Three Perils for a Quest(ion), Part 2

Eddie came over to our table.  “Either you folks order something else or I’ll have to charge you rent.”  Typical Eddie.

“Banana splits sound good to you two?”

[Jeremy and Jennie] “Sure.”

“OK, Eddie, two banana splits, plus a coffee, black, for me.  And an almond biscotti.”

“You want one, that’s a biscotto.”

“OK, a biscotto, Eddie.  The desserts are on my tab.”

“Thanks, Mr Moire.”

“Thanks, Sy.  I know you want to get on to the third Peril on Jeremy’s Quest for black hole evaporation, but how does he get past the Photon Sphere?”

“Yeah, how?”

“Frankly, Jeremy, the only way I can think of is to accept a little risk and go through it really fast.  At 2/3 lightspeed, for instance, you and your two-meter-tall suit would transit that zero-thickness boundary in about 10 nanoseconds.  In such a short time your atoms won’t get much out of position before the electromagnetic fields that hold your molecules together kick back in again.”

“OK, I’ve passed through.  On to the Firewall … but what is it?”

“An object of contention, for one thing.  A lot of physicists don’t believe it exists, but some claim there’s evidence for it in the 2015 LIGO observations.  It was proposed a few years ago as a way out of some paradoxes.”

“Ooo, Paradoxes — loverly.  What’re the paradoxes then?”

“Collisions between some of the fundamental principles of Physics-As-We-Know-It.  One goes back to the Greeks — the idea that the same thing can’t be in two places at once.”

“Tell me about it.  Here’s your desserts.”

“Thanks, Eddie.  The place keeping you busy, eh?”

“Oh, yeah.  Gotta be in the kitchen, gotta be runnin’ tables, all the time.”

“I could do wait-staff, Mr G.  I’m thinking of dropping track anyway, Mr Moire, 5K’s don’t have much in common with base running which is what I care about.  How about I show up for work on Monday, Mr G?”

“Kid calls me ‘Mr’ — already I like him.  You’re on, Jeremy.”

“Woo-hoo!  So what’s the link between the Firewall and the Greeks?”

Link is the right word, though the technical term is entanglement.  If you create two particles in a single event they seem to be linked together in a way that really bothered Einstein.”

“For example?”Astronaut and biscotti
“Polarizing sunglasses.  They depend on a light wave’s crosswise electric field running either up-and-down or side-to-side.  Light bouncing off water or road surface is predominately side-to-side polarized, so sunglasses are designed to block that kind.  Imagine doing an experiment that creates a pair of photons named Lucy and Ethel.  Because of how the experiment is set up, the two must have complementary polarizations.  You confront Lucy with a side-to-side filter.  That photon gets through, therefore Ethel should be blocked by a side-to-side filter but should go through an up-and-down filter.  That’s what happens, no surprise.  But suppose your test let Lucy pass an up-and-down filter.  Ethel would pass a side-to-side filter.”

“But Sy, isn’t that because each photon has a specific polarization?”

“Yeah, Jennie, but here’s the weird part — they don’t.  Suppose you confront Lucy with a filter set at some random angle.  There’s only the one photon, no half-way passing, so either it passes or it doesn’t.  Whenever Lucy chooses to pass, Ethel usually passes a filter perpendicular to that one.  It’s like Ethel hears from Lucy what the deal was — and with zero delay, no matter how far away the second test is executed.  It’s as though Lucy and Ethel are a single particle that occupies two different locations.  In fact, that’s exactly how quantum mechanics models the situation.  Quite contrary to the Greeks’ thinking.”

“You said that Einstein didn’t like entanglement, either.  How come?”

“Einstein published the original entanglement mathematics in the 30s as a counterexample against Bohr’s quantum mechanics.  The root of his relativity theories is that the speed of light is a universal speed limit.  If nothing can go faster than light, instantaneous effects like this can’t happen.  Unfortunately, recent experiments proved him wrong.  Somehow, both Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are right, even though they seem to be incompatible.”

