Nonlocality | Jan 1997

FMBR Editorial: Jan, 1997

Nonlocality

Marshall Pease

A strange aspect of quantum physics is its dependence on nonlocality. By this is meant the manner in which two or more widely separated events can be linked in ways that do not depend on the transmission of information. For example, a pair of photons originating from a single event may continue to be "entangled" (Penrose's term) even after moving far apart and under conditions precluding any classical influence passing between them. A measurement which seems to set what is observed of one of them may allow inferring what will be observed of the other. Somehow, the separation in space is being ignored!

It is important to understand that nonlocality does not change the available information. An observer watching one of the pair cannot know anything about the other until the observations of both particles are brought together and compared. Only then can the effect of their entanglement be discovered as an unexpected coordination between the observations. The phenomenon arises at a more subtle level of significance than do effects caused by the exchange of information.

Nonlocality is an interesting phenomenon of quantum physics, but what concerns me here is quite different - what it may mean for the human condition. Nonlocality may be at the very foundation of much that makes us human. I believe it can be involved in many mysteries which have no other basis that seems reasonable. For example, how is it possible to communicate? Before any communication can occur, a person must recognize that there are others "out there" with whom he or she might communicate. This seems obvious - so obvious we generally take it for granted. Yet the question remains, how do we know anyone is out there? How do we first get the idea? In particular, how does the infant get this idea even before being able to focus on another or acknowledge the world? The conventional answer is instinct, but this seems to do no more than put a label on a mystery.

Is it because even as infants we are all "entangled"? If so, this may be what makes us "one" in whatever sense we depend on that unity or acknowledge it. The feeling of oneness seems analogous to the quantum physical notion. In physics, two separate but "entangled" photons are linked so each affects the other, but only in ways not involving what we can observe of either one in isolation. The effect emerges only if simultaneous observations on both photons are compared. Analogously, two separate humans are "entangled" in such a way as to make it possible for one to be able to communicate to the other. Whether they do or not is an entirely separate question. The linkage establishes an environment of relationship making communication possible. It is not involved in communication itself.

If we are indeed all "entangled," this has enormous implications. It implies there is truly one humanity. This unity does not prevent us from savaging each other as individuals, cultures or peoples. It does not make the lion and the lamb lie down together. Despite all our problems, however, it leaves us linked as brothers and sisters. From this perspective, even our most destructive actions may be not merely the product of our individual and collective fears, but also something akin to sibling rivalry. So where does this lead? For one thing, it means we share a quality that is truly precious and wonderful, though one we so often deny in our actions. Perhaps we can eventually learn!

Marshall Pease