Our Universe is Locally Unreal

Our universe is not locally real. You heard it right. Three Scientists John F. Clauser, Anton Zeilinger and Alain Aspect were given Noble Prize in 2022 for just demonstrating this. It reminds us of the legendary Richard Feynman who once said, ‘if you think that you have to understand quantum physics, you don’t understand it.’ In fact, Albert Einstein taught that quantum theory was complete. He invented the science of the gaps. He thought better science and instrumentation as well as clever scientists would complete quantum physics in the future. Today with development in technology we have begun to understand the mysteries of quantum physics a little better. Does that mean Einstein is right? Sadly not! The Nobel Prize is about the old findings. It only confirms that the interpretation championed by Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg was right.

Quantum physics has taught us that our universe is random. The quantum state of particles like electrons or protons can only be predicted as probability distribution because of their indeterministic nature. Theoretically, the probability distribution is called wave function which holds information like the position and momentum of a particle. Newton’s deterministic clockwork world broke down at the sub-atomic level. The sub-atomic particles do not have properties but have what Feynman tells us as tendencies. This is where it gets tricky. Our act of measuring changes the quantum state of the wave function and it collapses into a particle state giving us the phenomenon of wave/ particle duality. Albert Einstein demonstrated this wave/ particle duality through the experiment that we call the photo-electric effect and therefore is one of the founding fathers of quantum physics.

To come to what exactly we mean when we say that our universe is locally unreal. We have to contrast it with what we mean when we say that our universe or any object within it is locally real. What do we mean by something that is locally real? Well! We have to take a non-quantum mechanical view. Such a view tells us that any object is real if it has properties independent of observers or their measurements. This means things as well as our universe exists external to our mind. The three Noble laureates tell us a mind-bending fact about the universe. They were given a Nobel prize for their 1972 experiment and many other subsequent experiments that showed that the universe was not locally real. Their work seems to have settled the interpretive question of quantum physics. The universe is not locally real because quantum particles do not have properties prior to them being observed or measured. We seem to have come to observe the created reality. This means a simple act of observation changes the quantum state of a particle pulling down our commonsense view of our local realism. This finding is not philosophical. It is physical. This tells us that physicists from a commonsense point of view have lost touch with reality.

There is another puzzling fact that is ratified by the Nobel Prize. It is called quantum entanglement in quantum physics. It is also called non-locality. Experiments of the three Nobel laureates as well as others show that two particles behave as a single unit even when they are separated by a huge distance. These findings have opened the way for new technology based on quantum information. The particle no longer has a singular history as the case was with Newtonian Physics. Quantum superposition indicates that the particle can have multiple histories till it is measured by us. Quantum information technology will give us quantum computers, quantum networks, quantum encrypted communications etc. We are fast entering a quantum-enabled world. The Newtonian clockwork world has given way to the dynamic world of quantum randomness or uncertainty.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao