Quantum Mechanics for Dummies: Review of “Quantum Enigma” by Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner

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Since I have a bachelor’s degree in physics, I’m reasonably familiar with quantum theory and the mystery it presents with regard to the influence of an observer. I’ve even written a few blogs on the subject you can find here. I keep reading about quantum theory hoping for a deeper understanding but all I seem to discover is that no one really knows what’s going on, even several decades after its first discovery. However, this well-written book did explain numerous other things that helped my understanding of the various interpretations and the differences between them.

albertAnyone who’s studied quantum mechanics in the slightest has probably read about Albert Einstein’s comment that he believed the Moon was there whether he was looking at it or not. This has never made sense to me since my understanding of “collapsing the wave function” is that if any conscious entity observes a quantum event it collapses into reality for everyone. Einstein’s primary objection was that a physical reality separate from observation had to exist, yet this was never proven to be the case. Think about that for a moment.

This book does an excellent job of explaining the different interpretations, e.g. the Copenhagen interpretation, Schrodinger’s cat, Einstein’s view, Niels Bohr’s opinion and various others, in a way that anyone interested in the subject can understand. What stands out the most is that even today the experts don’t agree. In other words, they simply do not know. I loved it when the authors noted “Eight decades after the Schrodinger equation, the meaning of physics’ encounter with consciousness is increasingly in contention. When experts can’t agree, you can choose your expert. Or speculate on your own.” (page 220)

Which is exactly what I’ve done.

Since I’m not a PhD worried about tenure, funding or the future of my career, I can tread the line between physics and metaphysics and enjoy every step. The authors made it clear that the realm of physics deals only with the physical world. They are even annoyed when people introduce such things as human consciousness into their supposed realm. Yet the authors admit that the two remaining great mysteries today are quantum mechanics and what constitutes consciousness.

How ironic.

heisenbergquoteWerner Heisenberg summed it up nicely when he said “It is probably true quite generally that in the history of human thinking the most fruitful developments frequently take place at those points where two different lines of thought meet.”

The fact they don’t is the problem.

deanw-bookSpeaking of other disciplines, scientist Dean Radin has done numerous statistical studies on psi phenomena. While proving it exists in a physical sense cannot be done (yet), statistically he’s shown experimentally that its incidence exceeds probability. Another scientist, Roger Nelson, has shown the influence that can only be explained as the Universal Consciousness with his network of random number generators.

I continue to marvel that physicists can propose the existence of parallel universes, multiverses, and thirteen or more dimensions while dismissing and even disparaging anything that relates to consciousness. Give me a break. Without consciousness they couldn’t even consider the meaning of the physical world.

Just because they purposely exclude it from the material world doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that they should dismiss it. To do so is the height of arrogance. I encounter this all the time since I’m also a professional astrologer. Of course I was indoctrinated against astrology while in college but my own study and experience taught me that it works. Those who dismiss it without personal study have been sucked into the mentality for which the only remedy is the admonition to “Question Everything.”

10101220_mlIt doesn’t matter whether or not we know how it works, only that it does. However, physicists and scientists in general dismiss astrology as myth and superstition, even though early scientists such as Kepler, Galileo and Newton were astrologers seeking knowledge about the heavens to increase the accuracy of their astrological work. My own opinion is that quantum entanglement plays a role in these cosmic influences. As stated by the authors:

“Any two objects that interact become entangled. After that, whatever happens to one instantaneously influences the other no matter how far apart they are. This has been extensively demonstrated with pairs of microscopic particles, and even with almost macroscopic devices. As entangled objects entangle with yet other objects, the entanglement becomes complex.” (p. 199-200)

Note the use of the word “instantaneously.” Supposedly no information can travel faster than the speed of light, yet this is the case with entanglement. Radin has shown psi to be instantaneous as well. My personal opinion is that when a person is born, the configuration of the cosmos is imprinted upon them in the form of entanglement which is represented in their birth horoscope or natal chart. They then respond as changes, i.e., movement of the stars and planets, affect their psyche. Truly this is a stretch, but there’s nothing in quantum theory that can prove this is not the case. Nonetheless, scientists are typically offended when someone such as myself even speculates on such possibilities. Fortunately, as a science fiction writer, I can have all sorts of fun with such things there as do various other scientists to avoid compromising their position in their highfalutin community.

78px-Single_and_double_slit_4I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that there was nothing in this book that negated my opinion. If anything, I obtained even more scientific theory to support it. I understand more thoroughly as well that physicists fear to tread outside their domain of the material world and to touch on anything that borders on parapsychology because it can result in professional suicide. How sad that science has become so specialized and compartmentalized that professional tunnel vision precludes solving some of life’s greatest mysteries while those of us who think outside the box are ostracized by their peers and even looked upon as ignorant fools.

Which side best fits that description only time will tell.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon using this link.

What’s Behind the Science in Science Fiction – Part 4: Light Behaving Badly

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Last time covered how sometimes light behaves like a particle and others like a wave along with how the double-slit experiment was used to demonstrate these properties. For example, if a steady light comprised of numerous individual photons hit a plate with one tiny slit to allow them through, rather than getting a line that matched the slit on the opposing wall it would be spread out in a pattern that was concentrated toward the center and fuzzy around the edges. (See picture below.)

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When they used a plate that had two slits a single photon would leave a dot, as expected, but by continuing to release them one at a time they would eventually form an interference pattern, the same as what resulted from a steady light source. It was as if each photon had a mind of its own yet collectively they would arrange themselves in a certain pattern. While exactly where each photon would arrive couldn’t be predicted, the pattern itself could be, based on the wavelength of the light. Thus there was a certain probability that a photon would arrive in a certain place, some more than others, but which exact one would go where was unknown.

