A team of scientists from the University of Science and Technology of China has proposed a bold solution to the “measurement problem” in quantum mechanics, suggesting that the end result of states of existence is determined by a “game” between the observer and nature.
For more than a century, the quantum realm has imposed an abundance of bizarre obstacles on the way to understanding universal existence.
In the microscopic world of atoms and subatomic particles, nature shows an unparalleled strangeness, becomes unpredictable and operates opposite to its behavior on the macroscopic scale defined by classical physics.
For example, as the famous “double slot experiencedemonstrates, particles, such as electrons, atoms, and molecules, can simultaneously display the characteristics of waves and particles.
Behavior in the quantum realm is so strange and counterintuitive that Albert Einstein never fully accepted the theory, calling it quantum entanglement, or the binding of particles in such a way that measurements made on a particle appear to affect the another, “a frightening action at a distance.”
And yet, as director of the Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics, Dr. Craig Hogan points outthis bizarre world that functions quite differently from the one we experience through our raw senses, ultimately represents the very fabric of existence.
“Literally, everything is made of quantum matter. So understanding the quantum world is really about understanding everything,” Dr. Hogan explained in an interview with The debriefing.
When it comes to understanding the quantum realm, physicists have long been vexed by a seemingly inscrutable mystery known as the “measurement problem.”
Now a team of Chinese scientists are proposing that the solution to the measurement problem may just be a “game” between us and nature.
A dead cat and Living
The most widely accepted set of principles in quantum mechanics is known as the Copenhagen Interpretation.
A fundamental tenet of the Copenhagen Interpretation is the concept of quantum superposition, which states that quantum waves exist simultaneously in all possible states until they are observed. Once observed, a quantum wave will abruptly transform into a single-state particle.
The paradox of quantum superposition is most easily understood by the well-known thought experiment of Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger, Nobel laureate.
In the “Schrödinger’s Cat” scenario, suppose you place a cat in a sealed box for an hour with a container of radioactive material, a Geiger counter attached to a hammer, and a container of deadly cyanide.
There is a 50/50 chance that radioactive decay will occur within an hour, releasing a single radioactive particle. If a radioactive particle is emitted, it will be registered by the Geiger counter, causing the hammer to fall, shattering the deadly cyanide and killing the cat.
Ultimately, when you open the box, the cat will either be dead or alive depending on the 50/50 probability that radioactive decay has occurred or not.
However, since the cat takes the place of a quantum system in this example until it is observed, the cat will simultaneously exist in two separate and distinct states. Essentially, until the box is opened, the cat is both dead and living.
Schrödinger’s thought experiment aimed to demonstrate how absurd quantum systems behave in relation to the larger world we interact with on a daily basis.
In the “real world”, a cat cannot be simultaneously dead and alive. However, at the microscopic level, quantum systems box and do exist in such starkly divergent states.
And yet, as Dr. Hogan pointed out, “literally everything is made of quantum matter,” which leads to a significant and unsettling mystery about the true nature of existence.
How or why does ‘quantum matter’, with seemingly unlimited potential and not limited by time and space, abruptly transform into the definite matter that constitutes our observable universe?
A playful solution to a quantum mystery
For nearly a century, quantum theory has been plagued by several lingering questions. What causes a quantum wave to collapse and assume a definite state? How or why is a particular end state selected and what role does the observer play in the process?
This constellation of lingering puzzles has been boiled down to an inscrutable dilemma known to physicists as the “measurement problem.”
Because the observation of a quantum system influences its end state, attempting to answer the measurement problem of quantum theory can often become a physical debate steeped in philosophical conversations.
Quantum physics pioneers like John Von Neumann and Eugene Wigner hypothesized that human consciousness influenced the collapse of a quantum wave. This theory has been widely rejected by modern physicists, as numerous experiments have proven that an “observer” need not be a sentient human being.
Any physical object, such as an inanimate measuring device or other subatomic particle, can act as an observer. As long as the “observer” interacts energetically, a quantum system will lose its wavy state and transform into a particle.
