Quantum Physics Has Finally Solved the Chicken/Egg Debate

Thursday, 06 September 2018 - 1:44PM
Thursday, 06 September 2018 - 1:44PM
Quantum Physics Has Finally Solved the Chicken/Egg Debate
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Image Credit: Ruben Alexander/Flickr CC BY 2.0
It's a quandary that seems to have been around since the dawn of time (though it has its actual origins in Ancient Greece), yet finding an answer has proven to be impossible - Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Some smart alecks have tried to answer the question by throwing in pterodactyls or other non-chickens, but that's like using Spock or volcano in a game of roshambo. According to USA Today, we may finally have a legit answer thanks to quantum physics, but it's probably going to piss off everyone on both sides of the debate.

So the answer to the question "What came first" would be both. Or neither? It depends on how you look at it. "The weirdness of quantum mechanics means that events can happen without a set order," explained University of Queensland researcher Jacqui Romero. In an experiment, Romero and other French and Australian physicists used a device called a photonic quantum switch to demonstrate indefinite causal order. It turns out that in quantum mechanics the rules of things happening in sequence (this-then-that) don't apply. Photons in a rig were given two paths: if vertically polarized, the photons would take the left path and then come around to the right path, and if horizontally polarized it would do the opposite. By polarizing the photons from both directions (horizontally), the researchers caused the quantum wave to split and go down both paths and meet again in the center. "When the photon repeats the trip, it again takes both paths, although either part of the photon's quantum wave takes each path only once," Science Mag explains further. "It is thus impossible to say in which order the photon has taken the path."

In what is almost definitely an over-simplification of what the scientists show in their study, two things can cause each other to occur at the same time. That is a little hard to swallow since it goes against a pretty major fact of our normal lives, but it kind of makes sense if you read the research, which was published recently in Physical Reviews Letters. The next time someone asks you the question, just say both and walk away fast before they ask you to show your work.



Cover image credit: Ruben Alexander/Flickr CC BY 2.0
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