Quantum Paradoxes: To Resolve or To Acquiesce?

I gave a talk on the Transactional Interpretation and how it solves quantum paradoxes at the “Copenhagen and Beyond” Conference at Chapman University, CA (Oct. 18, 2019). The title was “Quantum Paradoxes: To Resolve or To Acquiesce?” It can be found here: https://digitalcommons.chapman.edu/cib-2019/cib/schedule/10/

30 thoughts on “Quantum Paradoxes: To Resolve or To Acquiesce?

  1. Hi Ruth.
    I’m John E. and not a scientist. In pursuit of solace — as John Gribbin aptly describes it – from QM weirdness I’ve been studying your two most recent books, various papers and blog posts, videos and comment threads. I appreciate your efforts in this field. But I’m still unsure of my grasp of the ontology you are proposing. Is there a particular thread on your blog where you would prefer questions regarding your ontology to be posted or is this thread as good as any?

  2. Thanks so much Ruth. I’ll give my questions one at a time though I think these will all be related to what’s going on in quantum realm and its confluence with the classical realm. I’m going to try to give them ordered by the confidence I have in the answers I’ve worked up.

    Do the quantum objects have identities which may persist (and desist) in the quantum realm?

    I don’t find that you say this directly and perhaps it is fraught with assumptions about time, but so is all the necessary discussion about processes in the quantum realm. At any rate I get the point that whatever time-like (in the sense of causally ordered change) processes we are discussing in the quantum realm are not contained in spacetime, not measured by the time intervals we experience in our classical realm.

    In “Bound States as Emergent Quantum Structures” section 3 you say “the atomic bound state is an ontological whole, an emergent structure. Its status [is] a new, nonseparable entity[.]” And from UOUR p. 138 you write “much of our world is composed of complex bound quantum systems, but they are not perceivable unless they participate in actualized transactions.”

    So it would seem that at least quantum structures called “bound states” give rise to persistent identifiable entities in the quantum realm even if they only appear (and reappear) in the classical realm through emission/absorption events. Photons – as exchanges of energy – perhaps need not be persistent, except energy is conserved, so perhaps they must persist (as a mere quantity) in the bound state object.

    Am I on the right track so far? Does this follow from RTI?

    1. Thanks, great question. The notion of ‘identity’ is a fraught one, but i view these structures as ‘persisting’ to the extent that there is an ordered sequence of transactions that they participate in–the order corresponding to an increasing spacetime time index. The ‘persistence’ of the entity is represented on a spacetime diagram by a timelike interval, even though the entity itself is not ‘in spacetime’ (see also below). A specific example of ‘persistence’ of a solitary electron: an electron loosely bound in a metal absorbs a photon and is thus liberated from its bound state. It then emits a photon, losing energy and becoming part of a new bound state. Such an electron would be described by a timelike interval, but in my picture it is never literally ‘in spacetime.’ Its existence is inferred indirectly through the actualized spacetime events that it participates in.

      1. Well I think what you say here fits with what I’m thinking of as persistent identity in the quantum realm. But I’ll heed the warning and drop the ‘identity’ aspect out of my language.

  3. Second Question (If perhaps the previous version of my second question did actually make it into moderation, then I would be pleased for it to be replaced by this version which I hope better expresses the thing).

    Once an OW is generated may the CWs’ incipient transactions evolve prior to actualization or is the set of absorbers and the amplitude of their CW absolutely fixed and static?

    The “contingent absorber” seems to be a way of thinking about how processes in the classical realm may influence processes in quantum realm. Mutual influence is something you say you want to allow for (at least in a comment under your blog post “What is the quantum/classical divide?”). The contingent absorber could be explained by evolving incipient transactions but I’m unclear about whether or not that’s what you ultimately allude to in “On Delayed Choice and Contingent Absorber Experiments.” And I got an impression that might conflict with Cramer’s original formulation of TI.

    I do find various accounts that suggest this kind of evolution may be allowed for in RTI but I’m uncertain because so much of the focus in those accounts is on attributing the time parameter in the Schrodinger Equation to intervals in classical time created by actualized transactions.

    If I understand correctly Adventures in Quantumland chapter 3.7 seeks to explain how the time parameter in the Schrodinger Equation only functions to correlate its collapse with the context of the complex bound quantum system wherein the collapse occurs. Granting that; there is no time dependent evolution of state in |Psi(t)>.