“And this collision is why there’s a problem with black hole evaporation?”

“It’s one of the collisions.”

“There’s more?  Loverly.”

~~ Rich Olcott

Oh, what an entangled wave we weave

“Here’s the poly bag wiff our meals, Johnny.  ‘S got two boxes innit, but no labels which is which.”
“I ordered the mutton pasty, Jennie, anna fish’n’chips for you.”
“You c’n have this box, Johnny.  I’ll take the other one t’ my place to watch telly.”

<ring>
” ‘Ullo, Jennie?  This is Johnny.  The box over ‘ere ‘as the fish.  You’ve got mine!”


In a sense their supper order arrived in an entangled state.  Our friends knew what was in both boxes together, but they didn’t know what was in either box separately.  Kind of a Schrödinger’s Cat situation — they had to treat each box as 50% baked pasty and 50% fried codfish.

But as soon as Johnny opened one box, he knew what was in the other one even though it was somewhere else.  Jennie could have been in the next room or the next town or the next planet — Johnnie would have known, instantly, which box had his meal no matter how far away that other box was.

By the way, Jennie was free to open her box on the way home but that’d make no difference to Johnnie — the box at his place would have stayed a mystery to him until either he opened it or he talked to her.

Entangled 2Information transfer at infinite speed?  Of course not, because neither hungry person knows what’s in either box until they open one or until they exchange information.  Even Skype operates at light-speed (or slower).

But that’s not quite quantum entanglement, because there’s definite content (meat pie or batter-fried cod) in each box.  In the quantum world, neither box holds something definite until at least one box is opened.  At that point, ambiguity flees from both boxes in an act of global correlation.

There’s strong experimental evidence that entangled particles literally don’t know which way is up until one of them is observed.  The paired particle instantaneously gets that message no matter how far away it is.

Niels Bohr’s Principle of Complementarity is involved here.  He held that because it’s impossible to measure both wave and particle properties at the same time, a quantized entity acts as a wave globally and only becomes local when it stops somewhere.

Here’s how extreme the wave/particle global/local thing can get.  Consider some nebula a million light-years away.  A million years ago an electron wobbled in the nebular cloud, generating a spherical electromagnetic wave that expanded at light-speed throughout the Universe.

cats-eye nebula

The Cat’s Eye Nebula (NGC 6543)
courtesy of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

Last night you got a glimpse of the nebula when that lightwave encountered a retinal cell in your eye.  Instantly, all of the wave’s energy, acting as a photon, energized a single electron in your retina.  That particular lightwave ceased to be active elsewhere in your eye or anywhere else on that million-light-year spherical shell.

Surely there was at least one other being, on Earth or somewhere else, that was looking towards the nebula when that wave passed by.  They wouldn’t have seen your photon nor could you have seen any of theirs.  Somehow your wave’s entire spherical shell, all 1012 square lightyears of it, instantaneously “knew” that your eye’s electron had extracted the wave’s energy.

But that directly contradicts a bedrock of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.  His fundamental assumption was that nothing (energy, matter or information) can go faster than the speed of light in vacuum.  STR says it’s impossible for two distant points on that spherical wave to communicate in the way that quantum theory demands they must.

Want some irony?  Back in 1906, Einstein himself “invented” the photon in one of his four “Annus mirabilis” papers.  (The word “photon” didn’t come into use for another decade, but Einstein demonstrated the need for it.)  Building on Planck’s work, Einstein showed that light must be emitted and absorbed as quantized packets of energy.

It must have taken a lot of courage to write that paper, because Maxwell’s wave theory of light had been firmly established for forty years prior and there’s a lot of evidence for it.  Bottom line, though, is that Einstein is responsible for both sides of the wave/particle global/local puzzle that has bedeviled Physics for a century.

~~ Rich Olcott