Black Holes: Part I

I realize it’s been a couple months since my last post on Gravitational Waves, where I said that I would be posting about black holes next. I had a lot happen in the past couple months that I had to deal with before I could start focusing on blogging again. Today, I will give a brief introduction to black holes, and the next post will go into further detail. Stay tuned, and stay patient ūüôā

 

There are only three things you need to know to understand a black hole and that is it’s 1) mass, 2) spin, and 3) electric charge.

By definition a black hole is ¬†an object whose¬†escape speed¬†is the speed of light. Escape speed is the speed it takes for an object to escape gravity (the curvature of spacetime). In order for an object to escape a black hole, it must reach the speed of light. Therefore, light itself cannot escape a black hole. The speed of light can be thought as the “speed limit” of the universe.

It is known that an object that comes into contact with a black hole gets sucked in by it’s gravity and cannot escape. Once the object is sucked in, it is no longer visible and all of it’s information is believed to be lost forever, as if it never existed.

Although a black hole’s gravity is a very strong force, an object that enters into it’s orbit is able to escape as long as it does not cross the¬†event horizon¬†of the black hole. Before reaching the event horizon, gravity is weak. Thus, a slight push would allow for an object to escape the black hole. Once that object reaches the event horizon, it has reached a point of no return. Gravity becomes so strong, that the object would have to have that much stronger of a push in order to get out. Once the object reaches the singularity of the black hole- the small, dense skeleton of the dead star and the source of strong gravity, that is when the object needs a push faster than the speed of light to escape, and that cannot happen. This is why we remain oblivious as to what goes on inside of a black hole, because an object that falls past the event horizon is said to never leave, giving us zero information about what’s inside.

event horizon

Picture from¬†¬†Shane Larson’s blog;¬†who provides a lucid, and entertaining explanation of everything science!

That’s it for now, stay tuned for more ūüôā

This post is part of a series, for links to other posts, click here!

Waves of Spacetime- GW150914

On February 11th, 2016 the world was exposed to a shocking discovery that scientist’s have been questioning since the 1910’s. The idea of Gravitational Waves had been tossed around but never confirmed. This was mostly due to the fact that the detection of a GW seemed impossible because the technology simply did not exist. However, nothing is impossible in the scientific community. The first encounter with GW was with the Hulse-Taylor Pulsar, in which they observed the pulsar’s orbital decay which matched Einstein’s predictions of energy loss by gravitational radiation. This discovery would win them the Nobel Prize in 1993.

Not too many people are familiar with gravitational waves, so I will take this opportunity to clear things up. By the way, the name of the GW detected in the title of this post is the date that it was found! Fun fact for the day.

What is a GW? A gravitational wave is formed by a mass in motion. Think of a stone tossed into a lake. The stone creates ripples, or waves that propagate throughout the lake. The¬†same idea can be applied in space. However,¬†stones in a waternot all masses in space are strong enough to¬†send ripples through spacetime. Only the large, energetic ones like a rotating binary system, supernova’s, black holes, etc. These massive objects are so strong that the space around them will “ripple” as they spin or explode while they are losing energy in the form of gravitational waves. This is why the detection of GW is huge. Only massive violent events in space cause them, therefore, we can study¬†GW to learn more about the events that produced them, like mysterious black holes and possibly the big bang itself.

How do we detect gravitational waves? As previously stated, GW are nearly impossible to detect. As they pass through, they cause distances to change and periodic deformations. Their effect, however, is so small which makes it difficult to detect them. This is because gravity is a weak force and the period of the wave is extremely small. For example, a mass with a diameter of 1 meter would only be deformed by 10^-21 meters. This is why it is very difficult to detect GW. Nevertheless, physicist Albert Michelson came along to show us how we could measure such a small motion. Using the wavelength of light as a measuring device we are able to detect precise movements for exquisitely small distances, or periods.

How is light used as a measuring device?¬†If you’ve ever taken a physics class then you’veinter probably learned about Young’s two slit experiment that allowed us to “see” the wavelengths of light. A single light beam that is shined through two slits can be seen on a blank¬†screen some distance away as a pattern of light and dark “fringes.” This is known as interference. The distance between fringes is directly related to wavelength.

