Brian Cox and an observant monkey

An unknowable world?

The quantum world is a fascinating place, time can move in both directions, things can appear and disappear out of existing for no apparent reason. Some of the effects that this branch of science offer have always proved fascinating to me because they are so counter intuitive. For anyone that isn’t Brian Cox, it’s an almost unknowable world but one which is all around us and in fact makes up us, though its effects are not visible at our macroscopic scale of existence. It’s a world which is becoming more and more relevant to various aspects of our life whether it’s our pursuit of the true nature of reality or a solution to making smaller and faster computers.

Rewriting history

A video I came across a few years ago paints how bizarre this world is pretty perfectly, it explains an experiment called the ‘Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser’. It’s basically a development of the original double slit experiment, but one which takes the weirdness of the quantum world to whole new levels. It’s quite a hard experiment to get your head around but it’s definitely worth the effort. The results of the experiment are just bizarre, the universe almost seems to rewrite history to fit a choice you make after the event has already happened! Causality almost seems to be broken! Surely we’re misinterpreting this?


What about a monkey?

I very rarely tweet anything but one of the few times I did I asked Brian Cox whether the act of observation that is often described as impacting experiments like the double slit is a uniquely human trait? Would an observant monkey cause the same collapse of probability waves that cause the photon to choose a specific path? His mildly cryptic response was that he doesn’t think we’re understanding the experiment correctly (specifically, he doesn’t agree with the Copenhagen interpretation). I brought this up with a friend and he suggested an interesting alternative to quantum mechanics which doesn’t require such a wildly counter intuitive approach, in fact it’s fairly deterministic. Bohmian mechanics is better explained by this guy:

Interestingly, we know (for various reasons) that this is not correct but it does provide an example of how more deterministic models can explain some of these otherwise weird phenomenon. I mentioned in a previous post how sometimes we have a nice fitting model which isn’t quite the real truth (or in fact is very far from the truth but let’s us make predictions to within acceptable tolerances). Wikipedia currently lists something like 18 different common interpretations of quantum mechanics, there’s certainly plenty of fringe versions too. Are we missing something obvious here? Is the universe really as weird as any one of these theories tells us?

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