A dreamy and lyrical study of quantum physics, Helgoland (2021) is set in the year 2021. The weird subatomic universe described in this small book is one in which nothing can ever be fully definite.
Who is it that reads the Helgoland novel?
- Physicists who are interested in the history of science but are not professionals
- Aspiring psychonauts who want to learn more about the weird world of atoms
- Anyone who is interested in taking a surrealistic look upon reality
Who is Carlo Rovelli, and what is his background?
Physicist Carlo Rovelli is the head of the Quantum Gravity research group at the Centre de Physique Théorique in Marseille, France, where he works as a theoretical physicist. Many of his works, such as Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Reality Is Not What It Appears, and The Order of Time, have been best-sellers in their respective fields of physics.
What exactly is in it for me? A look at the most recent developments in quantum physics.
Werner Heisenberg couldn't stop sneezing in the summer of 1925, which happened to be the allergy season. The 23-year-old scientist fled to Helgoland, a tiny rocky island in the North Sea, in order to relieve his hay fever symptoms. He starts to ponder carefully about atoms while he is here, finally able to take a deep breath. His discoveries will have a profound impact on physics and our understanding of reality. Based on the excellent storytelling of physicist Carlo Rovelli, these notes recount the intriguing tale of how quantum mechanics came to be discovered and discovered by scientists. As you go through the book, you will learn what Heisenberg's ideas tell us about the bizarre and paradoxical world of subatomic particles, and you will see how his discoveries uncovered issues that continue to confound scientists today. Discover how hay fever helped scientists discover quantum physics, when a thing isn't actually an object, and why multiverses aren't required in these sets of notes.
Heisenberg was the catalyst for the birth of a new and complicated area of research known as quantum physics.
Being a young, ambitious scientist in the early twentieth century was an exciting time to be alive. Danish physicist Niels Bohr has discovered a strange phenomenon that has baffled scientists for decades. He has discovered that when heated, atoms produce light at particular frequencies that are unique to them. These patterns indicate that electrons, the tiny subatomic particles that whizz about the nucleus of an atom, only orbit at certain distances from the nucleus of the atom. Heisenberg is perplexed as to why this is happening. Why should electrons be restricted to certain orbital configurations? And why should they jump between orbits in particular measurable ways if they are not required to? Essentially, he wants to get a better understanding of the physics of quantum jumps. The most important lesson to take away from this is: Heisenberg was the catalyst for the birth of a new and complicated area of research known as quantum physics.
This was a dilemma since scientists at the time were unable to understand electron orbits or the quantum jumps that occurred between these orbits. Discrete numbers are used to explain the movement of particles in classical physics. These numbers were used to represent variables such as location, velocity, and energy. However, it proved impossible to establish these factors in the case of electrons. Scientists could only see the changes in these variables when electrons hopped between orbits, and thus limited their observations. For the sake of avoiding this conundrum, Heisenberg concentrated on what could be seen, namely the frequency and amplitude of light emitted during these quantum jumps. He rewrote the classical physical principles and replaced each individual variable with a table or matrix that represented all of the potential changes that might take place in the world. However, while the arithmetic was very complex, the result was exactly what Bohr had seen.
The other scientist, Erwin Schrödinger, adopted an approach that was a little different from the others. It was his belief that electrons were not just a collection of particles that orbited a nucleus, but that they were electromagnetic waves that traveled around it. He was also able to precisely match Bohr's findings by using the more straightforward mathematics of wave equations. There was, however, a hitch. Waves are diffuse, but when electrons are detected by a detector, they are clearly defined points, or particles, as opposed to waves.
How can we reconcile these apparently contradictory models that, despite their apparent incompatibility, provide the same results? Max Born, a third thinker, was able to provide a solution. Schrödinger's wave calculations, he claimed, offered a better explanation of the outcomes of electron measurements than Heisenberg's matrix calculations, which just supplied the chance of making such observations. It seemed that, in this new quantum physics, electrons lived in some way as waves until they were seen by an external observer. Then they come to a halt at a single spot. This resulted in a new, perplexing question: why did this happen?
As a result of their existence, superpositions raise challenging issues regarding the nature of reality.
There is a famous thought experiment that explains the befuddling realm of quantum physics in a straightforward manner. It features a cat in a box with a strange gadget attached to it. Upon activation, it emits a strong sedative that helps to put the creature to sleep. Let us suppose that the gadget is only activated when a certain quantum event occurs, such as the disintegration of an atom. Furthermore, let us assume that Schrödinger's equations predict that this event will occur at any given moment in time with a one in two chance. As a result, we won't know whether or not the event has happened until we open the box. The cat seems to be both sleeping and alert at the same time.
