The EPR Paradox
While Einstein had played a crucial role in the early
development of quantum mechanics (see the photo-electric effect), he was very
uneasy about its implications and, in later years, organised a rearguard action
against it. His aphorism God does not play dice highlights the depths of his
distaste for quantum uncertainty. His strongest counter-argument was to call
attention to a paradoxical implication of quantum mechanics now known as the
Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) Paradox.
Take, for example, a pair of protons whose quantum spins
cancel out. Now separate them and measure the spin of one proton. Because they
were paired, they had a combined wave equation (see The Schrödinger Wave Equation).
Measuring the spin of one proton collapses that wave equation and determines
the spin of the other. It appears that a measurement in one place can have an
instantaneous effect on something that may be light years away.
For Einstein this was proof that quantum mechanics must be
incomplete. To him this result only made sense if the spins were determinate
(but unknown to us) before the protons were separated. In this case,
measurement would merely tell what was always the case. But, according to the
orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics, it is not merely a matter of
ignorance. The spin is not determined
until it has been measured. In other words, the pair of protons cannot be
regarded as separate entities until the measurement has been made.
Some years later, a quantum logician turned this paradox into
a testable prediction that now bears his name - Bells inequality. This is an
equation which should be true if two principles (assumed by Einstein and his
colleagues in formulating the EPR Paradox) hold in the world:
The principle of reality: individual particles possess
definite properties even when they are not being observed and
The locality principle: that a measurement in one of two
isolated systems can produce no real change in the other.
Taken together, these principles imply an upper limit to the
degree of co-operation that is possible between isolated systems. In 1982 a
team of physicists at the University of Paris led by Alain Aspect demonstrated
experimentally that this limit is exceeded in nature. In other words, our
physical descriptions of the world in which we live cannot be both real and
local in the above sense.
Most physicists interpret this result as we did above,
abandoning the reality principle - the property (spin in this case) has no
definite value until the measurement is made. (An important exception is the
hidden variables theory of David Bohm.)
What the usual interpretation of the EPR Effect means in
practice is a greater emphasis on
describing quantum-mechanical systems as a whole. This runs counter to the tendency of classical physics
towards bottom-up thinking- treating systems as collections of separate
entities, and trying to reduce their properties to the individual properties of
the simplest possible components. The quantum world, which deals with the
simplest entities we know, seems to resist this reduction - it is in Karl
Poppers famous phrase a world of clouds as well as clocks. Bottom-up
thinking has served science extremely well, but even in the most basic of
systems in physics it has its limitations.
link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr.
Source: God, Humanity and the
Cosmos (T&T Clark, 1999)