New experiment shows reality may actually be real


A team of scientists recently ran an exciting quantum physics experiment that allowed them to show that reality could actually be real.

Well, don’t all applaud at once. It’s actually an amazing feat of science.

Let’s start with a simple question. How do you demonstrate that reality is real? you can pinch yourself But that just shows that you are capable of sensing pain.

Fictional characters can experience pain, so that doesn’t give us a clue.

Indeed, as I wrote in a recent Neural newsletter, we cannot be 100% certain that we are not living in a doppelganger universe or simulation. And that’s why we can’t be sure that we aren’t fictional characters ourselves.

For the sake of argument, let’s just assume that we are real and that our universe does exist. If that’s true, then we should be able to show—in some way, no matter how odd—that our reality is indeed objective.

The problem is that reality is not as simple as our ability to perceive it. What you or I experience as objective reality can differ significantly.

do science

To truly determine whether an objective reality exists, we must find a way to demonstrate its existence without relying on our observations.

We have already established that our senses are meaningless here. What we need are measurements.

And that is exactly what the aforementioned team of scientists, led by Brazilian physicist Pedro Dieguez, wanted to do when they conducted the experiment that could one day be called the cornerstone in our quest to define and demonstrate objective physical realism.

According to the team’s research report:

We show that our setup, in contrast to previous proposals, ensures a formal connection between the initial visibility and elements of reality inside the interferometer.

An experimental proof-of-principle is provided for a two-spin 1/2 system in an interferometric setup implemented in a nuclear magnetic resonance platform.

We discuss how our results largely confirm Bohr’s original formulation of the principle of complementarity and reveal changing states of reality.

sorry what?

Okay, let’s back up a bit and have fun figuring out what this all means.

Measuring reality is a tricky business. We cannot step out of reality to take a snapshot of what the truth looks like. We are essentially like fish in a sealed aquarium trying to figure out what is beyond the confines of our perception.

This is where quantum mechanics and Nobel laureate Niels Bohr come in.

We can imagine that our universe encompasses all physical objects in existence, including us.

Quantum physics tells us that if we magnify anything in our universe, we will eventually reveal a complex world made up of tiny objects that interact in ways we cannot observe in our everyday reality.

But here’s the thing: If we can figure out how objects work on very, very small scales, we should be able to figure out how the universe works on very, very massive scales.

Bohr seemed to think that there was not as much difference between the two as Newtonian physics would have us believe.

Started with the Quantum, now here we are

One of the most important discoveries we have made regarding quantum physics is the fact that certain objects can act as both waves and particles at the same time.

The easiest way to visualize this is to imagine the famous double-slit experiment. Essentially, you shoot a beam of light at a piece of cardboard with two slits in it. Because the beam is larger than the slits, the photons — the tiny things that make up light — have to figure out how to squeeze through the slits so they can shine on the other side.

If light were just particles, we’d expect it to shoot through the slits and display a solid image on a background behind the box. And if it were just waves, we couldn’t measure individual photons as discrete particles.

As my colleague Napier Lopez puts it:

Thanks to Thomas Young double slot experiment we definitely know that light behaves like a wave. If you shine a beam of light on a sheet of paper with two slits of a certain size, an interference pattern will show up on the other side. This behavior can only occur when light behaves like a wave, since the pattern is caused by the constructive and destructive interference you expect when waves interact.

On the other hand, Einstein’s seminal work of 1905 on the photoelectric effect mathematically proven that light comes in discrete packets: particles. This threw a turning point in physics, considering that the double-slit experiment had been replicated for over a hundred years by this point.

As it turned out, later experiments showed that even if you shoot individual particles through a double slit, they still show an interference pattern on the other side. The only explanation is that the basic building blocks of the universe have the properties of both particles and waves.

disagreement in science

This has led many scientists to believe in what is known as a “wave function collapse”. This essentially states that the quantum potential – the moment when something can be either one or the other – breakdowns to what it will eventually become.

When you toss a coin, it can land heads or tails until you watch its landing and determine the actual outcome. The “landing” in this case would be somewhat analogous to a waveform collapse.

But our buddy Niels Bohr had offered a slightly different perspective principle of complementarity. He never mentioned anything about quantum collapse; Instead, he believed that objects had pairs of complementary principles that could never be measured simultaneously. This explained the need for two different physical systems, but did not solve the problem of bringing together classical and quantum measurements.

The scientists who conducted the modern experiment may have validated Bohr’s principle with a clever workaround – something never done before – while also alluding to objective reality.

reality, really

We know that we cannot look at objective reality from an outsider’s perspective at this time. And Bohr tells us that we cannot measure the particle and wave functions of a quantum object at the same time.

However, what we can do is reverse engineer a quantum result to demonstrate a facet of reality that confirms wave and particle function simultaneously without observation. At least that’s the premise of the Dieguez team.

According to the team paper:

Our experimental demonstration probably shows for the first time (to the best of our knowledge) the possibility of really superimposing wave and particle elements on reality to any degree.

By using the figures of merit RW,P(ρ), which rest exclusively on the temporal-local context defined by the composite state ρ and the observables {W, P}, and thus respecting premises of standard quantum mechanics, our avoids Retro-Causation Model Inferring and describing “the whole” appropriately.

Photo credit: Nature, Dieguez et al.

A conclusion for eternity

Dieguez and her team essentially forced a quantum system to validate part of Bohr’s principle. We can say with almost absolute certainty that it is possible to demonstrate classical results through quantum measurements.

And from there, physicists should be able to design more experiments to blur the lines between quantum and classical physics.

This could potentially lead to a grand unified theory that fills the gaps between the quantum world, where things can teleport, be in two places at once, and switch between states of matter without expending energy, and the classical world, where what going up must come down.

This unification is not only the most important problem in physics, but the holy grail of science.

If we can apply our ability to observe quantum effects to the cosmos in general, and reconcile such observations with our classical reality, we may be able to figure out exactly what the universe is made of, how much of it there is, and our universe’s true relative position is in it.

This work could be a stepping stone on the way to that enlightenment. Maybe one day we’ll find out exactly what’s outside of the aquarium we swim in.


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