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Tuesday, October 20, 2015


How Einstein Revealed the Universe's Strange "Nonlocality"

Our sense of the universe as an orderly expanse where events happen in absolute locations is an illusion

Edward Kinsella III

In Brief

  • In everyday life, distance and location are mundane absolutes. Yet physics now suggests that at the most fundamental level, the universe is nonlocal—there is no such thing as place or distance.
  • Initially Isaac Newton's conception of gravity seemed to imply the phenomenon of nonlocality because the attractive force between masses appeared to act magically across expanses.
  • Albert Einstein's general relativity instead ascribed gravity to the curvature of spacetime. Yet it introduced a deeper sense of nonlocality by showing that spacetime positions have no intrinsic meaning.

Adapted from Spooky Action at a Distance: The Phenomenon That Reimagines Space and Time—and What It Means for Black Holes, the Big Bang, and Theories of Everything, by George Musser, by arrangement with Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC (US). Copyright © 2015 by George Musser. All rights reserved.
When I first learned about the quantum phenomenon known as nonlocality in the early 1990s, I was a graduate student. But I didn't hear about it from my quantum-mechanics professor: he didn't see fit to so much as mention it. Browsing in a local bookshop, I picked up a newly published work, The Conscious Universe, which startled me with its claim that “no previous discovery has posed more challenges to our sense of everyday reality” than nonlocality. The phenomenon had the taste of forbidden fruit.

In everyday speech, “locality” is a slightly pretentious word for a neighborhood, town or other place. But its original meaning, dating to the 17th century, is about the very concept of “place.” It means that everythinghas a place. You can always point to an object and say, “Here it is.” If you can't, that thing must not really exist. If your teacher asks where your homework is, and you say it isn't anywhere, you have some explaining to do./.../

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