This is referred to as a quantum superposition, and it happens when two conflicting characteristics are simultaneously present in the same physical space. Because it's a famously difficult notion to grasp, it took decades for physicists and philosophers to come up with a satisfactory explanation of how it works. The most important lesson to take away from this is: As a result of their existence, superpositions raise challenging issues regarding the nature of reality. It is known as Schrödinger's cat, and it serves to highlight one of the most fundamental mysteries of quantum physics. Despite the fact that superpositions seem to be impossible, scientists have shown that they do exist. For example, a single photon of light may seem as though it has traveled along two entirely different pathways! There are a variety of competing theories about this bizarre reality, which are often referred to as interpretations.
The idea of multiple universes is one possible explanation. In this model, the concept of the cat being both sleeping and awake is carried to its logical conclusion. As a result, since the chance of the trigger happening is one in every two, both events occur, although in separate timeframes, as shown above. You, as an observer, live in each of these other timelines as well. In fact, since there is an unlimited number of quantum occurrences, there are an infinite number of timelines or universes to consider as a result.
The hidden variables hypothesis, which is a rival interpretation, avoids the existence of endless universes by distinguishing Schrödinger's wave from the quantum particle itself. According to this theory, the probability indicated by Schrödinger exists in a genuine manner that we do not yet comprehend, despite the fact that the visible physical world only takes one shape. As a result, even if we only observe an awake cat, the possibility of a sleeping cat exists in our reality.
However, there is a third interpretation, known as quantum Bayesianism or QBism, that is completely different. According to this theory, superpositions and Schrödinger's probabilities are nothing more than information, and that information is only partially complete. When the observers open the box and view the cat, they get more knowledge of the situation. In this manner, the observer creates reality piece by piece by observing the world around him. However, this begs the question of who the observer is in the first place.
The relational interpretation depicts a universe in which everything is always changing.
According to the layman's understanding of quantum physics, quantum superpositions persist until an observer intervenes and determines what is really taking place. As a result, an electron whizzes about in an undefined cloud of probability until a scientist comes with an electron detector and, via observation, determines where the electron is really located. But what is it about a scientist that makes him so unique? Is there anything about her that confers on her the position of an observer with special rights? Her lab coat, her sophisticated technological equipment, or her very presence as a sentient creature with the ability to see, think, and be aware are all factors in her success. The truth is that none of these things exist.Observation, under the relational interpretation of quantum theory, does not include seeing in the conventional meaning of the word. In reality, every kind of interaction may be considered an observation.
The most important lesson here is that the relational interpretation depicts a world in which everything is always changing. It is a bit of a misnomer to refer to quantum theory as "observation" when it comes to it. A distinction is made between the natural world of physics and a particular subject, often a human, who observes this world from a position outside of it. The relational interpretation of quantum physics, on the other hand, eliminates this difference. According to this concept, each and every single entity in the universe is both an observer and an observer, and is both observed and observed.
The cosmos is packed with an incredible variety of objects, ranging from photons, or light particles, and rainbows to cats, clocks, and galaxies, among many other things. None of these entities, which are often referred to as physical systems, can exist in a vacuum. They are constantly interacting with one another. And, in reality, it is the varied interactions between physical systems that determine their characteristics. If something doesn't have any interactions with other things, it doesn't exist in any meaningful sense.
In this manner, all physical characteristics, which are often referred to as information, are linked together. That is, they are always in flux, appearing and disappearing depending on the situation. This is something we already know to be true in certain ways. A quality such as speed can only be discovered by examining the relationship between two things. When you're walking on a boat, your speed varies depending on whether you're measuring it with reference to the deck of the boat or to the surface of the ocean.
Imagining the world as an infinite network of relationships that create attributes may not seem to be revolutionary, but it really is. Let us return to the story of Schrödinger's cat. While within the box, the cat is either sleeping or awake depending on its proximity to the trigger, yet, from the outside, the cat seems to be neither. Both of these statements are correct, since various relationships result in distinct realities, as previously stated. What matters is whatever relational event or frame of reference is being examined at the time in question.
The relational model simplifies the process of quantum entanglement and removes its mystique.
Consider two photons that are both in a quantum superposition where they are both red and blue at the same time. We can not determine the definite condition of either until we make an observation, just as we can not identify the definitive state of Schrödinger's cat unless we make an observation. Nevertheless, since each photon has two possible outcomes, each color has a 50 percent probability of appearing when it is seen. Send one of these photons to Vienna and the other to Beijing, and see how it goes. If we take a look at the Vienna photon, we will see that it will appear either red or blue. Let's pretend it's the color red for the sake of this example. Now, when we see the Beijing photon, it should be about half the duration of the Vienna photon being observed.
