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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Things just got spooky: how recent work in physics may contradict Einstein’s theory of relativity

    Nonlocality is a phenomenon that has gained a lot of attention within the physics community over the past few decades.

    In what Einstein described as “spooky action at a distance,” the implications of nonlocal action pull the rug out from under one of his most prominent scientific contributions: the theory of general relatively. As a part of quantum mechanics, nonlocality seems to contradict the logic and consistency found in his idea of general relativity. Because of this, Einstein wrote it off, saying there had to be something missing from our understanding of the universe causing certain actions to appear nonlocal.

    To better understand the concept of nonlocality, it helps to first grasp the idea of locality. A local universe means that particles, or separate objects, can only interact with one another through some type of direct contact. From what humans have gathered about the world, locality appears to be the only logical explanation for what causes interaction between separate objects. You can’t see light without it directly hitting your eye, you can’t hear someone without the sound waves from their voice directly hitting your eardrum and you can’t move something without giving it a direct nudge.

    Everything we can observe with the naked eye appears to operate in this local fashion. It isn’t until we scale things down to the subatomic level that things begin to get a little spooky. The study of subatomic particle behavior is known as quantum mechanics. In quantum mechanics, various observations have been made which challenge the ideas established in Einstein’s theory of general relativity, including nonlocality.

    General relativity and quantum mechanics remain two notoriously opposing physics models that both attempt to explain the inner workings of the universe. Developing a theory relating the two ideas is something that many within the physics community strive to accomplish. As of now, physicists struggle to understand how both models could remain true.

    In a non-local universe, particles can instantaneously affect one another no matter how far apart they may be. They are not bound by the limits of space and time.

    Nonlocality has been suggested to occur between particles taking part in an event known as quantum entanglement. When two particles participate in quantum entanglement, they are ultimately surrendering their individual properties in exchange for becoming a part of a larger system in which the quantum properties of each component cannot be separated from one another.

    Particles that take part in this entanglement will continue to behave in a coordinated manner no matter how much distance exists between them.

    “I could separate them by an inch, a mile or the width of a planet, it never makes any difference to them, and that is very different from anything else we have in life or in science,” said George Musser, author of the book “Spooky Action at a Distance” and contributing editor for Scientific American.

    For example, with the forces of both gravity and magnetism, the greater distance one puts between two acting objects, the weaker that force between them becomes. Particles acting in a non-local manner behave as though the distance between them is irrelevant.

    In his book “Spooky Action at a Distance,” Musser adheres to the idea that in principle, nonlocality says that there could be two entangled particles on opposite ends of the universe acting in unison, knowing exactly what its counterpart is doing without missing a step.

    How and why entangled particles participate in this spooky action remains a mystery to us. As our understanding of the physical universe continues to progress, only one thing seems certain: the fabric of this world we inhabit is much more beautifully complex than we could have ever imagined.

    Follow Steven Preston on Twitter.

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