Study: There may be no such thing as objective reality

Study: There may be no such thing as objective reality
Credit: Nicole Gray

Everyone is entitled to their own facts. That’s not an opinion. At least, according to a new quantum mechanics study.

What we view as objective reality – the idea that what we can observe, measure, and prove is real and those things we cannot are theoretical or imaginary – is actually a subjective reality that we either unravel, create, or dis-obfuscate by the simple act of observation.

A smarter way of putting it can be found in the aforementioned study, “Experimental test of nonlocal causality” conducted by lead author Martin Ringbauer and an international team of physicists and researchers:

Explaining observations in terms of causes and effects is central to empirical science. However, correlations between entangled quantum particles seem to defy such an explanation. This implies that some of the fundamental assumptions of causal explanations have to give way.

The big idea here is that ‘local causality,’ a facet of classical science that breaks down events into cause and effect using observations and measurements that can be reproduced (ie, we can drop an apple a million times and, barring external interference beyond gravity, it will fall at the exact same trajectory and velocity every single time). But, it’s child’s play to demonstrate that the inner workings of the universe – the real truth, we’ll call it – don’t operate in the same manner.

Take the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment for example, where an imaginary cat is sealed inside a box in a situation where it could be alive or dead at any given time.

The study took the idea of the observer in quantum mechanics – the person who, for example, opens the box with the cat inside – and added another layer. In this thought-experiment, there’s an observer inside the box and a second outside. 

The second observer, outside of the box, still experiences the “Schrodinger’s Cat” conundrum where the feline in the box is both alive and dead at the same time. But the first observer, inside the box, can see whether the cat is dead or alive. Both observers’ observations are correct and, thanks to the goofy nature of quantum mechanics, they’re both true facts until one of the observers physically observes the box and cat from the same perspective as the other one.

If you’re wondering what to do with this information, you’re not alone. The more physicists uncover about the nature of the quantum world, the less scientific sense our classical observations seem to make. We can’t trust what we see, but our observations are intrinsic to what’s actually happening in the universe.

H/t: The Conversation

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