Friday, October 29, 2010

Quantum Entanglement

"Not knowing is much more interesting than believing an answer that might be wrong."
-- Richard Feynman

The only kind of physics I like is the kind that rational people want no truck with -- the quantum.  I have very little patience with equations and theories and laws that explain the universe neatly and precisely.  Gravity is as inexorable as it is predictable, which makes it boring to contemplate in the abstract.  But when I lie on my back in my driveway, with pavement behind me and night before me, and I realize that the only thing between me and the gorgeous dark yawning everything is the same force that helped break my coffee cup that morning . . . well, that's about as concrete as it gets.

That's why I brew my coffee dark and drink it slow.  Because sometimes the only thing that can save us from the vast overwhelm of bigness is the small and specific.

My favorite non-scientific musing this morning is on quantum entanglement. Wikipedia describes it like this: a quantum mechanical phenomenon in which the quantum states of two or more objects have to be described with reference to each other, even though the individual objects may be spatially separated. In his book Entanglement: The Greatest Mystery in Physics, Amir D. Aczel explains it this way: "Whatever happened to one particle would thus immediately affect the other particle, wherever in the universe it may be."

I like the idea that two things can exist, separate and distinct, and yet be inextricably linked.  It sounds romantic, like photons have a life of the heart, with yearnings and loneliness and melancholy.  Soul mates at the sub-atomic level.  Or maybe I'm the one who's enamored, moonstruck with the idea that connection can exist in ways that confound even the most brilliant among us.  It makes a good case for love, big love, the kind that transcends place and time (and which I hope is never reducible to an equation).

I suspect physicists must get impatient with musers like me who want to make everything mystical.  Scientists crank up the Bell-state quantum eraser, indulge in a little parametric down-conversion, and math comes out. They're happy with this.  But  I want to see God in there.  I want some scrappy little clue.  Maybe not the double helix of some divine DNA, maybe just a smudgy fingerprint somewhere, but something.  Anything.  I feel like a forensic investigator in this world, looking for evidence of something that should require no proof.

The act of observation changes that which is observed.  I think that's why I write, why I make words and then -- in a process I have never even tried to understand -- send them into the ether where others can read them.  It changes them somehow, even if no human eye ever graces them.  Having a reader is a blessing.  It creates a cycle of energy, a good organic flow.  But just offering the words is also a blessing.  A benediction of sorts, maybe even a prayer.  We contain universes, are contained by them too, ever expanding at the furtherest edge.  And sometimes it feels like those universes are watching me, tiny finite me, the conjunction of them all.


  1. "We contain universes, are contained by them too, ever expanding at the furtherest edge." That's genius! What a marvelous job of explaining that which is inexplicable for most people. I love this post!

  2. Thank you. Liz. This is one of my favorite topics -- that it baffles me so completely and utterly only makes it even more cool.

  3. Tina,
    Have you ever watched "What the Bleep Do We Know?!" You can get it on DVD. It documents conversations with scientists about quantum mechanics and religion.

  4. Every life worth living needs to have big mysteries in it.
    Leave the square corners and mathematical equations for the box builders.I want voluptuous curves and feeling the warmth of the day at my back as I look up into the summer night sky,track the heat lightning and wonder how I can feel so big and so small at the same time.
    Your post made me feel like I do when crouched on the rocks here on the coast of Maine and listening to my brother(who has a PHD in geology)tell me how the rocks we are standing on were born deep within the heart of the earth and how they came to be under our feet so many millions of years later.All that time and all that distance to deliver those beautiful stones for me to stand on and watch the water and listen.