Many Copenhagen Sub-Universes (I)

Ânderson Q.
6 min readJun 29, 2022
Photo by Forest Simon on Unsplash

Before diving into my little theory, let’s start by briefly reviewing a few concepts, principles, and theories from a mixed bag of fields, ranging from epistemology to quantum theory — all of which, in one way or another, relate to how we perceive, define, and record reality.

Perception

Philosophers have been debating the Epistemological Problems of Perception for a long time. In brief, they ask how we could be sure about the external world if everything is grounded in individual perceptions of experience — which include illusions and hallucinations. Do we perceive anything outside our minds at all, or is everything we understand as real merely a collection of mental images?

Metaphysical Solipsism

According to this view, everything outside one’s own consciousness, including the external world and other minds, might not be real and could merely be projections or constructions of one’s own mind. It challenges the existence of an objective reality, suggesting that what we perceive as reality is entirely dependent on and confined to our individual consciousness.

Epistemological Solipsism

Epistemological Solipsism, on its turn, suggests we can only be certain of the existence of our own mind and mental states. It says that knowledge beyond one’s own mind is uncertain, as we rely solely on our subjective experiences to understand the world. Thus, the possibility of knowing anything about the external world or other minds is deeply uncertain.

Phenomenalism

This theory suggests that physical objects and events are only perceivable as sensory stimuli or phenomena. Thus, reality is constructed entirely from what can be experienced directly by the senses. Therefore, one can only accept and understand reality based on their own sensory experiences. This means that reality, for each person, consists solely of the phenomena they perceive, and anything beyond direct sensory experience cannot be affirmed to exist.

Boltzmann Brain

The Boltzmann Brain theory is a thought experiment suggesting that it’s statistically more likely for a self-aware entity (a “Boltzmann Brain”) to spontaneously form in a chaotic state than for our entire orderly universe to have formed.

More crucially, it’s possible that our entire universe, including all human experiences and ideas, could be just fleeting thoughts within a spontaneously formed brain in a chaotic environment. This means that everything we perceive as reality might be just an illusion created by this temporary brain.

Sub-Universes

In Principles of Psychology, philosopher and psychologist William James says that reality means simply relation with our emotional and active life [1]. Whatever stands in a certain relation to us is understood as real. Therefore, whatever we can conceive becomes real.

[1] Principles of Psychology, William James, apud On Multiple Realities, Alfred Schütz.

Furthermore, James says that reality has an infinite number of different orders, which he calls sub-universes — such as the sub-universe of physical things, the sub-universe of science, the sub-universe of mythology/religion, the sub-universe of our own personal opinions, and so on. Although everything we understand as real ultimately refers to one of the sub-universes, whenever we are dealing with one of them, we are somewhat disconnected from the others, somehow unconscious of their relationships.

According to James, the distinction between real and unreal is based on mental processes. Reality is grounded on beliefs and disbeliefs. Our individual interpretation of experience — which relies on the sub-universes we cultivate and how we navigate between them — shapes our reality.

False Memories

Decades of research have shown us that “memory distortions are basic and widespread in humans, and it may be unlikely that anyone is immune”. Not only can memories be contaminated, but they also can be manipulated through misinformation, memory selection, and suggestive tricks. This happens because, whenever we recall something, we’re actually reconstructing the events by mixing actual memories with elements we have learned after the event and others that, according to our perception, are generally true.

Additionally, besides reconstructing events that we have experienced, we also fabricate entire memories, i.e. we believe in events that haven’t happened at all. Thus, that memory you have of something you think you’ve experienced actually might be simply something you read in a newspaper, watched on TV, or heard in passing at the office — and which your brain decided to adapt, painting you as the new leading character.

Simply put, our memories are mere narratives, and we’re unreliable narrators. A good friend might advise you to not trust your own memories too much.

Superposition

The Superposition Principle, a fundamental in Quantum Mechanics, states that physical systems exist in multiple superposed states simultaneously. For example, any quantum particle can be in multiple places and configurations at the same time. You’ve likely heard of that intriguing cat that, within a box, is alive and dead at the same time.

The Superposition Principle is interpreted in different ways by different scientists, in particular the Many Worlds and the Copenhagen theories.

Many Worlds

The Many Worlds Interpretation says that, at every point in time, the universe splits into a multitude of existences in which every possible outcome actually happens in parallel.

According to the MWI, Schrödinger’s cat is always both dead and alive at the same time. If you open the box, you only see one state because each version of the cat, the dead and the alive, exists in different branches of the universe.

Copenhagen

The Copenhagen Interpretation, on the other hand, says that, although quantum particles exist in all of their possible states at once, when we observe them, the wave functions collapse, forcing them to choose a single state. In other words, the act of observing the particles interferes with their state. Thus, the cat is only dead and alive at once while you do not look at it. Once you observe it, it assumes a single state, i.e. it is either dead or alive from that moment on.

Many argue, though, that the Copenhagen Interpretation is undermined by the fact that Schrödinger’s equation, a key point in Quantum Mechanics, doesn’t support wave function collapse, a key element of this interpretation.

Multiverse

The Multiverse Theory proposes that our entire universe is not the only one but simply one of many, perhaps one of an infinite number of universes. Each of these universes is called a parallel or alternate universe, and together they constitute the multiverse.

The theory appears across various areas of physics and philosophy, but the most prominent one is the Inflation Theory. According to this theory, a specific event in the early universe caused rapid expansion, inflating to become immensely larger. While expansion might cease in some universes, it continues in others. As a result, the multiverse is in eternal inflation.

Where the Many Worlds Interpretation says that different states exist in different branches of a universe, the Multiverse Theory says that countless — perhaps an infinite number of — universes exist in different regions of space-time, each potentially with its own laws of physics.

Some argue, though, that both interpretations are different sides of the same coin.

Simulation Theory

In short, it posits that our reality might be an artificial simulation, similar to a highly advanced computer program. Future civilizations with immense computational power could create simulations of their ancestors, making it statistically plausible that our own reality is one of these simulations.

Fables Agreed Upon

On top of all that, there’s still the matter of how reality is documented, i.e. the processes behind recording History. As noted in smarthistory.org:

“evidence surviving from the past is vast, fragmentary, and messy. Historians must make decisions about what to include and exclude, how to organize the material, and what to say about it. In doing so, they create narratives that explain the past in ways that make sense in the present. Inevitably, as the present changes, these narratives are updated, rewritten, or discarded altogether and replaced with new ones. All history, then, is subjective — as much a product of the time and place it was written as of the evidence from the past that it interprets.”

History is not only a construction but also a simplification. It’s a patchwork of narratives, each piece of which merely reflects the ideals and beliefs of the different storytellers involved in the sewing process. Not to mention, of course, the role of political, religious, and cultural leaders over the process, people who often have the power to deliberately manipulate it.

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