Warehouse D

Living An Illusion?

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The Mystery Of Particle "Entanglements"

By James Donahue

When the late physicist John Bell published his 1964 paper "On the Einstein Podolsky Rosen paradox" he set the world of science and quantum physics on its ear. That is because his infamous theorem broke all the rules of fundamental physics and makes us all question what we once considered reality.

The very title of the Bell paper jabs at the names of the three scientists who argued against quantum theory and described Bell's observations as absurd because they said what he perceived broke all of the established laws of physics..

Albert Einstein, who disliked quantum mechanics and called Bell's Theorem "spooky action at a distance, chose to dismiss the idea rather than give it serious consideration.

Bell's Theorem, sometimes referred to as "Bell's Paradox," involves the peculiar behavior of matter and energy at the atomic and subatomic levels. Contemporary physicists like John Cramer, University of Washington, refer to it as a form of "entanglement."

To explain it in layman's terms, Bell and physicists who followed in his tracks, found that interacting, or entangled subatomic particles such as two photons - the fundamental units of light - can affect each other no matter how far apart in space and time. When something impacts one, the other entangled unit also responds.

"If you do a measurement on one, it has an immediate effect on the other even if they are separated by light years across the universe," Cramer explained. He noted, for example, if one of the entangled proton's trajectory tilts up, the other one, no matter how far away, will tilt down to compensate.

In fact quantum theory, which deals with the peculiar behavior of subatomic matter and energy, escapes every level of reality where the old Newtonian laws of physics are applied. It is as if there is a special reality created for us in the world as we perceive it, and something else just outside that realm that we are only now beginning to glimpse.

As one writer put it, "Bell showed that local realism leads to requirement for certain types of phenomena that are not present in quantum mechanics."

Science writer Lucas Graves noted in a recent article that Bell's ideas have been shown to be correct. He said in 1997, for example, scientists "separated a pair of entangled photons by shooting them through fiber-optic cables to two villages six miles apart. Tipping one into a particular quantum state forced the other into the opposite state less than five-trillionths of a second later, or nearly seven million times faster than light could travel between the two."

Graves noted that this experiment broke Einstein's rule that prohibits anything from moving faster than the speed of light.

"Even the best theories to explain how entanglement gets around this problem seems preposterous. One, for example, speculates that signals are shot back through time."

He said that "ultimately, the answer is bound to be unnerving. According to a famous doctrine called Bell's Inequality, for entanglement to square with relativity, either we have no free will or reality is an illusion."