Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Five Revelations in Quantum Physics

The first revelation of quantum mechanics that we will consider is that below the level of quantum particles, at a microcosmic scale of time and space that is less than that of Planck time (10-43 seconds) and Planck length (10-33 centimeters), the concepts of time and space are no longer in effect. At this sub-quantum level of reality, the energy that emerges into the simplest material forms of quanta is itself just a jittery, frothing sea of uncertainty. The dualistic opposites of our normal world, such as left and right, up and down, near and far, here and there, inside and outside, before and after, etc., do not apply. There is no sense of causality or order as we understand them on the larger scales we are more familiar with. Quantum particles pop in and out of existence in a seemingly chaotic and unpredictable manner, sometimes emerging long enough to interweave themselves into configurations that will exist for a while, but which eventually disintegrate back into a haze of uncertainty again.

Further, this frothing quantum sea of energy exists at every conceivable point in space, filling even the microcosmically huge distances between an atom’s tiny nucleus and the electrons that inhabit ‘orbits’ at its outer perimeters. This sub-quantum energy exists everywhere throughout the conceivable limits of space, being present at all points throughout. It is this underlying energetic field from which matter emerges in its physical, particulate form.

This underlying sea of ever emerging and vanishing quanta is commonly referred to as the quantum field or zero-point field. In this text, we will occasionally need to make the distinction between the underlying energy itself and the quantum units that arise out of it to form particles. For this reason the term ‘sub-quantum’ will be used to refer to the underlying energy itself, rather than to the quanta that form out of it. This is simply to help the reader clearly understand what is being discussed.

The second revelation of quantum mechanics is based on what is known as Bell’s Theorem, and is commonly referred to as quantum entanglement. This revelation dictates that two or more particles, once they become correlated through an interaction, will thereafter remain correlated no matter how far apart they become from one another in space. They seem to be integrated in a way that makes the spontaneous and immediate exchange of information between them possible, even if they happen to be at opposite ends of the universe. A change in any of the properties of one entangled particle will automatically and instantaneously cause a change in the corresponding property of all those particles entangled with it. Instantaneous long distance connections between physical objects are therefore not limited by spatial distance at the quantum level, and the interactions of subatomic particles that are continually occurring means that things are much more connected than they might seem at the human level of everyday perception.

The third important revelation gained from the study of quantum mechanics is that of wave/particle duality, which means that every quantum of energy, such as a photon or electron, has both a wave aspect and a particle aspect, rather than just a particle aspect (as was once commonly thought). Although scientists had always assumed matter to be purely particulate in form, the study of quantum mechanics eventually revealed that there is also a wave aspect to matter, and quanta can exist in one or the other state. Further research has revealed that the wave aspect of matter exists even when its corresponding particle aspect does not. A quantum of energy therefore exists primarily as a wave, but in certain instances – most specifically when it is being observed or measured – a quantum wave ‘collapse’ occurs, and its particulate form springs into existence. In its wave state, it can be considered as existing only as a potential particle, and as such has no definite location, being in all possible spatial locations at once. This potential, all-encompassing yet undefined location is referred to as the particle’s superposition. In quantum physics, this wave state is referred to as a probability wave, because until it temporarily collapses into a distinct and ‘solid’ particle, the location in which that particle will be located can only be defined as a statistical probability. It cannot be predicted with absolute certainty.

This is an effect of what is known in quantum physics as the Uncertainty Principle. This principle is based on the fact that predictions about the outcomes of quantum effects can only be statistical in nature and therefore cannot be determined with any great precision – these outcomes can only ever be determined as probabilities, not absolutes. Although all possible spatial locations are covered by the wave in its superposition, certain locations will have a higher degree of probability than others of being the eventual physical location. Some of these probabilities will be very high and some of these probabilities will be very low.

From the standpoint of the mathematical formulas that physicists rely upon to plot out the structure of reality, the determination of where a particle will finally be located rests on the complex interactions of so many variables that it can only ever be calculated to a certain degree of probability. However, we do not have to worry about mathematical formulas in order to understand that the underlying wave state of a quantum of energy is always permeating every point of space to one degree or another. When it collapses into its particle state, that quantum of energy can be thought to instantaneously condense into a single location to become a particle. The energy used by the particle, however, is essentially still connected to the entirety of its underlying sub-quantum source through its wave state. This is important in understanding the mechanics of quantum entanglement between particles, as outlined above.

The fourth revelation that quantum mechanics has given us can be referred to as the observer effect, which has been indisputably shown that the observer (or the act of taking a measurement) has a definite effect on what is observed. This is tied in with wave/particle duality, in that the observer causes the wave to collapse into a particle at one of its probable locations. This will obviously be of extreme importance in formulating a more accurate scientific model of reality than we currently have, because not only does it indicate that things are only definite when their observation forces the probabilities into one specific outcome, but it also indicates the more profound realization that mind affects matter. This revelation will likewise be important to keep in mind as our discussion progresses throughout this book.

The fifth and final revelation of quantum mechanics that is of importance to our discussion is that during the observation or measurement of a quantum particle, it is impossible to acquire information on more than one of its properties during that observation. This is another effect of the Uncertainty Principle. An example of this revelation is that it is not possible to measure both the momentum and the location of a particle with any degree of accuracy. It is possible to measure any one property, but to do so causes an immediate change in that particle, making all other properties uncertain. If we were to measure its momentum, for instance, this causes a change in its location in space.

All five of these revelations, which have been established through empirically controlled laboratory experiments, have each been accepted by the scientific community as indisputable characteristics of physical reality at the quantum scale of matter. Between these revelations, we can see that beneath the perceptible surface of things, the deeper levels of physical reality are very much different from what we could ever have expected them to be.

The rules of order that we understand and have relied on to predict and describe the physical events that occur at the perceptible scales of our everyday world do not apply at the quantum level, and a separate framework of understanding has slowly and tediously been forming, which scientists hope will eventually provide a complete and accurate description of events at this microcosmic scale. However, the very fact that two separate rules of order are required to define and describe these different scales of physicality suggests that the scientific framework is not whole, but is rather a patchwork of understandings that do not mesh as neatly as they should.

We should therefore give further consideration to these quantum revelations in order to better comprehend their significance in our ability to discern a deeper reality. A more encompassing description of reality will become further clarified as we discuss other relevant subjects in later chapters, but for the time being it is important to consider these five revelations further in order to gain a firm understanding of how things appear to be at the quantum level.

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