Spooky fundamental fysiks goes to Stockholm
Alain Aspect, John Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger have won the Nobel Prize in Physics 2022.
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Alain Aspect, John Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger have won the Nobel Prize in Physics 2022 “for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science.”
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Clauser carried out the first experimental proof of the violation of Bell inequalities. More refined experiments were then carried out by Aspect and Zeilinger.
Yes, the Nobel Prize goes to research on “spooky action at a distance,” aka quantum entanglement.
David Kaiser was “waiting - hoping - to hear a particular announcement,” he says in a commentary. “This year it finally arrived.”
Like Kaiser, watching the announcement of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics, I was happy to see the Prize go to research on the foundations of quantum mechanics. I was especially happy to see the Prize go to Clauser, who was a member of the Fundamental Fysiks Group (FFG).
The FFG is the protagonist of Kaiser’s book “How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival” (2011).
The best known books by FFG members are “The Tao of Physics” by Fritjof Capra, “The Dancing Wu Li Masters” by Gary Zukav, and “Quantum Reality” by Nick Herbert. I highly recommend all three.
In his 2016 review of Kaiser’s book, Clauser says:
“The FFG was formed to discuss various ‘fringe’ subjects in physics. These subjects included Bell’s theorem and its experimental tests, the foundations of quantum mechanics, quantum entanglement, and the quantum measurement problem. A fascination with Bell’s theorem was promoted as a primary motivation behind the formation of this group.”
The “fringe” subjects in physics that FFG members loved to explore included faster than light communications and time travel.
Some FFG members were also interested in connections between quantum physics and, in Clauser’s words, “parapsychology, extrasensory perception and remote viewing, psycho-kinesis, and Eastern mysticism.” They wanted to build bridges between psi (the quantum wavefunction) and psi (the paramormal).
It must be said that, in his review of Kaiser’s book, Clauser takes distance from what he calls “pseudo-physics.” Scientific rigor “sadly began to decline,” he says. “I am not much of a fan of Eastern mysticism.”
These words are certainly honest, but perhaps also intended to establish plausible deniability. I guess in 2016 Clauser knew that he was in line for a Nobel Prize, and felt a need to take distance from politically incorrect associations.
The fact remains that previously “fringe” research on the foundations of quantum mechanics, where physics blends into metafysiks, is now mainstream science (and technology) honored by the Nobel Prize in Physics 2022. It is in this sense that spooky fundamental fysiks is going to Stockholm.
Perhaps even the far fringe of psi (the paranormal) research (sorry, “pseudo-physics”) will become mainstream science one day. See “The Reality of ESP: A Physicist's Proof of Psychic Abilities” by Russel Targ and Targ’s autobiography “Do You See What I See: Memoirs of a Blind Biker.”
Here’s to the FFG! The world needs more spookiness and more research on fundamental fysiks!
To celebrate the the Nobel Prize in Physics 2022 and the FFG, I’m republishing (without changes) this old (2015) post that had disappeared from the internet when I changed this domain settings. I retrieved it from the Wayback Machine. A revised and updated version of this 2015 post is in my book “Tales of the Turing Church.”
Can quantum weirdness be used to send instant messages across space and time?
by Giulio Prisco. September 3, 2015
Quantum physicists in the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK have confirmed in the lab that the weird instant correlations between remote “entangled” particles are real. The question that comes to mind is, can quantum weirdness be used to send instant message across space-time, faster than light?
The new experimental conformation of instant entanglement - not the first, but the strongest to date - is published on arXiv with the title “Experimental loophole-free violation of a Bell inequality using entangled electron spins separated by 1.3 km.” See also my summary and Zeeya Merali’s summaries published at Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi) website and Nature News.
The researchers measured the spins of hundred of entangled particles in two University of Delft labs, located 1.3 km apart, and confirmed that the entangled correlations are still observed when there is not enough time for light to travel from the first lab to the second, which means that entanglement isn’t limited by the speed of light.
If the correlations between entangled particles aren’t limited by the speed of light, is it possible to send instant messages faster than light (FTL), or across time, or do even weirder forms of quantum magic?