 

Laser Interferometer’s
obs
LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) is a collaboration between multiple physics institutes and research groups dedicated to the search for GW’s, which began in August 2002. Because the wavelength of a GW is directly related to the size of the cosmic event, detectors must be about the size of the cosmic event. Thus, we have two types of man-made devices: Ground Interferometer’s, designed for small cosmic sites w/ GW of a few thousand kilometers, and Space Interferometer’s, designed for large cosmic sites with wavelengths tens of millions of kilometers. The ground interferometers are located in Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisana.

Basically, an interferometer sends out a laser beam that hits a beam splitter, splits the light in two where the light is directed toward mirrors that finally send the light back to the beam splitter to form an interference pattern. The arms of the interferometer are the trajectory of the beams, so the pattern depends on the distance between the arms.

laser

If a GW goes through, the distance between the arms changes, leaving the interference pattern changing periodically!
In theory, LIGO could also detect hypothetical phenomena of GW caused by oscillating cosmic strings, and domain walls

LISAPathFinder
Lisa is the first space interferometer that was successfully launched on December 3, 2015. The mission is to map out the technical difficulties that may be experienced by eLisa, which will be launched with three satellites positioned 5 million km away from each other with laser beams connecting the three satellites. Any change in the distance of laser light will suggest a GW passing through.

To watch and learn more about this fascinating historic event, see the video below!

 

Are we really able to learn about the creation of the universe by studying a GW?
Because gravity is such a weak force, gravitational waves interact weakly with their environment. In fact, the effect is so small that they don’t change much because of their weak interactions. This makes them the perfect little “messengers” of distant cosmic events, providing us more information on gravity and how the universe works as gravity is turned into waves.

Side note- an interesting comment was made in the discussion post on GW so I thought I would share:
“gravitational waves, to me, would better explain some kind of d√©j√† v√Ļ, because space time is being curved, it would be a variation on the time that maybe allows someone to look into the past or future for a few milliseconds (or the time it takes to the wave to¬†pass)” -M.A
Something to think about!

That about sums up the discussion on gravitational waves, next time I will talk about black holes- their mysterious nature, escaping them and how GW will provide us with information we would never be able to gather otherwise!

This post is part of a series, for links to other posts, click here!

The Implications of Gravity in Spacetime

The theories in which modern science rest heavily upon were presented hundreds of years ago by the scientists we have grown to learn about and love. Their theories have yet to be disproved, and that is why those theories are the platform on which modern science now rests. It is a strong platform, but as it ages, we must fill in the cracks. That’s where we are at in this day and age, filling in the cracks of an old foundation. Gravity is the most fundamental force in the universe, yet it is a very weak force. The series of posts I am about to share rely heavily on our concept of Gravity, so it’s important to get the basics down first.

We will start with Galileo. In a uniform gravitational field, Galileo believed¬†that all Galileoobjects fall identically-irrespective to their mass. To prove his theory, he climbed up the Leaning Tower of Pisa where he dropped various masses. In doing so, he proved that when an object is in free fall, it will not experience a force in relation to it’s mass and that all objects, regardless of their mass will move in the same direction, at the same time. Think of an elevator- your head and shoes will “fall” at the same time, even though your head is heavier than your shoes. Galileo gave us the understanding of inertia; where an object that is set into motion stays in motion until it is acted upon by some external force.

Aristotle believed that the Earth did not move because if you threw a ball straight up in the air it would come straight back down, instead of going to the left/right etc. Galileo argued this idea giving an example of the cabin of a ship. Inside the cabin, if there are no windows, there is no way to tell if the ship is moving or not. Galileo concluded that the laws of physics are identical in all Galilean (intertial) reference frames, providing us with our first encounter with relativity.

newton

Next, Sir Isaac Newton comes along to explain the force that acts upon all objects. Newton’s first law of motion is essentially Galileo’s concept of intertia. The second law of motion tells us that the force needed to act upon an object depends on it’s mass and acceleration. If you have a large mass with a large acceleration, you will need a large force to act upon it and so on. Finally, Newton’s third law of motion state’s that for every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction.

Newton’s laws gave us a better understanding of the physical world around us. Einstein decided to apply his idea’s to the entire universe. On November 25th, 1915 Einstein
published his Theory of Special Relativity. This theory has Einsteinprovided us a profound understanding of our universe, and much of what we know has been found using Einstein’s theories. Special Relativity tells us that the¬†speed of light is the same in all constantly moving frames and that¬†Time slows down the faster you travel and vice versa.

