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Quantum Zeno Twilight Zone

November 25, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Quantum Zeno Effect

It is easy to show using standard theory that if a system starts in an eigenstate of some observable, and measurements are made of that observable N times a second, then, even if the state is not a stationary one, the probability that the system will be in the same state after, say, one second, tends to one as N tends to infinity; that is, that continual observations will prevent motion …

Alan Turing

“…an unstable particle, if observed continuously, will never decay. One can “freeze” the evolution of the system by measuring it frequently enough in its (known) initial state.” – Wiki

It’s so strange to me that in all of the incredibly exotic implications of quantum mechanics and relativity, including the obliteration of matter and time, the possibility that what is being measured is measurement itself is never considered. We would rather assume that we are telepathically controlling the outcome of subatomic events than imagine that perhaps the events we are witnessing are the atoms which compose the measuring instruments which are imitating, in their own language, our intention to witness and objectify.

Think of it like a mirror image of divination. If you have played at all with the I Ching or Tarot cards, you will find that whatever insights they might seem to provide about your situation, they seem to present an even more insightful mirror to your question itself. Unlike quantum mechanics, we can see that divination can be falsified. Or can it? Like any cold reading sham psychic, we can pull the wool over our own eyes and reinterpret any previous prophecy which turns out false and find that on another level it could seem true, or that we had to believe that false prophecy at the time in order for some more important thing to happen, etc.

There was a Twilight Zone where William Shatner is trapped by his own obsessive superstition, unable to leave the room because of a tabletop oracle’s innuendos.

Nick of Time, 11/18/1960

Shatner: “Does anything exciting ever happen around here?”

Mystic Seer: “It is quite possible”.

“Am I gonna be promoted, for Pete’s sake?” is Shatner’s second question.

“It has been decided in your favor” is the response from the card from the box underneath the bobble headed Old Nick.

His fiancee fondles his keychain with a rabbit’s foot and four leaf clover and as Shatner calls his office and validates the oracle’s prophecy, he falls into a compulsive dependency on the oracle’s increasingly menacing fortunes.

Superficially, this reads as a simplistic cautionary tale of confirmation bias and the perils of superstition, but if it were that simple, all ideas of luck and fate would little appeal in this post modern age. Instead, it seems that more than ever people openly express gratitude to divine providence for their ‘blessings’.

Shatner’s insistence on using the same machine at the same table reflects this kind of proprietary intimacy with the super-personal. Superstition, or over-personal sense-making is a kind of inflammation of the pattern recognition faculties on the top end, the executive end of the psyche. The surprising thing, however, and the thing which can throw us into a recursive paranoia or delusional optimism if we are not careful, is that our capacity to see and know is not completely separate from the fabric of events themselves. In the moment of divination, there is inherently a kernel the truth of that moment, and in subsequent moments, the narrowness of that truth is exposed, just as all conditional truths of any moment are eventually exposed in the infinity of the unconditional.

Serling: “Two people permanently enslaved by the tyranny of fear and superstition, facing the future with a kind of helpless dread. Two others facing the future with confidence, having escaped one of the darker places in The Twilight Zone*.”

What does this have to do with Quantum Mechanics?

If my conjecture is right, then photons and other particle/wave functions are not literally objects, in the same way that exchanging smiles is not a literal exchange of projectiles across space. The exchange of smiles is procedural-semantic. It is to see and imitate an expression of subjective feeling which cannot be meaningfully broken down. The contortion of facial muscles, baring of teeth, etc has some evolutionary roots, sure, yes it does. The activity of neurotransmitters, ion pumps, and contracting proteins in sequence from the brain to those muscle fibers also presents an impersonal mechanism, relative to us, which can be credited for producing the smiles – mirror neurons, oxytocin, dopamine, sex hormones also after puberty, all kinds of microscopic amazing that we would not care at all about if it did not theoretically explain something personal about ourselves.

