Quantum Nonlocality


Quantum nonlocality is a paradox that was described first by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen (EPR), who published the idea in 1935. The EPR paradox draws attention to a phenomenon predicted by quantum mechanics known as quantum entanglement, in which measurements on spatially separated quantum systems can instantaneously influence one another. As a result, quantum mechanics violates a principle formulated by Einstein, known as the principle of locality or local realism, which states that changes performed on one physical system should have no immediate effect on another spatially separated system.

Our “local realistic” view of the world assumes that phenomena are separated by time and space and that no influence can travel faster than the speed of light. Quantum nonlocality proves that these assumptions are incorrect, and that there is a principle of holistic interconnectedness operating at the quantum level which contradicts the localistic assumptions of classical, Newtonian physics.

  • Note: Quantum nonlocality does not prove that “signals” travel “faster than light.” Rather, it shows that at a deep level of reality the speed of light as a limiting factor is irrelevant because phenomena are instantaneously connected regardless of distance.

The Hows and Whys of Nonlocality

At the quantum level, “particles” do not possess definite, deterministic qualities until they are measured:

At the subatomic level, matter does not exist with certainty at definite places, but rather shows “tendencies to exist,” and atomic events do not occur with certainty at definite times and in definite ways, but rather show “tendencies to occur.” (Capra, 1982, p. 80)

Despite the fact that the quality of particles is indeterminate until a measurement is made, any two photons or electrons that originate from a common source will possess a total spin of zero once they are measured. Thus:

  • If particle 1 has a spin of “up,” particle 2 will have a spin of “down.”
  • If particle 1 has a spin of “down,” particle 2 will have a spin of “up.”

[Particle spins]

Opposing particle spins

In other words, “Quantum theory tells us that in a system of two particles having total spin zero, the spins of the particles about any axis will always be correlated — will be opposite — even though they only exist as tendencies, or potentialities, before the measurement is taken. This correlation means that the measurement of the spin of particle 1, along any axis, provides an indirect measurement of the spin of particle 2 without in any way disturbing that particle.” (Capra, 1982, p. 84).

The Phenomenon of Quantum Nonlocality

Because the spin of a particle does not exist until a measurement is made, the act of making the measurement and determining the axis of spin of particle 1, will also determine the spin of particle 2, no matter how far apart it is from particle 1. Particle 2 will instantly respond to the state of particle 1, even if it is on the other side of the universe.

At the instant we perform our measurement on particle 1, particle 2, which may be thousands of miles away, will acquire a definite spin — “up” or “down” if we have chosen a vertical axis, “left” or “right” if we have chosen a horizontal axis. How does particle 2 know which axis we have chosen? There is no time for it to receive that information by any conventional signal. (Capra, 1982, p. 85).

Quantum nonlocality as suggested by Bell’s theorem is a fact of nature that has now been experimentally verified on many occasions. Alain Aspect’s experiments in 1982 at the University of Paris-South proved the existence of quantum nonlocality. These experiments have been refined and repeated many times since.

The Implications of Quantum Nonlocality

At the quantum level, instantaneous actions occur at a distance. Two particles that are part of a single system continue to act in concert with one another no matter how far apart they appear to be separated by spacetime.

Nonlocality or nonseparability is asking us to revise completely our ideas about objects, to remove a pervasive projection we have upon nature. We can no longer consider objects as independently existing entities that can be localized in well-defined regions of spacetime. They are interconnected in ways not even conceivable using ideas from classical physics, which is largely a refinement and extrapolation from our normal macroscopic sense of functioning. (Mansfield, 1995, p.122).

Nature has shown us that our concept of reality, consisting of units that can be considered as separate from each other, is fundamentally wrong. For this reason, Bell’s theorem may be the most profound discovery of science. (Kafatos and Kafatou, 1991, 64-65).

Quantum nonlocality proves that “particles that were once together in an interaction remain in some sense parts of a single system which responds together to further interactions” (Gribbin, 1984). Since the entire universe originated in a flash of light known as the Big Bang, the existence of quantum nonlocality points toward a profound cosmological holism and suggests that

If everything that ever interacted in the Big Bang maintains its connection with everything it interacted with, then every particle in every star and galaxy that we can see “knows” about the existence of every other particle. (Gribbin, 1984).

Further Questions and Observations

  • If every “particle” is in communication with every other “particle,” could the phenomenon of quantum nonlocality help account in some way for the self-organizing, recurrent patterns of form that appear everywhere in the universe? Could such a theory contribute to our understanding of morphogenesis on a cosmological level?
  • The Greek philosopher Plotinus believed that the metaphysical principle of Mind is nonlocal, and explained that, because it is not limited by time and space, it can be present everywhere. Similarly, Karl Pribram has demonstrated that memory is not localized in specific parts of the brain. Does quantum nonlocality support — or help us understand — noetic theories of the universe? Is the underlying structure of the universe essentially noetic in nature?
  • What is the nature of the universal “laws of physics,” which seem to be the same everywhere. Do the laws of physics presuppose some type of nonlocality? Does the very concept of “the universe” as one thing imply a form of cosmological holism and nonlocality?
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