To better understand the idea of special relativity, I will provide an analogy from the book “Hyperspace” by Michio Kaku: Continue reading “The Implications of Gravity in Spacetime”

Background

I randomly signed up for an online physics course that would last six weeks. Little did I know, I would become so intrigued by the end that I am now spending every spare second reading science blogs, science books, and re-watching the lectures of the course. I plan to share with whomever takes the time to read this, the exciting new things that I learned from the course.

Let me start with an introduction about the course.

The title of the course was “Gravity! From the big bang to black holes.” So, as you may assume, the topics ranged from¬†Einstein’s general relativity, the big bang, inflation, dark matter, dark energy, gravitational waves, and black holes. Some old concepts, some new (to me). The best thing about the course was that you did not need to have any background in physics. Just an appetite for learning, and maybe some extra research on your own time if interested.

The course was taught by Professor Pierre Binetruy of Paris Diderot University. Pierre was the first director of the AstroParticle and Cosmology laboratory in Paris upon it’s creation. His main interests, according to a bio online,¬†include¬†cosmology and gravitation; connecting the theories of the early universe and fundamental interactions. He’s highly knowledgeable about inflation models, dark energy, and cosmological background of gravitational waves. Due to these areas of interest, he is highly involved in the eLisa mission- which I will go into more detail about later on.

I would just like to express¬†how happy I am about taking this class. The course provided such¬†lucid, comprehensible¬†explanations on theories and concepts of physics. There was hardly any math involved, which was nice. The detailed explanations and demonstration’s made these unfamiliar concepts easy to grasp. Finally, Pierre arranged live hangouts where we were introduced to prestigious¬†scientists, and we were able to ask questions during a live chat. George Smoot was one scientist that was present during the hangouts, and also recorded a lecture himself to explain the concept that won him the Nobel Prize in 2006. We were also able to meet key scientists that were actively involved in the LISAPathfinder mission, which was launched 12/03/2015. This mission will (hopefully) uncover another corner of the veil on the universe. I¬†now anxiously await the discoveries that will be made from this mission. The series of blog posts that follow should explain why.

Here I will post the links to the series of posts I will be writing:

  1. The Implications of Gravity in Spacetime
  2. Waves of Spacetime- GW150914
  3. Black Holes: Part I

Quantum Enigma part 4 (review)- “reality,” separability, and entanglement.

What Einstein once called “spooky actions” were proven to actually exist after Bell’s theorem demonstrated them in the laboratory. These “spooky actions” are now called entanglement, and this is when one object influences another without any physical force connecting the two.

Bell’s Theorem: suppose our world has physically real properties that are¬†not¬†created by their observation (this would be, ‘reality’). Also, suppose that objects can be separated from each other so that what happens to one cannot instantaneously affect the other (and the term that refers to this would be ‘separability’). Using only these to premises, Bell assumed that certain observable quantities could not be larger than certain other observable quantities. Now we have “Bell’s inequality” where this must be true in any world with reality and separability. If Bell’s inequality is violated in¬†any¬†situation, one or both premises logically leading to it (reality and separability) must be false. In other words, if Bell’s inequality is¬†ever¬†violated, no objects with reality and separability can exist in our actual world. Bell expected the inequality to be violated, as quantum theory predicts.

Intentionally ridiculous story to explain “twin-state” photons being polarized (experiment used to demonstrate the results of Bell’s Theorem)- Imagine that a photon is steered by a little “photon pilot” and the polarizer is just a traffic sign indicating an “orientation” with an arrow. The photon pilot carries a travel document instructing him how to steer his photon on path 1 or path 2 depending on the traffic sign. His sister, piloting the photon’s twin, follows her identical instructions at the traffic sign she encounters with no regard for the behavior of her brother.

When the experiments were done, Bell’s inequality was, in fact, violated. Our real world therefore, does not have both reality and separability. But what¬†is¬†reality?

John Clauser was intrigued by Bell’s theorem and quantum theory. He decided to test Bell’s inequality himself. His experiments showed that properties of our world either have only an observation-created reality, or, that there exists a connectedness beyond that diminished by ordinary physical forces, or both.¬†“My own. . . vain hopes of overthrowing quantum mechanics were shattered by the data.” – John Clauser. Clauser’s experiment produced strong confirmation that Bell’s inequality was violated in the way quantum theory predicted.

