A single atom of love may not seem like much. By definition, it is the smallest quantity of love that could possibly exist. And yet, just like a real atom, even a single atom of love contains within itself tremendous amounts of power.

P.S.: Quantum physics fans may enjoy knowing this: the background for today’s drawing was done using a color called “Copenhagen blue.”

Hello, friends, and welcome to a special Halloween edition of Sciency Words! Today, we’re talking about the spookiest of scientific terms. And that super spooky term is:

QUANTUM ENTANGLEMENT

Quantum mechanics is the study of the tiniest of tiny things in our universe: things like atoms and quarks and electrons. And these super tiny things do some pretty weird stuff, if our current mathematical models are to be believed. Stuff that seems to defy our human notions of common sense.

In the 1930’s, when quantum theory was still brand new, Albert Einstein did not approve of all that common-sense-defying stuff that quantum mechanical models were predicting. So in 1935, Einstein and two of his colleagues, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, published a paper that was supposed to prove quantum theory was incorrect, or at least that it was woefully incomplete.

The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paper (or E.P.R. paper, as it’s now commonly known) didn’t quite get the job done. Quantum theory survived the attack. In response to the E.P.R. paper, Erwin Schrödinger (of Schrödinger’s cat fame) wrote a letter to Einstein. It was in this letter, from Schrödinger to Einstein, that the word “entanglement” was first used in reference to quantum theory. Well, actually, Schrödinger used the word Verschränkung, a German word which translates into English as “entanglement.” (The relevant section of Schrödinger’s letter is quoted in this article from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

Entanglement refers to the way a pair of quantum particles can interact with each other and then remain “entangled” with each other after their interaction is over. If you measure the quantum state of one entangled particle, the other will instantaneously change to match. This implies that entangled particles can somehow exchange information at faster-than-light speeds. As Schrödinger wrote in his letter, this is not just a weird quirk of quantum theory; it’s the “characteristic trait” that makes quantum mechanics so radically different from classical physics.

Einstein was still not happy. Neither was Schrödinger; however, as I’ve come to understand the story, Schrödinger was able to set his personal feelings about quantum theory aside and continue his research. Einstein, meanwhile, kept trying to prove quantum theory was wrong until the day he died.

You might even say the idea of quantum entanglement haunted Einstein for the rest of his life. In 1947, in a letter to another physicist named Max Born, Einstein referred to entanglement as spukhafte Fernwirkung, a phrase which is commonly translated into English as “spooky action at a distance.” (The relevant section of Einstein’s letter is quoted in this book.)

Thus, quantum entanglement is the spookiest scientific term.

Quantum physics is weird. It overturns all our silly human notions about common sense. Atoms and photons and mass vector bosons—and all sorts of other particles and/or waves like that—exist in this mystical world where anything is possible and nothing makes sense.

But while while world of quantum physics may defy common sense, the way scientists study the quantum world is highly logical and methodical.

Today, I want to share a post that Mike Smith did over on SelfAwarePatterns. It’s a great introduction to the most common “interpretations” of quantum theory—in other words, the most popular schools of thought about what all that quantum mumbo jumbo actually means.

So before you throw up your hands and declare that quantum physics is nonsensical science voodoo, please check out Mike’s post. It’s really good!

With quantum physics, we have a situation where a quantum object, such as a photon, electron, atom or similar scale entity, acts like a wave, spreading out in a superposition, until we look at it (by measuring it in some manner), then it behaves like a particle. This is known as the measurement problem. Now, […]

Today’s post is about a personal revelation I recently had. You see, I spend a lot of time researching for this blog, making sure I understand what I’m talking about, and doing my best to explain it all clearly and concisely. And all this work, in theory, is supposed to benefit my science fiction writing.

But I don’t want to write hard Sci-Fi. I used to think science fiction existed on a spectrum from hard science fiction, where everything is super scientifically accurate (and here’s a full chapter explaining the math to prove it), to soft science fiction, where everything’s basically space wizards and technobabble magic (lol, who cares if unobtainium crystals make sense?).

I’ve since discovered another way to think about science fiction, and I find that to be more useful. But sometimes I’m still left wondering why am I doing all this extra work? What’s it all for if I’m not trying to write hard Sci-Fi?

Recently, I was talking with a new friend, and somehow the conversation turned to quantum physics. I swear I wasn’t the one who brought it up! My friend had seen a video on YouTube, and I felt the need to disillusion him of the weird quantum mysticism he’d apparently been exposed to. I was doing my best to explain what the Heisenberg uncertainty principle actually means, and I ended up digging into what I remembered about the math.

Mathematically speaking, the momentum of a quantum particle is represented by the variable p, its position by the variable q, and the relationship between p and q is often expressed as:

pq ≠ qp

I don’t have the math skills to explain how this non-equivalency equation works. I think it has something to do with matrices. My high school math teacher skipped that chapter. To this day, I still haven’t got a clue how a matrix works. I just know it’s an important concept in quantum theory.

But by this point, my friend was staring at me with a sort of dumbstruck awe, and he said: “Wow, you really do understand this stuff!”

That brought me up short.

“No, not really,” I said, feeling slightly embarrassed. I couldn’t help but recollect the famous line attributed to Richard Feynman: If you think you understand quantum theory, you don’t understand quantum theory.

So I told my friend about this blog and about my writing, and how I use the research I do for my blog to flesh out the story worlds in my science fiction. And then I said something that I don’t remember ever thinking before or being consciously aware of, but as soon as the words were out of my mouth I knew they were true: “I just want to make sure I know enough so that I don’t make a total fool of myself in my stories.”

And that’s it. That’s the answer I needed. I’m okay with stretching the truth if it suits my story. I’m okay with leaving some scientific inaccuracies in there. I just don’t want to make a mistake so glaringly obvious to my readers (some of whom know way more about science than I do) that it ruins the believability of my story world.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to writing. The fiction kind of writing, I mean. And on Wednesday, we’ll have story time here on the blog.