We can relax: the world will still be there

Two independent teams of scientists – one in Japan, the other in Tokyo – have just announced research which offers strong support for the view that reality continues to exist even when no one is thinking about it.

Whew! I canus all saying.  What with worrying about the world financial crisis, and global warming, and the human carnage being wrecked in more places than I have finger, at least I can stop worrying about it all disappearing if I don’t keep my mind on it.

This does, though, represent a serious scientific question posed by quantum physics.  Quantum physicists demonstrated that we can observe particles of matter and anti-matter annihilating each other in a burst of energy when they meet.  But does this always happen?  might these particles behave differently when nobody is looking?  Well, if you can’t look, how will you ever know?

The researchers solved the problem by polarizing photons (that obey the same quantum laws as particles).  They repeated this process many times, each time observing just a smidgen of the interaction which in itself was insufficient to draw any conclusions.  By watching different smidgens, however, they were eventually able to draw a full picture of the entire interaction.

Are you still with me?  Even if you don’t understand, keep reading, because what they found even the researchers themselves call “preposterous.”  

They found that when the photons are being observed, they interact differently than when they are not being observed.

Just like living things.  Maybe what we think of as the inanimate world really is alive.  Maybe we just don’t recognize it.

This sounds far-fetched.  Or at least it does to me.  But most children believe that what we adults think of  inanimate is alive.  And many ancient cultures think this even as adults.  So we have Stonehenge, as one example.  

And if you think the possibility that everything is actually alive in some way is utter nonsense, read the results that Professor Yokota found in the New Journal of Physics, or the demonstration by Professors Lundeen and Steinberg in Physical Review of Letters two months ago.  Or for an easier read:

http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13226725

The world of hard science is as strange as anything I have ever imagined.

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About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
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One Response to We can relax: the world will still be there

  1. sarsen56 says:

    Its an amazing concept – but then again why not… and thanks for the links

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