    For the purpose of making that point clear the description abstracts many potential absorbers into collections represented as detectors 1 and 2. But if we drill down, we know there is a natural dynamism affecting the potential absorbers in that complex system. Those bound quantum entities in that complex system aren’t static. So – as opposed to time dependent evolving state — it would seem we could still view the prepared |Psi(t)> as evolving due to changes to the pattern of CWs which result from the dynamism affecting absorbers. Then Wheeler type experiments just insert a more obviously (t)-effecting dynamism that seems shocking to us. But it’s all the same to |Psi(t)>; just a different shift in the pattern of CWs which maintain symmetry until a spacetime interval is created thru actualization with an absorber in the complex system. (And the particular observable picked out of |Psi(t)> is of course determined by the winning absorber so there’s no time dependent state involved here).

    This account seems to be permitted by the paper on “The Emergence of Spacetime:” in Adventures in Quantumland:Exploring Our Unseen Reality (p. 249) where |Psi(t)> describes the OW as an “evolving entity (the changing OW)” and where “Entities in the quantum substratum can undergo change without necessary reference to time, which applies only at the actualized space–time level.”

    BUT in “On Quantum Collapse as a Basis for the Second Law” AIQ (p. 257) there is this: “In the absence of absorber response, the emitted offer wave (OW), |Ψ〉, is described by the unitary evolution of the time-dependent Schrodinger equation. Equivalently, in terms of a density operator ρ = |Ψ〉〈Ψ|, its evolution can be described by its commutation with the Hamiltonian, as in (2). (However, TI is best understood in the Heisenberg picture, in which the observables carry the time dependence and the offer wave is static; this is to be discussed in a separate work.) However, once the OW |Ψ〉 prompts response(s) 〈Xi| from one or more absorbers {Xi}, the linearity of this deterministic propagation is broken, and we get the non-unitary transformation (8).”

    In particular “the offer wave is static” throws in a monkey wrench. Hmm… “separate work.” The Hamiltonian is an aspect of QM math that I haven’t delved into yet and my understanding of the above paragraph is fuzzy for other reasons too; two different interpretations of QM may be tangled together here. And elsewhere it is stated that there is no OW without CWs but here the last sentence asks me to consider a process step involving a “static” OW prior to CW responses. But perhaps this is just another way of making the point about where the time interval comes from. Perhaps you are simply asking us to think of the OW that is produced by decay (there’s yet another time parameter in an equation associated with that, but I assume that’s separate) in the emitter as a static thing once raised; but the incipient transactions formed by the CWs can evolve in the quantum realm until one is actualized, at which point a time interval can be associated with the event at measurement |Psi(t,observalbe)>. Or perhaps not?

    1. The short answer is that any ‘change’ in the OW is based on ‘virtual quantum’ activity, which cannot be tied to a single time index. That’s why I refer to the OW as being ‘static’ —possibly a bad word at the level of your analysis, but the only way I can express that we must still describe the OW by |Psi(0)> even though it is subject to interactions by way of forces (virtual quanta), which are attached to the observable, not the OW or CW. The CW is subject to the same interactions but in the advanced orientation. As you note, it’s only that total context that gives rise to the ultimate incipient transactions that are subject to actualization. Yes, at the relativistic level in the most precise ontological terms, in my view interpretation there is really no “OW” without participation of the absorber. The phrase “In the absence of absorber response” refers to a more conventional understanding of TI at the non-relativistic level, since for purposes of the paper I didn’t want to get into details of my latest development (one radical idea at a time?). But I understand how this could be confusing.

  4. I got into stuff that’s over my head in trying to flesh out that second question. Your reply may imply that it’s ok for me to think of the CW pattern of responses as under flux until collapse, but I’m still not sure. So I’d like to ask this again in a simple minded way that fits me better.

    I want to visualize the OW/CWs at work so I imagine a simple scenario. Starlight is bathing the back of my head. Then I turn to look at the star. My simple mind wants to apply the OW/CW explanation like this: CWs from the back of my head form incipient transactions with an OW from a star. By turning my head to look at the star I change the amplitudes of the responding CW’s (or possibly even add and/or remove some from the set) raising the probability that a transaction from that OW will be actualized in my eye rather than the back of my head. Bingo, I see a bit of starlight. Furthermore, thanks to RTI I don’t worry about limits from General Relativity applying to all that (seemingly instantaneous) dynamism in the CWs because it’s happening in the quantum realm; there is no spacetime interval yet. GR doesn’t come into play until the transaction is actualized. And from the point of view of a photon it’s a timeless interaction.