In this recent paper, researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China also hypothesize that human consciousness plays no role in quantum wave collapse. However, an observer must interpret the measured results or “play the game”.
The scientists propose a quantum decision approach to the measurement problem, suggesting that observing quantum properties is like playing a “game” with nature.
“Nature makes its ‘choice’, and the observer bets” on it, write the researchers. “In other words, an observer has to make a decision under uncertainty with incomplete information about the ‘choice’ of nature; through this learning process, the observer gradually builds his own experience of nature in his memory for future decision-making.
To demonstrate the theory, the researchers used a computer simulation involving a modified version of Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment.
In this version, a hypothetical cat is locked in a box with a lamp for an hour. If the lamp is on, the cat is alive. If the lamp goes out, the cat dies. A digital “coin” is flipped within an hour to determine the state of the light, with the heads meaning the lamp stays on and the tails meaning it goes out.
To win the game, a simulated observer must correctly choose whether the coin landed heads or tails and whether the lamp went out or stayed on.
Due to inherent uncertainty in nature, for a single game an observer cannot establish any objective probability and must guess subjectively whether the lamp is on or off.
However, in repeated game simulations, researchers say an observer can increase the odds of choosing the right outcome beyond a mere 50/50 chance.
The researchers suggest that by continuously playing the game, an observer can maximize their chances of success by discerning the frequency pattern for the two different outcomes through a process called “expected-value quantum decision theory.”
“In other words, it is possible that the observer could have a reasonable expectation of the natural state by learning the historical results of repeated measurements on copies of the same system,” the researchers wrote.
“We propose a quantum theory of expected value decision for observers, and quantum genetic programming is applied to develop ‘satisfying’ strategies for observers to ‘guess’ (with degrees of belief) the best natural state possible depending on the expected quantum value.”
More broadly, the theory suggests that our continuing observations of nature and our historical understanding of the results influence a quantum wave to decay and assume a definite particle state.
Using computer simulations, the researchers say they could reconstruct the “trajectories” or historical data, with 70% accuracy, against the expected 50% probability of the draw.
“We can look at quantum measurement this way,” the researchers said. “Nature asks questions and observers answer natural questions. Basically, it’s a game between nature and observers, [and] there is a sequence of “choices” made by nature, and observers select a sequence of actions guided by strategies optimized to decode nature. »
Since the simulated observer was only used to predict a set number of unknown outcomes, the physicists note that their theory does not provide a complete solution to the quantum theory measurement problem.
“Because we cannot obtain the ‘prior’ information of a quantum entity, the information of a quantum entity is incomplete. A quantum entity can have an infinite number of ‘trajectories’, so we cannot accurately predict the future ‘trajectory’ of a quantum entity,” the researchers said.
“It seems that nature is indeed playing with us, and it is impossible to accurately predict the future trajectory of quantum entities unless we can ‘dance’ with nature. Can we?”
The idea that existence is defined by a “game” between us and nature is an intriguing thought. However, ultimately proving this theory to be true comes down to that same lingering mystery.
How do you objectively observe these processes, given that measuring them means you are already playing the “game”?
During a 1964 conference on quantum behavior, the eminent theoretical physicist Richard Feynman has described this question and the “measurement problem” as the “single mystery” of quantum mechanics.
A mystery that, if solved, could not only open the way to understanding quantum mechanics, but our entire existence.
Until then, as Feynman also chided, “I think I can safely say that no one understands quantum mechanics.”
A preprint review of “Quantum measurement: a game between observer and nature? was published by arxiv.org.
Tim McMillan is a retired law enforcement executive, investigative journalist and co-founder of The Debrief. His writings generally focus on defense, national security, and the intelligence community. You can follow Tim on Twitter: @LtTimMcMillan. Tim can be contacted by email: email@example.com or by encrypted email: LtTimMcMillan@protonmail.com
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