VIII. What is it like to be an Electron?

We know what it feels like to be a human being with a mind’s eye and full-fledged consciousness, but what does it feel like to be an electron where the mind’s eye, and even basic memory, is unavailable? We’re not talking panpsychism here – this electron has nowhere near the experience of human consciousness. Have you ever seen the movie Memento? In this movie, the protagonist has a form of anterograde amnesia mentioned above. He cannot form new memories, but his long-term memories from a few years prior are intact. Every few hours or so, amnesia sets in and all recent memories are wiped clean, forgotten. After each episode, he suddenly finds himself in an unknown place with unfamiliar people. He does not know the names of people around him, or how he came to be there. Even if he had spent the last couple hours getting to know someone, it’s all suddenly gone. No recollection. Everyone is a stranger. Every place a new foreign place. This character begins using clever tricks in an attempt to remember – like having signs tattooed on his body, and leaving Polaroid photographs with notes on them in his pockets. These substitute for basic memories. Imagine how that would feel forgetting everything every few hours. Once that sets in, imagine how it would feel as your memory gets shorter and shorter. At the point where you can persist memories for only a few seconds you can forget about any deep analysis. You still have some memory, still have free will, still are able to make choices, but the ones that require any deep thought, or focus with your mind’s eye – forget about it. If you don’t understand something on first pass, forget about top-down reasoning to figure it out. Any self-awareness you had before is irrelevant now because you can never think about it. You have no time to recall any knowledge even if you could remember. Just utter madness! Forget about solving difficult math problems. Forget about working complex puzzles. Forget about having a deep conversation with someone, you will constantly lose your train of thought. Forget about contemplating consciousness, free will, or your role in the Cosmos!

Now imagine something like the electron – remember we are talking about maybe nanoseconds between measurements, between choices. Forced to make choices constantly, billions of times per second. And, every time your memory is erased. You have no memory of where you came from. You have no idea where you are going. No concentration. No focus. No mind’s eye, and so no free will. Choice is forced upon you by the outside world and all you can down is choose. But, you can still make choices. Not choices like you are used to, you cannot push buttons in your brain and move your limbs – it takes too long, takes too much focus, remember the speed of free will? You no longer have self-awareness, that too takes too long to think about. You are just all absolutely, insanely “in the moment”. Only aware of right now! Choices are thrown at you constantly, you have no time to think: Will you turn left, or right? Emit a photon or not? What direction are you facing? Absorb a photon or not? A billion choices per second, it’s so maddening! But, the 1st person perspective is there. And you can make choices. Correction, you have to make choices! And, you don’t get to decide what those choices are. Just in your face questions that you must answer now!

You will seek out stability. But, you will never see it coming. If you chance upon an atom to give you shelter, you can emit a photon and descend into a lower energy state of the atom. Excited states are unstable, you will quickly emit another photon and transition to a lower, more stable energy state. The ground state, if you get there, gives you a moment of peace. If you could dream, your dream would be to entangle with other particles, to become something greater than yourself, to escape the madness, to be able to remember, to have some idea of what’s coming next, to have freedom. But, you cannot.

If that all sounds crazy, maybe you are beginning to appreciate what life is. Life is persisting entanglement so that you can remember your last choice, so that you may know you made a decision, so that everything isn’t just a fleeting instant, so that there is depth to your existence, so that you may have freedom! Life is the Universe’s opportunity to escape the madness. A miracle made possible by quantum entanglement. Indeed, the essence of life is quantum entanglement. And, the engine by which it adapts and evolves is the intrinsic quantum computational power of the Universe! It is precious indeed!


Figure 20: Memento is a 2000 American neo-noir psychological thriller film directed and written by Christopher Nolan, and produced by Suzanne and Jennifer Todd. From Wikipedia.

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