What is the Nature of Reality?

I am 68 years old, nearing 69 and I have been retired since 2010. Therefore I have no job to lose by writing stuff that you might think could get me committed. And also I don’t have that many years ahead of me to leave this subject dormant for much longer. So here’s a couple of the weirdest observations from my life that might help someone with far greater intelligence than me, piece together what the Nature of Reality is.

The first extremely odd experience was from when I was working as a Research Scientist at the Philips Research Laboratories, Redhill, Surrey. I had just spent weeks putting together a pretty complex piece of measuring kit, inside a screened room, in order to measure the energy levels of deep-levels in Silicon. Now before you turn off it doesn’t really matter what that all means, it just means I am doing measurements on Silicon at very low temperatures and I look at the rate at which impurities in Silicon release electrons (or holes) as a function of temperature. So I had built the kit – but I actually knew nothing about the results I was due to get. I had not read any papers by other people who had done exactly the same thing, so I went about collecting the data not really knowing what I was doing. So I spent a couple of hours collecting the data, plotted it out – AND – the result was complete rubbish. The data points were all over the place and made no sense. I went off to lunch. Before returning to the experiment I went to the library and read up on what I should be expecting. You can see what’s coming a mile away can’t you? When I returned to the experiment and retook the data I of course got the expected curve from which it was a simple matter to extract the impurity’s energy-level. That’s exactly what happened – I’m saying no more 🙂

The second weird experience is even more way out and might have something to say about “the observer” in Quantum Mechanics.

I had been married to my wife for a good number of years, and she had begun to suspect there was something a little odd about how I observed (or rather didn’t observe) the World. As a Scientist, I am as Clouseau said “Trained to observe” – but actually that’s a bit of a joke where I am concerned. So what my wife did during the course of a morning, was to completely change what she was wearing to see if I would notice. Of course I didn’t notice. But when she’d done about the 4th change of clothes she was getting a bit fed up and said “Don’t you notice anything different?” That was enough to kick in some dormant part of my brain and although I didn’t actually SEE it I said, “You have been changing your clothes to see if I would notice”. So that gives you the background to an even more weird case of no observation.

It was my 50th Birthday and annoyingly I had to go into my University spin-off company that morning (I hate doing anything on my Birthday). My secretary Jilly was already in and she got up to make me a cup of tea which was the usual morning ritual. I walked across to my office and sat down and turned on the computer. At this point Jilly came wandering across without the tea and that was the trigger this time. Like something out of the Star Trek transporter, suddenly all these cards and decorations appeared out of nowhere in my office. Jilly stood at the door and said – “You didn’t see them did you?”, I said “Of course I did (laughing)” – She was not to be so easily fobbed off “No you didn’t she said” – and walked off to get the tea.

What I hadn’t known about all this was that Jilly had phoned up my wife earlier in the week to see if it would be o.k. to decorate my office. My wife had told her that it would be fine, but that I probably wouldn’t even notice. So Jilly had be forwarned which was a pretty dirty trick. However, that’s what happened.

So what has this got to do with Reality? In Quantum Mechanics a lot of weight is placed on “the Observer”. So what if, as in my case, the Observer doesn’t actually observe (the event). Did the event happen, or didn’t it. The event may not have happened as far as I was concerned – but does that mean that the event didn’t occur at all?

So what do I think happened in this very weird case? It felt like a Schrodinger’s Cat situation, where the cat is both dead AND alive until it is observed. The way all the cards and decorations appearing shimmering into existence was like the trigger (Jilly) had kicked something off in my Mind which in turn collapsed the wavefuntion of the cards and decorations. Up until that point (of the trigger) the cards and decorations were in a superposition state – they were both there – and not there – and it was only with the collapse of the wavefuntion (caused by me, the observer) that they appeared to be there.

As I said – if you are a better Physicist than me – this will probably give you the clue as to what the Nature of Reality is in terms of Quantum Mechanics. I don’t actually have the answer myself.



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2 Responses to What is the Nature of Reality?

  1. Fred Nurk says:

    Excellent little piece… A few additional thoughts for you. Your brain is a glutinous lump sitting in the dark and denied any direct sensory input. It is supplied data via eyes and the other senses that through chemical / electrical processes report on what is going on. The presence of dreams and thoughts etc tells us that it can very happily produce its own reality without those inputs. When our internal reality drifts too far away from a shared ‘reality’ it gets labeled a hallucination. I wonder if the sudden awareness of the ‘cards’ was simply your brain having been economical on the update of reality until provoked by your wife. I have long suspected our contact with ‘reality’ is far more ephemeral and less reliable than we assume. Recently I read the works of Anil Seth who is a very serious neuroscientist who you may find useful. Last year he did an excellent lecture at the Royal Institution prior to his book launch which may give you a useful insight. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXcH26M7PQM Here is the link to the lecture on you tube.

  2. Greg Parker says:

    Hi Fred – Thank you for your most useful observations. I am looking forward to looking at the lecture 🙂

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