No Reality!—Latest Quantum Weirdness

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Albert Einstein is often revered as a religious icon of our secular society, a genius rebel who came from nowhere to change the prevailing "scientific paradigm" using mathematics few can understand, and got away with it. An older and much brighter version of James Dean. What is much less widely known is that fairly early on in his career Einstein himself, much like John Kerry today, became "the man", the authority figure dogmatically imposing his older version of reality on a younger generation, despite the abundant empirical evidence in favor of the younger view.

I'm referring of course to Quantum Mechanics, which Einstein never accepted and which he spent a good forty years trying to refute without success. Einstein was a very bright guy, and he and two colleagues came up with an ingenious thought-experiment which did seem to refute it, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment. Unfortunately for the conventional dogma represented by Einstein, a version of the experiment was performed and Quantum Mechanics won out, with certain "classical" ideas like the "principle of locality" having to be thrown out the window. Variations on the experiment have been performed many times, confirming Quantum Mechanics every time, and the results (often termed "spooky action-at-a-distance") form the basis of the nascent field of Quantum Encryption among other things. There seems to be a very real sense in which everything in the universe is related to everything else, whether nearby in space-time or not. What that really means nobody knows exactly.

Still the idea that things are all somehow related doesn't seem to be too much to swallow on its own. However, Quantum Mechanics still seems to point strongly to the conclusion that, at bottom, reality is nothing but complete randomness, a conclusion which physicists in the Einstein tradition ("God doesn't play dice with the universe.") are extremely reluctant to believe. They have concocted an alternate theory, one in which there is a deep order beneath the quantum events after all, but an order which is not detected by experiments because it is in its essence hidden to experiment (ed: Isn't that called String Theory?). Such theories are called hidden-variables theories. A new experiment has just shown—yet again—that Quantum Mechanics appears to be right and its detractors wrong. Worse, not only must we throw out locality and the idea of an underlying order, but apparently even more cold water has been thrown on the eternal hope that reality exists when we're not looking at it.

Now physicists from Austria claim to have performed an experiment that rules out a broad class of hidden-variables theories that focus on realism -- giving the uneasy consequence that reality does not exist when we are not observing it (Nature 446 871).

20 comments:

bobalharb said...

Why in the world would realty want to exist when not being observed, just to 'hang out'? The Hindoos had this figured long ago, if there is matter, there is always mind. No matter, well, never mind.

Now, go away awhile.

Reliapundit said...

1 - if reality doesn't exist, then what were they testing and where were they testing it?

2 - recently is saw a jpeg online from nasa - i think - of a 3D xray-mapping of dark matter and dark energy - a map of where this "stuff" HAD to be in order to explain why there are vast gaps and globs of visible matter and visible energy throughout the visible universe - why it isn't evenly distributed and why it is expanding at an accelerating rate, (and not slowing down).

the image looked like an AWESOME amd complex lattice-work - one which indeed DID SEEM TO connect everything - and everywhere.

this may have been the first pic' of "the face of God" as the poem goes...

link to pic' here:

http://weblogsky.midasnetworks.com/
postimages/1084_topphoto.jpg

personally; i think there may be more than just one "universe" and that each may have different rules/laws - just as in mathematics there are some rules which only operate or a relevant to for some sets of numbers. or... how color-mixing "rules" are different for light and liquid color/pigment.

and perhaps dark energy/dark matter connects them all.

maybe "it" even consciously/willfully creates the universes and makes the rules.

and keeps track of each and everything in each universe - the way each telecom company keeps track of each cellphone. only bigger, better, faster.

like... as if it was tracked by a computer 15 billion years bigger/better/ and faster.

like.... maybe this IS God. maybe.

just saying...

Buddy Larsen said...

What do you get when you cross a physicist with a mafioso? An offer you can't understand.

Barry Dauphin said...

If reality doesn't exist, I blame Bush.

Reliapundit said...

DAUPHIN: brillIantly highlarryus!

Morgan said...

giving the uneasy consequence that reality does not exist when we are not observing it

Who is this "we"?

Buddy Larsen said...

A weakness of solipsism, for sure. What can validate it for you?

bobalharb said...

Now You See Me Now You Don't

loner said...

After all, what is reality anyway? Nothin' but a collective hunch. My space chums think reality was once a primitive method of crowd control that got out of hand.

—Jane Wagner, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

MHA? E-mail?

Buddy Larsen said...

Reality is for people who can't cope with

chuck said...

...fairly early on in his career...

Ummm, that's a bit of an exaggeration. Let's call 1905 the beginning of Einstein's "superman" phase and end it with the publication of his 1915 theory of gravity. That doesn't mean he became irrelevant at that point, he continued to make contributions up to nearly 1930. For instance, he recognized the significance of De Broglie's thesis, indeed, was responsible for its acceptance, and that work influenced Shrodinger's developement of wave mechanics. And Einstein was also part of that: Einstein and Schrodinger exchanged 13 letters in the years 1925-1926. Einstein also brought attention to the work of Bose (Bose-Einstein statistics), made contributions to non-equilibrium thermodynamics, and generalized parts of the old quantum mechanics (quantization via action-angle variables). So, really, his contributions didn't really peter out until nearly 1930, at which point the new quantum mechanics was in full swing and Dirac, Heisenberg, and the rest of that crowd were leading the parade. Einstein was then about fifty; I think he had a remarkably productive run.

Syl said...

Well, it all comes down to consciousness, doesn't it?

And I don't mean necessarily human. A bee 'sees' a flower and drinks the nectar.

If we (and bees) create physical reality by observing it--do we do the same with time?

Or, since there does seem to be this reality of a planet earth, someone else must be doing the 'creating' for us at the quantum level. So is God the ultimate consciousness? The one who creates all because he observes all--at the quantum level?

God observes quarks so we can observe sunsets!

The ultimate gift?

chuck said...

If we (and bees) create physical reality by observing it--do we do the same with time?

That bit is going away, I mean the special role of the observer in QM. It was just a way of drawing a boundary between the quantum domain and the classical domain, and now the same problem is solved by quantum decoherence. Quantum mechanics seems to be self-consistent and doesn't need a special role for the classical observer, but it took a while to understand how that worked and meanwhile folks made do with the observer interpretation.

Buddy Larsen said...

I think that's what Spinoza was saying--God is all in the mind, and that is itself the ultimate proof of His existence.

Seneca the Younger said...

reliapundit, the point is that it only exists *when* they're testing it. Not test, nothing to see.

personally; i think there may be more than just one "universe" and that each may have different rules/laws - just as in mathematics there are some rules which only operate or a relevant to for some sets of numbers. or... how color-mixing "rules" are different for light and liquid color/pigment.

Interestingly, some variants of m-theory say exactly this.

Buddy Larsen said...

Here's the wiki on the "Uncertainty Principle".

Buddy Larsen said...

heh heh, actually, that was an error. tho it was apropos the topic.

I meant link.

Barry Dauphin said...

Hey Buddy. Both links takes us back to the beginning of the comments. Is that some sort of head game you're playing with us ;>)

bobalharb said...

You dudes don't know it, but you've been 'vanished' while I've been away. Now I am back, and so are you--for awhile.

pai said...

It is possible that everyone is observing the same thing only relatively. So the feed back or the experience each gets while observing could be different but while discussing with each other they may imply that they have all observed the same experience.As such such there are as many worlds as there are observers but all these worlds are only relatively same but not the same.