Of Quantum Non-Locality & Anti-Bullets

Experiments supporting quantum non-locality (QNL), such as those presented by Zeilinger at the Wheeler Symposium, present significant philosophical consequences for religious belief. This, since the usual dynamical perspective is compromised by QNL and teleology is hamstrung w/o dynamism. In case you're not familiar with QNL, I'll attempt a non-technical explanation. (Mermin's article, "Bringing home the atomic world: Quantum mysteries for anybody," American Journal of Physics 49, 940 - 943 (1981) is a superior alternative.) There are three concepts that need to be explained—dynamism, the relativity of simultaneity, and the violation of Bell's inequalities.

By 'dynamism' I mean the description of natural phenomena in terms of interacting trans-temporal objects (TTO's), e.g., cars, trees, people, atoms, sub-atomic particles. Dynamism normally accommodates the causality necessary for teleological analysis. The qualifier normally restricts consideration to time-like/null separated events, i.e., events that can be connected by the trajectories of particles moving slower than/at the speed of light.

For example, suppose Bob is shot dead. Per dynamism, we may describe Bob's death using three TTO's (a gun, a bullet, and Bob) and two events—the bullet leaving the gun (event 1) and entering Bob (event 2). Then we may address teleological questions, e.g., Why was Bob shot? Possible response—Bob was a rabid dog attacking children on a playground, so the police shot him. Now we've introduced more TTO's (police, children) and the teleological and dynamical dialogue may become more involved. However, all this is predicated on the tacit assumption that event 1 precedes event 2. Can it be otherwise?

Actually, the order of these events depends on how fast the bullet travels. According to special relativity if the bullet travels faster than light, i.e., events 1 and 2 are space-like separated, some observers will say that the gun fired because Bob was shot! They will begin their teleological inquiry from a very different perspective, e.g., Why did the gun fire? Possible response: Because a bullet and an anti-bullet were spontaneously created in Bob. Thereafter, the anti-bullet flew out of Bob's body into the gun, annihilating the bullet explosively therein. So, did firing the gun cause Bob's death or did Bob's death by spontaneous bullet—anti-bullet creation cause the gun to fire? According to SR, there is no way to discriminate between these incongruous views of reality. This is known as the relativity of simultaneity. Clearly, unless we abandon SR, we must demand that causally related events be time-like (or null) separated, so that everyone will agree on their temporal ordering.

QNL involves correlated events that are space-like separated. However, we may understand such correlations without invoking super-luminal causal trajectories as long as Bell's inequalities are satisfied. Let me again attempt a non-technical description. (Again, see Mermin (ibid) for a more precise presentation.)

Suppose I live in NY, and my cousin lives in CA. We each have three mailboxes labeled 1, 2 & 3. We each open just one of our mailboxes each day to check on its contents. Our mailmen clear our boxes and provide new contents each day. We agree to collect our mail in this fashion every day at the same time, taking into account time zone differences. On any given day, we are each free to inspect any one of our mailboxes—1, 2 or 3. That is, I may decide which mailbox to open at the last possible second, as may my cousin. After 60 days of this experiment, we compare results. (This isn't statistically significant, but it's just an analogy.) Without too great a strain on credulity, suppose we've only Gold and Platinum credit card solicitations to compare.

For her 60 results my cousin reports 30 Gold and 30 Platinum with 10 Gold and 10 Platinum in each of the three boxes. (Choosing randomly, she opened each mailbox 20 times.) I have the same results, although I opened different mailboxes on 40 of the days. Then we check for correlations and find that overall, we received the same solicitation on 30 days, regardless of which boxes we checked. So far, the results are consistent with a random distribution of Gold and Platinum solicitations among the two sets of three mailboxes. But, then we notice a peculiar correlation—every day that we happened to have checked the same mailbox number, we received the same solicitation. That's not consistent with a random distribution! How can we explain the experimental results? (By the way, quantum mechanics predicts the results that are observed. We're tying to construct a reality in which this result 'makes sense'.)

Since the mailmen don't know which boxes we're going to open on any givenday (we don't need to decide until after the mail is delivered), they have to put something in each box. Perhaps the mailmen coordinated their deliveries, i.e., the NY mailman put the same solicitations into the numbered boxes each day as the CA mailman. While they changed the pattern on a day-to-day basis, they simply agreed on a pattern before making delivery each day. That would ensure my cousin and I would always find the same solicitation when opening the same numbered box. But, what about the other results?

Since the mailmen are making random (although coordinated) deliveries, we can expect that my cousin and I will each find 30 Gold & 30 Platinum solicitations in 60 days. However, when we compare ALL days (regardless of which boxes we chose), we will find that we received the same solicitation on more than 33 days. The more than 33 days is a Bell inequality and our experiment violated this, since we only received the same solicitation on 30 days.

OK, maybe the NY mailman waited to see which box I opened before coordinating with the CA mailman—phoning quickly, He opened mailbox #1, make certain you put a Gold in box 1! In that fashion, the two mailmen could coordinate their deliveries so as to ensure no violation of Bell's inequalities. But this would require super-luminal communication, so that some observers would see the CA mailman receiving a phone call from his NY counterpart, before the NY mailman placed the call. Indeed, the CA mailman would be receiving word as to which mailbox I opened before I opened a mailbox! So, ignoring the obvious mitigating circumstance that the experiment involves the U.S. Postal Service, how do we explain the results? What *is* going on?

We don't know, but it seems likely that an explanation will contravene some aspect of dynamism. And without the dynamical perspective, it's difficult to imagine the kinds of teleological questions one can pose. And without teleology, religion is ... well ... maybe all we have!

Join Metanexus Today

Metanexus fosters a growing international network of individuals and groups exploring the dynamic interface between cosmos, nature and culture. Membership is open to all. Join Now!