't that significant to the functioning of a human brain, an ipod, or the orbital velocities of planets.

There's probably a universe where Dinosaurs developed space flight, but there probably isn't one where Hitler won WWII.

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After reading your comment ... (Below threshold)

May 4, 2010 4:20 PM | Posted, in reply to Aurini's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

After reading your comment and reading up on the quantum zeno effect, perhaps it is only through constant observation that SmokeLocke may be kept in check, hence the role of Jacob and the candidates.

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"Reality becomes a series o... (Below threshold)

May 4, 2010 4:25 PM | Posted by Sarah G: | Reply

"Reality becomes a series of successive obliterations of potential realities. Just like middle age!"

That is so cold of you to say... and very painfully true. Writing fiction is a similar process as well... the story is lovely and numinous in the brain (or evil and dastardly, in my case), but it picks up flaws as I write it and concretize the details.

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Huh? (I don't watch Lost)</... (Below threshold)

May 4, 2010 8:59 PM | Posted by GT: | Reply

Huh? (I don't watch Lost)

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I'm sure you know that the ... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 12:43 AM | Posted by Richard Funnyman: | Reply

I'm sure you know that the choice isn't one a conscious humanoid must make; decoherence can be triggered by any probabilistic factor (temperature, time, momentum). So it isn't true that there exists a universe for every event, like you choose A or B or turn into a swan or spontaneously combust. The more probable is a state, the more real it is. The moment the probability changes from 50/50, it goes suddenly to 100%.

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So, wait: Smoke Monster is ... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 12:54 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

So, wait: Smoke Monster is a narcissist?

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You do or do not. There is... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 12:55 AM | Posted, in reply to Richard Funnyman's comment, by Yoda: | Reply

You do or do not. There is no try.

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So is the point of this blo... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 1:54 AM | Posted by redeye: | Reply

So is the point of this blog post really about (A) the ever-diminishing array of choices a person has as he/she progresses through time, or (B) is it about "Lost"?

If (A), then isn't there a better metaphor than some silly TV show?

If (B), nevermind.

BTW, keep your blog posts about TV shows I've seen, like Baywatch.

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I think the Copenhagen theo... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 12:34 PM | Posted by Shamashyusaa'id: | Reply

I think the Copenhagen theory makes a lot of sense -- that's how all choices are actually made. You don't create more possibilities by choosing, you create fewer. Once you choose to go left at the fork in the road, you destroy any of the scenarios in which you turned right. Once you chose to be a clown, you closed off other carreer possibilities. But I do think that the probabilities of any event plays some role in what eventually gets chosen. More of a function of the number of ways that a person can get to that location rather than a coerced choice.

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somewhere a navy SEAL who i... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 1:10 PM | Posted, in reply to Shamashyusaa'id's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

somewhere a navy SEAL who is a clown is frowning at this comment

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For some reason I am disapp... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 1:24 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

For some reason I am disappointed that Alone watches Lost. Clashes with my (pretentious?) definition of an intellectual.

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I'm going to go with Richar... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 1:25 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I'm going to go with Richard Feynman by saying that, while useful for provoking thought or as a mental exercise, attempting to transfer concepts in physics to concepts in philosophy is not very helpful to either discipline. For example: equating moral and general relativity does not further our understanding of why people do what they do nor does it inform about the motions of galaxies.

Incidentally, I thought the Copenhagen interpretation was to "just shut up and calculate" without speculating on the meaning of the intermediate results. This is, unfortunately, an attitude I've been unable to take towards Lost since the second season, when the show jumped a Dharma-embossed shark towards ridiculousness.

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I don't watch Lost, either,... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 2:37 PM | Posted, in reply to GT's comment, by Sarah G: | Reply

I don't watch Lost, either, but found the post amusing.

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I wonder if middle-age suck... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 3:33 PM | Posted by AndrewR.: | Reply

I wonder if middle-age sucked before 'Lost'?
Or maybe it started when we began thinking of what could have been.

When was that exactly?

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Reality becomes a series... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 6:25 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Reality becomes a series of successive obliterations of potential realities. Just like middle age!

So if in my early 20's the past six years have felt this way is this a sign of clinical depression or advanced maturity?

I haven't watched the last six eppisodes of Lost and only really payed any semblance of attention to it in the last two seasons, this one included, but the show seems to provide at least some basis for analysis. Given that I know jack about the characters beyond the most basic of premises and relatively little knowledge of the breadth of the story or dialogue, this should avoid any sort of fanboydom to the actual truths of the series resorting in any kind of absorbtion of the views of those who live and die for the series. Why do you watch TV anyway? Get a hobby. And if you're one of the lucky 10% of Americans unemployed, get a job.