So what does the violation of Bell’s inequality tell us?

“Reality”- term used for the existence of physically real properties not created by their observation.

Definition of physical reality in EPR: If a property of an object can be known without any observation of it, that property was not created by observation. It thus existed as a physical reality.

Quantum theory denies this “reality.” After experimentation, it is ruled out that we cannot have¬†both¬†reality and separability. The experiments rule out separability in our actual world.

Separability- the ability to separate objects so that what happens to one in¬†no way¬†affects what happens to others. Without separability, what happens at one place¬†can¬†instantaneously affect what happens far away- even though no physical force connects the objects. This is what Einstein referred to as “spooky action” but Bohr referred to it as an “influence.” Considering our actual world does not have separability, which has generally been accepted,¬†“Any objects that have ever interacted are forever entangled, and therefore what happens to one influences the other.. and the behavior of everything entangled with it….. Quantum theory has this connectedness extending over the entire universe….In a sense, since everything¬†has at least indirectly interacted, there is thus, in principle, a universal connectedness.”

Inductive reasoning- the assumption that because one thing is the way it is, all things alike must be the same. Inductive reasoning entered the box-pairs experiment when we assumed we could have chosen to do the experiment opposite to what was actually done (look in the box instead of interference pattern..). “The enigma arose because we assumed we could have¬†chosen¬†to do other than what we in fact did,” assuming we had free will and our choice was not predetermined by what was “actually” in each set of box pairs. Denial of free will goes beyond the notion that what we choose to do is determined by the electrochemistry of our brain. This denial would imply a completely deterministic and conspiratorial world in which our supposedly free choices are programmed to coincide with an external physical situation. Inductive reasoning assumes that what we¬†chose¬†to observe represents everything related, and that we could have chosen to look at the opposite. Induction and free will are closely related.

So it has been claimed that you are quantum mechanically entangled with anyone you have ever encountered, presumably more so for more intense encounters. This is a stretch vastly beyond anything demonstrable, therefore beyond anything meaningful. Complex entanglement essentially becomes no entanglement.¬†“Since truly macroscopic objects are almost impossible to isolate, they rapidly become entangled with everything else in their environment. The effect of such complex entanglement generally becomes undetectable. Nevertheless, there is, in principle, a universal connectedness whose meaning we have yet to understand. We can indeed ‘see the world in a grain of sand.’ ”

Interpreting the quantum enigma– there are many interpretations. The book presents ten of them. We have already discussed the Copenhagen interpretation, but just to refresh our memories- observation essentially creates the physical reality of the microscopic world, but the “observer” can, for all practical purposes, be considered to be a macroscopic measuring device, a Geiger counter, for example. Also, since we supposedly never see the microscopic world directly, we can ignore it’s weirdness and ignore physics encounter with consciousness. It’s suggested that we create the reality of the microscopic world by looking at it. However, big things (that are made up of the microscopic objects) are impossible to completely isolate, therefore, they are always being “observed” and are real enough. So big things are the only thing that matters for all practical purposes. This interpretation allows physicists to ignore the philosophical aspects of quantum theory, and get back to the practicality.

Decoherence– The term “collapse” was used to describe the process of observation by which a superposition state wavefunction becomes an observed single reality. Instead of collapse, a physicist today might use the word “decoherence.” This term refers to the now, well studied process by which a wavefunction of a microscopic object interacts with the macroscopic environment to produce the result we actually observe.

Many Worlds– there is no “collapse.” This interpretation refers to the cosmological idea that there are parallel worlds in which the reality of one world may be the opposite reality in another. In one world, Shrodinger’s cat is alive, in another it is dead. With this interpretation, you are part of the universal wavefunction. With the box pairs- when looking into one of the boxes, you entangle with the atom’s superposition state. You go into a superposition state both of having seen the atom in the box you looked in and also of having seen that box empty. There are now two of you, one in each of two parallel worlds. The consciousness of each one of you is unaware of the other “you.” Bell’s theorem suggests that our actual world cannot have reality and certainly cannot have separability (the ability to separate objects so that what happens to one in no way affects what happens to others. Without separability, what happens at one place can instantaneously affect what happens far away- even though no physical force connects the objects). In the Many Worlds interpretation there is no separability. ¬†“Not only are we removed from the center of the cosmos to a tiny spot in a limitless universe, but the world we experience is just a minute fraction of all worlds. However, “we” exist in many of them. Many Worlds, the most bizarre description of reality ever seriously proposed provides a fascinating base for speculation, and for science fiction.”

