What it's like to vanish--QM and the nature of consciousness I’ve recently been thinking about the familiar Schrödinger’s Cat thought-experiment. Uncertainty at the quantum level essentially dictates that the rhetorical cat considered in the experiment ‘exists’ in a superposition of states. The cat, we are told, is both dead and alive, until the probability wave function collapses, which only happens when the system (in this case, the cat) is being observed. Common sense dictates, Schrödinger argues, reductio absurdum, that the cat could not simultaneously be both dead and alive; this criticism was leveled against the strict Copenhagen interpretation. Not everyone agrees that such a scenario is absurd. Still others argue the cat in the experiment is/was itself an observer. I’d like to take this last point into consideration. Suppose the cat in the experiment were conscious and self-aware at the time of the experiment. In other words, suppose the cat were itself an observer. If the experiment resulted in the cat’s being killed, there would be no observer other than the experimenters. The wave function could collapse only when the cat’s state was observed. However, according to quantum theory as I understand it (please point out any misinterpretations), the cat would exist in a superposition of states, neither truly dead nor truly alive up until that point. What must the cat experience in such a state? If reality is as observer-dependent as it appears to be, then perhaps observers, like photons, exist outside of space-time. As you achieve the speed of light (you can’t, unless you’re a photon) time stops. All points in time of your existence converge on a single point. I propose that like photons, points of consciousness can neither be destroyed nor created. Although their extension through time may be finite, they occupy the same region of space/time in perpetuity. Assuming this were the case, for a moment, what would happen when we died? Surely we wouldn’t simply vanish? There’s nothing that it’s like to vanish. We aren’t capable of experiencing something that can‘t be experienced--but we are capable of experiencing our lives in linear time; in fact, we are more or less by our very nature ‘experiencing things’ (in the Cartesian sense of ‘thinking things.’) We are because we experience ourselves being, to put it crudely. Because conscious experience has a particular extension in time--for example, I am writing this sentence at 10:58 PM on April 17, 2003 and no matter what happens to me in the future, I will always have been (be?) writing this sentence at or around that time--and consciousness is bound to the linear perception of time, doesn’t it then stand to reason that if we ever existed in time as observers, we could only observe (experience) those portions of time in which we existed as observers? It seems almost tautological, but it conceals an intriguing possibility. Perhaps we are reliving--or more accurately, living for the first time--a single-experience of consciousness, throughout eternity. This is in fact Nietzsche’s theory of Eternal Recurrence, interpreted in light of developments in quantum theory.