It’s been crazy busy here in Phoenix this week, and I’ve not been able to post as much as I wanted to here on the blog. But I’ve got a few minutes this morning, and I’ve been wanting to draw attention to a really important experiment that was just published.
Two researchers have constructed an apparatus that allows us to see a fundamental quantum mechanical effect with the naked eye. In other words, they’ve been able to “magnify” the physical realm that is governed by quantum mechanics as opposed to classical mechanics to the macroscopic scale.
“‘There is this question of where the dividing line is between the quantum world and the classical world we know,’ said Andrew Cleland of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
‘We know perfectly well that things are not in two places at the same time in our everyday experience, but this fundamental theory of physics says that they can be,’ he told BBC News.
Now, Professor Cleland and his team have moved that dividing line, using an object just big enough to be seen with the naked eye.”
Read the full BBC article here.
What they managed to do was the move the bar representing the rule of thumb that physicists used to decide when to focus more on quantum or classical effects in a physical system. The old rule used to be when systems got larger than about 60 atoms. This system, in the paper referenced above, is about a trillion atoms. Which is so large that frankly I’m astonished that the thermal perturbations, etc, weren’t able to smear the quantum states into a smooth distribution as we’ve heretofore imagined.
A fuller description of the experiment – which makes use of entanglement – can be found on the Physics.org website:
The researchers demonstrated that, once cooled, the mechanical resonator followed the laws of quantum mechanics. They were able to create a single phonon, the quantum of mechanical vibration, which is the smallest unit of vibrational energy, and watch as this quantum of energy exchanged between the mechanical resonator and the qubit. While exchanging this energy, the qubit and resonator become “quantum entangled,” such that measuring the qubit forces the mechanical resonator to “choose” the vibrational state in which it should remain.
In a related experiment, they placed the mechanical resonator in a quantum superposition, a state in which it simultaneously had zero and one quantum of excitation. This is the energetic equivalent of an object being in two places at the same time. The researchers showed that the resonator again behaved as expected by quantum theory.
(There’s a link there to the original paper. I’m not a Nature subscriber right now so I’ve have had a chance to read it yet, but I’m looking forward to doing that once it comes out from behind the paywall.)
There’s some discussion of the experiment over on Slashdot if you’re interested in learning more.
This is so interesting because it move the bar of Quantum effects so much in one leap. As someone who has tried to think through how we appropriately use the experimentally verified Quantum theory (and its interpretations) in religion, the idea that the quantum regime is “human scale” seems to mean to me at first glance that we need to correspondingly increase the seriousness with which we approach its philosophical implications.
Quantum Physics, much more so than Relativity, says that there is no absolute.
Much of the conflict in religion today has to do with people who are called “Fundamentalists” and those who reject their ideas. But the people we call “Fundamentalists” really aren’t, at least not in the strict sense of the meaning of the word. By the traditional definition, many Episcopalians could qualify.
The real religious issue today is between the absolutists and the relativists. (Just listen the way the Roman Catholic hierarchy is blaming the ills of Western Society on the ideas of relativism and you’ll see how this is playing out.)
This experiment would strongly indicate (if it verifies) that we’re going to need to push back a bit harder on the absolutist claims. At least we are if we’re really interested in a faith that is truthful.
I want to play this out a bit more in the coming weeks here on the blog.