Transactional– allows the wavefunction to evolve backward, as well as forward in time. In other words, the future affects the past. “When we stand in the dark and look at a star a hundred light years away, not only have the retarded light waves from the stars been traveling for a hundred years to reach our eyes, but the advanced waves generated by absorption processes within our eyes have reached a hundred years into the past, completing the transaction that permitted the star to shine in our direction” – John Cramer.

I have presented a handful of the interpretations that are in the book. Quantum mechanics shows that our reasonable, everyday worldview is fundamentally flawed. Interpretations of the theory offer different worldviews, but every one of them involves the mystery of consciousness. No interpretation can ever avoid the encounter with consciousness because the encounter arises directly from theory-neutral experimental demonstration. They can only offer a way to avoid dealing with consciousness.

We have learned that an object far away¬†can¬†influence the behavior of another without any physical force connecting the two, and our conscious perception of free will is hindered by this result. Was it our choice to observe the outcome of a particular experiment, or was our ‘choice’ predetermined by an influence beyond our knowing? Keep in mind, our perception of free will arises only from our¬†conscious¬†experience¬†of it as being free. We know that we have free will because we experience it everyday. We believe we are conscious human beings because of our awareness of our surroundings and our subjective, inner experiences. I can be certain that I am a conscious individual because of my own internal experience. I cannot be certain, however, that my peers are nothing more than highly intelligent robots. We¬†will next be looking into the mystery of consciousness, it’s encounter with the enigma, and conclude with what it all might mean.

This post is part of a series, for links to other topics click here!

Quantum Enigma part 3 (review)- What constitutes an observation, and Schr√∂dinger’s controversial cat

Now that we have dove deep into the abyss of the quantum enigma through discussing the details of the theory-neutral experiments performed in which the enigma came about, we will now discuss what those experiments encountered- the observer.

Niels Bohr recognized that physics had encountered the observer and came up with the “Copenhagen interpretation” at his institute in Copenhagen. There is no “official” interpretation, but each version asserts that an observation produces the property observed.

What is meant by observation? Think of an observation taking place whenever a macroscopic object interacts with a microscopic object. Example- when a piece of photographic film is hit by a photon and records where the photon landed, the film “observes” the photon. Considering the fact that we never deal directly with microscopic objects such as atoms, it is only necessary to consider the response they have on our macroscopic objects to be real, since this is the only behavior we report.

The Copenhagen interpretation rests on three ideas- The Three Pillars of Copenhagen.

The probability interpretation of the wavefunction-¬†the probability interpretation of waviness- probability of an object being found in certain region, is central to the Copenhagen interpretation. Quantum mechanics displays nature’s intrinsic randomness (on the atomic level). Probability in quantum mechanics implies more than randomness. Quantum probability is not where the atom¬†is.¬†It is the objective probability of where you, or anybody who looks, will find it. The atom wasn’t someplace until someone observed it to be there. “Observations not only disturb what is to be measured, they produce it.” – Pascual Jordan. So, only the observed properties of microscopic objects exist. “No microscopic property is a property until it is an observed property.” – John Wheeler. In other words, the microscopic objects are not themselves real. They are just possibilities, they are abstract, not physical. So how do we account for big things that are made up of the small things? Basically, the small things that are not dealt with don’t actually exist. So they are just used to describe the bigger things. The idea here is not to figure out how nature¬†is,¬†but what we can¬†say¬†about nature. How we can explain the actual world.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle:¬†Heisenberg was Bohr’s colleague who is known for his contributions in explaining the quantum enigma in his belief that everything is quantum mechanical and therefore subject to the enigma. Basically, with this principle- “The more accurately you measure an object’s position, the more uncertain you will be about it’s speed. And the more accurately you measure an objects speed, the more uncertain you will be about it’s position.” This principle can be derived directly from the¬†Schr√∂dinger equation. “In fact, the observation of any property makes a ‘complementary’ quantity uncertain.” Example- position and speed are complimentary quantities, same for energy and time, etc. So basically, observation of any property disturbs what will be observed, preventing refutation of quantum theory’s assertion that observation¬†creates¬†the property observed.

