Albert Einstein Was Wrong About Quantum Entanglement – And This Stunningly Simple Game Proved It

Thursday, 10 May 2018 - 11:59AM
Physics
Thursday, 10 May 2018 - 11:59AM
Albert Einstein Was Wrong About Quantum Entanglement – And This Stunningly Simple Game Proved It
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Oh boy... Quantum physics. Ready to get your view of the universe twisted up like a pretzel? A team of roughly 100 scientists from across the world just found the most convincing evidence yet that there's a fundamental part of our universe that's random, and the only way to test it is if humans truly have free will. Even more fun is that this experiment involved a low-tech video game called Big Bell Quest.

The game is named for the Bell Test, a groundbreaking experiment invented by physicist John Bell that blew Albert Einstein out of the water. The crux of the whole thing is quantum entanglement: a phenomenon in which two particles are produced in a way that "links" them on a fundamental level. Even if the two particles are moved far apart, measuring one particle will also tell you the state of its partner.

However, quantum theory contended that measuring one particle didn't just give us insight into its properties, it actually called forth those properties into existence. For example: say you decided to measure the polarity of a particle. That particle's polarity wasn't always sitting there, waiting to be measured. Instead, the particle did not have a definite polarity until we measured it. It remained hovering in a paradoxical state where it was neither one nor the other until the moment of measurement. On top of that, when we observe one entangled particle, the other particle instantly matches the state of the first.

Einstein hated this theory. He and his contemporaries argued that observing one particle didn't change the other one – the two were always the same, we just didn't know it. Besides, how could one particle instantaneously signal for its partner to change? That would mean these particles were communicating at a speed faster than light. It seems like a weird kind of "refrigerator light" conundrum: how do you determine whether these particles are always in the state in which they were observed, or if they change based on observation?

The Bell Test provided an answer: randomly pick a measurement method for each of the two entangled particles.

If you measure two entangled particles in the same way, the answer will always be the same: a match. However, if you measure the two particles in two random ways, sometimes you'll get two different answers – because, hey, sometimes you're measuring two different things (like spin versus polarity). Over time, though, a strange statistical anomaly shows up – or rather, doesn't show up. If the state of the two particles was determined from the beginning (as Einstein and friends argued) then the results of the two random tests should match up on a rate higher than average. Instead, the Bell Test consistently showed that the tests matched up closer to 50% of the time. This suggests that the results were truly random, like flipping a coin.

The problem, though, is that no method – from flipping coins to computer-generated numbers – is completely random... Except, maybe, humans. If humans do in fact have free will, then we have the ability to make those truly random choices. This is where Big Bell Quest comes in. To randomly choose which tests scientists would perform on their respective particles, students around the world were given Big Bell Quest, which asks them to hit one of two buttons over and over. Players were given a higher score the harder it was for the game to predict which button they would press next. Those inputs were given to researchers as truly random data to guide which tests they would perform on their particles.

The result?

Bell was right.

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