Quantum Nonlocality

Our "local realistic" view of the world assumes that phenomena are separated by time and space and that no influence can travel faster than the speed of light. Quantum nonlocality proves that these assumptions are incorrect, and that there is a principle of holistic interconnectedness operating at the quantum level which contradicts the localistic assumptions of classical, Newtonian physics.

[Nonlocality chart]

Illustration adapted from Mansfield, 1995, p. 113

  • Note: Quantum nonlocality does not prove that "signals" travel "faster than light." Rather, it shows that at a deep level of reality the speed of light as a limiting factor is irrelevant because phenomena are instantaneously connected regardless of distance.

The Hows and Whys of Nonlocality

At the quantum level, "particles" do not possess definite, deterministic qualities until they are measured:

At the subatomic level, matter does not exist with certainty at definite places, but rather shows "tendencies to exist," and atomic events do not occur with certainty at definite times and in definite ways, but rather show "tendencies to occur." (Capra, 1982, p. 80)

Despite the fact that the quality of particles is indeterminite until a measurement is made, any two photons or electrons that originate from a common source will possess a total spin of zero once they are measured. Thus:

  • If particle 1 has a spin of "up," particle 2 will have a spin of "down."
  • If particle 1 has a spin of "down," particle 2 will have a spin of "up."

[Particle spins]

Opposing particle spins from Capra

In other words,

Quantum theory tells us that in a system of two particles having total spin zero, the spins of the particles about any axis will always be correlated -- will be opposite -- even though they only exist as tendencies, or potentialities, before the measurement is taken. This correlation means that the measurement of the spin of particle 1, along any axis, provides an indirect measurement of the spin of particle 2 without in any way disturbing that particle. (Capra, 1982, p. 84).

The Phenomenon of Quantum Nonlocality

Because the spin of a particle does not exist until a measurement is made, the act of making the measurement and determining the axis of spin of particle 1, will also determine the spin of particle 2, no matter how far apart it is from particle 1. Particle 2 will instantly respond to the state of particle 1, even if it is on the other side of the universe.

At the instant we perform our measurement on particle 1, particle 2, which may be thousands of miles away, will acquire a definite spin -- "up" or "down" if we have chosen a vertical axis, "left" or "right" if we have chosen a horizontal axis. How does particle 2 know which axis we have chosen? There is no time for it to receive that information by any conventional signal. (Capra, 1982, p. 85).

Quantum nonlocality as suggested by Bell's theorem is a fact of nature that has now been experimentally verified on many occasions. Alain Aspect's experiments in 1982 at the University of Paris-South proved the existence of quantum nonlocality. These experiments have been refined and repeated many times since.

The Implications of Quantum Nonlocality

At the quantum level, instantaneous actions occur at a distance. Two particles that are part of a single system continue to act in concert with one another no matter how far apart they appear to be separated by spacetime.

Nonlocality or nonseparability is asking us to revise completely our ideas about objects, to remove a pervasive projection we have upon nature. We can no longer consider objects as independently existing entities that can be localized in well-defined regions of spacetime. They are interconnected in ways not even conceivable using ideas from classical physics, which is largely a refinement and extrapolation from our normal macroscopic sense of functioning. (Mansfield, 1995, p.122).

Nature has shown us that our concept of reality, consisting of units that can be considered as separate from each other, is fundamentally wrong. For this reason, Bell's theorem may be the most profound discovery of science. (Kafatos and Kafatou, 1991, 64-65).

Quantum nonlocality proves that "particles that were once together in an interaction remain in some sense parts of a single system which responds together to further interactions" (Gribbin, 1984). Since the entire universe originated in a flash of light known as the Big Bang, the existence of quantum nonlocality points toward a profound cosmological holism and suggests that

If everything that ever interacted in the Big Bang maintains its connection with everything it interacted with, then every particle in every star and galaxy that we can see "knows" about the existence of every other particle. (Gribbin, 1984).

Further Questions and Observations

  • If every "particle" is in communication with every other "particle," could the phenomenon of quantum nonlocality help account in some way for the self-organizing, recurrent patterns of form that appear everywhere in the universe? Could such a theory contribute to our understanding of morphogenesis on a cosmological level?