Complementarity:¬†This is the third pillar of the Copenhagen interpretation and it is what disturbed Einstein the most, not randomness- it is the hard one to accept). Think back to our box-pairs experiment. When opening one box at a time, you find an atom to be wholly in the first or second box opened. Supposed you do this with 1,000 box-pairs. You throw out the half in which you saw, and therefore, disturbed the atom. You are left with 500 box-pairs whose atoms are not physically disturbed. But for these boxes you¬†know¬†which box each atom is in; the box you did not look in (the 500 boxes you still have). Suppose you do an interference experiment with these boxes and the supposedly undisturbed atoms do not produce an interference pattern. Although these atoms were not physically disturbed, you determined which box the atoms were in. “Apparently, your acquisition of that knowledge¬†was sufficient enough to concentrate each atom totally within a single box.” Bohr asserts that the two aspects of a microscopic object, it’s particle aspect, and it’s wave aspect are “complimentary.”

“Altough physicists talk of atoms and other microscopic entities as if they were actual physical things, microscopic things are only concepts we use to describe the behavior of our measuring instruments.”

As I was talking about this book with a coworker, he stated the exact words that this book points out all of us will likely think- “But I could have chosen to do the opposite, therefore I have free will” and we usually leave it at that. We could have done the opposite and produced the opposite outcome. However, the Copenhagen interpretation would suggest not to think about experiments that you¬†might¬†have done but did not in¬†fact¬†do. It is our perception that we could have chosen to do the opposite that give rise to the quantum enigma. “Not done experiments have no results!” Although we have the knowledge that one experiment produces an outcome that is different to the other experiment, we cannot actually display a logical contradiction using the same boxes, and the same atoms. This assumption- that we could have done other than what we actually did is called “counterfactual definiteness.” One example- believing that if you did not eat lunch, you’d be hungry is counterfactual definiteness. Denying counterfactual definiteness, the copenhagen interpretation would seem to deny free will. So is free will an illusion?

Psychology analogy on behavior– “The¬†physical¬†behavior itself presents no paradox. The person’s physical movements make sense in that they accord with Newton’s law of motion. A person’s¬†motives,¬†however, are¬†theories¬†that should explain the person’s behavior. But the motives themselves need not, and often do not, make sense. We pragmatically accept this stance in dealing with people. The Copenhagen interpretation asks us to accept this stance in dealing with microscopic physical phenomena- that the microscopic objects should explain that behavior of our macroscopic objects, but the microscopic objects themselves need not ‘make sense’.”

Although quantum mechanics doesn’t completely make sense (to anyone- including scientists), not a single prediction has ever been proven wrong. It works perfectly. Observation-creation reality suggests that the small things are only real when they are being observed, this may seem absurd. But, the small things are only models, they do not need to make sense, they just need to work. Large things are real enough, so everything is fine. For all practical purposes, big things are always being looked at, so you never see any craziness with them. “Science provides no meanings. Science just tells us what will happen. It just predicts what will be observed… Science can reveal no real world beyond what is observed. Anything else is merely philosophy.”

Schr√∂dinger’s Controversial Cat– After realizing how absurd quantum theory seemed, Schr√∂dinger took back his claim and came up with a story to prove why quantum theory couldn’t work. This story involved a cat being placed in a box with a radioactive atom that had a 50% probability of decaying and firing a Geiger counter to pop the cork and open a bottle of cyanide, killing the cat, so when you opened the box, you would find that cat dead or alive. However, it is emphasized by Rosenblum and Kuttner that whether the cat is seen as dead or alive is completely random, and cannot be influenced by the observer (or anything else). This example explicitly displays that quantum theory not only has observation creating the reality observed, but the appropriate history to go with it. Example- suppose you wait 8 hours to look into the box and see whether the cat is dead or alive. If you find the cat alive, you assume the cat is hungry since it has gone 8 hours without eating. If you find the cat dead, an examination by a veterinary forensic pathologist would determine that the cat died eight hours ago. – “Your observation not only creates a current reality, it also creates the history appropriate to that reality.”

