The Infinite Improbability Drive is a fictional machine from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that puts its users through highly improbable events.
The driving force behind our theoretical (and possible) Infinite Improbability Drive is Quantum Suicide.
Quantum Suicide is basically Schrodinger’s Cat, but with you as the cat and an extra-lethal machine-gun as the death mechanism.
The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III
Everett’s theory is as such:
Wavefunction never collapses. Ever.
Everything follows the Schrodinger equation. Always.
This means that when we open up the box to observe Schrodinger’s Cat, we aren’t collapsing the waveform. Instead, the universe splits into two separate universes, one with a dead cat and another with a living cat.
Just to be clear, Everett’s theory did not say much about parallel worlds. All of that is just an interpretation of his theory. However, this Many-Worlds Interpretation of his theory is unfortunately what people think his theory is all about, which made a lot of esteemed researchers turn their backs away without picking it up.
However, people are running out of shit to do so now his theory is finally being spread.
The constant splitting of universes means that there is essentially any and every parallel reality you could imagine due to the infinite monkey theorem.
Take this one step further, and if our consciousness only exists where we are alive, then we’d theoretically live forever and never die. Here’s where the real weirdness begins.
Max Tegmark’s Quantum Suicide Experiment
The following thought experiment tests whether or not Everett’s theory is correct, but you are literally betting your own life to figure it out.
All you need is a machine gun, a trigger mechanism, and a machine to measure a quark for whether it is up or down, which corresponds to the machine outputting a 1 or 0 with 50/50 chance of either output.
The output is then hooked up to a trigger that controls the machine-gun.
If the machine outputs a one the gun will fire. If it outputs a zero you will hear a very loud click, but nothing will happen.
The trigger mechanism doesn’t really matter as long as the gap of time between the measurement and the firing of the gun is below human perception.
- The measuring machine must be quantum so that you enter superposition and become alive and dead. Possible methods include firing protons at a silver screen to see which ones pass or the use of a Stern-Gerlach machine.
- Death must be faster than human perception. The killing mechanism must be flawless and kill with 100% certainty.
Your creation complete, you aim the machine at a wall and let it run. Surely enough, it fires at a random intervals. Bang-click-click-bang-click-bang…
The next part of the experiment is the part that requires you to be very dedicated.
You stick your head in front of the gun.
If Everett is wrong then it’ll take a few seconds for you to end up on the floor in a pile of blood.
However, if Everett is right then you’ll hear the random firing patterns of the machine gun suddenly change to click-click-click-click-click…
How Quantum Suicide Works
The realities where we die are unperceivable because we’re dead before we know it. Thus, the only copy of us that we can perceive is the reality where we live. We never see all of the other dead versions of ourselves. This means there’s a 100% chance of us ‘surviving.’
Sit in front of the gun for a whole minute and your chances of surviving decreases exponentially at 50% each second. We end up splicing reality into at least 120 new branches, half of which are ones where we survive for a little while, but the possibility to achieve the only one where you live after the whole minute is 1 out of 2^60.
If you wanted to convince all your friends to believe you, hooking up the quantum trigger to a massive bomb or a chain of machine-guns would be possible, but you probably wouldn’t be friends afterwards.
The only way to convince everyone that quantum suicide works (if it works) is to hook up the quantum trigger to a solar system-destroying machine.
There are also theories that the Large Hadron Collider works as a collective quantum suicide experiment where the killing mechanism is the creation of a man-made black hole, which would be capable of the aforementioned solar system-destruction required for our dream quantum suicide experiment.
The only problem is the fact that the LHC won’t make a black hole. I mean, it might make mini black holes, but those aren’t a big deal because they decay really, really fast and mini black holes are a natural thing that have been around for billions of years due to the fact that Earth is constantly bombarded wtih cosmic rays more powerful than anything in the LHC.
There are plenty of evidence-filled rebuttals that both sides could throw at each other, so I’ll just end this right here before somebody sends me a well-crafted email about something I don’t care about.
Why Isn’t Anyone Else Immortal?
Well, they theoretically are.
To us that doesn’t seem to be true, but we’re the external observers stuck in our current reality.
