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How does our predictable everyday world emerge from the hazy, probabilistic rules of quantum mechanics? That puzzle has vexed physicists since quantum theory emerged in the 1920s to explain the behavior of atoms and other infinitesimal things. Now, researchers fiddling with an electron trapped in a diamond have confirmed an essential prediction of a theory that strives to explain this transition from the quantum to classical realm. Called "quantum Darwinism," the theory argues that classical states are simply the quantum ones that are most fit to survive interactions with their environment.
The experimenters "have a beautiful demonstration in a natural environment," says Mauro Paternostro, a theorist at Queen's University in Belfast who was not involved in the work. Physicists caution, however, that the new study is far from the final word on the matter.
Objects - Ones - Coffee - Cup - Place
Atomic-scale objects behave differently from larger ones. Your coffee cup must be one place or another, but an electron can be in two places at once, in a so-called superposition state. Your cup's position and momentum also exist regardless of whether anyone observes them. Not so for an electron: If you know its position, then its momentum must be undefined, and vice versa, and which attribute the particle has emerges only when it is measured. The measurement "collapses" the electron's quantum state, or wave function—although how that happens remains obscure. Similarly, physicists assume a coffee cup cannot be here and there because something has collapsed its superposition one way or the other—perhaps contact with the surroundings.
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Quantum Darwinism claims the truth is more subtle. In the 1980s, Wojciech Zurek, a theorist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, argued that the wave function of a here-and-there cup would inevitably meld with those of surrounding...
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