Lastly, one element of reality remains to complete our argument that all reality consists of quantized energy—energy itself. Is all energy reducible to quantums? All data suggests that energy in any form consists of quantums. We already discussed that mass, space, and time are forms of quantized energy. We know, conclusively, that electromagnetic radiation (light) consists of discrete particles (photons). All experimental data at the quantum level (the level of atoms and subatomic particles) tells us that energy exists as discrete quantums. As we discussed before, the macro level is the sum of all elements at the micro level. Therefore, a strong case can be made that all energy consists of discrete quantums.

If you are willing to accept that all reality (mass, space, time, and energy) is composed of discrete energy quantums, we can argue we live in a Quantum Universe. As a side note, I would like to add that this view of the universe is similar to the assertions of string theory, which posits that all reality consists of a one-dimensional vibrating string of energy. I intentionally chose not to entangle the concept of a Quantum Universe with string theory. If you will pardon the metaphor, string theory is tangled in numerous interpretations and philosophical arguments. No scientific consensus says that string theory is valid, though numerous prominent physicists believe it is. For these reasons, I chose to build the concept of a Quantum Universe separate from string theory, although the two theories appear conceptually compatible.

A Quantum Universe may be a difficult theory to accept. We do not typically experience the universe as being an immense system of discrete packets of energy. Light appears continuous to our senses. Our electric lamp does not appear to flicker each time an electron goes through the wire. The book you are holding to read these words appears solid. We cannot feel the atoms that form book. This makes it difficult to understand that the entire universe consists of quantized energy. Here is a simple framework to think about it. When we watch a motion picture, each frame in the film is slightly different from the last. When we play them at the right speed, about twenty-four frames per second, we see, and our brains process continuous movement. However, is it? No. It appears to be continuous because we cannot see the frame-to-frame changes.

If we have a quantum universe, we should be able to use quantum mechanics to describe it. However, we are unable to apply quantum mechanics beyond the atomic and subatomic level. Even though quantum mechanics is a highly successful theory when applied at the atomic and subatomic level, it simply does not work at the macro level. The macro level is the level we experience every day, and the level in which the observable universe operates. Why are we unable to use quantum mechanics to describe and predict phenomena at the macro level?

Quantum mechanics deals in statistical probabilities. For example, quantum mechanics statistically predicts an electron’s position in an atom. However, macro mechanics (theories like Newtonian mechanics, and the general theory of relativity) are deterministic, and at the macro level provide a single answer for the position of an object. In fact, the two most successful theories in science, quantum mechanics and general relativity, are incompatible. For this reason, Einstein never warmed up to quantum mechanics, saying, [I can’t accept quantum mechanics because] “I like to think the moon is there even if I am not looking at it.” In other words, Einstein wanted the moon’s position to be predictable, and not deal in probabilities of where it might be.

Numerous scientists, including Einstein, argue that the probabilistic aspect of quantum mechanics suggests something is wrong with the theory. Aside from the irrefutable fact that quantum mechanics works, and mathematically predicts reality at the atomic and subatomic level, it is counterintuitive. Is the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics a proper interpretation? Numerous philosophical answers to this question exist. One of the most interesting is the well-known thought experiment “Schrödinger’s cat,” devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. It was intended to put an end to the debate by demonstrating the absurdity of quantum mechanic’s probabilistic nature. It goes something like this: Schrödinger proposed a scenario with a cat in a sealed box. The cat’s life or death is depended on its state (this is a thought experiment, so go with the flow). Schrödinger asserts the Copenhagen interpretation, as developed by Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and others over a three-year period (1924–27), implies that until we open the box, the cat remains both alive and dead (to the universe outside the box). When we open the box, per the Copenhagen interpretation, the cat is alive or dead. It assumes one state or the other. This did not make much sense to Schrödinger, who did not wish to promote the idea of dead-and-alive cats as a serious possibility. As mention above, it went against the grain of Einstein, who disliked quantum mechanics because of the ambiguous statistical nature of the science. Einstein was a determinist as was Schrodinger. He felt that this thought experiment would be a deathblow to the probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics, since it illustrates quantum mechanics is counterintuitive. He intended it as a critique of the Copenhagen interpretation (the prevailing orthodoxy in 1935 and today). However, far from ending the debate, physicists use it as a way of illustrating and comparing the particular features, strengths, and weaknesses of each theory (macro mechanics versus quantum mechanics).

