The idea of a kind of inseparability so far as space and time are concerned was dealt with by John Bell in the 1960s. His idea was that particles – whether of matter or of light, it doesn’t make a difference – don’t really independently exist except as a kind of probabilistic entity. The act of observation causes this mere probabilistic wave function to “collapse,” and the object abruptly materializes as an actual entity in a real location.
With entanglement, two particles are born together and secretly share a wave function. If one is observed, its wave function and that of its twin simultaneously collapse. And they do so regardless of the distance between them.
Even if the twins are separated by half the diameter of the universe, says quantum mechanics, the observation of one twin will cause both to become actual entities. When either is observed, its twin “knows” what happened to its doppelganger (that it came into an actual physical existence as a photon or electron) and instantly assumes the complementary guise – even if its twin is in a different galaxy. During this process no time will elapse, no matter their distance apart. It’s as if there’s no space between them. They’re essentially two sides of the same coin, and distance between them is nonexistent, even if, to us, it’s half the width of the cosmos.
Einstein hated this because he believed in locality: that an object can only be acted upon by something in its neighborhood. Meaning, a leaf in Brooklyn would be stirred by a gust of wind, but it won’t be instantaneously jostled by the air disturbances generated by a lively peasant revolt on an alien planet in the Andromeda galaxy.
In 1935, Einstein and two colleagues, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, wrote a now-famous paper in which they addressed this aspect of Quantum Theory. Examining the prediction that particles created together (“entangled” particles) can somehow know what the other is doing, the physicists argued that any such parallel behavior must be due to local effects – some contamination of the experiment – rather than some sort of “spooky action at a distance.” That “spooky action” line became endlessly quoted as a pejorative, a putdown of this ridiculous idea that, on some fundamental level, there could be no space between objects or no time lapse between events.
A lot hinged on this. In a way, it was a pivotal time between clinging to classical deterministic physics and accepting locality, as Einstein insisted on doing, versus traversing the strange blurry quantum alleyways that, ironically, Einstein had helped create with his 1905 explanation of the photoelectric effect.
The classical viewpoint says that physical objects are real regardless of whether they are being observed. Moreover, unless they’re in contact, or emit something like photons that can create contact, or at least some sort of influence via an electric or magnetic field or through gravitation, individual objects cannot influence each other. And certainly they cannot if they are so widely separated that electromagnetic energy from one does not have time to reach the other. As for instantaneous influence involving no time at all, or influence that acts as if no intervening space exists between the objects: Forget about it, said Einstein and his colleagues.
New experiments, as reported in The New York Times a few weeks ago, show that Einstein was wrong. As to the implications of all this, the new findings make perfect sense if the universe is actually a consciousness-based entity. These ramifications are central in the new book, Beyond Biocentrism, which will be published in April, and from which this week’s column is taken.