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Winner of The Quantum Shorts 2013: The Knight of Infinity

Credit: Timothy Yeo / CQT, National University of Singapore

Quantum mechanics—operating at atom-size scales—is so odd in so many ways that even Einstein despairingly said of it that “God does not play dice with the world.” Now this stranger-than-fiction discipline has inspired some first-class narrative thrills, including the winner of The Quantum Shorts 2013 competition in the International category, decided by the judges, and [...]

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Critical Opalescence

Physicists Think They Can Solve the Mysteries of Quantum Mechanics, Cosmology, and Black Holes in One Go [Guest Post]

It’s lucky that debates over the meaning of quantum mechanics are so entertaining, because they seem to go on forever. The sundry proposed interpretations make the same experimental predictions, so many people fret that there’ll never be a way to decide among them. Fret no longer. Some “interpretations” aren’t really interpretations so much as separate [...]

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Critical Opalescence

Cosmological Data Hint at a Level of Physics Underlying Quantum Mechanics [Guest Post]

Two weeks ago, I blogged about David Bohm’s interpretation of quantum mechanics. Like Einstein and Louis de Broglie before him, Bohm argued that quantum randomness is not intrinsic to nature, but reflects our ignorance of a deeper level of reality. One physicist who has developed the idea further is Antony Valentini of Clemson University. Last [...]

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Critical Opalescence

The Wholeness of Quantum Reality: An Interview with Physicist Basil Hiley

One night in 1952, Richard Feynman and David Bohm went bar-hopping in Belo Horizonte. Louisa Gilder reconstructs the night in her brilliant book on the history of quantum mechanics, The Age of Entanglement. Feynman was on a sabbatical in Rio and, ever exuberant, raved about local beers, drumming lessons, and Brazilian girls. Bohm, teaching at [...]

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Critical Opalescence

Does Some Deeper Level of Physics Underlie Quantum Mechanics? An Interview with Nobelist Gerard ’t Hooft

VIENNA—Over the past several days, I attended a fascinating conference that explored an old idea of Einstein’s, one that was largely dismissed for decades: that quantum mechanics is not the root level of reality, but merely a hazy glimpse of something even deeper. A leading advocate is Gerard ’t Hooft of Utrecht University, who shared [...]

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Critical Opalescence

When the Large Hadron Collider Is Too Small

The Large Hadron Collider has only just begun its explorations, so it might seem a little premature to begin thinking about what new particle projects might come next. But given how long these things take to plan, is it ever too soon? This summer, particle physicists held a huge planning retreat in Minneapolis, which Peter [...]

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Critical Opalescence

Can We Resolve Quantum Paradoxes by Stepping Out of Space and Time? [Guest Post]

Next month will be the 100th anniversary of Bohr’s model of the atom, one of the foundations of the theory of quantum mechanics. And look where we are now: we still don’t know what the darned theory really means. One of the most radical interpretations (which is saying something) has got to be the so-called [...]

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Critical Opalescence

What Would It Mean for Time to Come to an End? [Video]

Could time come to an end? What would that even mean? Last month I gave a talk about this strange physics idea at a TEDx event in Trento, Italy, based on a Scientific American article I wrote in 2010. My conceit was that time’s end poses a paradox that might be resolved if time is [...]

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Critical Opalescence

It from Bit or Bit from It? Announcing the 5th Foundational Questions Institute Essay Contest

What a great way to start the week: the Foundational Questions Institute has just announced its fifth essay contest. The topic is the physics of information. It could hardly be more timely, and not just because of the cultural Zeitgeist. Going to a physics conference these days is like landing in The Village of the [...]

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Critical Opalescence

George and John’s Excellent Adventures in Quantum Entanglement, Part 2 [Video]

The first time I ever saw quantum entanglement for myself was in August 2011 on a road trip to Colgate University. Goodness knows how many blog posts and magazine articles have been written about the quantum realm, invariably describing it as weird. But I’d never actually seen this supposed mind-blowingness with my own eyes, which [...]

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Critical Opalescence

Newly Published Einstein Writings Show the Prehistory of His Debates with Niels Bohr [Guest Blog]

For physicists trying to make sense of quantum mechanics, Albert Einstein’s thinking remains highly relevant. “This guy saw more deeply and more quickly into the problems that plague us today,” one quantum physicist told me. The latest volume of the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, which contains Einstein’s publications, draft papers, letters, and scribblings from [...]

