How Quantum Mechanics Have Changed Our View On Reality

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Many revolutionary advancements have come about due to the immense research into quantum mechanics and general relativity, due to their vast influence on the world around us, on both the cosmic and sub-atomic scale. In Newtonian mechanics, which is one of the concrete theories that we choose to be true, we describe the motion of objects using laws that relate to forces such as gravity, as well as their certain position at a specific point in time. However, in quantum mechanics, we describe the position of an object (or in fact a subatomic particle) as having a probability of being at a certain position at a specific point in time (which relates to its quantum states and superposition).[1]

Newtonian mechanics also uses the assumption that space and time are constant and separate to each other, however, this is contradicting to general relativity which states that space and time are linked and that it can warp and bend. Although both of these theories (Quantum mechanics and General relativity) are extremely adept at describing how our universe works, they both pose a major problem; that is that together they are fundamentally incompatible theories.

This essay will be discussing the advancement of our civilization concerning Quantum mechanics and General relativity, how they will allow us to challenge and further understand our reality, how they can be further used towards the development as a technological civilization and why there is an incompatibility with both theories. Introduction Reality is described as “existence that is absolute, self-sufficient, or objective, and not subject to human decisions or conventions.” [2] That is to say, that what we consider reality is what is a concrete fact of everything around us without any doubt. Reality to many people seems to be a straightforward topic from the outside; However, this seems to not be the case. We, as humanity, are yet to come up with a unified explanation of what reality really is and as of yet, there is no concrete theory explaining what we believe it to be, which gets us to think whether reality is really what we think it is.

What is Quantum Mechanics

Quantum Mechanics is a field of physics that provides an explanation of the behavior and motion between quantum particles, or particles in the subatomic scale, with the use of advanced mathematics and concepts such as wave-particle duality, the uncertainty principle, superposition(which closely links to wave-particle duality) and many more concepts. Describing the behavior of subatomic particles in quantum mechanics is one thing, however, understanding its complexity is another..Werner Heisenberg, a German theoretical physicist, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for “the creation of quantum mechanics”[3], as well as being labeled one of the “Fathers of Quantum Mechanics” introduced the idea of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in 1927. The uncertainty principle is a fundamental limitation to the precision of observing the certain physical properties of a particle.

These physical properties known as complementary variables (certain pairs of variables that can not be observed at the same time) include the particle's position and its momentum. The idea states that the more precise the precision of observing the particle's position, the lower the precision of knowing the particles momentum and vise versa.[4] The term observation doesn't only apply to the process in which a person observes the properties of said particle, but also the interaction between classical objects and quantum objects (for example any measurement done to the particle). [5]

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The quantum state of a particle is the probability that the particle will be in at a point in space at a certain time. If no observation is made on the particle, it will then be in a superposition of being at that point in space and being at another point in space. In the double slit experiment, this concept is demonstrated when, beams of electrons are fired through the two slits, resulting in an interference pattern on the other side. This is because as the electron moves through the slits, it goes into a state of superposition where it goes through one slit, it goes through the other slit, or it goes through both.

Since electrons and other quantum particles have a wave function and hold wave-like properties (in the assumption that it is not observed), the electron can now interfere with itself in the same way that waves do in the experiment. If the electron, however, is observed as it goes through the two slits, its wave function collapses and returns to behaving like what we expect a particle to behave like and leave two identical slits. This experiment closely links to the observer effect. “The observer effect, a theory that states that the observation of a phenomenon changes that phenomenon”[6], this, in the context of quantum mechanics, implies that once the quantum states of a particle is observed, it is no longer in a state of superposition, leading it to continue behaving like a solid physical particle with a mass, volume, and density.

Quantum entanglement is a phenomenon in which a pair or a group of subatomic particles interact with each other in a way in which they become linked such that if one of the particles’ quantum states are observed, you can determine the quantum state of the other particle(s) since they are now dependent on their own quantum states. However, despite it being at the quantum level, the distance of these particles does not affect their quantum entanglement. Advancements in Quantum Mechanics A major advancement that came about due to Quantum mechanics is “Quantum Computers”.