    This kind of explanation also satisfies me in contingent absorber and Wheeler scenarios. But I’m worried that it’s wrong because I can’t find anywhere that you utilize it or describe it.

    So whatever kind of answer this may merit, I’d be grateful if you could categorize it under: a) That’s a no-no; b) that’s a possibility; c) that’s ok.

    1. When the back of your head is facing the star, absorbers in your head are participating in numerous actualized transactions with the star–not just incipient transactions. This is because enormous numbers of single-photon OWs are being emitted by the star for the period of time in which you turn your head around. When your eyes face the star, a different set of absorbers is participating in the creation of incipient and actualized transactions.

      1. Yes I get that Ruth, but I’m thinking of the one that hasn’t reached the back of my head yet but possibly could if I don’t turn around. So it has CWs with that OW. But if I turn around before that OW is actualized then the situation is changed.

  5. (Third question)
    The RTI description: Emitter raises OW. Absorbers respond with CWs. One of the absorbers wins. A photon is exchanged between that emitter and absorber. A spacetime interval is created between that emitter and absorber.

    This description leaves a physics neophyte like me thinking that the emitter is causally bottlenecked – it can’t participate in any other transactions – until this one completes, allowing it to transition out of the excited state. That’s hard for me to work out when that emitter is thought of as being a persistent quantum entity participating in a complex bound state system like a distant star.

    But is there actually any physical or theoretical reason requiring that emitter to wait on this actualization event in its future before it can get on with interactions in its present? Is there anything about the ground state it transitions to that depends on (would be different because of) the particularities (I don’t know: spin, energy, momentum?) of the absorption?

    If not then then I can get rid of what looks to me like a causal bottleneck by using a slightly different description.

    Modified description: Emitter creates an OW (where this is kind of like laying an egg). Emitter transitions to ground state and gets on with other business (perhaps laying other OW eggs). Absorbers respond to the OW with CWs. One absorber wins. It hatches a photon from the OW egg. The spacetime interval is created between the OW egg and the absorber.

    So I’m asking if there is any physical or theoretical reason that prevents me from resolving my perceived causal bottleneck conundrum with that modified description?

  6. An emitter such as an excited atom cannot transition between states without an actualized transaction because it’s only at that point that it loses the energy corresponding to the transferred photon. But this doesn’t mean it isn’t persisting. It is continually involved in virtual photon processes (comprising the forces that bind the atom together). Atoms like this are often described (at the non-relativistic level) as being in a superposition of the two states (the excited,pre-decay state and the lower, post-decay state). So the atom can be thought of as ‘persisting’ in that superposition. This is a very common feature that applies to all unstable bound states and is described by a decay rate. So I don’t see any problem with a causal bottleneck here.

  7. Re the star question: remember that there is no OW component created in the first place with the participation of an absorber creating a matching CW component. So for this kind of scenario we must keep in mind the ‘mutuality’ of OW/CW generation that pertains at the relativistic level (and this is the way it really works).

    1. Yes I’m thinking that there always is a matching set of CWs associated with the OW. Just wondering if I’m allowed to think that the set can undergo dynamic change.

      1. There is one CW component for each OW component. These CWs always match the OW component that reaches them. Each such CW component undergoes modification on its way ‘back’ to the emitter, but that modification is via force-based interactions involving virtual photons and those interactions are not tied to any time index. To the extent that ‘dynamic’ involves forces, the answer would be ‘yes’, but again it’s not ‘in time’ as in the index t of spacetime.

      2. Yes, I’m thinking in terms of matching components and whatever they are doing as being outside spacetime. I’m familiar with the way you describe fields formed by virtual photon interactions. But not as you are applying them here to OWs and CWs. But that’s not the dynamism I’m asking about.

        I’ll try one last time. /BOLD /UNDERLINE I’m asking if I can think of the amplitudes of CWs as dynamically changing in the quantum realm as a result of moving detectors (collections of potential absorbers) around in spacetime. /OFFBOLD /OFFUNDERLINE

        That would have the effect of changing the probability of which CW wins and actualizes the transaction and creates the spacetime interval. That provides a lot of explanatory power to me.

        You say in a blog comment somewhere that the quantum realm and spacetime aren’t separate and that allows for the possibility that they influence each other. After all what happens in spacetime can change the possibilities available in the spacetimeless quantum realm. Your metaphor is an iceberg, a single thing part of which is submerged. I got all those thoughts directly from you. And the Bolded notion fits in with those thoughts.

