Many-Worlds Theory (Multiverse)

Many-worlds is a postulate of quantum mechanics that asserts the objective reality of the universal wavefunction, but denies the reality of wavefunction collapse, which implies that all possible alternative histories and futures are real —each representing an actual “world” (or “universe”). It is also referred to as MWI, the relative state formulation, the Everett interpretation, the theory of the universal wavefunction, many-universes interpretation, or just many worlds.

The original relative state formulation is due to Hugh Everett in 1957.[2][3] Later, this formulation was popularized and renamed many-worlds by Bryce Seligman DeWitt in the 1960s and ’70s.[1][4][5][6]

Many-worlds claims to reconcile how we can perceive non-deterministic events, such as the random decay of a radioactive atom, with the deterministic equations of quantum physics. Prior to many-worlds, reality had been viewed as a single unfolding history. Many-worlds, rather, views reality as a many-branched tree, wherein every possible quantum outcome is realised.

In many-worlds, the subjective appearance of wavefunction collapse is explained by the mechanism of quantum decoherence. By decoherence, many-worlds claims to resolve all of the correlation paradoxes of quantum theory, such as the EPR paradox[7][8] and Schrödinger’s cat,[1] since every possible outcome of every event defines or exists in its own “history” or “world”. In layman’s terms, there is a very large—perhaps infinite[9]—number of universes, and everything that could possibly have happened in our past, but didn’t, has occurred in the past of some other universe or universes.

The decoherence approach to interpreting quantum theory has been further explored and developed[10][11][12] becoming quite popular, taken as a class overall. MWI is one of many Multiverse hypotheses in physics and philosophy. It is currently considered a mainstream interpretation along with the other decoherence interpretations and the Copenhagen interpretation.


Although several versions of many-worlds have been proposed since Hugh Everett‘s original work,[3] they all contain one key idea: the equations of physics that model the time evolution of systems without embedded observers are sufficient for modelling systems which do contain observers; in particular there is no observation-triggered wave function collapse which the Copenhagen interpretation proposes. Provided the theory is linear with respect to the wavefunction, the exact form of the quantum dynamics modelled, be it the non-relativistic Schrödinger equation, relativistic quantum field theory or some form of quantum gravity or string theory, does not alter the validity of MWI since MWI is a metatheory applicable to all linear quantum theories, and there is no experimental evidence for any non-linearity of the wavefunction in physics.[13][14] MWI’s main conclusion is that the universe (or multiverse in this context) is composed of a quantum superposition of very many, possibly even non-denumerably infinitely[9] many, increasingly divergent, non-communicating parallel universes or quantum worlds.[6]

The idea of MWI originated in Everett’s Princeton Ph.D. thesis “The Theory of the Universal Wavefunction“,[6] developed under his thesis advisor John Archibald Wheeler, a shorter summary of which was published in 1957 entitled “Relative State Formulation of Quantum Mechanics” (Wheeler contributed the title “relative state”;[15] Everett originally called his approach the “Correlation Interpretation”, where “correlation” refers to quantum entanglement). The phrase “many-worlds” is due to Bryce DeWitt,[6] who was responsible for the wider popularisation of Everett’s theory, which had been largely ignored for the first decade after publication. DeWitt’s phrase “many-worlds” has become so much more popular than Everett’s “Universal Wavefunction” or Everett-Wheeler’s “Relative State Formulation” that many forget that this is only a difference of terminology; the content of both of Everett’s papers and DeWitt’s popular article is the same.

The many-worlds interpretation shares many similarities with later, other “post-Everett” interpretations of quantum mechanics which also use decoherence to explain the process of measurement or wavefunction collapse. MWI treats the other histories or worlds as real since it regards the universal wavefunction as the “basic physical entity”[16] or “the fundamental entity, obeying at all times a deterministic wave equation”.[17] The other decoherent interpretations, such as consistent histories, the Existential Interpretation etc., either regard the extra quantum worlds as metaphorical in some sense, or are agnostic about their reality; it is sometimes hard to distinguish between the different varieties. MWI is distinguished by two qualities: it assumes realism,[16][17] which it assigns to the wavefunction, and it has the minimal formal structure possible, rejecting any hidden variables, quantum potential, any form of a collapse postulate (i.e. Copenhagenism) or mental postulates (such as the many-minds interpretation makes).

Decoherent interpretations of many-worlds use einselection to explain how a small number of classical pointer states can emerge from the enormous Hilbert space of superpositions have been proposed by Wojciech H. Zurek. “Under scrutiny of the environment, only pointer states remain unchanged. Other states decohere into mixtures of stable pointer states that can persist, and, in this sense, exist: They are einselected.”[18] These ideas complement MWI and bring the interpretation in line with our perception of reality.

Many-worlds is often referred to as a theory, rather than just an interpretation, by those who propose that many-worlds can make testable predictions (such as David Deutsch) or is falsifiable (such as Everett) or by those who propose that all the other, non-MW interpretations, are inconsistent, illogical or unscientific in their handling of measurements; Hugh Everett argued that his formulation was a metatheory, since it made statements about other interpretations of quantum theory; that it was the “only completely coherent approach to explaining both the contents of quantum mechanics and the appearance of the world.”[19] Deutsch is dismissive that many-worlds is an “interpretation”, saying that calling it an interpretation “is like talking about dinosaurs as an interpretation of the fossil record.”[20]


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