So, Uh, What Is Reality?

Ready for your Tuesday-morning mindfrak? Here's a whirlwind tour that takes apart almost everything you thought you knew about reality. If those BBC accents weren't so soothing, I might actually be pretty freaked out by now.


Quarks! The holographic principle! Event horizons! Parallel universes! And all softs of other goodies that I'll need a second cup of coffee to fully deal with. There's enough spooky science in this BBC Horizon episode to make your head spin. If that really is your head. [YouTube via The Daily What via Mister Honk]


The Werewolf

Quantum mechanics is where 'reality' as we know it takes a 90 degree turn from anything we think of as real.

Basically, nothing really exists until it's measured - and that's not figuratively - that's literally true. An electron is only potentially there until something happens (an interaction with another particle for example) that forces it to have a 'real' position and existence.

And if that sentence doesn't make your brain itch, go back and reread it - how does the electron interact with anything if it's not actually there? The universe is a huge sea of potentials that are all interacting in - well, I'm tempted to say 'non-physical' ways, but that's not quite true... it's just not the simple newtonian physics we're all comfortable with.

In the end, everything we think of as 'real' is an emergent property of this subatomic quantum mechanical system.

Except that its not necessarily 'subatomic'. We can build large systems that, because of how they're contructed, essentially act like one big quantum mechanical particle - and demonstrate those properties even at sizes large enough to see with the naked eye.

This is why I love QM... it reminds us that the universe is far, far subtler than we want to believe it is, and that there are aspects of it that we'll never be able to get access to.

Like when two particles with a zero sum state (like orientation) are created in an entangled state and are sent in opposite directions, if you measure the orientation of (say, up), the other one MUST be in the opposite orientation (down, in this case). Bell's Inequality shows that this is real - not some hidden prexisting state we just find out when we measure.

Yet they have NO orientation until you measure one or the other which will be entirely random. Then the other will have a corresponding opposite orientation. If you separate them by a large enough distance, you can show that this happens essentially instantaneously... (Alain Aspect's experiment in 80s demonstrated this)which means any signalling process for this is much faster than the speed of light.

Yet, because of how it works, we can't put any information into this system, so *we* can't use it for FTL communications... it's like the universe has this private little FTL communication system just for its own use.