Monday, January 14, 2013

Copenhagen interpretation did not demand realism

NewScientist explains strange new research in quantum physics, and concludes:
So, has Bohr been proved wrong too? Johannes Kofler of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, doesn't think so. "I'm really very, very sure that he would be perfectly fine with all these experiments," he says. The complementarity principle is at the heart of the "Copenhagen interpretation" of quantum mechanics, named after Bohr's home city, which essentially argues that we see a conflict in such results only because our minds, attuned as they are to a macroscopic, classically functioning cosmos, are not equipped to deal with the quantum world. "The Copenhagen interpretation, from the very beginning, didn't demand any 'realistic' world view of the quantum system," says Kofler.

The outcomes of the latest experiments simply bear that out. "Particle" and "wave" are concepts we latch on to because they seem to correspond to guises of matter in our familiar, classical world. But attempting to describe true quantum reality with these or any other black-or-white concepts is an enterprise doomed to failure.

It's a notion that takes us straight back into Plato's cave, says Ionicioiu. In the ancient Greek philosopher's allegory, prisoners shackled in a cave see only shadows of objects cast onto a cave wall, never the object itself. A cylinder, for example, might be seen as a rectangle or a circle, or anything in between. Something similar is happening with the basic building blocks of reality. "Sometimes the photon looks like a wave, sometimes like a particle, or like anything in between," says Ionicioiu. In reality, though, it is none of these things. What it is, though, we do not have the words or the concepts to express.
That's right. Physicists keep cooking up fancy terminology for quantum paradoxes, but the core strangeness is the same as what Bohr explained 80 years ago.

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