Hugh Everett and the Many Worlds Interpretation

by Max Andrews

In 1956 Hugh Everett III published his Ph.D. dissertation titled “The Theory of the Universal Wave Function.”  In this paper Everett argued for the relative state formulation of quantum theory and a quantum philosophy, which denied wave collapse.  Initially, this interpretation was highly criticized by the physics community, and when Everett visited Niels Bohr in Copenhagen in 1959 Bohr was unimpressed with Everett’s most recent development [1].  In 1957 Everett coined his theory as the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics.  In an attempt to circumvent the problem of defining the mechanism for the state of collapse Everett suggested that all orthogonal relative states are equally valid ontologically. An orthogonal state is one that is mutually exclusive.  A system cannot be in two orthogonal states at the same time.  As a result of the measurement interaction, the states of the observer have evolved into exclusive states precisely linked to the results of the measurement.  At the end of the measurement process the state of the observer is the sum of eigenstate—or a combination of the sums of eigenstates, one sum for each possible value of the eigenvalue.  Each sum is the relative state of the observer given the value of the eigenvalue [2].  What this means is that all-possible states are true and exist simultaneously.

Everett left the field of pure physics and went on to work for the Department of Defense until is untimely death in 1982. Since his seminal work many have had their reserves due to the mere weirdness. B.S. DeWitt, whose work was critical for Everett, stated,

[I] still recall vividly the shock I experienced on first encountering this multiworld concept.  The idea of 10^10^10 slightly imperfect copies of oneself all constantly spitting into further copies, which ultimately become unrecognizable, is not easy to reconcile with common sense.  Here is schizophrenia with a vengeance. [3]



[1] Jonathan Allday, Quantum Reality: Theory and Philosophy (Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis, 2009), 439.

[2] Ibid., 442-43.

[3] Ibid., 455.

One Comment to “Hugh Everett and the Many Worlds Interpretation”

  1. The question is, are things that are identical identical. That is, though identical cross sections of a cylindrical pencil exist in different layers of a newspaper through which it has been thrust, they are all the pencil. Similarly, identical copies of me, even though existing in different contexts, might be all really the same thing. This huge set of copies would constantly be split up into smaller infinite sets as they encountered theretofore unknown-to-them-all differences around them. Would not the different sizes of the sets of undifferentiated copies equate to probabilities? And would not larger systems in the universe, such as vast bundles of eternia, also experience the same effect? And would this not exert a countertemporal influence on probability, similar to what is described in Two State Vector Formalism.

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