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Quantum philosophy: 4 ways physics will challenge your reality

 


Quantum philosophy: 4 ways physics will challenge your reality.

Imagine opening the weekend paper and looking through puzzle pages for Sudoku. You spend your morning working through this logic puzzle, only to realize by the last few sections that there is no consistent way to eliminate it.

"I think you must have made a mistake". So you try again, this time start from the corner you cannot finish and work on another way. But then the same thing happens. You are down in the last few sections and find that there is no consistent solution.

According to quantum mechanics, working out the basic nature of reality is a bit like an impossible sudoku. No matter where we start from quantum theory, we always end up on a puzzle that forces us to rethink the way the world works fundamentally. (This is what makes quantum mechanics so fun.)

Let me take you on a brief tour through the eyes of a philosopher of the world according to quantum mechanics.

1: SPOOKY ACTION-AT-A-DISTANCE.

As far as we know, the speed of light (about 300 million meters per second) is the ultimate speed limit of the universe. Albert Einstein was famously influencing each other at the prospect of physical systems that could affect each other faster than a light signal.

In the 1940s Einstein called it "scary action-at-a-distance". When quantum mechanics first appeared to predict such creepy going-ons, he argued that the theory should not be finished yet, and some better theories would tell the true story.

We know that it is very unlikely that there is no better theory. And if we think the world is made up of well-defined, independent pieces of "stuff", then our world needs to be one where there is scary action-a-distance between these pieces of luggage.

2: LOSSENING OUR GRIP ON REALITY.

"What if the world is not made up of well-defined, independent pieces of 'stuff'?" I listen to you "Then we can escape this scary action?"

Yes we can do it. And many communities of quantum physics think this way. But it would be no consolation for Einstein.

Einstein had a long-running debate with his friend Niels Bohr, a Danish physicist, about the same question. Bohr argued that we really should abandon the idea of ​​defining the world's goods well, so that we can avoid spooky action at a distance. In Bohr's view, the world does not have definite qualities unless we are seeing it. When we were not looking, Bohr thought, as we know that the world is not really there.


But Einstein insisted that the world has to be created in some way whether we see it or not, otherwise we cannot talk to each other about the world, and so do science. But Einstein could do both a well-defined, independent world and no scary action-as-a-distance ... or could he? 

3: BACK TO THE FUTURE.

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The Bohr-Einstein debate is a fairly familiar fare in the history of quantum mechanics. Less familiar is the foggy corner of this quantum logic puzzle where we can defend both a well-defined, independent world and no spooky action. But we would need to be weird in other ways.

If an experiment in the laboratory to measure a quantum system could somehow affect how the system was before the measurement, Einstein could eat his cake and eat it too. This hypothesis is called "retrocociality", as the effects of experimentation must travel backwards in time.

If you think this is strange, you are not alone. This is not a very common approach in the quantum physics community, but it has its supporters. If you're faced with accepting a scary action-at-a-distance, or a world-as-we-don't-know-it when we don't show up, there don't seem to be such weird choices one after the other .

4: NO VIEWS FROM OLYMPUS.

Imagine Zeus climbing Mount Olympus and surveying the world. Imagine that he was able to see everything, and would be everywhere and all the time. Call it the "view of God" in the world. It is natural to think that there must be a way to the world, even if it can only be known by a sub-viewing God.

Recent research in quantum mechanics suggests that God's view of the world is impossible even in theory. In some strange quantum scenarios, various scientists can observe the system carefully in their labs and make full recordings of what they see - but when they come to compare notes, they will disagree with it. And in this case there can be no true fact as to who is right - even Zeus cannot know!

So the next time you encounter an impossible Sudoku, you are assured to rest in good company. The entire quantum physics community, and perhaps even Zeus himself, knows exactly how you feel.

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