Return to QM. Austin seminar. David Deutsch (1977).

Physics, for Everett, existed in a parallel world far from his business ventures. However, in the spring of 1977 he received and accepted an invitation from DeWitt and Wheeler to participate in their seminar on human consciousness and the problem of a computer's "consciousness" at the University of Texas in Austin [19, page 8]. Everett bought half a dozen copies of the anthology of 1973 from Princeton University Press [120], put them and his family in an automobile, and set off for Texas. (His son Mark refutes a widespread [121, 122] version that they traveled in a Cadillac. [123]; Mr. Caldwell writes that it was a "long black 1964 Lincoln Continental" [1a], which is America's other luxury sedan.) He also took with him a copy of the just-published book by G. Pugh, The Biological Origin of Human Values [124], in which a chapter is devoted to Everett's self-learning Bayesian Machine [118]. In May he and his family rolled into Austin with flair. There he met DeWitt for the first (and, in fact, the only [125]) time and found him to be in all respects a delightful gentleman [88]. Everett, a chain smoker, was given a privilege rarely if ever granted to anyone else, to smoke in a University auditorium [121].

Half of Everett's four-hour seminar was devoted to the book by Pugh [66], which may have been relevant to a question Wheeler had been pondering in Texas: Does human consciousness somehow play a critical role in determining the laws of physics (Wheeler's "participatory universe")? Everett did not agree with Wheeler's views on this subject [126]. Wheeler, in his turn, was very ambivalent about Everett's views. Some weeks later, at the Misners, Wheeler told Everett that he mostly believed his interpretation but reserved Tuesdays once a month to disbelieve it. In fact, his disbelief was probably more pronounced than that. Several months later, Wheeler asked that the theory be referred to as that by "Everett-and-no-more-Wheeler" [127]. As Wheeler made clear in a later letter sent to P. Benioff, he wanted to dissociate himself from Everett's theory. In the Benioff letter, he states firmly that the theory was entirely conceived by Everett, and adds, "Though I have difficulty subscribing to it today, I still feel it is one of the most important contributions made to quantum mechanics in recent decades and feel the credit for it should go where credit is due" [128].

During lunch in a beer-garden restaurant that the graduate students liked to frequent, DeWitt arranged for Wheeler's graduate student David Deutsch to sit next to Everett. (In terms of research interest, Deutsch was, in effect, DeWitt's student as well.) Deutsch was interested to know what defines the Hilbert space basis with respect to which one defines "universes," in the general case (not just for perfect measurements, where Deutsch considered the answer obvious). Everett said it was the structure of the system itself. Deutsch asked: Which aspect of the structure, the state itself, the Hamiltonian, or what? Everett answered the Hamiltonian, but he didn't think that this was an important issue. Their conversation proceeded all through lunch, and Deutsch stresses that (contrary to what has been stated by historians) Everett did not prefer the term "relative states," being, on the contrary, extremely enthusiastic about "many universes" and being very stalwart as well as subtle in its defense. Everett, for his part, was pleased by the meeting with "young Britishers" (apparently including Deutsch) [54].

Deutsch remembered Everett as very impressive person—full of nervous energy, highly-strung, a chain-smoker, very much in tune with the issues of the interpretation of quantum mechanics, unusual for one having left academic life many years before.

Everett was the star of the seminar. Both before and after it he was enclosed in a crowd of graduate and postdoctoral students [129]. Other participants have preserved similar memories [121]. Everett himself was buoyed up by the encounters because he believed that one-on-one conversation is so superior to written communications for exchanging ideas [54].

In an answer to historian B. Harvey [53], written some weeks later, Everett says that he certainly approves of the way DeWitt presented his [Everett's] theory (and it is in line with Deutsch's story), but adds that he does not follow the current literature on quantum mechanics and would be grateful for being supplied with references or reprints in this field. [88] (One has to assume that Everett meant only that he had not been concentrating on quantum-mechanics research. He could hardly have been the star of the Texas seminar or so greatly impressed Deutsch if he had not been pretty much up to date.)

Later in May, when the Misners, celebrating their wedding anniversary, visited the Everetts, someone had the happy idea of recording on tape their recollections of their years in Princeton, accompanied by good wine and Mark's drum-set rhythms [19]. (The noise of the drums occasionally interfered with speech, so that in the tape transcript there are lacunae. It nevertheless remains a most valuable source, although the speakers' pasts keep going off in orthogonal directions—but what else is one to expect from the author of the many-worlds concept?)

In 1977 Everett faced not only glory, but also the duties of a suddenly venerated physicist. J.-M. Levy-LeBlond [127] and P. Benioff [130, 131] were among the first to send him their work for comments. Levy-LeBlond raised the question of terminology: If "there is but a single (quantum) world", he said, it is not right to speak about "many worlds", "branching," and such concepts, which revert to a classical picture of the world. Everett judged Levy-LeBlond's article [132] to be "one of the more meaningful on this subject." (In an earlier draft copy of his answer he wrote that Levy-LeBlond "grasped the general thought behind" the interpretation [133]) and, with an apology, said that although for three months he had been planning to write a large analysis, he failed because it always seemed too difficult to find enough time.)

In his letter to Levy-LeBlond, Everett explained that the term "many worlds" was not his, and said he "had washed my hands of the whole affair in 1956" [134]. (In his draft copy, where he gave the date as 1955, there still was the phrase: "Far be it from me to look a gift Boswellian writer in the mouth!" [133]) The first manuscript by Benioff Everett also diligently annotated with pencil [135], then tried but failed to reach Benioff by phone. Later, his enthusiasm ran low [54].


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