# On the quantum mechanical nature of time flow

I am going to write below some ideas that I have been playing with lately. I am writing this question to ask for (1) your opinions and insights, specially comments on where my logic/intuition may be flawed, and (2) links/references if part/all of my ideas have already been thought of and studied in the past. I am a physicist and I am very ignorant of the philosophy literature out there. Thank you in advance!

The way we experience time flow is very intriguing. In the timeline of the Universe, it feels as though we are forever confined to an infinitesimal instant we call present, which is getting constantly updated. It is this updating that I am curious about. Let me use the word future for the immediate infinitesimal future instant. This future is like an array of infinite possibilities, out of which only one will collapse into the present instant. I use the word collapse because this picture seems consistent with the famous quantum mechanical collapse. My definition of future can be described as a quantum mechanical wavefunction: a superposition of an infinite array of classical states the Universe can be in, each with a different probability of occuring, which then collapses into the present, having one of those possibilities realise itself. Time flow feels continous because the collapse of the different futures could be happening at a frequency of one per, say, Planck time.

I would like to mention some consequences of the above:

(a) Existence of "God", or simulator. A quantum mechanical wavefunction cannot be collapsed from within the quantum system it describes. It needs an external classical system to interact with it for the collapse to occur. This is where my theory can converge to simulation theory. If the wavefunction represents the future state of the whole Universe (I cannot think of any other place or scale where it would be more reasonable to set the quantum-classical limit), then we need something external to our Universe to collapse it. That external agent could be the "being" (let me call it God) running the simulation of our Universe. In the computer where our Universe is being run there would need to be a generator of quantum mechanical wavefunctions, so that it can produce a "continous" set of collapses into the classical present we experience.

(b) No destiny. Another interesting consequence is that it rules out determinism, and the idea of destiny. Quantum mechanical systems are "undetermined" by nature. Their state is "undefined" (one can only speak about probabilities), and it is only after the wavefunction is collapsed that the system acquires a defined (so-called classical) state.

(c) No free will. My definition of free-will is the sense/illusion we conscious beings experience of having a say, or active role, in the collapsing of the future into the present. In my theory the collapse is produced by God so free-will cannot exist (remember we are just confined to experiencing the present - the result from the collapses). Free-will being an illusion is consistent with the view of some thinkers such as Sam Harris (*). There is however a difference between Sam Harris' thinking and mine. He has a deterministic view of the future. He argues that if we could rewind the Universe to an instant ago, there is no way things could have played out differently (consistent with free-will being a false illusion). My theory disagrees due to the "undeterminedness" of quantum mechanics, as stated in the paragraph above.

(*) Sam Harris invites people to follow this experiment: try remembering something, the first memory that pops into your mind. Could you have predicted you would remember that thing/event in particular? I think we can all agree that it feels like there is no sense of agency in that choice. He argues the same thing happens with thoughts. We usually identify ourselves with our thoughts, that little voice inside our head. However, he argues you cannot predict what you are going to think next. He says this becomes obvious in meditation, where you let your mind loose and thoughts just flow, coming and going in a way that makes you realise it is not you choosing to think any of the thoughts. He argues our experience is consistent with a genie on the other side of the room wirelessly sending all your thoughts into your head.

EDIT

I have come up with some objections to my theory.

(1) Quantum nesting. The Universe's wavefunction collapses but the subatomic world can remain in their individual quantum states (otherwise we would have never discovered quantum mechanics). That effectively means we need to have a quantum system within a larger quantum system, AND the collapse of the second not affect the first. I am not sure that is physically possible.

(2) Computational (un)feasibility. The Universe's wavefunction cannot be a superposition of an infinite number of classical states because it would be computationally impossible. So we would need a finite number of states to be considered. The question arises: how would the finite set of states be "selected"? An obvious answer could be eliminating those states whose probability is exactly 0. A challenging counterexample would be an event like the collapse of an electron's wavefunction which we produce in a lab, because there should be a continous number of positions the electron can be measured in at the next timestep. This would however be solved if we assume that space is discrete (i.e. there is nothing smaller than the Planck scale).

(3) Wavefunction generator. There is an obvious question related to the simulation theory which I have not yet put much thinking into: how does the wavefunction generator work? For example, do results from previous iterations (collapses) affect the generation of a new wavefunction?

• Almost seems like God of the gaps. What we can’t explain scientifically we fill with God. It could be correct, but so could any partial theory of some scientific realism + “divine”. Jan 2, 2022 at 18:14
• Your question includes so many misconceptions about quantum mechanics, computation and time that the explanations of how to fix them would fill a book. Fortunately that book already exists: it's called "The Fabric of Reality" by David Deutsch. Jan 5, 2022 at 11:57

Yes! See presentism vs eternalism.

I would be careful with your notion of probabilities. It may be difficult to distinguish whether object X had a quality all along or it "gained" this quality on a specific instance.