However, here is when things start to get weird. If the Vienna photon is red, the Beijing photon will always be red as well, regardless of the circumstances. Quantum entanglement is the name given to this apparently magical connection. The most important lesson to take away from this is: The relational model simplifies the process of quantum entanglement and removes its mystique. Quantum entanglement is one of the most unusual occurrences that has ever occurred in the field of physics. Though two photons become entangled, their characteristics correlate or match, even when they are separated by a large distance. Of course, a pair of red gloves are likewise associated with space - even if they are separated by a large distance, they retain the same color. However, until they are seen, a pair of photons in a red-blue superposition is neither red nor blue. So, how is one able to compete against another?
After all, the first photon may be able to communicate with the second in some way. Despite this, entanglement has been detected across long distances, despite the fact that the signal would have to travel faster than the speed of light. Alternatively, the couple may settle on a hue before being separated. In addition, a complicated set of equations known as the Bell inequalities rules out this theory as well. So, what exactly is going on in this situation? The relational model may be able to provide some guidance.
Keep in mind that under this paradigm, attributes can only be found through interactions. The fact that no entity can see both Vienna and Beijing photons at the same time implies that none of them has any actual characteristics in relation to the other.The red hue of the Vienna photon is only visible in connection with viewers in Vienna, and not at any other location. The photon in Beijing, and indeed everything in Beijing, stays in a quantum superposition in the eyes of the Viennese, as a result. Any comparison is useless unless and until both parties see each other.
Nonetheless, these seemingly disparate occurrences may be linked together. A scientist in Vienna can communicate with a colleague in Beijing by phone. This interaction, or observation, provides information about the red hue of the Vienna photon, causing the entangled photon to appear red as a result.As a result, there is no mystical connection across time and space, but rather a web of relations linking these occurrences and providing them with their own characteristics.
Philosophy and science are inextricably linked in their respective fields of study.
Ernst Mach is perhaps the most important thinker who has never been widely publicized. In his roles as a scientist and a philosopher, his ability to generate unexpected insights and challenging thinking won him both fans and critics across a wide range of disciplines. Mach's work was scathingly criticized by the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin in his writings. Alexander Bogdanov, another revolutionary, stood up for them with a vengeance. Several aspects of Mach's thoughts were integrated into the epic book, The Man without Qualities, by the renowned writer, Robert Musil. Furthermore, both Einstein and Heisenberg acknowledge Mach's theories as having had a significant impact on their own discoveries. So, what were the revolutionary ideas that Mach advocated that caused such a ruckus across the realms of politics, the arts, and physics? As it turns out, he proposed that the universe is made up of sensations, which has a strange resonance with relational quantum theory.
The most important lesson here is that philosophy and science are inextricably linked with each other. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a philosophical assumption known as mechanism controlled most of the scientific community. At its most fundamental level, the mechanism claimed that reality worked in a similar manner to a clock. The cosmos was a huge empty container known as space, and all phenomena were made up of matter that was rigorously interacting with one another in this container. According to Ernst, this paradigm was helpful, but it had its limitations. He believed that the concept of mechanisms was too metaphysical or ethereal. As opposed to this, he believed that science should concentrate on what can be seen, namely the feelings that arise when components interact. If this sounds familiar, it's because Heisenberg was motivated by this same concept to study the behaviors of electrons, which ultimately led to the discovery of quantum theory.
Mach's ideas, on the other hand, have a far broader application. Physical things, according to his view of reality, are not autonomous components that mechanically interact, but rather are the result of these interactions, which create the world. And observers are not considered to be distinct from the system as a whole. They, too, only have a sensory understanding of the universe gained via encounters. Once again, this idea seems to be a foreshadowing of the relational interpretation of quantum physics, according to which characteristics do not exist in isolation from their environment.
To claim that Mach had a precognitive knowledge of quantum physics is not to imply that he did. Mach's observation, on the other hand, demonstrates the important interaction between science and philosophy. Heisenberg may not have made his seminal findings if he had not disregarded Mach and stuck to the ideas of mechanism with such a strict adherence. In a similar vein, modern philosophers may engage with the most recent scientific understandings in order to sharpen and improve their own views about reality and the universe. So, how does all of this play out when applied to a difficult topic such as conscious thought? That will be discussed in more detail in the next section.
Examining relationships and correlations may provide insight into the workings of the mind.
