In popular culture the best-known example is probably Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment in which a cat in a fiendishly designed box is suspended in a mixed dead/alive state; the cat’s fate is only resolved by the process of observation. Other examples include the idea of wave-particle duality, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and ‘spooky action at a distance’. World Cup-winning rugby player Jonny Wilkinson is only the latest author to claim a link between quantum mechanics and one form or another of Eastern mysticism.
Quantum weirdness is not rooted in popular misconceptions of the ideas of scientists – or not entirely so. The intriguing issue is that it is rooted in a highly influential interpretation of quantum mechanics, known as the Copenhagen Interpretation on account of the fact that the Danish Nobel Laureate Niels Bohr was central to its development. If you weren’t shocked by quantum theory, argued Bohr, you didn’t really understand it. And the most shocking thing for Albert Einstein and some other physicists was that Bohr believed quantum mechanics demanded the abandonment of the idea of an underlying quantum reality existing independently of the observer.
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