If somebody else did the Quantum Machine-Gun experiment they would only experience the reality where they survive. However, we would most likely be in a reality where that person dies.
Breaking Heisenburg’s Uncertainty Principle
Since most of you were probably too lazy to click on the hyperlink at the very top of this post I’ll need to do a quick overview of a few things to make sure none of you flame me.
Heisenburg’s Uncertainty Principle says that when we observe quantum particles we change them, and we can’t tell what happens to them or what state they were in to begin with.
A good analogy is throwing a yoga ball at something on a table to figure out how far away it is via the ball’s bounce, trajectory, return time, etc.
However, the yoga ball will inevitably knock over a few things before bouncing back. After we observe what’s on the table it will have changed, and we don’t know what it was like before we observed, either.
Everett says that this isn’t true. Instead, the world running on the Schrodinger equation just splits for every possibility rather than changing every time something is observed, which effectively puts everything we thought about quantum mechanics and freedom on its head, but it heavily reduces the size of your physics textbook because all that stuff about waveform and probability is thrown out the window, too.
Coherent superposition? Bah, decohesion is more exciting.
Don’t Actually Do This
While this is a great experiment and all, the easier non-lethal way to do this (but without all of the dramatic stuff) is to live. If after many, many extremely improbable events you become the only human on Earth, then the riddle is solved.
However, if you die, then Everett is wrong.
Professor Mir Faizal: “Normally, when people think of the multiverse, they think of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, where every possibility is actualised. This cannot be tested and so it is philosophy and not science.”
Bet you didn’t see this one coming, Mir.
If your quantum suicide setup was done correctly with a 100% flawless killing mechanism, then there’ll be a limit on how long the experiment can run before a highly improbably event interferes with the experiment, such as:
- Power outage.
- Biological warfare wipes out half the planet.
- Supermassive volcanic eruption blows everything up.
- Alien invasion.
- Solar flare hits Earth
- Ninety atomic bombs detonate worldwide and force humanity to live in underground vaults filled with creatures from Fallout 4.
- Earth-sized asteroid impacts Earth.
- Moon-sized asteroid impacts the Moon and the fragments impact Earth.
- Mars-sized asteroid impacts Mars and the fragments impact the Moon and the fragments impact the Earth.
- Distant alien Kerr black hole power plant blows up, sending a powerful laser beam that wipes out Earth in three seconds.
- Deterministic random-number generators fail worldwide and stock market systems crash, resulting in a The Purge-esque massacre ran by angry investors switching gears to run an international cheap hitman-for-hire business to regain lost capital.
- The people running our computer simulation do a reboot to stop your experiment.
As of now we still don’t know how to theoretically control this theoretical Infinite Improbability Drive as our machine would probably be destroyed in a string of highly improbable events every time we tried to use it.
Imagine being able to wish anything and have it come true.
Simple IID: Quantum Measurement > Signal Interpreter > Trigger + Killing Mechanism
If we could control our Infinite Improbability Drive we would be able to control reality. The problem is we’d need to have a way to calculating and sensing whether or not we “landed” in our desired reality before we could perceive anything at all.
An obvious fix for this is to be unconscious before the experiment starts. Thus giving our Infinite Improbability Drive enough time to calculate if something highly improbable led to our desired reality.
Complex IID (Ars Magna): Quantum Measurement > Signal Interpreter + Quantum Computer that calculates the future > Trigger + Killing Mechanism
With current technology we can create a simple Infinite Improbability Drive, which would only cause highly improbable events to happen.
A complex Infinite Improbability Drive would be able to do all of that universe-bending magic. But for now I’ll just settle for my boring mundane life and play the waiting game.
Me: Huh? Wait, I think someone’s at my door…
Me: Yes? Who is it?
Me: *Looks out window* Oh shit, it’s the solipsists! Wait, is that an police car in the back?
Marshall Theo: Hello, I’m Marshall Theo Retical. I’m here to inform you that you landed on the suicide watchlist lol.
Me: God damnit, should I include a disclaimer to protect myself?
Marshall Theo: Um sure.
Disclaimer: Do not build a machine that kills/maims/harms/obliterates you, a group of people, or the solar system; even if it’s just for shits and giggles.