Notes on Quantum Physics Relating to Doing Nothing

Werner Heisenberg, through the arcane calculations understood and accepted by physicists, demonstrated that the exact nature of a subatomic particle could never actually be measured.

Heisenberg’s formula showed that if the location of such a particle was identified, its momentum could not be measured. And if its momentum could be measured, its location could not be identified. By attempting to identify either aspect of the particle, the observer changed the particle relative to the aspect being measured. The means of measurement affects the particle. Because the subatomic world reflects the observer, there is no truly objective measurement, no “certainty.”

Heisenberg’s formula became known as “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.” Newtonian physics became useless on the subatomic level due to this uncertainty, the ambiguity of location and momentum.

The classic illustration of this uncertainty on a larger scale is the comic-mystery of Schrodinger’s cat. Schrodinger, a renowned physicist, proposed (hypothetically) placing a cat inside a box constructed so no observer could see or hear what was inside. The cat would be fed or killed based on the random effect of photons being split by a mirror and activating (randomly) the feed or kill mechanism inside the box. The question, asked Schrodinger, presumably petting his actual cat, which, we can imagine, was curled up in his lap purring contentedly, is: Can an observer of this box say with certainty whether the cat inside is alive or dead? And, if not, then what is the actual state of the cat? Is the cat both alive and dead?

Some over the years have suggested that the cat be asked these questions, but Einstein countered that line of response by replacing the cat with a stick of dynamite and an explode/don’t explode mechanism, thereby removing any inherent consciousness from the experiment.

Obviously there is no actual answer to the question. But, it should be just as obvious that it is only when we open the box and observe the state of the cat that we will actually know with certainty what has become of it. The observer then changes the alive/dead cat from a state of possibility to a state of actuality. The observer in some sense kills the cat, or brings it to life by opening the box.

With the observer there is a thing, but the thing includes the observer and does not exist without it. Without the observer, there is probability, a potential thing, but it is of unknown actuality, it is thingless.

The Heisenberg work and the uncertainty of measurement did not make Einstein a happy man. His world view was not compatible with the thinglessness that seemed to be developing in this outer edge of quantum physics. Einstein, along with physicists Podolsky and Rosen proposed a way to circumvent Heisenberg’s dilemma of not being able to measure the location and momentum of a particle at the same time.

Using the model of a particle that splits into two equal parts (A and B), Einstein and colleagues suggested that A could be measured in part by measuring B and utilizing the known correlations between A and B (and thus not affecting A by the measurement). All of this measuring was accomplished by the mathematical calculations that theoretical physicists do so well.

Einstein suggested that, “If, without in anyway disturbing a system we can predict with certainty . . . the value of a physical quantity, then there exists an element of physical reality. . . “

What was at stake was indeed the view of reality. Could anything actually be located, measured and described with certainty and objectivity? Was there an objective reality?

In 1965 John Bell presented a purely mathematical theorem that outlined a logical limitation to the influence that particles had on each other if the classic quantum physical description of reality was accurate. He showed, in what was to become known as Bell’s Theorem that the influence these separated particles had on each other was far greater then the classic quantum structure allowed.

Bell’s Theorem was later proved in experiments involving identically aligned photons sent through polarizers which sorted them. The results showed an influence (or communication) between the photons that contradicted Einstein and proved Bell. Einstein’s measurement of A by measuring B required a separate A and B. Bell showed that the idea of separability was wrong.

Bell’s Theorem and the later supporting experiments proved that there are influences between particles even at vast distances that cannot be explained by classic quantum physics. These influences are faster then the speed of light, that is, they are outside of what science recognizes as cause and effect.

Our world appears to be interconnected by influences which, in their instantaneousness, make it difficult to see any true and complete separation. Although the scientist is not yet allowed to say it, the mystic can: we are one.

The implications of Bell’s Theorem are not completely understood by physicists who are debating to this day what this tells us about the nature of reality.