Are Dreams Interactions Between Quantum Parallel Worlds?
When we dream, are we peering into our "road not taken," or the life of one of our parallel universe counterparts? Probably not, but it's interesting, and in some ways revealing, to think about, according to Boston University neurologist Patrick McNamara.
In a recent article, McNamara explores the above hypothesis using theories from philosophy as well as quantum mechanics without taking himself deathly seriously: "So much rubbish has been written about consciousness and quantum physics that I hesitate to wade into the morass. I nevertheless believe that something interesting and substantive may be gained by conducting thought experiments with respect to the relation of quantum physics and consciousness."
The first step in McNamara's thought experiment is establishing the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. First theorized by physicist Hugh Everett III, this theory asserts that when every possible outcome occurs in a quantum experiment, but only one is observed, the other possibilities actually occur in parallel universes. Whenever these possibilities arise, the history of the universe branches off into so many alternative timelines. The new world is an exact duplicate, but with a different history from the point that it branches off.
According to McNamara, many physicists who subscribe to this theory believe that the worlds would be too removed from each other for any communication or interaction to take place. However, he uses the philosophical law of the identity of indiscernibles (which states that if x and y share all of their properties, then they are identical, or the same thing, click here for a common argument against this law that uses the differing properties between Clark Kent and Superman as an example) to assert that at the moment of inception, the brains of counterparts are identical, and therefore they should be able to infallibly know what the other is thinking. So for the one moment that the two brains are alike before different experiences cause the neural connections to diverge, they each have some knowledge of the other world.
He gives another potential reason that there may be interaction between parallel universes: free will. If there is truly no interaction between parallel universes, then for each individual consciousness, free will is just an illusion. Every time it seems that some event "could have gone another way," it would only go another way for one of your counterparts, but not for you specifically. He goes on to say that everyday psychological experience contradicts this idea of metaphysical determinism, as we are able to formulate counterfactuals about our lives and imagine different events or choices happening differently. (In my opinion, the ability to formulate counterfactuals does nothing to counter the notion of an illusory free will, but since it's just a thought experiment we'll let it slide.) And since dreams are often manifestations of these counterfactuals, they may also be an interaction with a counterpart in another world: "Dreaming largely consists of counterfactual simulations of what might have been and what might be for the dreamer. A first default and easy hypothesis would be then that dreaming actually really depicts events occurring in a real alternate world unfolding from the initial branching event."
He freely admits that this is unlikely: "The common sense and most reasonable answer is of course that they occur in the mind of the dreamer." But, for the sake of the thought experiment, he questions: "If the many worlds framework is correct and dreaming consists of counterfactual simulations of what might have been and what might be for the dreamer in a world that branches off of the dreamer's parent world then is it possible that dreams actually depict what is going on in the life of my counterpart in the alternate world he lives in? If that is the case then my dreams are portals into the life of one of these branching worlds predicted by the [many worlds interpretation]."
If this theory sounds a little out there, that's because it is. He knows it, too, and is a good sport about it: "The thought experiment is built on so many tentative steps that it can only be considered at this point mere speculation if not complete rubbish."