Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Cat's out of the bag


Albert Einstein was never comfortable with certain aspects of quantum mechanics, most notably Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, whose primary consequence is that if an object's position is defined precisely then its velocity will be indeterminate, and vice versa. One cannot simultaneously find both the position and momentum of an object to realizable accuracy.

This, in the classical sense, would imply that particles can be present in regions they have no business to be in, and that measuring the properties of one particle can instantaneously change those of another one.

In a letter to Max Born, he said:

The theory yields a lot, but it hardly brings us any closer to the secret of the Old One. In any case I am convinced that He does not throw dice,

indicating his discomfort with a probabilistic notion that could not be explained with laws of physics.

But in the centenary year of the publication of his Special Theory of Relativity, scientists have put a half-dozen beryllium atoms into a "cat state". A cat state is the condition of being in two diametrically opposed conditions at once, which in this case, means that the beryllium atoms were each spinning clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time. A charming bit of info on the history of this contradiction can be found here.

Establishing once again that the mastermind's paradoxical nightmare continues to bear fruits.

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