It’s been nearly a century since scientists broke ground on the universe.
Through a complex mixture of experiment and theory, physicists have discovered an engine built on the mathematics of probability far beyond the interface of reality.
It is referred to in vague terms as Copenhagen InterpretationThis takes the theory that underlies quantum mechanics says that everything can be described as a possibility – until we have to describe it as a fact.
But what does this mean?
Despite decades of experimentation and philosophy, the gap between the unstable properties of the quantum system and the measurement we all see with our own eyes has barely narrowed. For all the talk about collapsing waveforms, cats in boxes, and observer effects, we’re no closer to understanding the nature of reality than the early physicists were in the late 1920s.
However, some researchers believe that clues can be found in the space between quantum physics and another great theory born in the early 20th centuryy Century – Einstein’s famous general theory of relativity.
last yeara small group of physicists from the University of Chicago argued about the mere presence of a black hole somewhere nearby pulling the strings of mass in the blurring of quantum states and forcing it to choose one fate.
Now they’re back with the expectation of a follow-up, offering their views on different types of prospects, in an advance print before Peer review.
Imagine a small piece of matter emerging from the darkness inside a sealed box. Unseen, it’s there in the blur of Maybes. It has no single position in the shadow, no definite rotation, and no definite momentum. Most importantly, any light it emits also falls on an infinite spectrum of possibilities.
This particle resonates with its potential in a wave that theoretically propagates to infinity. It is possible to compare this spectrum of possibilities to itself in the same way that a wave on the surface of a pond can split and recombine to form a recognizable pattern of interference, in effect.
Yet every bump and shove in this ripple as it spreads intertwines with another, limiting the range of possibilities open to it. Its interference pattern changes in notable ways, confining its results to a process physicists describe as loss of coherence, or decoherence.
This is the process that physicists Dane Danielson, Gautam Satishchandran, and Robert Wald considered in a thought experiment that would lead to an interesting paradox.
A physicist who peeks inside the box to detect the light emitted by a particle will inevitably engage its environment with hidden particle waves, causing a certain degree of decoherence.
But what if someone else were looking over their shoulder and catching the light emitted by the particle with their eyes? Likewise, by entangling themselves with the light emitted by the particle, they would constrain these possibilities in the particle’s wave, altering it further.
And if the second observer is standing on a distant planet, light years away, peering into the chest through a telescope? Here’s where it gets weird.
Despite the years it took the electromagnetic ripples to travel out of the box, the second observer still entangled the particle. According to quantum theory, this should also cause a noticeable change in the particle’s wave, something the first observer might see long before a colleague on a distant world starts building his telescope.
But what if the second observer disappeared deep into a black hole? The light from the box might easily slip through its horizon, falling into the warping abyss of space-time, but according to the rules of general relativity, no information about its intertwined fate with the second observer can ever seep back in again.
Either what we know about quantum physics is wrong, or we have some serious problems to solve with general relativity.
or, according to Danielson, Satishchandran, and Wald, our second unrelated observer. The line of no return encircling the black hole, known as the event horizon, acts as an observer in itself, eventually causing the decoherence of, well, almost everything. Like a horde of giant eyes across the universe, watching the universe unfold.
creep yet? It’s getting worse.
Black holes aren’t the only phenomenon in which space-time stretches into a one-way street. Any object accelerated enough that approaches the speed of light will, in fact, eventually experience a horizon of sorts from which the information it is emitting cannot return.
According to the most recent study by the trio, these “Rindler HorizonsIt can also produce a similar type of decoherence in quantum states.
This does not mean that the universe is conscious in any way. Conversely, the conclusions could lead to objective theories about how quantum states resolve into absolute measurements, and perhaps where gravitational and quantum physics converge into one comprehensive theory of physics.
The universe is still broken, for now at least.
All we can say is watch this space.
This research has been published in arXiv.