Over time, the scientific community had become comfortable with both macro mechanics and quantum mechanics. They appeared to accept that they were dealing with two different and disconnected worlds. Therefore, two different theories were needed. This appeared to them as a fact of reality. However, that view was soon about to change. The scientific community was about to discover but one reality exists. The two worlds, the macro level and the quantum level, were about to become one. This tipping point occurred in 2009-2010.

Before we go into the details, think about the implications and questions this raises.

  • Do macroscopic objects have a particle-wave duality, as assumed by quantum mechanics at the atomic and subatomic level?
  • Can macroscopic objects be modeled using wave equations, like the Schrödinger equation?
  • Will macroscopic reality behave similar to microscopic reality? For example, will it be possible to be in two places at the same time?

To approach an answer, consider what happened in 2009.

Our story starts out with Dr. Markus Aspelmeyer, an Austrian quantum physicist, who performed an experiment in 2009 between a photon and a micromechanical resonator, which is a micromechanical system typically created in an integrated circuit. The micromechanical resonator can resonate, moving up and down much like a plucked guitar string. The intriguing part is Dr. Aspelmeyer was able to establish an interaction between a photon and a micromechanical resonator, creating “strong” coupling. This is a convincing and noticeable interaction. This means he was able to transfer quantum effects to the macroscopic world. This is a first in recorded history: we observed the quantum world in order to communicate with the macro world.

In 2010, Andrew Cleland and John Martinis at the University of California (UC), Santa Barbara, working with Ph.D. student Aaron O’Connell, became the first team to experimentally induce and measure a quantum effect in the motion of a human-made object. They demonstrated that it is possible to achieve quantum entanglement at the macro level. This means that a change in the physical state of one element transmits immediately to the other.

For example, when two particles are quantum mechanically entangled, which means they have interacted and an invisible bond exists between them, changing the physical state of one particle immediately changes the physical state of the other, even when the particles are a significant distance apart. Einstein called quantum entanglement, “spukhafte Fernwirkung,” or “spooky action at a distance.” Therefore, the quantum level and the macro level, given the appropriate physical circumstances, appear to follow the same laws. In this case, they were able to predict the behavior of the object using quantum mechanics. Science and AAAS (the publisher of Science Careers) voted the work, released in March 2010, as the 2010 Breakthrough of the Year, “in recognition of the conceptual ground their experiment breaks, the ingenuity behind it and its many potential applications.”

It appears only one reality exists, even though historically, physical measurements and theories pointed to two. The macro level and quantum level became one reality in the above experiment. It is likely our theories, like quantum mechanics and general relativity, need refinement. Perhaps, we need a new theory that will apply to both the quantum level and the macro level.

This completes our picture of a Quantum Universe. We do not know or understand much. Even though we can make cogent arguments that all reality consists of quantized energy, we do not have consensus on a single theory to describe it. When we examine the micro level, as well as the atomic and subatomic level, we are able to describe and predict behavior using quantum mechanics. However, in general, we are unable to extend quantum mechanics to the macro level, the level we observe the universe in which we live. We ask why, and we do not have an answer. Recent experiments indicate that the micro level (quantum level) influences the macro level. They appear connected. Based on all observations, the macro level appears to be the sum of everything that exists at the micro level. I submit for your consideration that there is one reality, and that reality is a Quantum Universe.

Source: Unraveling the Universe’s Mysteries (2012), Louis A. Del Monte

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