Two really interesting articles this morning call into the question the role of the ‘observer’ in quantum physics. The headlines are sensational to be sure, but the implications are so huge that perhaps some sensationalism is warranted. Understanding exactly how a photon goes about behaving as both a particle and a wave simultaneously would seem to reconcile the so called quantum enigma, and restores a bit of the soulless nature of the Standard Model of physics to the forefront of the universe. It would seem the role of the observer as it pertains to understanding reality now depends a good bit upon the tools the observer has at it’s disposal:
Quantum mechanics is famous for saying that a tree falling in a forest when there’s no one there doesn’t make a sound. Quantum mechanics also says that if anyone is listening, it interferes with and changes the tree. And so the famous paradox: how can we know reality if we cannot measure it without distorting it?
The articles discuss some recent experiments that have upended the typical results of the classic double slit experiment by measuring both the position and momentum of an object at the same time.
Neils Bohr’s principal of Complementarity states that observing particle-like or wave-like behavior in the classic double-slit experiment depends on the type of measurement made: the system cannot behave as both a particle and wave simultaneously. The idea that the type of measurement made plays a part in determining physical reality has become somewhat entrenched in modern thinking. Apparently that doesn’t have to be the case: the system can behave as both.
Intriguingly, the trajectories closely match those predicted by an unconventional interpretation of quantum mechanics known as pilot-wave theory, in which each particle has a well-defined trajectory that takes it through one slit while the associated wave passes through both slits. The traditional interpretation of quantum mechanics, known as the Copenhagen interpretation, dismisses the notion of trajectories, and maintains that it is meaningless to ask what value a variable, such as momentum, has if that’s not what is being measured.
If we’re chipping away at complementarity – can Bell’s Theorem be far behind? Bell had wanted his theorem to prove a definitive objective reality, but when tested it confirmed objective reality is a flawed concept. Now it appears that the notion that quantum mechanics allows an object to exist as two mutually exclusive things until we observe it may be flawed. These articles seems to say that not only are the two things not mutually exclusive – but that the observer is really of no consequence.