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It was apparent they couldn’t predict exactly where a single photon would land but if it was a discrete particle of light then it followed that it would go through one slit or the other. (Remember that the interference pattern resulted because there were two slits so the waves could overlap.) Thus, scientists, the first of whom was Thomas Young (1773-1829), decided to find out which slit of the two choices each photon went through. To do so they polarized the light going through each slit in a different way with the detector on the other side capable of telling the difference. The photon could still theoretically “choose” which slit (or both) it would go through, but they would be able to tell which one by its polarization when it arrived on the detector.

Sneaky. But outsmarting Mother Nature is not an easy task.

Much to their surprise, when they sent one photon at a time toward the slits where it was polarized the interference pattern did not emerge!

Whoa!

Instead, they got random spots of light which indicated individual particles. Polarizing the light did not destroy its ability to build interference patterns so this didn’t make sense. The results implied that when they set things up so that they’d know whether the photon went through one slit or the other that the individual photons lost their right to choose and behaved like a particle. In other words, the probability wave function had collapsed when the final result would be determined.

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In other words, the photon can change from a wave to a particle when someone is trying to figure out exactly what it’s going to do. When someone is watching, it behaves like a particle that not only goes through one opening or the other but loses its wave properties as well.

Say what?

Back then the expression WTF? didn’t exist yet, but something along those lines was definitely what was going through numerous scientific minds. By all appearances, if someone was watching, i.e. measuring the outcome, then the probability wave collapsed and the photons acted like particles.

Thinking perhaps this was because they were polarizing the photons before they went through one slit or the other, even though they knew that didn’t stop the light from forming an interference pattern, they rigged things up to determine which slit it had gone through afterwards. Much to their surprise they got the same result as before, a rain of itinerant particles, as if each photon had either known in advance or perhaps even went back in time, deciding how to behave.

This introduced the concept of an observer affecting the outcome. Suddenly consciousness was part of the mix, or at least seemed to be since there was no other explanation. Of course physicists who deal exclusively with the physical world were less than enchanted by all this woo-woo stuff. Thus began the philosophical notion of whether or not a tree that fell in the forest made a sound if no one was there to hear it. May I remind you that these are very intelligent people we’re dealing with here and while some of them may not be wrapped to tight as they walk the genius-insanity interface; nonetheless, they are a whole lot smarter than the rest of us.

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Einstein called this “spooky action at a distance” and didn’t believe it, even though he was the one who theorized that energy and matter were essentially the same as expressed by his famous equation E=mc2. To this day people are still arguing about this aspect of quantum theory with different conclusions. Is it possible that an observer or some form of consciousness can influence physical matter? Do we, indeed, create our own reality?

What do you think?

(Diagrams courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

What’s Behind the Science in Science Fiction? Part 3: The Mystery of Light

You would think if you shine a light through a barrier with two slits in it that the wall on the other side would show two slices of light. This is not what happens, however, as Thomas Young discovered in the early 1800s. Rather than two distinct lines it created an interference pattern, indicating light behaved like a wave.

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You can get a better understanding of interference as it relates to wave behavior by dropping a pebble into a puddle and watching how the waves expand in a circle from the center point. Then drop two pebbles at the same time a few inches apart and watch how the waves interact. What results is called constructive and destructive interference as some waves get bigger and others cancel out. This is similar to the interference pattern of light which leaves dark spaces alternating with light bands which create a striped effect.

But as scientists continued messing around with the properties of photons, inconsistencies appeared. In 1887 Heinrich Hertz discovered that light could stimulate electrons on a metallic surface and thus create electrical current but the effect was related to the frequency of the light. In 1905 Albert Einstein explained that this was because light energy was carried in discrete, quantized packets and eventually won the Nobel Prize for it in 1921, which was the beginning of the quantum revolution.

As theorized by Isaac Newton and believed throughout the 1700 – 1800s, this supported the theory that light consisted of particles which were called photons. The particle theory made sense since it had been discovered that a photon absorbed by an atom increased its energy level and when it dropped its energy state then a photon was emitted, showing a release of energy. When photons interact with matter they act like tiny particles.

So what was going on? Was light a particle or a wave? It was in pursuing the answer that quantum theory was further established as scientists continued to study the results of the double-slit experiment. When laser light is passed through two tiny slits it forms what is called a diffraction pattern on the other side, similar to what Thomas Young saw back in the early 1800s and is shown in Figure 2. This behavior supports the idea that light is a wave since particles would not arrange themselves in such a way.

When a single photon is released it behaves like a particle and leaves a single dot of light on the other side. If you continue releasing single photon from the same source and location, however, they eventually form a diffraction pattern. Say what? How could light know how to arrange itself in a pattern? They weren’t interfering with one another when they were released one at a time so how could this occur? (See the figure below that includes 5 views of electron buildup into a diffraction pattern.)
200px-Double-slit_experiment_results_Tanamura_2
This led to the idea of a probability wave meaning that the photons would land somewhere within a given area with some places more likely than others. But this completely blew the idea of prediction out of the water which was the premise of classical physics and presumed if you knew all the conditions involved you could predict the outcome. Suddenly science was having to deal with probabilities, or the likelihood of subatomic particles behaving in a certain way, as opposed to being able to calculate the precise answer when they knew all the parameters.

Ooops! With that revelation, classical, i.e. Newtonian, physics went out the proverbial window. It obviously couldn’t solve any problem and most certainly couldn’t predict future events. This, in turn, eventually influenced the philosophy of the day regarding life and the concept of free will. The implications suggested that while some outcomes were more likely than others, exactly which one it would be was no longer possible to determine.

As if the dual nature of light wasn’t mysterious enough, it soon became even stranger when someone was watching.

(Insert Twilight Zone music here….)

Stay tuned.

(Figures courtesy of Wikipedia.org)