Entangled Life

Coffee cup

Having a coffee … (photo by Nina Munteanu)

In 1935, Schrödinger’s thought exercise spoke to the collision of classical physics and quantum physics—a chaotic dark thriller with a rather macabre baroque scenario involving a cat, a box and some poison. Schrödinger invented the term “entanglement” to describe the behaviour of two previously bound-together individual particles, separated and later behaving as a single entity. In 1964 John Bell proved a theorem that allowed experimental tests to establish the existence of an instantaneous connectedness, what Einstein had called “spooky action at a distance”. Freedman & Clauser and the Orsay experiments of Aspect et al. later demonstrated that if objects had interacted, what an observer chose to observe about one of them would instantaneously influence the result that an arbitrarily remote observer chose to observe for the other object. They were entangled.

In a 2011 article in Scientific American entitled “Living in a Quantum World,” quantum physicist Vlatko Vedral describes how quantum mechanics no longer applies to small things—as formally thought. Vedral shares how quantum phenomena such as entanglement may be nurtured and exploited in living systems through biological processes from bird migration to photosynthesis. Birds use quantum processes in compass cells to navigate by sensing the earth’s magnetic field. In 2010, a team led by Gregory Scholes at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, reported coherence effects at ambient temperatures for photosynthetic cryptophyte algae. Photosynthesis, the process that allows plants and bacteria to turn sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into organic matter, is “arguably the most important biochemical reaction on earth,” says writer and former editor of Nature Philip Ball, who adds two other examples of quantum effects in nature. one is the movement of protons from one molecule to another in some enzyme-catalyzed reactions through a phenomenon called quantum tunnelling, in which a particle passes through an energy barrier rather than having to gather the energy to climb over it.39 Another example is a controversial theory of olfaction, which claims that “smell comes from the biochemical sensing of molecular vibrations—a process that involves electron tunnelling between the molecule responsible for the odour and the receptor where it binds in the nose.

According to Vedral, in quantum science it is entanglement—not time or space or even gravity—that is primary. “They interconnect quantum systems without reference to space and time.” Engel and other scientists predict an emerging discipline called quantum biology.

Some of the most eminent physicists have claimed that when a nuclear particle is observed by a scientist—or when a measurement is made of it by an automatic instrument—the observation directly affects the particle. If, for example, its position is measured, the particle acquires a definite position at that moment—having previously been in an indefinite, “spread-out” state. According to this view, scientists intervene very directly in the phenomena that they study, both creating them as well as observing them. four hundred years earlier, medieval scientist Francis Bacon wrote, “And the human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays irregularly, distorts and discolours the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it.” In the 1960s, Princeton University philosopher David K. Lewis proposed a modal realism worldview, in which all possible worlds are as real as the actual world.

What am I suggesting with this line of thought? Only that “there are more things in heaven and earth … than are dreamt of in [our]philosophy,” as Shakespeare wrote in his play Hamlet. Good science— and good thinking—isn’t just about skepticism and proof; it starts with imagination and vision—and persistence. And who knows where our imagination—and persistence—may lead?


Water Is-pBook COVERThis article is an excerpt from Water Is… (Pixl Press), Preface.




nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

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