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Can two versions of reality exist at the same time? Physicists say they can — at the quantum level, that is.
Researchers recently conducted experiments to answer a decades-old theoretical physics question about dueling realities. This tricky thought experiment proposed that two individuals observing the same photon could arrive at different conclusions about that photon's state — and yet both of their observations would be correct.
Countless - Piggies - Hundreds - Miles - Stonehenge
Countless piggies likely trotted hundreds of miles to Stonehenge and other ancient monuments during the Neolithic, where they were promptly devoured during giant feasts, a new study finds.
"You can verify both of them," study co-author Martin Ringbauer, a postdoctoral researcher with the Department of Experimental Physics at the University of Innsbrück in Austria, told Live Science.
Perplexing - Idea - Brainchild - Alfred - Wigner
This perplexing idea was the brainchild of Alfred Wigner, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1963. In 1961, Wigner had introduced a thought experiment that became known as "Wigner's friend." It begins with a photon — a particle of light. When an observer in an isolated laboratory measures the photon, they find that the particle's polarization — the axis on which it spins — is either vertical or horizontal.
However, before the photon is measured, the photon displays both polarizations at once, as dictated by the laws of quantum mechanics; it exists in a "superposition" of two possible states.
Person - Lab - Photon - Particle - Polarization
Once the person in the lab measures the photon, the particle assumes a fixed polarization. But for someone outside that closed laboratory who doesn't know the result of the measurements, the unmeasured photon is still in a state of superposition.
That outsider's observation — their reality — therefore diverges from the reality of the person in the lab who measured the photon. Yet, neither of those conflicting observations is thought to be wrong, according to quantum mechanics.
Decades - Wigner - Proposal
For decades, Wigner's mind-bending proposal was just...
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