The cover image is taken from the scientific documentary “What the Bleep Do We Know!?” - a controversial “quantum mysticism” cult film that intriguingly hints at the possibility that quantum weirdness might eventually provide a solid scientific framework for spiritual beliefs.
To be entirely honest, I want quantum physics to be weird. In “The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul,” Rudy Rucker astutely observes that many people find quantum mysticism appealing because it seems to offer a scientific escape from death. “If the world is fundamentally random, then surely I’m not a robotic machine, and if I’m not a machine, then perhaps I have an immortal soul, so death isn’t so frightening.”
I plead guilty as charged - and why not? I realize that the universe doesn’t have to agree with my hopeful thinking… but perhaps it does. Time will tell.
Faster than light communications based on entanglement: No Can Do
The awesome scientific history book “How the Hippies Saved Physics,” by David Kaiser, tells the fascinating story of the Fundamental Fysiks Group - quantum physics and the psychedelic youth culture of the seventies rolled together - and shows some of the colorful scientists who dedicated years to developing schemes for FTL messaging via entanglement.
“Nick Herbert and Jack Sarfatti [liked] to talk about the quantum physics and the possibilities of time travel,” wrote R.U. Sirius in his book review. “It is clear that hip young scientists in the 1970s broke through an extant taboo against exploring theoretical physics. And even if some may find their theories flakey in the extreme, we can thank them for busting open the exploration of big physics ideas.”
“And who knows. Maybe Jack Sarfatti will yet build that time machine.”
Nick Herbert’s (highly recommended) book Quantum Reality, acclaimed as one of the best popular books on quantum physics, is still very much worth reading 30 years after its first publication in 1985. Contrary to some books by other members of the Fundamental Fysiks Group, such as the very successful The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, Herbert’s book doesn’t emphasize quantum mysticism but sticks to solid - though open-minded and imaginative - physics, including a very clear explanation of Bell’s theorem. Kaiser tells the story of Herbert’s imaginative and apparently solid - but ultimately unsuccessful - schemes with names like QUICK and FLASH to use entanglement for FTL communications.
John G. Cramer, a professor of physics at the University of Washington in Seattle, who also authored the excellent science fiction novels Twistor and Einstein’s Bridge, proposed schemes for spacetime communication via quantum entanglement, often discussed in his Alternate View columns on Analog Science Fiction & Fact Magazine.
Unfortunately, according to our current understanding of quantum physics, entanglement can’t be used to send FTL instant messages. Measuring the spin of one of a pair of entangled particles always gives a random result - even if the results of the two measurements are correlated - and any attempt to preset the spin of a particle would break the entanglement. A good analogy is two decks of “magic” cards that are always in the same order, but the magic only works if both decks are well shuffled first, and cheating breaks the magic.
In the image above I illustrate another good analogy, due to physicist David Bohm. Two screens in different places seem to show two fishes that exhibit weird, instantly correlated behaviors - when one turns left the other also turns left - but the screens are really showing two images of the same fish. Of course, an observer at one screen can’t send an instant message to an observer at the other screen. Nothing - zooming in, increasing the luminosity, switching the screen off - will work short of persuading the real fish to turn in one direction, which the observer can’t do.
It’s interesting that, despite the simple no-can-do analogies above, the FTL schemes devised by Herbert and Cramer seem solid and almost correct. Spotting the design flaws requires subtle reasoning, giving the impression that the universe tries to protect itself from FTL signaling.
Recently, Cramer and Herbert wrote a joint paper titled “An Inquiry into the Possibility of Nonlocal Quantum Communication” with a negative conclusion. A few days ago, Herbert criticized yet another new scheme for FTL messaging via entanglement, and concluded:
“Despite the FTL nature of the Theory that represents the World, despite the FTL nature of the Reality which underlies the World, the World Herself displays not a speck of evidence for any FTL connections.”
In summary, according to our best (current) understanding of the quantum world, entanglement can’t be used to send instant FTL messages.
Non-linear quantum physics to the rescue?
FTL fans and adepts of quantum mysticism can still hope that future non-linear versions of quantum physics might allow for FTL communications, and who knows what else.