        If you could just acknowledge that you see the dynamism I’m referring to up there in the bolded sentence and give me a response: 1) that’s a no-no, 2) that’s a possibly 3) that’s ok; then I would go away thanking you profusely.

  8. Well would you say that its not going to become an emitter again from that star (unless that star is still shining after I see that emitter)? In other words, it effectively goes dark for however many light years.

  9. The emitter is the excited atom that generates the OW. It can immediately become excited again and emit again in a tiny amount of time, with all those photons zapping around.

  10. “Excited again”??? The atom we have been talking about is already in an excited state, waiting on a CW to actualize the transaction that returns it to its ground state. So is “excited again” meaning;
    (1) that it can enter second, third, etc. excited states, with second, third, etc. OWs ad infinitum which eventually all have to become actualized transactions before it returns to its ground state?
    (2) Or is this the idea that because it can be in a superposition of excited and ground, it can get excited again and again based on the ground state in these stacking superpositions?
    (3) Or am I just simply failing to communicate my question in a way that makes any sense? Or maybe it doesn’t make sense?

    Perhaps it’s best if I just take your answer to my third question to be: you don’t see any causal bottleneck issue here. Maybe when I learn more I won’t either. Or else maybe I’ll be better able to demonstrate it to you.

  11. I must have misunderstood your original question. I thought you were describing an atom that had already engaged in an actualized transaction. If you were describing an atom in a ‘superposition,’ then the persistence of that superposition depends on the relevant decay rate for the specific interaction(s). In the Sun, these decay rates are extremely fast, so that atoms are decaying furiously and immediately becoming re-excited all the time; there are no such superpositions that persist for any time scale of the sort that you mentioned. Does that help?

    1. “I must have misunderstood your original question. I thought you were describing an atom that had already engaged in an actualized transaction. […] Does that help?”

      Yes, it seems we may have been misunderstanding each other so, assuming you want to continue the dialogue, perhaps it helps to start over with my original question (rather than try to unravel the layers of misunderstanding).

      I have been trying to analyze a situation with an excited quantum bound state (an atom for example) participating in a complex bound quantum system (a star for example), waiting for lightyears to release its proton to an absorber on earth (in my eye for example) so it can transition to its ground state. Starlight is made up of many of these. I can’t work out how these persistent ‘atoms’ go on participating with the many processes that occur within the star during the lightyears these atoms are waiting to release their proton. You know better than I; things like fusion, or colliding with another star, or getting sucked into a black hole… many things. Since I can’t work this out, I called it a causal bottleneck with an ugh. But then I conceived of a slightly different way of describing the RTI story (that conserves the energy in the proton transfer) but eliminates the causal bottleneck conundrum. But this time, to avoid confusion, I won’t get into that description and the question it raises yet. Let’s stop here and check out whether you whether you see what I mean by ‘causal bottleneck.’ (But given our difficulties understanding each other I can understand if you’d prefer just to call it quits at this point).

      1. OK, I think you’re still a little confused about one aspect of the transactional process. An excited atom does not generate any OW without participation of specific absorber(s) (there are usually many potential absorbers participating for any one potential emitter). When OW and CW are generated, they always occur together. So it’s never the case that an excited atom ‘sends out an OW’ that has to wait for some absorber to respond. It’s always a mutual generation of OW and CW by a specific emitter/absorber pair.
        There is perhaps also an ambiguity about the term “OW” since it can either mean the entire quantum state generated by the emitter, or just a particular component of that state reaching a particular absorber. But in all cases, whatever is generated by an emitter is always in direct correspondence with specific absorbers. There is never any OW component that is unmatched by a CW component. This is the quantum analog of what is called the ‘light tight box’ condition for the original (classical) WF absorber theory.
        The other issue is that the decay rates in objects like stars are VERY fast, so the that excited lifetimes are very short. That is, excited atoms in stars don’t wait for years before decaying. They are jumping up & down between excited and less-excited states all the time. Are we OK now?

      2. No I’m not confused about any of those things you mention. I already conceived of and in fact counted on them in my scenario. I laid all that out explicitly when I first posted my question.

        From my perspective your last paragraph just serves as a good example of the causal bottleneck because what ought to be a fast transition due to the workings in the star can’t be a fast transition for the ‘atoms’ associated with the starlight in my scenario. So I think we are still not on the same page, but I don’t know why.

      3. But the scenario you propose doesn’t work because it seems to assume that an OW is emitted and then has to wait for a CW response. This never happens in RTI. There is nothing that is preventing the fast transitions. What do you see as preventing these?

