Sunday, May 10, 2015

Chapter 3: The College Years aka Quantum Entanglement

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
      Mark Twain.

The Autobiography of Ben and Bob
Chapter 3: The College Years aka Quantum Entanglement

Okay, I admit it.

I hated physics in college - partly because my Physics 101 professor had to abandon the class half way through the semester to tend to his dying wife (a noble move on his part). In turn, we were saddled with an assortment of random Teaching Assistants covering the rest of the semester, turning physics into an incoherent mess for me. I was happy to walk away with a reasonable grade and never looked back. I was good at chemistry and biology and all the other sciences, so I could easily satisfy all the science requirements for the degrees I was pursuing without ever opening a Physics book again.

So it came as a surprise to me recently to stumble across the concept of “quantum entanglement”. How could it be that this existed and no one told me about it? WTF?

The short story (based on my naive understanding of Physics) is that pairs or groups of particles can interact in such a way that their independent states can no longer be measured or described – you can only give the state of the system as a whole. In other words, the particles become “entangled”. For example, if one moves clockwise, the other moves counter-clockwise simultaneously. No big deal so far.

But here comes the interesting part: The particles can be at "arbitrarily large distances" - and the reaction happens almost instantaneously: much faster (hundreds of times faster) than the speed of light could travel between those two points in space. This is not a theory, it's been measured in physical experiments.

Wait. What?

I know I sucked at physics but I clearly remember the rule repeated, ad infinitum, that the speed of light is the fastest thing in the universe. I’m pretty sure that was etched on one of the tablets Moses brought down from the mountain.

Now you are telling me that was all just BS? Information somehow flows through the universe at a rate faster than the speed of light - and we have known about this and can't explain it and we just kept going with the old rules? Apparently Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance” – not a term that gives me much comfort.

Schrodinger’s cat, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle… all that is good and well. Of course I know about those. But this is different. I guess it's time to crack open that "Introduction to Quantum Mechanics" text book.

I wonder what else I missed in college. Am I going to find out tomorrow that the Earth is actually a hexagon, but that "it was much easier to calculate the circumference and volume as a sphere so we decided not to make a big deal about it. Besides, treating it like a sphere makes the math formulas so much easier."

1 comment:

  1. Of course there are particles that travel faster than speed of light as if they can be in 2 different places almost at the same time. For years I was fascinated by this concept. I'll be dead by the time that we can travel with the speed of light. Although my spirit most certainly will be trilled.