Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 13, No 2 (2017)

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Ontology, Epistemology, Consciousness; And Closed, Timelike Curves

Fred Alan Wolf


How should we think about subjective states vs. objective states? Is it a question of the meaning associated with a state? Recent work on this question arose in consideration of closed timelike curves (CTCs) and their possible role in quantum computers. The issue of ontic and epistemic states is particularly important when considering CTCs because, as one may argue, the interpretation of quantum states as either ontic or epistemic will naturally lead to different assumptions about how quantum systems behave in the presence of CTCs. For example, David Deutsch studied various time travel scenarios in a classical model and then in a quantum model motivated by a strictly ontic interpretation of quantum states. While in the classical model, CTCs could produce paradoxes, however Deutsch argued that no paradoxes can occur in his parallel universes (modified Everett interpretation) quantum treatment. Although all paradoxes are resolved in this way, the resulting theory is not standard quantum theory, but a new nonlinear theory. Many implications can arise using Deutsch's model and I shall discuss some of them in particular. These assumptions are particularly unconventional in part because they require that mixed quantum states are ontic. Pure quantum states can be interpreted as ontic, however most interpretations view mixed states as epistemic, i.e., reflecting an observer's lack of knowledge. I shall here consider an alternative proposal-pure quantum states, represented by density matrices containing off-diagonal elements, are possibly epistemic (since we never actually see them) while mixed quantum states arising in CTCs are always ontic representing the action of consciousness in observers (we do see them). Paradoxically my argument is based on the well-known experiences of gaining knowledge in classical physics; couching this in quantum physics terms, classical mixed states (represented by diagonal density matrices in quantum physics) are just what arise when an "observation" is said to occur resulting in a so-called reduction of the quantum wave function and the appearance of a classical world. In brief, Deutsch's CTC nonlinear post quantum physics model may represent the action of a conscious mind.

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