“This idea was studied in the early 1990s as a consequence of a particular nonlinear variant of quantum mechanics due to [Steven] Weinberg,” explained Barak Shoshany, a graduate student at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. “Later it was argued that any nonlinear formulation of quantum mechanics (not only in Weinberg’s framework) necessarily leads to the possibility of superluminal communication.”
Shoshany gives a list of references, all easy to find online in full text. “I show that Weinberg’s nonlinear quantum mechanics leads either to communication via Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen correlations, or to communications between branches of the wave function,” reads the abstract of one of the references, by Joseph Polchinski. In other words, either FTL instant messages to the stars, or messages to parallel universes.
“Any attempt to generalize quantum mechanics by allowing small nonlinearities in the evolution of state vectors risks the introduction of instantaneous communication between separated observers,” noted Weinberg in his “Lectures on Quantum Mechanics.”
Time will tell, and experiment will decide. In the meantime, I certainly want to read more about these fascinating topics.
Image from “What the Bleep Do We Know!?” and a PPT presentation by the author.
A revised and updated version of this 2015 post is in my book “Tales of the Turing Church.”
Turing Church is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
On Wed, Oct 12, 2022 at 1:46 AM Giulio Prisco <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> OK John, we'll just have to agree to disagree on this point.
I think fundamentally we agree more than we disagree.
> let me summarize yet another good argument for psi.
>If our sci/tech continues to develop, it seems likely or at least plausible that one day, perhaps in only >a few centuries, most humans will have brain implants with neural lace connected to whatever the >internet will become. In other words, most humans will be telepathic. We will also be able to control >some kind of utility fog to move things and act in the physical world. In other words, most humans >will have psychokinetic abilities. I could continue and cover all parts of psi... So psi will exist in our >universe.
I agree, except that in a few centuries (perhaps a few decades) it will not be biological humans that have such abilities but our descendants the machines, what Hans Moravec called our "Mind Children" in his book by the same name, a book I highly recommend.
> if we can find a way to do something, I guess nature must have found ways to do the same thing. >Some degree of psi would evidently have evolutionary value, so I guess it is included in Darwin's >playbook.
Not necessarily because random mutation and natural selection is horribly cruel, inefficient and slow, but until it finally managed to produce a brain, after billions of years of fumbling around, it was the only way complex objects could get made. Intelligent design works much faster, we only got serious about building brains about 70 years ago and look at the enormous progress we've made in that short time.
John K Clark
> Hi John, I think we are talking past each other. If I really want to
believe that psi is a thing, and you really want to believe that it
isn't, no argument will ever change my mind or yours.
I plead guilty as charged: I really want to believe that psi is a thing.
I wish it were real, I think it would've been great fun if psi had turned out to exist and I think most people feel that way too, but the universe is not required to conform to the wishes of human beings. You don't need a $10 billion particle accelerator to investigate it so if psi had been real it would have been proven to be so many centuries ago to the satisfaction of even the most skeptical, and today high school freshmen would be repeating those classic 17 century psy experiments in their science fair projects. It's a pity but that's just not the universe we live in.
> while not yet supported by direct experimental evidence, string theory has produced results (e.g.
AdS/CFT) that can be used to calculate things in the real world (e.g.
duality between quark-gluon plasma in the lab and hyperdimensional black holes).
String theory has never made a prediction confirmed to be correct by an experiment that had not already been predicted by other far less convoluted theories. To confirm a new string theory prediction you would need a particle accelerator that can reach energies at the Planck level, and with current technology that would require a machine at least as big as the solar system.
> Some speculative (I guess you would call them fringe)
string-based models seem to provide theoretical models for psi.
As I said, before I become interested in making a model of something I'd want to know that something exists that needs modeling. There is no burning need to explain how psy works, just as there's no burning need to explain how magic works in books like Harry Potter or the Bible. By the way, I found one of those books to be very entertaining.
> I have too much respect for my fellow human beings to entirely dismiss the
"anecdotal evidence" provided by countless people over the centuries.
There are a lot of things I respect about my fellow human beings but being able to give accurate accounts of what they just saw or experienced is not one of them. There was anecdotal evidence, or to be more precise there was allegedly anecdotal evidence, that Mohammed flew from Mecca to Jerusalem in one day on the back of a flying mule and then climbed to heaven on a ladder. And I don't believe one word of it.
John K Clark