A quantum leap in scientific thought.

June 3rd, 2011

Some profound and exciting ideas were published this week in “Living in a Quantum World,” the cover story of Scientific American magazine’s June issue.

“According to standard physics textbooks, quantum mechanics is the theory of the microscopic world,” writes Vlatko Vedral, a professor and quantum physicist at the universities of Oxford and Singapore. And classical physics, in the same textbook view, “which comprises any theory that is not quantum, including Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity, handles the largest scales.”

But Vedral declares that scientific division of the world to be “a myth.”

He presents these fascinating discoveries and profound ideas, among others:

·      Until the past decade, experimentalists had not confirmed that quantum behavior persists on a macroscopic scale. Today, however, they routinely do. These effects are more pervasive than anyone ever suspected. They may operate in the cells of our body.

·      Quantum entanglement – which is particle behavior so strange that Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance” – may operate in the biological process of photosynthesis, the process whereby plants convert sunlight into chemical energy. While classical physics fails to explain the near-perfect efficiency of that process, experiments by groups at the universities of California-Berkeley and Toronto suggest that quantum mechanics does account for it.

·      While scientists don’t know if any instances of larger and more persistent entanglement exist in nature, the question is exciting enough to stimulate an emerging discipline: quantum biology.

·      Few physicists now think that classical physics will ever really make a comeback at any scale. If anything, the general belief is that if a deeper theory ever supersedes quantum physics, it will show the world to be even more counterintuitive than anything we have seen so far.

·      The fact that quantum mechanics applies on all scales forces us to confront the theory’s deepest mysteries. For instance, space and time are two of the most fundamental classical concepts, but according to quantum mechanics they are secondary. The entanglements are primary; they interconnect quantum systems without reference to space and time. Many physicists such as Stephen Hawking of the University of Cambridge, think that Einstein’s general theory of relativity must give way to a deeper theory in which space and time do not exist.

Mind-blowing stuff, right?! Well, Vedral agrees. In closing he says: The implications of macroscopic objects such as us being in quantum limbo is mind-blowing enough that we physicists are still in an entangled state of confusion and wonderment.

While many of these ideas are being explored for the purposes of developing quantum computers, I can’t help but think – especially within the emerging field of quantum biology – that there are implications here for future understanding of human consciousness and our own quantum effects on physical reality. I await further discoveries eagerly, sitting on the edge of my seemingly solid chair, as merely one quantum observer.

Related posts: Energy: The mystery with lots of clues.( 8/6/10); Reality check. (10/29/10)

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One Response to “A quantum leap in scientific thought.”

  1. […] at the macroscopic level. While this has been disproved in the last decade (see my post dated 6/3/11), it was Everett who first addressed the measurement problem by merging the micro and macro worlds […]