  • The Greek philosopher Plotinus believed that the metaphysical principle of Mind is nonlocal, and explained that, because it is not limited by time and space, it can be present everywhere. Similarly, Karl Pribram has demonstrated that memory is not localized in specific parts of the brain. Does quantum nonlocality support -- or help us understand -- noetic theories of the universe? Is the underlying structure of the universe essentially noetic in nature?

  • What is the nature of the universal "laws of physics," which seem to be the same everywhere. Do the laws of physics presuppose some type of nonlocality? Does the very concept of "the universe" as one thing imply a form of cosmological holism and nonlocality?

Of similar interest in this argument is the existance of Zero Point Energy.

Zero Point Energy

If all the air molecules are pumped out of a chamber, the chamber still contains residual radiation (electromagnetic noise from stars, x-rays, and heat radiation). Even before quantum mechanics, it was shown by classical radiation theory that if the temperature of the container is lowered to absolute zero, there remains a residual amount of thermal energy that can not by any means be removed. This residual energy in an empty container at absolute zero, was named "zero-point energy."

Suddenly the once-empty vacuum was seen as a seething sea of potential energy. Physicist Dr. Hal E. Putoff, notes that the "vacuum" is a vast reservoir of seething energy out of which particles are being formed and annihilated constantly. The energy potentials in the vacuum are staggering, but most of the time the forces involved, balance each other out to zero.

Putoff says Zero Point energy

is the energy of empty space. There were arguments starting way back at the time of the Greeks about whether space is really empty or isn't it. Democritus thought that it was empty and that is how you have room for the atoms to bump around. You had Aristotle coming along saying no, I think space is full of something because we have waves of heat energy and they must travel in something. That argument went back and forth but finally when quantum theory was developed, it became absolutely clear that space, if you look at in a microscopic scale, is more like the base of a waterfall with a lot of frothy, seething activity going on, rather than just something like a placid, empty space. In fact John Wheeler likes to point out that in the volume of a coffee cup, for example, in empty space, there is enough energy to evaporate all of the world's oceans. This is, by the way, not a fringe concept. It is a basic underlying concept in modern quantum theory.

He continues,

When the idea of the hydrogen atom was first put forward in the form that you often see it on textbook covers, where it looks like a tiny little solar system with the electron planet circling the nuclear sun, one of the questions at the time was: why doesn't the electron simply radiate its energy away and spiral into the nucleus, in a way similar to the way our satellites have certain losses and spiral into the planet? At the time, the answer was simply, well it is just the magic of quantum theory, it doesn't obey classical rules, and for some reason hydrogen atoms are like little perpetual motion machines. But in fact, from the standpoint of the zero point energy approach, we now recognize - and the calculation has been done, in fact I published on it myself - we show that indeed you expect an electron in a hydrogen atom to radiate its energy away, but it picks up energy from the background zero point energy and therefore is sustained by it. What that means in terms of physics is that it shows why atoms can be seen as perpetual motion machines, it is just that they always have an energy input from the background to make up for the losses.

Related pages (not yet available)

  • Holism
  • Mind
  • Noetic theories of the universe
  • Quantum physics
  • The Two Slit Experiment

Books and articles that discuss nonlocality and its implications

Fritjof Capra. The Turning Point. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.

David Fideler. "Neoplatonism and the Cosmological Revolution: Holism, Fractal Geometry, and Mind in Nature." Alexandria 4

John Gribbin. In Search of Schrodinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality. New York: Bantam, 1984.

Menas Kafatos and Robert Nadeau. The Conscious Universe: Part and Whole in Modern Physical Theory. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990.

Menas Kafatos and Thalia Kafatou. Looking In, Seeing Out: Consciousness and Cosmos. Wheaton: Quest, 1991.

Victor Mansfield. Synchronicity, Science, and Soul-Making. Chicago: Open Court, 1995.

Arthur Zajonc. Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind. New York: Bantam, 1993.