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Cross-Check

Is David Deutsch’s Vision of Endless Understanding Delusional?

book jacket for "The Beginning of Infinity"

I’m a believer in wishful thinking, in the power of our hopes to become self-fulfilling. I even believe that war is going to end! But at some point, if wishful thinking diverges too sharply from what we can reasonably expect from reality, it morphs into denial or delusion. David Deutsch’s hope that science will keep [...]

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Observations

The Blurry Line between Small and Quantum Small

The late physicist Erwin Schrodinger was probably relieved to know that flesh and blood cats are too big to behave according to the laws of quantum physics. His intellectual heirs, however, no longer have that luxury. The line between the large and the small is not so clear cut as it was in Schrodinger’s day. [...]

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Observations

Quantum Teleportation Achieved over Record Distances

Telescope used in teleportation experiments

Two teams of researchers have extended the reach of quantum teleportation to unprecedented lengths, roughly equivalent to the distance between New York City and Philadelphia. But don’t expect teleportation stations to replace airports or train terminals—the teleportation scheme shifts only the quantum state of a single photon. And although part of the transfer happens instantaneously, [...]

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Observations

Which of the Basic Assumptions of Modern Physics are Wrong? Announcing the 4th Foundational Questions Institute Essay Contest

FQXI logo

There’s something unnerving about unifying physics. The two theories that need to be unified, quantum field theory and Einstein’s general theory of relativity, are both highly successful. Both make predictions good to as many decimal places as experimentalists can manage. Both are grounded in compelling principles. Both do have flaws — including an unfortunate tendency to [...]

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Observations

Where Do Space and Time Come From? New Theory Offers Answers, If Only Physicists Can Figure It Out

SANTA BARBARA—”Maybe we’re just too dumb,” Nobel laureate physicist David Gross mused in a lecture at Caltech two weeks ago. When someone of his level wonders whether the unification of physics will always be beyond mortal minds, it gets you worried. (He went on to explain why he doesn’t think we are too dumb, though.) [...]

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Observations

The Emperor, Darth Vader and the Ultimate Ultimate Theory of Physics

PASADENA—The theory is so obscure there’s not a Wikipedia page about it yet. It might be impossible to formulate mathematically. One theoretical physicist calls it the Emperor Palpatine of theories, even more powerful and inscrutable than the Darth Vader theory that he and others have been studying intensively. And yet it has a purity and [...]

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Observations

Could Simple Experiments Reveal the Quantum Nature of Spacetime?

Conventional wisdom has it that putting the words “quantum gravity” and “experiment” in the same sentence is like bringing matter into contact with antimatter. All you get is a big explosion; the two just don’t go together. The distinctively quantum features of gravity only show up in extreme settings such as the belly of a [...]

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Observations

George and John’s Excellent Adventures in Quantum Entanglement [Video]

Simply put, bottomlessly deep: that is the definition of a great discovery in science. From the principle of relativity to evolution by natural selection, the concepts that govern our world are actually not that hard to state. What they mean and what they imply—well, that’s another matter. And so it is with quantum entanglement. One [...]

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Observations

Quantum Cheshire Cat: Even Weirder Than Schrödinger’s

Just when you thought you’d heard every quantum mystery that was possible, out pops another one. Jeff Tollaksen mentioned it in passing during his talk at the recent Foundation Questions Institute conference. Probably Tollaksen assumed we’d all heard it before. After all, his graduate advisor, Yakir Aharonov—who has made an illustrious career of poking the [...]

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Observations

Free Will and Quantum Clones: How Your Choices Today Affect the Universe at its Origin

The late philosopher Robert Nozick, talking about the deep question of why there is something rather than nothing, quipped: “Someone who proposes a non-strange answer shows he didn’t understand the question.” So, when Scott Aaronson began a talk three weeks ago by saying it would be “the looniest talk I’ve ever given,” it was a [...]

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Observations

Crystal memory allows efficient storage of quantum information in light

Rare-earth doped crystal for efficient quantum memory

Light makes for a terrific carrier of information—witness the prevalence of fiber optics in telecommunications—and the realm of quantum communication is no different. Photons are key quantum objects that can carry information over large distances and that can be entangled in relatively large numbers. But photons are a hyperactive lot, zipping around at light speed, [...]

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