Further points of contention:

• Planck time (smallest amount of time our concept of time is applicable to, NOT the smallest unit of time [see atomism]) suggests our experience of time is based on our general physical environment.
• This physical environment which creates our consciousness is biology, or life. This seems to me as a self-demarcating system striving to remain and increase its complexity. It is not obvious to me, in which direction the causality lays here. Wouldn't it make sense we experience time the way we do, due to the fact we are trying to make our species survive? Our 1-dimensional model of time says little about time in itself in my experience. Rather, it says a lot how we can use "time" to our advantage.
• Sorry, it's probably me but I just cannot really find the relationship between most of what you wrote and my question. Let me go piece by piece so I can understand better the points you are trying to make. Jan 4, 2022 at 0:46
• I would be careful with your notion of probabilities. It may be difficult to distinguish whether object X had a quality all along or it "gained" this quality on a specific instance. What we call a "classical" system (for example an object in the macroscopic world) has well-defined qualities because the probability distribution for the different possible microstates of the system is shaped like a delta-function. So, even though the future is undetermined (as described by the Universe's w.f.) for such systems, they stay largely the same across time. I am not sure this addresses what you meant. Jan 4, 2022 at 0:51
• With regards to your last bulletpoint, what do you mean by It is not obvious to me, in which direction the causality lays here? My point is that yes, consciousness is real (because we do experience things unequivocally), but free-will is an illusion. Free-will for me is an illusion which arises from the consciouss experience of the collapse of the future into the present. It is an illusion because we don't really have any influence over such collapse. If we could decode signals from your brain in real-time, we would know what you are going to think next before you actually think it. Jan 4, 2022 at 0:58

The OP is a profound speculation based upon several assumptions, then it cannot be considered science or philosophy. This answer is intended only to reveal some of those assumptions.

A) Existence of "God", or simulator. A quantum mechanical wavefunction cannot be collapsed from within the quantum system it describes. It needs an external classical system to interact with it for the collapse to occur.

Not precisely, AFAIK. In this case, you are presenting the world as the collapsing result between God's perception of something else (a quantum? - scientific realist? - metaphysical reality?). A wavefunction describes the subjective behavioral perception of an object (observed) for a subject (observed), where the subject is everyone, i.e. you. If you assume that the world is a simulation, you are assuming that you know God's perception. Otherwise, reality collapses only in front of you, because you can't know what do others experience, you can't know if I'm a human or a robot answering questions. The simulation theory is scientifically as valid as the movie Matrix.

(b) No destiny. Another interesting consequence is that it rules out determinism, and the idea of destiny.

That is a biased non-determinist position. Determinism has also strong arguments, you should check them. Anyway, there seems to be no new ideas on the text. Such discussion is old and inconclusive in philosophy.

(c) No free will.

Idem.

(1) Quantum nesting. The Universe's wavefunction collapses but the subatomic world can remain in their individual quantum states (otherwise we would have never discovered quantum mechanics). That effectively means we need to have a quantum system within a larger quantum system, AND the collapse of the second not affect the first. I am not sure that is physically possible.

This has no sense. The definition of a quantum system (prerequisite for nesting) is a current issue in QM, because it is viced with human subjectivities, which leads to a lot of speculation, including quantum facial wrinkle creams. There's a lot of analytical information (facts allowing deductive results from the formalism), but few synthetic information (facts allowing inductive conclusions applicable to our experience) in QM. That's why it is said that if you think you understand QM, you don't: you just can't, QM goes against human intuition, understanding it is illusive, you can only validate what mathematics propose. "Quantum nesting" is precisely assuming an understanding that exceeds the formalism, applying the rules of our perception, like size, space, distance, movement (therefore time), system, etc. further to what is perceived, to what is not perceived (a system is a 100% subjective idea, out there, there is something we can't know, which has not necessarily the shape of a system; see also Kant's noumenon).

(2) Computational (un)feasibility. The Universe's wavefunction cannot be a superposition of an infinite number of classical states because it would be computationally impossible.

Here, you assume you know the limitations of God's computational resources.

Anyway, see Computationalism.

(3) Wavefunction generator. There is an obvious question related to the simulation theory which I have not yet put much thinking into: how does the wavefunction generator work? For example, do results from previous iterations (collapses) affect the generation of a new wavefunction?

Again, you are assuming God's position, so you can logically conclude whatever, for example, the hypothesis of a "waveform generator" (with all due respect, this idea is curious... Is its mechanism based on QM, to determine how should QM must behave?).

It seems like you want to combine the worst parts of the Copenhagen and the von Neumann–Wigner (minds collapse wavefunctions) and Bohmian (universe is 'really' classical) interpretations. You haven't stated a new perspective, only combined these, the latter two of which are widely considered discredited (even Bohm said he was only trying to show a proof of principle, not a workable theory).

You apparently just accept the quantum coherence limit without asking or explaining why it is where it is. Also, how are you accounting for entanglement?

Consciousness evolved from matter, so why would it have accrued the special powers you speak of? God is conjecture, and not a well formed one, see Sean Carroll's talk: God Is Not Good Theory.

"This future is like an array of infinite possibilities, out of which only one will collapse into the present instant."

The Many Worlds interpretation, reckoned by Tegmark's surveys of professional physicists, is the most popular solution to the measurement problem, and there all the outcomes happen, there is no collapse. It can be argued, eg by Sean Carroll, that this is what the mathematics says and the other interpretations require what Occam would call 'multiplying entities beyond necessity'.

Your picture of determinism of the past but randomness of the future is the growing block universe. You describe many quantum possibilities, and random choosing between them. But bear in mind although the sets of possibilities are large, you are still not talking about a truly random universe, only a random walk through a fixed phase space.