  12. The answer to your question above is ‘No,’ because CW are only created in an interaction between a specific emitter and absorber. I repeat the question here to make sure you know which one I’m answering: J: I”’m asking if I can think of the amplitudes of CWs as dynamically changing in the quantum realm as a result of moving detectors (collections of potential absorbers) around in spacetime”. So again, NO. A CW is created with a specific amplitude ONLY in relation to an OW component that it receives, in a mutual process. There is no other way that a CW is generated. Remember that absorbers are not ‘in spacetime’. We see spacetime EVENTS that point to those absorbers, since the absorbers gave rise to them, but the absorbers themselves are always behind the scenes. So of course there is an interplay between spacetime phenomena and the quantum potentialiities (such as absorbing atoms) — there is influence back and forth.

  13. Re your concern about a hold-up of some kind in the emission of a photon from a star to your eye: there is no hold-up, because the atom in the star transitions to its de-excited state immediately upon actualization of the transaction. So it doesn’t matter that (from our point of view) the photon takes many years to get from the star to us. The emission event takes place at some time t and the absorption event (at our eye) takes place at t + 100,000 years or whatever. The atom goes about its business, not caring that the photon it emitted is taking a long time to reach its absorber. All the OW/CW negotiation leading up to the actualized transaction has already occurred behind the scenes in ‘quantumland.’

    1. I can expand on what work I think ‘quantumland’ can do for the emitter according to the ontology you have written about. But I didn’t want to say to much all at once. And as I reread my previous post I worry that the simple “Yes” I gave to one of your statements could be confusing.

  14. Thanks for hangin’ in there with me. I’m responding here to your two previous replies.

    “But the scenario you propose doesn’t work because it seems to assume that an OW is emitted and then has to wait for a CW response”
    In my scenario no OW is emitted without at least one CW.
    My scenario involves waiting for a CW actualization, not for a CW response.
    Waiting for the actualization is what prevents the fast transaction. That’s the concern I raise in my scenario. That’s the problem I was working on solving.

    “the atom in the star transitions to the ground state immediately upon actualization of the transaction.”
    Yes

    “So it doesn’t matter that (from our point of view) the photon takes many years to get from the star to us. The emission event takes place at some time t and the absorption event (at our eye) takes place at t + 100,000 years or whatever.”
    I can agree with everything you say here. But I still bump into the ‘waiting on actualization’ problem.

    “The atom goes about its business, not caring that the photon it emitted is taking a long time to reach its absorber.”
    Yes. Looking at RTI that way gets rid of the ‘waiting on actualization’ problem and the resulting causal bottleneck. I believe it’s got to be that way RTI works if it is to match reality. That sure sounds like what I proposed in my “third question” post:

    Emitter creates OW (where this is kind of like laying a quantum egg containing a photon). The creation of the OW necessarily implies that one or more absorbers respond with CWs creating incipient transactions. The emitter is now free to transition to ground state and get on with other business. Like you say (in anthropomorphic terms): the emitter doesn’t care how long it takes before that OW actualizes a transaction with one of the responding CWs allowing that OW to deliver its photon to the absorber. The emitter doesn’t care because RTI tells it that actualization of an OW is inevitable. The absorption event in the NOW of the absorber creates a spacetime interval by extruding the past to the origin of the OW creation (an entry in the causet). The emitter may have long since moved on producing other entries in the causet that structures spacetime. The temporal references matter because the causet structures spacetime with the past extruding from the existing NOW. The future doesn’t exist.

    “All the OW/CW negotiation leading up to the actualized transaction has already occurred behind the scened in ‘quantumland.’”
    I affirm that all the OW/CW negotiation leading up to actualized transactions occurs behind the scenes in quantum land. The tensed language and “already” doesn’t do any work for me that eliminates my need for the egg analogy.

  15. OK. So there is no ‘wait’ in any timelike sense for actualization of the transaction. This is all happening in quantumland. Re tensed language, it’s very hard to avoid, but I also don’t think it need imply time as in the spacetime index. It’s just a designation of causal order, just as one can say that a certain number comes ‘before’ another in a numerical series without dragging in temporal notions.
    The generation of OW and CW comes ‘before’ the actualization of a transaction in the causal order. I don’t see anything about the transactional process that would preclude the atom or the atomic electron from engaging in other processes as well (other than perhaps the idea that it can only participate in a single causal chain, but I don’t even know that that is a restriction) so I don’t see a causal bottleneck.

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