Let's say Jacob is SmokeLocke's therapist and the only medications around are alcohol, masturbation, or hobbies. SmokeLocke, apparently evil by nature due to having a crazy mother/bad childhood/nature

Any outside observation or force can change the collapse to another point along the wave function resulting in a different reality. Say the therapy sessions were once a week augmented with alocohol, masturbation, or hobbies in an effort to augment behavior. SmokeLocke had a bad childhood, or something, so it makes no sense why spending eternity with anyone should reflect positively in his mind. The degrees of quantum decoherence early on in the development of SmokeLockes wave function of potentialies create a theraputic problem as the patient attempts to kill Jacob, in his case by attempting to influence others to do the deed he can't bring himself to do, kill Jacob. His therapist. Whatever. What a bitch of a narcissist that can't even do his own dirty work.

The meds and therapy attempt to augment the patients reality by bringing about the cognitive reprocessing of past trauma, recovery/recollection of previous collapses of the wave function that has represented the patients reality, with the changed perspective that alcohol, masturbation, hobbies and venting bring to the patient's disposale as a means to pass time, hopefuly changing for the better.

With each meeting SmokeLocke gets a little bit... different. That's all the observer can objectively say. Shit, that's the only guy he's seen for the past however long he's been stuck in the medium of observation. If you've known the guy that long, has he ever really changed? That's what the zeno effect would say. But, again, other observations of behavior or quantum decoherence change the potentiality wave as differences in moments of collapse cause amplitude and frequency to change as well.

Perhaps Flash Forward provides a better discussion, but I've only seen two eppisodes.

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Oops, that paragraph should... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 6:33 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Oops, that paragraph should go:


Let's say Jacob is SmokeLocke's therapist and the only medications around are alcohol, masturbation, or hobbies. SmokeLocke, apparently evil by nature due to having a crazy mother/bad childhood/nature

I also know jack about html.

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Which one of these two inte... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 8:20 PM | Posted by Stupete gentes: | Reply

Which one of these two interpretations is more narcissistic?
Many possible universes are destroyed by the choice of one person
Or
A parallel universe is created every time one person makes a choice.
What a power!!
Just kidding

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We have to go back!!... (Below threshold)

May 5, 2010 10:28 PM | Posted by Marcos: | Reply

We have to go back!!

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once a selection has bee... (Below threshold)

May 6, 2010 2:44 AM | Posted by Whatever: | Reply

once a selection has been made, all other choices are obliterated.

Perfect example of why I read your posts. I've never seen the shows mentioned...but I can relate to that.

Here's some cheerful fodder for ya

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Am I to understand that....... (Below threshold)

May 6, 2010 9:33 AM | Posted by GT: | Reply

Am I to understand that......

If: You watch Lost and you are a middle aged person who sees all their past choices and mistakes as limiting and how, as you get older, your options diminish,

Then: You are a narcissist and the show Lost is for you?

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Forgot to add: ... (Below threshold)

May 6, 2010 5:20 PM | Posted, in reply to Whatever's comment, by Whatever: | Reply

Forgot to add:

once a selection has been made, all other choices are obliterated.

And a new set of unlimited choices is created.

PS. I hope you didn't get too hurt by the market action today.

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Nowhere in your rambling re... (Below threshold)

May 6, 2010 6:34 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Nowhere in your rambling response did you make a coherent point. Everyone is now dumber for having read your thoughts. May God have mercy on your soul.

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The only problem I have wit... (Below threshold)

May 7, 2010 1:13 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

The only problem I have with this is that their alternate universe should be quite similar to their current one, unless they branched off long ago. The longer ago the split was, the harder it should be to bridge them, too. It's like a tree - you can imagine a tiny ant moving from the base of a branch to the main tree. They're close together. To move to one of the leaves at the end of the branch, however, is much different.

Space and time are directly related, so items separated by time are in some sense "farther away" and harder to reach. More energy is required.

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@previous Anonymous: The ti... (Below threshold)

May 9, 2010 4:46 PM | Posted by Kevin Smith: | Reply

@previous Anonymous: The time of splitting, proposed by the show, is 30 years back. That's a large amount of time, and thus the many differences are expected.

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While it's implied that the... (Below threshold)

May 13, 2010 1:51 AM | Posted, in reply to Kevin Smith's comment, by Matthew: | Reply

While it's implied that the split occurred with the detonation of the nuclear device 30 years ago, we don't actually know that with 100% certainty. There's too much to get into in a comment on a blog post, but certain changes in the timeline seem to suggest that the alterations run deeper than just 30 years.

And as for the stuck up individuals criticizing LOST and, more importantly, the people who watch it, stop embarrassing yourselves. LOST is good, fun, escapist sci-fi/fantasy. You're welcome to not like it and not watch it, but there's absolutely nothing objectively wrong with it, nor with those who enjoy it. Lighten up, please.

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Hey, Alone, what about T... (Below threshold)

June 1, 2010 6:35 PM | Posted by Marcos: | Reply

Hey, Alone, what about The End?

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Buildings are not very chea... (Below threshold)

January 13, 2013 4:34 PM | Posted by JeannineMontoya29: | Reply

Buildings are not very cheap and not everyone can buy it. But, credit loans was created to support different people in such situations.

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