Quantum physicists believe that objective reality may not exist at all
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In a field where interesting and almost mysterious phenomena such as “quantum superposition” prevail – a particle can be in two or even “all” possible places at the same time – some experts say that reality exists outside your own consciousness, and there are some things you cannot change it. Others insist that “quantum reality” may be some form of “play DOH”, which you can shape into different shapes with your own actions. Now, scientists from ABC Federal University (ufabc) in the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo, Brazil, are adding momentum to the claim that reality may be “in the eyes of observers”.
In their new research published in the journal communication physics in April, Brazilian scientists tried to verify the complementarity principle proposed by the famous Danish physicist Niels Bohr in 1928. It points out that objects have some complementary characteristics, and they cannot be observed or measured at the same time, such as energy and duration, or position and momentum. For example, no matter how you establish an experiment involving a pair of electrons, you cannot study the position of these two quantities at the same time: the test will explain the position of the first electron, but cover up the position of the second particle (complementary particle).
To understand how this principle of complementarity relates to objective reality, we need to go back to history about a century ago. In 1927, during the fifth Solvay Conference (the most important annual international conference in the field of physics and Chemistry), bohr and the famous German born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein held a legendary debate in Brussels.
Before 77 other talented scientists gathered in the Austrian capital to discuss the emerging field of quantum theory, Einstein insisted that quantum states have their own reality, independent of how scientists act on them. At the same time, Bohr defended the view that quantum systems can define their own reality only after scientists establish experimental designs.
“God can’t roll dice,” Einstein said.
“A system behaves as waves or particles according to the environment, but you can’t predict what it will do.” Bohr pointed out that the concept of wave particle duality said that matter may behave as waves at one time and appear in the form of particles at another time, which was first proposed by French physicist Louis de Broglie in 1924.
Shortly after the Solvay conference in 1927, Bohr publicly expounded his principle of complementarity. In the following decades, the controversial Bohr concept was tested many times. American theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler is one of those who experimented with the principle of complementarity.
Wheeler tried to reimagine Thomas Young’s 1801 double slit experiment as a characteristic of light in 1978. The double slit experiment involves using two parallel slits to irradiate light on the wall. When light passes through each slit, on the other side of the divider, it will diffract and overlap with the light from the other slit, thereby interfering with each other. This means that there are no longer straight lines: the pattern that appears at the end of the experiment is an interference pattern, which means that light moves in waves. In essence, light has both particle and wave properties, which are inseparable.
After the light had passed through most of the machines, Wheeler switched his device between “wave meter” and “particle meter”. In other words, he made a delay choice between the propagation of light as a wave or a particle, and found that even after the delay choice, it did not violate the principle of complementarity.
However, some recent investigations trying to apply the quantum superposition principle to the delay selection experiment have found that these two possibilities coexist (just like two waves on the lake can overlap). This shows that there are mixed wavy and particle like behaviors in the same device, which is contrary to the principle of complementarity.
Brazilian scientists decided to also design a real-world experiment of quantum control.
“We use nuclear magnetic resonance technology similar to that used in medical imaging,” Roberto M. Serra, a researcher of ufabc quantum information science and technology who led the experiment, told Volkswagen machinery. Particles such as protons, neutrons and electrons all have nuclear spin, which is a kind of magnetism similar to the direction of the pointer in the compass. “We use an electromagnetic radiation to manipulate these nuclear spins of different atoms in molecules. In this setting, we create a new interference device for proton nuclear spin to study its wave and particle reality in the quantum field,” Serra explained.
“This new arrangement produces the same observational statistics as the previous quantum delay selection experiment,” Pedro ruas dieguez, now a postdoctoral researcher at the International Center for quantum technology theory (ictqt) in Poland, is part of the study, told Volkswagen machinery. “However, in the new configuration, we can connect the experimental results with the behavior of waves and particles, thus verifying Bohr’s principle of complementarity,” dieguez continued.
The main content of the study in April 2022 is that the physical reality in the quantum world is composed of mutually exclusive entities. However, they are not contradictory, but complementary.
Experts say this is a fascinating result. “Brazilian researchers have designed a mathematical framework and corresponding experimental configuration to test quantum theory, especially to understand the essence of complementarity by studying the physical reality of the system,” Stephen holler, an associate professor of physics at Fordham University, told Volkswagen machinery.
This study highlights the long-standing motto of Richard Feynman, the iconic American quantum physicist and Nobel Laureate: “if you think you understand quantum mechanics, you won’t understand quantum mechanics.” Holler said. “There is still a lot to learn about this theory. Researchers continue to make progress in understanding the basic principles, which is particularly important as we enter the era of quantum devices and computing.”
Dieguez said, “depending on the specific situation, the fact that matter particles may behave like waves and light may behave like particles remains one of the most interesting and beautiful mysteries in quantum physics.”
Paradoxically, this inherent “weirdness” of quantum mechanics can prove to be very useful. Serra said, “the more we unravel quantum mechanics, the more we can provide disruptive quantum technologies that go beyond their classical counterparts, quantum computers, quantum cryptography, quantum sensors, and quantum thermal devices.”
Both researchers agree that the reality in the eyes of observers may be a very special aspect of physical reality in the quantum field, and the mystery itself shows no sign of weakening.