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Jonathan Dickau: on 5/13/20 at 12:10pm UTC, wrote Should be... Observer-observed relations. Oh well. Have Fun! JJD

Jonathan Dickau: on 5/13/20 at 12:08pm UTC, wrote I should add this... Your work does evoke images as SVP Gupta stated, of...

Jonathan Dickau: on 5/12/20 at 23:34pm UTC, wrote I love your essay Bill... I am glad you were able to poke fun at the...

Luca Valeri: on 5/10/20 at 18:50pm UTC, wrote Dear Bill, Thanks for your essay and for letting us have a peek in your...

Edwin Klingman: on 5/6/20 at 19:19pm UTC, wrote Dear Bill McHarris, I enjoyed your essay as usual, and am always surprised...

Satyavarapu Gupta: on 4/22/20 at 9:21am UTC, wrote Dear Bill McHarris , Thank you for nice words, Krishna Murty's words are...

Gene Barbee: on 3/27/20 at 4:12am UTC, wrote Dr. McHarris, Your review of non-linear systems was enlightening to me. I...

Alan Kadin: on 3/22/20 at 12:51pm UTC, wrote Dear Dr. McHarris, Your interesting essay addresses the classical/quantum...


Lorraine Ford: "(continued) 2. Physics has assumed that bottom-up causation IS top-down..." in The Present State of...

Lorraine Ford: "1. Physics can’t tell you why the world ever moves, i.e. physics assumes..." in The Present State of...

Georgina Woodward: "Max? Why?" in Anatomy of spacetime and...

Steve Agnew: "Mueller opens his essay with... "As the argument goes, there are truths..." in Undecidability,...

Dr Narayan Bhadra: "All the Honourable Scientists are cordially requested to feedback that we..." in Undecidability,...

Georgina Woodward: "The mass of the lion entity is not divided between different areas of high..." in Anatomy of spacetime and...

Jim Snowdon: "Since evolving on our rapidly rotating planet, we have used it`s rotational..." in The Quantum Clock-Maker...

Steve Dufourny: "a general universal clock of evolution irreversible correlated for me with..." in The Quantum Clock-Maker...

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The Quantum Clock-Maker Investigating COVID-19, Causality, and the Trouble with AI
Sally Shrapnel, a quantum physicist and medical practitioner, on her experiments into cause-and-effect that could help us understand time’s arrow—and build better healthcare algorithms.

Connect the Quantum Dots for a New Kind of Fuel
'Artificial atoms' allow physicists to manipulate individual electrons—and could help to reduce energy wastage in electronic devices.

Can Choices Curve Spacetime?
Two teams are developing ways to detect quantum-gravitational effects in the lab.

The Quantum Engine That Simultaneously Heats and Cools
Tiny device could help boost quantum electronics.

The Quantum Refrigerator
A tiny cooling device could help rewrite the thermodynamic rule book for quantum machines.

September 19, 2021

CATEGORY: Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability Essay Contest (2019-2020) [back]
TOPIC: Unpredictable, yet Physically Meaningful: Insights into the Boundary between Observer and Obseved by William C. McHarris [refresh]
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Author William C. McHarris wrote on Mar. 4, 2020 @ 02:37 GMT
Essay Abstract

One of the paradoxes associated with the orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics is the placement of the boundary between observer and observer, i.e., measurement and the collapse of the wave-function. Much has been written about this, including philosophical debate about the meaning of measurement, with extremists even invoking an anthropic principal — that we are necessary as intelligent observers. Using Schrödinger’s Cat as example, I attempt to show how such a boundary can be viewed as an artifice and made irrelevant. This comes about if nonlinear dynamics/chaos leads to uncertainty in describing/choosing quantum states. Such nonlinearities arise naturally from attempts to measure microscopic systems — or they might arise from other sources such as interaction of such systems with the quantum vacuum. In addition, if we consider statistically meaningful ensembles, there is no need for a single Schrödinger cat to be half-dead, half-alive — instead, there is a large ensemble of live and dead cats, and classical and quantum mechanics merge without the abrupt boundary. Schrödinger is free to choose a live cat.

Author Bio

Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Physics/Astronomy at Michigan State University. B.A. in chemistry, Oberlin College. Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry, Univ. of California, Berkeley. Full Professor at age 32, MSU. 40+ years research in nuclear chemistry/ physics at National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory. Many awards, including Sloan Fellowship. Avocation in music as organist/choir director, composer, ragtime pianist and electronics musician, carillonneur. Compositions/performances available on YouTube by searching under Bill McHarris.

