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Zenith Grant Awardee

Wojciech Zurek

Theiss Research

Project Title

Conscious of a Classical World in a Quantum Universe

Project Summary

We live in a quantum Universe. Yet, we are convinced that our everyday world is classical. The question of how quantum weirdness gives way to classical behavior has been with us since the beginning of modern quantum theory – that is, for nearly a century. The explanations given so far focus on the behavior of quantum systems and how the information about them is acquired – on the so-called quantum measurement problem. Yet, our perceptions and the way they are interpreted by our consciousness is ultimately responsible for the classical nature of the model of the world we construct. Progress has been made on the quantum measurement problem by using abstract models selected for their tractability rather than realism. Accomplishments of this strategy include decoherence, which shows how flagrant quantumness is suppressed in systems interacting with their environments. Quantum Darwinism goes beyond decoherence. It analyzes how the information about systems of interest to observers is disseminated – with the help of the environment that caused decoherence — throughout the Universe. Our goal is to go a step further and analyze how our senses acquire this information, and how is it processed by our neural networks, resulting ultimately in perception of objective classical reality.

Technical Abstract

Decoherence shows how openness of quantum systems suppresses flagrant manifestations of quantumness. Quantum Darwinism posits that the information acquired by the monitoring environment responsible for decoherence is disseminated, in many, copies, and thus becomes accessible to observers. Indirect nature of the acquisition of information is key to emergence of objective classical reality – states of the objects of interest are not subjected to direct measurement (hence, not perturbed). However, the last step in this process that starts with decoherence and passing of information about pointer states to the environment is the reception of that information by agents. The aim of this proposal is to study how – to shift attention from the abstract models of decoherence and to focus on more realistic scenarios (e.g., that employ photon environment) and recognize the means of detection of that information by sentient beings. We shall also study constraints on the information processing employed by agents such as us who use neural networks that are immersed in their environment and, therefore, subject to decoherence. Our goal is to understand – assuming that consciousness reflects information processing by a neural network – the correspondence between the model it constructs and the states of the “objects of interest”.

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