Documenting the Coming Singularity

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Reality Ruled Out?

Quantum physics is baffling, not only to the general public, but for physicists as well. Richard Feynman encouraged his students by informing them that no one understands quantum mechanics. Erwin Schrödinger said, "I do not like it, and I am sorry I ever had anything to do with it." One of the most shocking ideas to come out of quantum mechanics is that all individual quantum events are innately random.

Proceeding from this idea is the strange but seemingly correct proposal that quantum particles do not fix on any particular state until they are observed. They are said to exist in a state of indecision until a consciousness observes them, at which point they settle into the form we know as reality. Niels Bohr said of these ideas, "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood a single word." Well said.

Understandably upset by the idea that reality does not exist without an observer, many physicists have postulated the existence of "hidden variables" that could explain the mathematical and experimental data that give rise to these bizarre conclusions. But recently, as an article in PhysicsWeb describes, an experiment run in Austria appears to dash the hopes of the hidden variables crowd.

Some physicists are uncomfortable with the idea that all individual quantum events are innately random. This is why many have proposed more complete theories, which suggest that events are at least partially governed by extra "hidden variables". 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.

The details of the experiment, as one might expect, are complicated beyond the reach of laymen like myself. What the experiment claims to demonstrate, however, is mind-bending.

If you enjoyed this post, take a few seconds of your time to subscribe to our RSS feed. Barry's Best is updated daily.


Spaceman Spiff said...

I don't buy that this could be ruled out by a physical experiment. If the variables are "hidden" then how could we test for them? All we know about these hidden variables is that they appear random to us. If they appear random to us, then any test would only confirm that they... apppear random to us...

In which case they might as well be random as far as physics is concerned.

Physics (and science in general) has largely been concerned with generalities (how rocks fall like this), not exceptions, not individual cases (how/why this rock hit this particular guy).

So it seems to me almost proper that the individual events seem unpredictable while the general trends are predicted with incredible accuracy.