Download Essay PDF File

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Mar. 4, 2020 @ 06:07 GMT
Respected Prof William C. McHarris

Wonderful short essay please!!!!

Your third subheading “3. Can the Boundary between Observer and Observed Be Made to Vanish?!” triggered a tsunami of thinking.

One of the worlds famous philosophers, Jiddu Krishna Murty (JK) said, that there is a part in your mind that observes something and saves the objects properties. For example, there is a pen, so its properties like its colour, size etc., are saved in an observation part. The pen here is an observed object. And the “observer”, your mind, is a conglomeration of all such observations of “Observed” objects. Incidentally there is one “Observed” object 'our body', it contains all the data our body from childhood to now, the observer (our mind) is observing all these. Note that mind is different from brain the physical body part.

Now what JK told for a question “What is the ULTIMATE philosophical achievement for human sage?” was….

“Observer” becomes “Observed”

These are almost 100 years old teachings of that sage. You can Google them for more information.


It seamed to me that you are achieving the samething in quantum mechanics in your essay… Hats off to you…


= SNP. Gupta

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta replied on Mar. 4, 2020 @ 20:48 GMT

If you are replying any of comments I posted on your essay, I request you to post a copy or intimation that you posted reply, on my essay

“A properly deciding, Computing and Predicting new theory’s Philosophy”

also,so that I can continue discussion….

Best Regards


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Author William C. McHarris replied on Mar. 6, 2020 @ 19:06 GMT
Thank you for your kind words.

I wish I had achieved what Krishnamurti was talking about, but my ideas are much more mundane. I simply tried to show that the idea of being unpredictable comes naturally out of nonlinear dynamics and chaos, and that having some nonlinearity in quantum mechanics increases the possibility that we do not need an artificial barrier between observer and observed.

Again, thanks. I'll get around to your essay shorty.

Bill McHarris

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta replied on Apr. 22, 2020 @ 09:21 GMT
Dear Bill McHarris ,

Thank you for nice words, Krishna Murty's words are very difficult to achieve, Only 1 or 2 in Millions may achieve it. Then the achiever will be called a 'saint' 'Rishi' or 'Muni'. Once you achieve it nothing else is required.

I appreciate your efforts to mathemataize that process in quantum mechanics, I hope one day you will get this also



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Jochen Szangolies wrote on Mar. 4, 2020 @ 07:02 GMT
Dear Prof. McHarris,

you present an intriguing discussion of the quantum 'cut' between observer and observed as, if I understand you correctly, originating in the boundaries of predictability imposed by nonlinear dynamics of the observed system. I think this is not too far away, in spirit at least, from the approach of Tim Palmer in this essay contest, who considers the ultimate state space of quantum systems to be a fractal attractor of some nonlinear dynamic system, with the resulting picture excluding 'counterfactual' states we would otherwise expect to be 'close' to the actual states---since, as you note, chaotic dynamics may introduce arbitrary separation between arbitrarily close initial values.

However, you, again if I understand you correctly, propose that the quantum formalism is a statistical description of the underlying, nonlinear dynamics. I think this sort of approach has certain problems. For one, it's not quite clear to me how interference effects are supposed to be explained---in a sense, the fact that there is no detection in the 'dark' detector of an interferometer certifies that the photon cannot be taking either one route or the other, as in that case, half the time it ought to be detected there.

But perhaps more importantly, the Pusey-Barrett-Rudolph theorem seems to significantly dampen the chances for any such statistical interpretation of quantum mechanics---given some mild assumptions, mostly the possibility to repeat the same experiment, they show that there can be no set of quantities ('hidden variables') such that they yield more information than the quantum state, and hence, as the original titel of their paper had it, 'the quantum state cannot be interpreted statistically'. (

How does your approach connect with this (if it does)?

Anyway, thanks for an intriguing and eminently readable essay. I wish you best of luck in the contest!



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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Mar. 4, 2020 @ 16:12 GMT
Good to see your work here Bill...

You may wish to get the FQXi admin to fix the misspelled title. I see the PDF is correct. This looks really interesting; I'll come back when I have time.

