The announcement of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics to A Aspect, J F Clauser and A Zeilinger, with the citation ‘for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell’s inequalities and pioneering quantum information science’, has rekindled an old debate — is the universe real, or is it just our imagination?
Social media is exploding with statements like quantum mechanics (QM) has proved that the “universe is not real”, “reality is an illusion”, “it is all our mind’s projection”, “objects exist only in our heads”, “nothing exists out there”, “conscious observer brings the world into existence”, and so on.
Anyone who has worked on quantum systems or has taught QM would find such statements superficial, misrepresenting QM and even the process of science.
The researcher critically examines what QM advocates in connection to reality.
Quantum mechanics, developed during the early 20th century, is outstanding in explaining and predicting various phenomena, extending from subatomic to astronomical scales, that can not be captured within the classical (Newtonian) framework. QM also reduces itself to the latter in the right limit to restore its accomplishments.
QM continues to be an exceedingly successful theory even today and is the backbone of most of the technology we are using. For example, it is impossible to explain why some materials are metallic and some are not without QM.
Jayanth Vyasanakere is a faculty member at Azim Premji University.