The local reality of the universe is not true and the Nobel Prize winners in physics proved it.


The local reality of the universe is not true, and the Nobel Prize winners in physics proved it. Discovering that the universe is not real on a local scale is one of the most distressing findings of the past fifty years.

An apple can still be read even if no one is looking at it; “real” means that objects can only be influenced by their immediate surroundings and that no influence can travel faster than the speed of light, and “local” means that objects cannot be influenced by anything farther away than their immediate surroundings.

Quantum physics research at the cutting edge has shown that these two claims are mutually exclusive. The evidence suggests, instead, that objects are not completely influenced by their environments, and that they may not have any fixed characteristics until they are measured. Famously, Albert Einstein asked a friend, “Do you honestly believe the moon is not there when you are not gazing at it?”

This is counter to everything we know to be true. The death of local reality, to quote Douglas Adams, has made many people very furious and is generally seen as a poor choice.

This success is now being credited to three physicists: John Clauser, Alain Aspect, and Anton Zeilinger. In 2022, “for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities, and pioneering quantum information science,” they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, which they shared evenly.

“Bell inequalities” are named after the seminal contributions of Northern Irish physicist John Stewart Bell to the field in the early 1960s, which paved the way for this year’s Physics Nobel. Colleagues generally thought that the three deserved what they got for trying to change the world. I think this is wonderful news. University of Bristol quantum physicist Sandu Popescu adds, “It was long overdue. “There is no question that you deserve to win.”

“The tests beginning with the earliest one of Clauser and continuing along indicate that this stuff is not just philosophical, it is real—and like other actual things, potentially beneficial,” says Charles Bennett, a famous quantum researcher at IBM.

“Every year I thought, ‘well, maybe this is the year,'” recalls David Kaiser, a physicist, and historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was the case this year. That was a fantastic and heart-wrenching experience.

It took a while for quantum foundations to move from the margins to the center of scientific attention. From the 1940s up until the 1990s at least, the subject was mostly dismissed as a philosophy or outright quackery. In academia, positions that would allow for research into quantum foundations were difficult to find, and many scientific journals flat-out refused to accept work in the field. Popescu’s advisor discouraged him from pursuing a doctorate in the field back in 1985. He warned him, “see, if you do that, you will have fun for five years, and then you will be jobless,” Popescu explains.

Quantum information science is currently one of the most active and influential areas of study in physics. It connects the still-mysterious behavior of black holes to Einstein’s general theory of relativity and quantum physics. It establishes the parameters for quantum sensors, which are finding growing applications in the research of seismic activity and even dark matter. More importantly, it helps to demystify quantum entanglement, a phenomenon at the heart of both quantum computers and cutting-edge materials research.

How do you define what makes a computer a quantum machine? National Institute of Standards and Technology scientist Nicole Yunger Halpern pose the question rhetorically. The great work in which Bell and these Nobel Prize winners all took part is largely responsible for our current understanding of entanglement, which is why it is one of the most frequently cited explanations. Quantum computers would not be possible to build without this knowledge of entanglement.

There was never a problem with quantum mechanics’ predictions; in fact, the theory described the microscopic universe fantastically well from the very beginning, when it was developed by physicists in the early decades of the 20th century.

In their famous 1935 paper, Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen outlined their objections to the theory, which stemmed from the latter’s unsettling implications for everyday life. Their analysis referred to as EPR for its initials, centered on a thought experiment designed to demonstrate the ludicrousness of quantum mechanics, demonstrating how, under certain conditions, the theory can break, or at least deliver nonsensical results that conflict with everything we know about reality.

As an updated and streamlined form of EPR, it goes something like this: From a central location, two viewers, Alice and Bob, located on opposite sides of the solar system, are each sent their own pair of particles. Based on quantum mechanics, it is impossible to predict a particle’s spin before measuring it.

Alice learns that the spin of one of her particles is either positive or negative depending on how she measures it. Her measurements are completely random, but she always knows without a doubt that Bob’s associated particle is pointing downwards. This doesn’t seem that strange at first; maybe the particles are like a pair of socks, wherein if Alice has the right sock, Bob must have the left.

However, according to quantum theory, particles are not like socks; they only take on an up or down spin after being measured. This is the central paradox in EPR: if Alice’s particles don’t have a spin until they’re measured, then how can they predict the behavior of Bob’s particles as they leave the solar system in the other direction? Every time Alice takes a measurement, she is in effect asking her particle whether Bob will get heads or tails if he tosses a coin.

One in 1060, which is more than all the atoms in the solar system, is the probability of making a correct prediction even 200 times in a row. Quantum theory, however, claims that Alice’s particles can keep accurately anticipating as if they were telepathically connected to Bob’s particles, even though they are separated by billions of kilometers.

Real-world analogs of the EPR thought experiment, which is meant to demonstrate the flaws of quantum mechanics, instead support the most mind-boggling tenets of the theory. Particles in quantum physics appear to communicate with one another regardless of their separation in space, and they have no intrinsic qualities like spin up or down until they are measured.

Skeptical quantum physicists postulated the existence of “hidden variables,” or components existing on an invisible level of reality underneath the subatomic realm, which held information about the particle’s future state. They placed their faith in hidden-variable theories in the hopes that nature will regain the grounding in the granular details that quantum mechanics had taken away.