Best, JJD

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Author William C. McHarris replied on Mar. 6, 2020 @ 15:47 GMT
Thanks, Jonathan, for catching the misspelling, which seems to have evaded at least a dozen proofreaders! That missing "r" is a most Freudian typo — the measurement had to be incomplete! It's almost like an optical illusion, so let's just leave it as it is, perhaps a good conversation starter.

I glanced at your essay, and it looks intriguing, as ever. I'll get to it seriously quite soon.



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Georgina Woodward wrote on Mar. 5, 2020 @ 00:53 GMT
I was in two minds whether read your essay, thinking it might be too complicated for me to grasp. I'm Glad I did it is very readable, comprehensible and relevant.

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Wilhelmus de Wilde de Wilde wrote on Mar. 5, 2020 @ 11:18 GMT
Dear Professor Mc Harris.

A very clear interpretation about a subject I was also struggling with for a long time until I developed the Total Simultaneity Interpretation.

some remarks

"Can the boundary between observer and observed be made to vanish?" In my essay, I argue that the time-lapse between observer and observed is caused by the process-time of reception of a signal and the becoming conscious of it.

Also, I explain how the time-loop that is emerging can be extended and explained. The unpredictability’s are in Total Simultaneity.

“Unpredictability’s can be physically meaningful” . I can agree with that when “physically” means necessary for the physical experience of the flow of time.

The moment we are looking inside (which is essentially a moment in the past) the box, the split up in Total Simultaneity is already made, but in contrary with the MWI, the other split has become a probability in Total Simultaneity. So it is NOT our observing in the emergent reality that is causing an event but the choice of our consciousness in Total Simultaneity.

I hope this gives you enough reason to read my essay and leave also a remark.

thank you


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Peter Jackson wrote on Mar. 16, 2020 @ 22:07 GMT
Great essay as usual Bill.

I have questions, but first I recall you planned to look again at my two OAM momenta, but we never do get time! They emerge again this year from new foundations.. But back to yours; You express clearly correct and valid concepts very well.

I hope Chaos is better received than previously! (I did also like the Palmer essay that majors on it). As for the ice floes, I agree, but am certain they CAN be combined with a few different starting assumptions such as non-linearity, also proving you right re classical/quantum mechanics. I also agree over-specialization (limited thinking) has caused major problems. (A 2nd typo may be artifice for artifact on P6?)

1. Do you not think the refractive plane of a lens or polarizer can give a REAL boundary transition between emission and absorbed states, so 'measurement perturbation' (Indeed Zeilinger found there's 'no memory' of past states after interaction!).

2. What's your understanding of Maxwells Near/Far fields and transition zones? Why would this also not ''collapse' the wave function'?

3. Are you yet familiar with '2-Fluid' plasmas', the structure of 'shear plane' bow shocks/ and apparent pair production just from the 'relative motion'.

Great essay, far less dense and easier to read then mine I fear, (but I do offer and test solutions to the key questions we both identify). I'm thankful there are still those like you around.

Very best


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Alan M. Kadin wrote on Mar. 22, 2020 @ 12:51 GMT
Dear Dr. McHarris,

Your interesting essay addresses the classical/quantum boundary, and suggests that nonlinearities may play a role in generating uncertainty.

I recall having discussions with you in previous FQXi contests, and you may recall that I have proposed a more radical solution that completely eliminates the entire problem. If the microscopic world is essentially classical, without superposition and entanglement, then no boundary is present.

Further, I suggest that nonlinearities play an even more fundamental role, in generating not only chaotic uncertainty, but also soliton-like quantization of fundamental waves into “particles”.

In my essay this year, “The Uncertain Future of Physics and Computing”, I focus on the central historic role of John von Neumann in the foundations of both quantum mechanics and computer architecture.

I am proposing NOT an alternative interpretation of QM, but a different theory with distinct results of measurements. One important implication of this alternative theory is that quantum computing should not work. Given the billions of dollars being invested in R&D in quantum computing, I predict a catastrophic failure of the entire field within several years. This will lead to a scandal, and the physics community may finally be willing to consider alternative foundations for QM.