Simply browsing the internet for a few minutes will reveal a plethora of innovative applications of quantum ideas (or, more properly, misapplications) in a variety of fields. Gurus laud quantum spiritualism, scam physicians promote quantum therapy, and tech entrepreneurs glorify all manner of quantum nonsense, among other things. It seems that the intrinsic weirdness of quantum physics has a way of igniting the imagination of those who are interested in it. Can quantum theory, on the other hand, provide light on the fundamental issues of life? Is it capable of explaining love, elucidating the origins of beauty and truth, or providing a meaningful explanation of existence? No, not at all. However, applying the ideas of relational quantum theory to a topic such as the nature of consciousness may open up new avenues of study and inquiry into the phenomenon.
The most important lesson to take away from this is: Examining relationships and correlations may provide insight into the workings of the mind. The philosophy of the mind, in general, provides three major models for the human mind. There is dualism, which holds that the mind exists as a distinct, nearly spiritual, entity from the body and the rest of the universe. On one hand, there is idealism, which holds that the mind includes and accounts for all that exists. On the other hand, there is naïve materialism, which holds that mental experiences are just the result of basic physical processes.
Relational quantum theory may provide a somewhat different perspective on the mind than traditional quantum theory. It is important to consider the meaning of the phrase in order to comprehend it. The importance of meaning in human cognition can not be overstated. When we see signs, read words, or think about ideas, we know that they mean something because they relate to, or indicate, something external to us in the physical universe. According to the German philosopher Franz Brentano, intentionality is the process through which we interact with one another and find our way through reality.
However, how does intentionality come to be? One way to address this question is to look at pertinent related facts. Relative information is a correlation that occurs when two systems communicate with one another. A falling rock is an example of relative information, which is created when an external item, the rock, is correlated with an internal state, your brain's determination of the rock's descent. When this knowledge becomes important, it is because it influences your body's response, which is to move out of the way of whatever is happening.
In this situation, intentionality is produced by the information created by the relationships between the outside and the interior: the sight of a falling rock signals danger, and you act to avoid it as a result of this information. The physical processes that take place across different systems are, of course, only briefly described in this description. The fact that you had to dodge a rock tells you nothing about your particular experience. It is more difficult to explain how such a subjective experience comes to be. This is referred to as the "hard issue" of consciousness, and it continues to be a source of controversy.
Studying quantum physics may open our eyes to fresh perspectives on the universe.
What do you see when you look at a cat? What is it that you see? Perception, according to the conventional concept of sight, is primarily concerned with the acquisition of information. Using the cat's shape, hair, and whiskers, photons are reflected and enter your eyes. Your retinas convert the light into a signal, which is then sent to your brain. Finally, your neurons translate the information into a picture of an adorable cat, which is what you see. However, this is not entirely true. In reality, your brain makes predictions about what your eyes should see. The eyes continue to collect light, but they only transmit signals that are in conflict with the previous picture. It is these disparities between what we anticipate and what we see that provide us with the critical knowledge we need to make sense of the external world. The most important lesson to take away from this is: Studying quantum physics may open our eyes to fresh perspectives on the universe.
Using a notion known as the projective awareness model, we may provide a second explanation of sight in which the brain plays a leading role. The brain, according to this view, generates consciousness by continuously improving its preconceived beliefs and mental representations in response to information gathered by our senses. This means that our perception of reality is a "confirmed hallucination" that is continuously updated and evolving. In some respects, science and philosophy are based on the same ideas. Humanity develops a single image of how the world works, and then, through experience and experimentation, we discover all of the ways in which reality differs from and contradicts this idea of how the world works. Of course, while our brains complete this process in a fraction of a second, science completes it in a considerably longer period of time. It takes a community to test and develop new ideas, and it takes decades to complete the process.
Our theories of quantum physics, which include the relational interpretation, are just the most recent manifestation of this continuous process of development. Currently, they provide us with the most accurate representation of reality based on what we can see, map, and measure in the present. However, it is a pretty odd image to see in any case. Relational quantum physics depicts a universe in which objects that are static and steady do not exist. As opposed to discrete things interacting in space, reality is comprised entirely of a web of interactions in which events converge and dissipate in an unending froth. We, too, get caught up in the whirlpool of interpersonal relationships. It is possible that this constant barrage of connections is responsible for our very identity, or subjectivity. Seeing the world in this manner may seem strange, even hallucinogenic, but for the time being, this hallucination has been verified, and we should wait and see where it leads us next.
These notes convey the following main message: At the beginning of the twentieth century, a cadre of young scientists, notably an allergy-prone Werner Heisenberg, began deconstructing the conventional understanding of physics. Their quantum universe paradigm, which is characterized by uncertainty and probability, superseded the previous deterministic and mechanical world model. According to the relational interpretation of quantum physics, quantum reality is composed of a web of unstable connections — what is real and true may change depending on which relations are taking place.
Written by BrookPad Team based on Helgoland by Carlo Rovelli