“Somewhere something incredible is waiting to happen….” John Wheeler

This post is part of a series, for links to other topics click here!

Quantum Enigma part 2 (review).. The nature of matter- is it a compact particle, or a spread out wave?

I would like to begin this post by pointing out that you do not need to have a strong background in physics in order to appreciate the Quantum Enigma, or even any background in physics at all. The enigma¬†can be appreciated by anyone who is interested in the philosophical debate on free will, and our entire perception of consciousness and reality. Just remember it’s very important that you keep an open mind when learning the controversial information of the results of experimentation as it is confusing, and consequently hard to believe.

Just to clear some things up from the previous post-

The “wavefunction” of an object, is merely the object itself (spread out, or compact- not both) and it’s “waviness” is simply the¬†probability¬†of where an object will be found¬†in a particular place. NOT the probability of an object actually¬†being¬†in a certain place. Waviness is, in technical terms, the absolute square of the wavefunction, but it is essentially probability.

In order to refresh our memories,¬†it is important to remember that the two-slit experiment produced an interference pattern, which suggested that light is a spread out wave. The bright spots are where the crests of the waves added together (constructive interference) and the dark spots are where a crest of one wave meets the trough of another and cancel each other (destructive interference). The bright spots have the greatest probability of being observed. The photoelectric experiment suggests that light is a particle. I also forgot to mention a very important man in the previous post- Prince Louis de Broglie. He shared Einstein’s concern with lights duality, wondering if there is a deeper meaning to the wave-particle paradox. If light has dual properties, could this be true of nature itself? This is when de Broglie began to consider matter as being a particle or a wave.

Meanwhile, as De Broglie was speculating this aspect, an accident occurred in the labs of telephone companies in NY. Normally, electrons bounced off amorphous metal surfaces in all directions. That behavior was important for telephone transmissions. However, after the accident in which air had leaked in and oxidized the nickel surface, the metal was heated to drive off the oxygen. The nickel crystallized, forming an array of ‘slits’. Electrons now bounced off in only a few, well-defined directions. It was an interference pattern demonstrating the electron’s wave nature, this confirmed de Broglie’s speculation that matter could also be waves!

So basically¬†we have learned so far about the wave-particle paradox with light.¬†Schr√∂dinger was the first to recognize this contradiction where he went on to produce an equation governing waves of matter. This universal equation would apply to both small and large objects. For big things, Schr√∂dinger’s equation essentially becomes Newton’s universal equation of motion. Therefore, Schr√∂dinger’s¬†equation is the¬†new¬†universal law of motion.

The next couple of chapters deal with atoms¬†using the same two experiments in order to confirm¬†whether matter can be a particle or a wave. Note that depending how you look, you can see both. Using an atom as our object, it’s helpful to think of it as a really tiny green marble.

This time, the experiments are done using box-pairs. For all experiments, the marble is placed in an apparatus that launches the marble into the pair of boxes. In the first experiment, the observer opens one box at a time. This experiment is done several times, and each time, it is certain that, when the observer looks, they will find the marble wholly in one box. If the observer sees the marble in the first box that is opened, it is known that the marble cannot be in the second box, and therefore, when the observer looks, the second box is totally empty. Furthermore, if the observer does not see the marble in the first box, it becomes known that the marble must be in the other box. When the second box is opened, the observer will in fact find the marble wholly in that box.

Next, the box-pair is placed in front of a sticky screen, and again the experimenter opens¬†one box at a time. Not being able to see the marble, as it is moving so fast, the experimenter hears the marble hit the screen and therefore can determine which box the marble came out of. If they hear the ‘plink’ of the marble after opening the first box, they will not hear the plink upon opening the second and vice versa.

Finally, another¬†experiment is done by opening both boxes at essentially the same time. The box-pairs were again placed in front of the sticky screen. When the boxes were both opened, the marble was projected out (so fast that it could not be observed) but the experimenter ‘heard’ the plink of the marble hit the screen. When the experimenter looked, they found the marble on the screen. This process was repeated several times with several box-pairs positioned in the same place. The observer notices a pattern of the marbles on the screen. This experiment produced an interference pattern. It seemed that the marbles followed a rule, where they only landed in certain spots. In other words, more areas of the screen was more dense with marbles than other areas on the screen.