Alan Kadin

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Gene H Barbee wrote on Mar. 27, 2020 @ 04:12 GMT
Dr. McHarris,

Your review of non-linear systems was enlightening to me. I learned there are similarities with QM and enjoyed your review of the effect or birth rate on populations. I only have a working familiarity with QM but I agree with your statistical conclusion regarding the poor cat. I studied the way we perceive light and reported it in “Information Storage for Life Processes”, DNA Decipher Journal, December 2019, Volume 9, Issue 3 (it’s an obscure publication). I believe that molecules in the brain store probabilities associated with energy. The conjugated bonds of Retinol are well suited for the job. The individual bond energies become a system able to sense and add responses that we automatically sense as color vision. I used an equation developed by Feynman to simulate the eye’s response curve. The reason I mention this is that only a few protons and their electrons are required to “collapse” the Feynman QM equation. The bond energies (actually the information associated with the energy) represent the observer and I think that all protons are entangled into a system. Perhaps even one proton-electron is enough to observe when the cat-apparatus system receives its probabilistic fate. (My essay indicates that the proton itself is quite a complex system.) There is no reason for any lag time or outside observer.

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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on May. 6, 2020 @ 19:19 GMT
Dear Bill McHarris,

I enjoyed your essay as usual, and am always surprised that the Copenhagen interpretation is still going so strong. I agree with you that nonlinearity is a much better way to view things. I recall a guest lecturer from Georgia Tech when I was in graduate school whose topic was

“What makes an Oscillator Osc?”

His answer was that nonlinearities are responsible for kicking off oscillation. That was probably my first exposure to nonlinearity, and, like you, I am ever more convinced of it’s importance in physics.

It’s always good to ‘see you’ again and I invite you to read my essay.

My warmest regards,

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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Luca Valeri wrote on May. 10, 2020 @ 18:50 GMT
Dear Bill,

Thanks for your essay and for letting us have a peek in your investigation in non linear systems. I like your distinction of uncertainty and unpredictability. It is often not done and it is not the unpredictability that is causing interpretational problems, but the uncertainty.

In my opinion there are two kind of measurement problems one is the one of reduction, ie. the loss of the phase information. The other one is the collapse into one of the eigenstates. I am not sure which of these two problems you address with the non linear dynamics.

The loss of the phase information is necessary to get a diagonal density matrix and where the diagonal terms have a well defined interpretation as probabilities. This would amount to the ensemble interpretation. Or not? Where did the ensemble interpretation go anyhow? I haven't hear from it for while.

I can imagine, that the usage of non linear dynamics might create emergent structures, that do not allow superpositions of states. Or is the non linear dynamic a feedback loop between observer and object (cat)?

Recently I start to consider, that the superposition principle does not hold in any case. For instance for higher highly correlated spin in the same direction (coherent spin states) are almost distinguishable. I really don't what the superposition of two such states mean. And I don't know, how the phases of such a superposition could be measured, if only the generators of the total group are measurable.

In my essay I take another route to justify the loss of the phase information.


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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on May. 12, 2020 @ 23:34 GMT
I love your essay Bill...

I am glad you were able to poke fun at the Copenhagen interpretation, which I have never liked because it is a devil's bargain. I think perhaps QM will never be understood until people know about non-linear dynamics. Indeed; the appearance of discrete levels within a bifurcation diagram is very much like the energy levels separated by quantum jumps. I don't think we will ever see a cat in a superposition, and I like the ensemble of cats idea much better.

I also mention the logistic map, and show its connection to the Mandelbrot Set. And I am in fundamental agreement with a lot of the points you make. I like the way you separate uncertainties and unpredicabilities. It's certainly better to flesh this out than to lump the two together. You address several of the essay questions well, and you weave it into a congruent picture with your analysis. So you get high marks from me.



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Jonathan J. Dickau replied on May. 13, 2020 @ 12:08 GMT
I should add this...

Your work does evoke images as SVP Gupta stated, of spiritual themes. I am reminded of exhortations to meditate allowing subject and object identification to flow freely until one becomes the object of contemplation. Powerful stuff. As it turns out; I just published a collection of "Octonion Poetry" and it speaks to this meme. An example follows.

One, open, as multiplicity and formless nothingness, finds peace in true relation, and knows all as self.

This construction actually suggests that a multiplicity of cats helps us find the true relation to assist Schrödinger, as in your essay. But since the octonions are the language of projective geometry - the geometry of perspective - one might expect them to tell us something about observed and observed relations. If all we can observe is also part of each observer; this makes things rather interesting.

All the Best,


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Jonathan J. Dickau replied on May. 13, 2020 @ 12:10 GMT
Should be...

Observer-observed relations. Oh well.

Have Fun!


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