Quantum Nonlocality Without Entanglement

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The middle of the 21st century was in many ways a time of scientific “miracles” too numerous to easily summarize. But Professor Barbara Smith was pondering a relatively old bit of physics history in search of the answer to one as-yet unsolved puzzle regarding the very nature of the universe.

In 1972, physicists conducted an experiment in which two photons—particles of light—were fired from a single source.  One photon was split off into a different direction.  A device was employed to randomly change the direction of spin of one of the photons, and in the same instant, a second device measured the spin of the partner photon.  To the experimenters’ astonishment, when the spin of one photon was changed, the spin of the other instantaneously changed as well.  This occurred no matter how far apart the two photons were from each other when measured. 

It appeared that information was traveling between the two photons faster than the speed of light, in violation of the well-known dictum of the Law of Relativity—that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.

The same effect was observed even with entire atoms. 

It was still the accepted view that this effect only occurred between particles that had been in some way “entangled” with each other, as in the aforementioned experiment, where two particles were split off from the same stream.

But even in an age of miracles, physicists still had no universally accepted explanation for this bizarre event. It had even resisted being pounded into submission by the massive, multibillion-dollar particle-smashing device known as the Large Hadron Collider.

When Albert Einstein first predicted that this phenomenon, coined, “nonlocality,” would arise naturally from the mathematics of quantum physics, he himself called it “spooky action at a distance.”

However, Barbara had quite by chance just read a piece about a peculiar little experiment done in 1998 by a team headed by Charles H. Bennett, et al., called, “Quantum Nonlocality without Entanglement.”

She could not help but feel like her discovery had some greater spiritual meaning, like a message to her from the Universe, or at least some kind of “Zen coincidence,” as she had pulled the article from the top of a dusty pile of photocopied journals awaiting their doom next to a library recycling bin.

The experiment showed that even non-entangled photons communicated with each other instantaneously, consistently, though the level of communication was only a small percentage.  The authors did not touch upon any deeper meaning to this, but it looked to Barbara like good preliminary proof that all particles in the universe had this same connection.

Now Professor Barbara Smith knew the answer.  She knew how one particle could be instantaneously affected by a change in another particle a trillion miles away.  It was, in fact, perfectly logical without any mathematics:

If (1) information cannot travel across any space faster than the speed of light, and

if (2) information is passing between two particles instantaneously—appearing to travel faster than light, then 

(3) those two particles cannot be separated by space.

(4) Therefore, those two particles must be the same thing.

In physics, there is a phenomenon described by the name “string theory,” in which the very smallest part of matter or energy is thought to be not a sphere, but a vibrating string of energy.  Barbara now realized that this theory was correct except for one outrageous fact.

There was only one string.

One unbelievably, inconceivably, absurdly long string that made up all of matter and energy in the universe. When two parts of the string became entangled, they could communicate instantaneously at 100 percent no matter how far part in our physical space they were. But even if they were not entangled, they still communicated some information instantaneously, as if something was lost the farther apart on the string they were.

Barbara surmised that this single string of vibrating energy originated in a larger, parent-universe of infinitely more dimensions than the four of our universe’s space-time. Wherever one part of the string, one loop, vibrated at a certain frequency, it passed into the three physical dimensions we could perceive and we saw it as, and it behaved like, a tiny particle of matter or wave of energy.  And in our 4-dimensional universe, those tiny particles of matter came together to form larger and larger particles until they became atoms.  And the atoms became dust and then planets and then stars, and finally, us.

Barbara suddenly felt herself in awe of the concept.  It occurred to her that this single cosmic string was perhaps the thread which God had woven through all the dimensions.  And the universe that we could see was only the 3-dimensional surface where the string looped through, creating rich, textured patterns in a vast and beautiful tapestry.

All particles of matter and energy were connected in some way through these unseen dimensions. All atoms. All atoms everywhere.

All the atoms in our bodies. 

That thought stopped her, colliding suddenly, viscerally, with a deep, unnamable fear.  She was overcome by the sickening feeling—as she could not think it—that she could still be connected, physically, to someone in her past.

She shuddered for a fraction of a moment as nervous chaos rose from her gut like bile. But then, reflexively, she buried the tainted feeling back down deep beneath layer upon layer of clean, orderly mathematics.

About the Author: 
I have taken several chapters from my as yet unpublished novel, The Music of Distant Spheres, and “remixed” them into one self-contained flash fiction story. The scholarly physics theories and articles I reference are real, although "Single String Theory" is my own creation that predates Bennett, et al. (Freaky!)

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Quantum Theories

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.