March 6, 2009 by Reader's Connection
For decades, I have wanted to read about physics. Books have appeared which were supposed to be readable by people who were dumb at science, but I seemed to be too dumb even for those. Lately, I have cornered books about a particular aspect of quantum mechanics: entanglement.
So what’s entanglement? As Louisa Gilder explains in the introduction to her new book, The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn . . . the motions of subatomic particles are dominated by entanglement. It starts when they interact; in doing so, they lose their separate existence. No matter how far they move apart, if one is tweaked, measured, observed, the other seems to instantly respond, even if the whole world now lies between them. And no one knows how.
Gilder’s book reads like a historical novel whose many characters may be hard to keep apart. Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr have conversations, complete with quotation marks, and they speak sentences that Gilder has retrieved from their writings. It’s a quaint way to record history; but once you adapt, the confrontations between scientists can be intriguing.
In a spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I’ve only reached page 86 out of 336.
Brian Clegg’s The God Effect: Quantum Entanglement, Science’s Strangest Phenomenon moves more briskly and is, I suppose, more scientific. I’ve reached page 102 out of 245, and already Clegg is giving a crash course in cryptography. One of the opportunities offered by entanglement is a really secure way to send secret messages.
If I send you a photon (a particle of light) and it’s floating around in your martini, and then I do some secret message thing to another photon with which your photon had been entangled, then we can communicate and no one can possibly crack the code.
I don’t understand this. I tried to read that chapter at a Burger King in Avon, and I need to make another pass at it. But next time you’re at the airport and little blips of light are flickering at the corners of your eyes, don’t call your opthamologist right away. Someone could be sending entangled messages.
I’m not sure what page I’ve reached in this one. I keep skipping to the pictures in the middle, and these are pictures of physicists. But the excellent Aczel is not to blame.
Entanglement breaks down all our conceptions of the world developed through our usual sensory experience. These notions of reality are so entrenched in our psyche that even the greatest physicist of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein, was fooled by these everyday notions into believing that quantum mechanics was incomplete because it did not include elements which he was sure had to be real. Einstein felt that what happens in one place could not possible by directly and instantaenously linked with what happens at a distant location. To understand, or even simply accept, the validity of entanglement . . . we must first admit that our conceptions of reality in the universe are inadequate.