In an article written by Jason Rowell [2018-02-26][7], it is stated that in order to understand quantum computing, we must first have to understand the concept of the quantum and logic gates. Logic gates are any physical structure or system that take binary inputs (0 and 1) and output only one of those inputs in depending on the function the system hasThese systems are then implemented into circuits to make computational components and make the computers we use today. Normal logic gates used in traditional computers work with bits, which is a unit of information which holds either the binary values 0 or 1.

On the contrary, Quantum gates, with the use of qubits (or quantum bits), which, similarly to bits, is a unit of quantum information to hold values at the same time in a state of superposition. This in hand, then allows the ability to compute many calculations at once, opposed to a normal system, that only allows the computation of one calculation at a time.[8] “The D-wave” is a quantum computing company that is in the development of quantum computers. The D-wave system contains a GPU that is kept at temperatures near absolute 0 and shielding from electromagnetic interference so that there is no interference with the GPU. The D-Wave QPU in a lattice of tiny metal loops, which is either a qubit or a coupler. At temperatures below 9.2K, these loops become superconductors and then start have properties of quantum mechanics.[9] (See figure 1) Fig. 1 D-Wave QPU.[10]

What is General Relativity

Similarly to Quantum mechanics, General relativity is a theory in physics that describes the laws of gravity and its relation to the forces of nature.[11] It explains that what we perceive as the force of gravity, in fact, arises from the curvature of space and time under “spacetime”. Spacetime is the concept that our three-dimensional space is fused with time under a fourth-dimensional continuum.[12] Since we cannot visualize the fourth dimension, an analogy may be used to understand this fourth-dimensional continuum, when we compare it to a two-dimensional rubber sheet. This then allows us to describe how objects with mass can warp the sheet and distort its curvature. This warping of spacetime is what we call gravity. This general theory of relativity was proposed by Albert Einstein in 1915, since there were fluctuations in the previous description of gravity, of it being “a force which causes any two bodies to be attracted to each other, with a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.”[13]

Advancements in General Relativity

The closer you get to another object with a big mass, say for example a black hole, the more spacetime is warped around you and therefore in your reference frame, time seems to have slowed down. This concept of the warping of spacetime to slow down time relative to you has implications of time travel or time manipulation. Steven Hawking, who was a physicist wrote a quote in the daily mail in 2010 that states “round and around they'd go, experiencing just half the time of everyone far away from the black hole. The ship and its crew would be traveling through time...Imagine they circled the black hole for five of their years. Ten years would pass elsewhere. When they got home, everyone on Earth would have aged five years more than they had.”[14] This implies that for you, whilst time seems to be going by normally, it actually is different relative to someone at a different point in spacetime where spacetime is warped differently.

Another advancement that could one day be used in the future is by using the idea of the “Alcubierre warp drive”. This idea proposed by the Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre highlights a possible solution for apparent faster than light travel[15]. Instead of exceeding the speed of light, a spacecraft would travel cosmic distances by contracting space in front of it and expanding space behind it, which in essence goes around the light speed limit of the universe.[16] This is because instead of the spacecraft accelerating to the speed of light within spacetime, the warp drive shifts space around the spacecraft so that it will arrive at its destination faster than light would normally without breaking physical laws.[17] The opposing views on reality There have been attempts to unifying quantum mechanics and general relativity.

One of those which include string theory, which is a very complex field of physics, that in layman terms, is the replacement of the fundamental particles with one-dimensional objects known as “strings”. These strings vibrate at specific frequencies that correspond to their particle. In string theory, one of the vibrational strings corresponds to a graviton which is a quantum mechanical particle that carries gravitational force. Proving this theory would allow us to finally link quantum mechanics and general relativity via a unified theory.

As of now, this seems impossible due to the complexity of string theory, having to involve 11 dimensions. Maybe one day there will be a unified theory of everything where we will no longer question our reality for what it is, but as of now, reality will remain questioned.

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