The teeth baring and the synapse doping are the meta and root impersonal perspectives respectively. The former posits a behavioral cause built on stochastic extractions of accumulated chance (the opposite of Shatner’s Nick, which is driven by unfalsifiable retro-correspondence – overly tele teleology which projects a future based on an ungrounded relativism of the past) while the latter posits a deterministic cause built on inevitable consequences of static universal law (math and physics). In the chart below, I try to show how these levels form the top and bottom of only half of the picture – the Realism half. Occidental reasoning is objective and impersonal, squeezing all of consciousness and identity into a mosaic of digital permutations and Bayesian feedback loops.

The missing half of quantum mechanics is the Eastern half or Orientverse. In order for logic to exist, something has to make sense of it. There has to be some capacity for discernment to detect, compare detections, and cause changes based on those comparisons. There has to be choice. This isn’t some sentimental appeal for naive anthropocentrism, this is, in my understanding, an inescapable ontological axiom – *the* axiom beneath all axioms.

How to discern on our own level then, between superstition and coincidence? How can we know anything for sure if we are in some sense participating in the creation of our own reality. What the Quantum Zeno Effect really is, finally, is a clue to how participation itself drives significance in the identical way that motion drives mass. It ‘matters’ how much you do and how much you care – it is what makes things matter. We can’t help but wanting to matter, and that means wanting to participate in something that matters.

What matters is generally located on the Eastern, Multisense side of the chart: Peer involvement. Consciousness is that ego driven stream of thoughts and intentions – the means through which subconscious instincts must be conditioned by hand into significance. Significance is accessed through language and ideas, in memory and esteem. It’s that charismatic glow and undeniable glamor of substantial power. Something that matters, not just to my own mind, but to everyone. Whether they like it or hate it, significance cannot be ignored – literally. Significance is the personal experience of signal promiscuity, a contagious association factor which runs through our experience longitudinally, connecting the dots through our days, years, and lives. To signify is literally to arrest one’s attention. To reduce personal choice over one’s own interest is an invasion (often a welcome invasion) of sorts.

This is what the Zeno Effect is all about: The equivalence of attention, significance, and time.

Quantum anti-Zeno effect studies are interesting too.

“The essence of the quantum Zeno effect is that repeated interrogation if the system is still in the inital state tends to quench the system in this state as the frequency of interrogations grows. The reason for that is that the quantum evolution generated by the hermitian Hamiltonian is time reversible, and hence the probability p(t) of intial state occupancy behaves as p(t) ≃ 1 − (t/τ)² for short times t, with τ being the characteristic time scale. […] If we make N interrogations within the time T For this reason, the Zeno effect in decay processes is very hard to observe.”


Frequent observing if the Schördinger cat is alive, kills it faster. Such experiment requires “tuning” of atomic transition frequency, or the photon band gap edge within the range of, which can be for instance done using external static electromagnetic field and Zeeman, or Stark effect. Summarizing, we have shown that near threshold decay can be exploited to observe the quantum anti-Zeno effect. Typical near threshold decay processes are characterized by ultra short period of quadratic decay, followed by a long phase of non-exponential decay, with a very large rate at the begining, gradually slowing down in the course of the dynamics. Monitoring if the decaying system remains in the initial state, shifts the system back to the fast initial phase of the non-exponential decay. In effect,
more frequent measurement, cause faster decay.”

Not that the Zeno and Anti-Zeno effects do not contradict each other, although it can be confusing. It’s a bit like remembering a car crash, and seeing the car in your memory speeding ahead at 80mph forever. It is frozen at high speed. In the same way, when we look at something which gradually decays less and less, we can make it decay faster by interrogating it more often during it’s high rate of decay phase. At least I think that’s what they are saying here. In the other study it seems like maybe they are using random measurements to accelerate anti-Zeno, but I’m not sure. That could make sense too – shifting the burden of choice onto the receiving/interrogated instrument rather than the transmitting instrument. Either way, I still think it makes more sense to see the measurement of quantum as a complex interaction among instruments rather than literal particles – what is being transmitted is like a smile, not like separate thing-which-is-not-a-thing.


*Twilight Zone trivia – the name comes from the submarine exploration, the point at which the ocean is so deep that sunlight begins to be unable to penetrate it.

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