In the first experiment, when opening the boxes separately a uniform pattern appeared. But when opening the boxes at the same time the pattern appears- more or less marbles in certain spots. But how can opening the empty box along with the box that contained the marble affect where the marble will land? The experimenter exclaims that opening a box that was truly empty would have no affect. So it must be true that each and every marble was simultaneously in both boxes of its box-pair.

The reasoning for this is provided by quantum¬†theory,¬†which suggests that before you looked, the marble was in a ‘superposition state’- simultaneously in both boxes. Gaining knowledge of the marble being in a particular box¬†caused¬†it to be wholly in that box. Even by gaining knowledge that one box was empty, at the same time you are gaining knowledge that the other box must contain the marble, and by looking, you cause the marble to be wholly in the other box. “Before looking, the marble was in two places at once. Observation collapses probability to specific actuality.” This is the controversial observation-creation reality.

One may point out that these experiments are contradictory, that they are logically inconsistent. The first experiment shows that marble is in one box, and the other is empty. The second shows that the pair of boxes each contain something of the marble. BUT since the two experiments are done with two different box-pairs, there is no logical inconsistency. Then one may notice that you¬†could have¬†chosen to do the opposite experiment of the original experiment that was chosen. But you didn’t! “Predictions for not-done experiments can’t be tested. So there is no need to account for them.” And this is where physics meets consciousness (and philosophy ūüėČ ).

For now- for all practical purposes, all we need to deal with is what we see when we actually do look. So back to Quantum theory, the parts of the marble’s wavefunction were spread out over the screen. Think of a wave. As the boxes were opened, the two parts of the wave (crest and trough) came out of each box. At certain places on the screen, the crests of one wave arrive at the same time as the crests of the other and the wavefunction of the two boxes come together at this place on the screen.¬†That’s the place with large waviness, a large probability of finding a marble. At other places, crests from one box arrive at the same time as troughs from the other box, and the parts of the wavefunction cancel each other.¬†There’s zero waviness in this place, therefore, zero probability of finding a marble. “That’s the rule the marble follows on where it will land. The addition and cancellation of waves is interference, which explains the pattern observed.”

What’s remarkable about this demonstration is that the physical condition of the marble depends on your free choice of experiment, and the enigma¬†arises directly from experimental facts. “The physical reality of an object depends on how you¬†choose¬†to look at it.” It is your free choice (or free will) to choose which experiment you would like to perform in order to demonstrate one of the two contradictory situations. So does your free choice determine the physical situation, the results of the experiment? Or did the external physical situation predetermine your free choice? This is the unresolved quantum enigma. The enigma arises from our conscious perception of free will. We believe that we could have done other than what was actually done. If we deny that we could have done the opposite, than this denial of free choice requires our behavior to be programmed to correlate with the external physical world, again, this is where physics encounters consciousness.

Our thinking that we could have done the opposite is counterintuitive. We are essentially creating history. But this is what is implied by any version of the two-slit experiment. “Quantum theory has¬†any¬†observation creating it’s relevant history.” Newtonian determinism denies the possibility of free-will, but this only arises from the deterministic Newtonian¬†theory.¬†The quantum enigma however, arises directly from experiment. The enigma is independent of quantum theory but theory-neutral experiments, like the two-slit, form the basis of quantum theory. Quantum theory provides a mathematical description that correctly predicts the results of the experiments, of the observations we¬†choose to make. That is why it is called the¬†quantum¬†enigma.

The quantum enigma is referred to as science “skeleton in the closet” because many people have a hard time accepting or even understanding that our objective (meaning the same for everyone) reality could be created by observation. That when one looks, and collapses the wavefunction of a marble to be wholly in one box, everyone else who looks will find it there, even though we could have shown, through experiment, that it wasn’t wholly in the single box before we looked.

If you find this information intriguing I highly suggest reading the book, as it provides more anecdotes to help clear your understanding. The information in the book is presented in an unbiased way and it is very straight-forward. This is just a superficial review of my understanding of the information that has been provided so far. If you’re left confused, I’m certain that the book will clear up many of your confusions! The next review will talk about the concern of what constitutes an “observation,”¬†Schr√∂dinger’s controversial cat, and what all of this might mean.

This post is part of a series, for links to other topics click here!