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Posts Tagged ‘Bell's theorem

“The ‘paradox’ is only a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality ‘ought to be’”*…

John Stewart Bell (1928-1990), the Northern Irish physicist whose work sparked a quiet revolution in quantum physics

Elegant experiments with entangled light have laid bare a profound mystery at the heart of reality. Daniel Garisto explains the importance of the work done by this year’s Nobel laureates in Physics…

One of the more unsettling discoveries in the past half century is that the universe is not locally real. “Real,” meaning that objects have definite properties independent of observation—an apple can be red even when no one is looking; “local” means objects can only be influenced by their surroundings, and that any influence cannot travel faster than light. Investigations at the frontiers of quantum physics have found that these things cannot both be true. Instead, the evidence shows objects are not influenced solely by their surroundings and they may also lack definite properties prior to measurement. As Albert Einstein famously bemoaned to a friend, “Do you really believe the moon is not there when you are not looking at it?”

This is, of course, deeply contrary to our everyday experiences. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, the demise of local realism has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Blame for this achievement has now been laid squarely on the shoulders of three physicists: John Clauser, Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger. They equally split the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics “for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science.” (“Bell inequalities” refers to the pioneering work of the Northern Irish physicist John Stewart Bell, who laid the foundations for this year’s Physics Nobel in the early 1960s.) Colleagues agreed that the trio had it coming, deserving this reckoning for overthrowing reality as we know it. “It is fantastic news. It was long overdue,” says Sandu Popescu, a quantum physicist at the University of Bristol. “Without any doubt, the prize is well-deserved.”

“The experiments beginning with the earliest one of Clauser and continuing along, show that this stuff isn’t just philosophical, it’s real—and like other real things, potentially useful,” says Charles Bennett, an eminent quantum researcher at IBM…

Quantum foundations’ journey from fringe to favor was a long one. From about 1940 until as late as 1990, the topic was often treated as philosophy at best and crackpottery at worst. Many scientific journals refused to publish papers in quantum foundations, and academic positions indulging such investigations were nearly impossible to come by…

Today, quantum information science is among the most vibrant and impactful subfields in all of physics. It links Einstein’s general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics via the still-mysterious behavior of black holes. It dictates the design and function of quantum sensors, which are increasingly being used to study everything from earthquakes to dark matter. And it clarifies the often-confusing nature of quantum entanglement, a phenomenon that is pivotal to modern materials science and that lies at the heart of quantum computing…

Eminently worth reading in full: “The Universe Is Not Locally Real, and the Physics Nobel Prize Winners Proved It,” from @dangaristo in @sciam.

Apposite: entangled particles and wormholes could be manifestations of the same phenomenon, and resolve paradoxes like information escaping a black hole: “Black Holes May Hide a Mind-Bending Secret About Our Universe.” 

Richard Feynman


As we rethink reality, we might spare a thought for Walter Brattain; he died on this date in 1987. A physicist (at Bell Labs at the time), he worked with John Bardeen and William Shockley to invent the point-contact transistor in 1947, the birth of the semiconductor– work for which the trio shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956.

At college, Brattain said, he majored in physics and math because they were the only subjects he was good at. He became a solid physicist with a good understanding of theory, but his strength was in physically constructing experiments. Working with the ideas of Shockley and Bardeen, Brattain’s hands built the first transistor. Shortly, the transistor replaced the bulkier vacuum tube for many uses and was the forerunner of microminiature electronic parts.

As semiconductor technology has advanced, it has begun to incorporate quantum effects.


“Bohr was inconsistent, unclear, willfully obscure, and right. Einstein was consistent, clear, down-to-earth, and wrong.”*…

The founders of quantum mechanics understood it to be deeply, profoundly weird. Albert Einstein, for one, went to his grave convinced that the theory had to be just a steppingstone to a more complete description of nature, one that would do away with the disturbing quirks of the quantum.

Then in 1964, John Stewart Bell proved a theorem that would test whether quantum theory was obscuring a full description of reality, as Einstein claimed. Experimenters have since used Bell’s theorem to rule out the possibility that beneath all the apparent quantum craziness — the randomness and the spooky action at a distance — is a hidden deterministic reality that obeys the laws of relativity.

Now a new theorem has taken Bell’s work a step further. The theorem makes some reasonable-sounding assumptions about physical reality. It then shows that if a certain experiment were carried out — one that is, to be fair, extravagantly complicated — the expected results according to the rules of quantum theory would force us to reject one of those assumptions.

According to Matthew Leifer, a quantum physicist at Chapman University who did not participate in the research, the new work focuses attention on a class of interpretations of quantum mechanics that until now have managed to escape serious scrutiny from similar “no-go” theorems.

Broadly speaking, these interpretations argue that quantum states reflect our own knowledge of physical reality, rather than being faithful representations of something that exists out in the world. The exemplar of this group of ideas is the Copenhagen interpretation, the textbook version of quantum theory, which is most popularly understood to suggest that particles don’t have definite properties until those properties are measured. Other Copenhagen-like quantum interpretations go even further, characterizing quantum states as subjective to each observer…

… which has, as you will see as you read on in the piece excerpted above, some pretty profoundly weird implications. Either the rules of quantum mechanics don’t always apply, or at least one basic assumption about reality must be wrong: “A New Theorem Maps Out the Limits of Quantum Physics.”

See also “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

* John Stewart Bell


As we pity Schrödinger’s cat, we might we might send penetrating birthday greetings to Henry Way Kendall; he was born on this date in 1926. A particle physicist, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1990 (with Jerome Isaac Friedman and Richard E. Taylor) “for their pioneering investigations concerning deep inelastic scattering of electrons on protons and bound neutrons, which have been of essential importance for the development of the quark model in particle physics.”

In 1969, Kendall helped found the Union of Concerned Scientists. In 1997, in connection with the Kyoto Climate Summit, he helped produce a statement signed by 2,000 scientists calling for action on global warming.


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