Friday, June 6, 2008

Local Realism Bites the Dust

A direct link to this video is at

I've quoted Vienna physicist Anton Zeilinger before in this blog: he is one of the leading proponents of the concept of information and reality being equivalent, which is a central idea to what we're talking about here. Now, the June 2008 issue of Seed magazine has an article about the leading edge experiments he and his team at IQOQI have been doing which have been designed to answer one of the most basic questions about our reality. To quote from Joshua Roebke's article:

Quantum mechanics fundamentally concerns the way in which we observers connect to the universe we observe. The theory implies that when we measure particles and atoms, at least one of two long-held physical principles is untenable:
- distant events do not affect one another
- properties we wish to observe exist before our measurements.
One of these, locality or realism, must be fundamentally incorrect.
... or both might be incorrect, the article goes on to remind us!

Regular readers of my blog or my book will see this as related to the basic ideas I've been exploring with this project. For me, the question becomes this: is the future fluid, undetermined until we observe it? Plus, I believe time-reversal symmetry requires us to ask the same question in the other direction: is the past just as fluid as the future? In other words, is there only one single path that we could have traveled to get to our current "now", or are there many? I have quoted Feynman's "sum over paths" concept many times as evidence that this multiple-pasts-and-futures concept is true at the quantum level, and I have pointed to the David Deutsch team's proof published in September 2007 that the quantum and macro worlds are equivalent: Feynman and Deutsch are telling us something important when we combine those two ideas. In other words, I believe that branching parallel universes exist both before and after the current "now" that each of us is observing. So, while we might doggedly insist that the reality we observe exists before and after our observation, we have to accept that it exists only as a part of a probabilistic "ray", and not as a single concrete (that is to say, deterministic) structure.

Distant effects do affect one another
The evidence for nonlocality is already proven in science labs with demonstrations of entanglement at increasingly great distances, and not with just subatomic particles but with molecules. I would say it is proven in our daily lives with intuition and empathy, with the connections of selfish memes and selfish genes, and with the way music communicates emotions across time and space. All of the possible expressions of the universe before and after the "now" of our observation are part of a probabilistic cloud of potential states, which I've talked about in entries like "The Omniverse". Still, you might be surprised to learn that the Zeilinger team's experiments showed realism to be violated by "80 orders of magnitude", meaning that they have proved that we do actually create the classical world that we perceive just through the act of observation.

Last year, a piece in Nature magazine about these same experiments entitled "Physicists Bid Farewell to Reality" quoted Dr. Zeilinger as follows:
"We do this all the time in daily life... for example, imagining what would have happened if you had tried to cross the road when a truck was coming. If the world around us behaved in the same way as a quantum system, then it would be meaningless even to imagine that alternative situation, because there would be no way of defining what you mean by the road, the truck, or even you."

In my blog entry "Time in Either Direction" I talked about Dr. Sean Carroll's leading-edge theories on the asymmetry of time, and how nicely they tie into this way of imagining how our reality is constructed as well. As I discussed in "The Fifth Dimension Isn't Magic", the key to all of this is finding a way to accept that the branching timelines of other realities exist as potential, even if they are not within the version of reality that we end up witnessing. My song "The Anthropic Viewpoint" sums it up like this:
All those other possibilities
Are just as real but they don't have me

A direct link to this video is at

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

Next: Making New Connections

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