It’s Been a Tough Week for Hidden Variable Theories


Shaun Maguire in Quantum Frontiers:

The RSS subscriptions which populate my Google Reader mainly fall into two categories: scientific and other. Sometimes patterns emerge when superimposing these disparate fields onto the same photo-detection plate (my brain.) Today, it became abundantly clear that it’s been a tough week for hidden variable theories.

Let me explain. Hidden variable theories were proposed by physicists in an attempt to explain the ‘indeterminism’ which seems to arise in quantum mechanics, and especially in the double-slit experiment. This probably means nothing to many of you, so let me explain further: the hidden variables in Tuesday’s election weren’t enough to trump Nate Silver’s incredibly accurate predictions based upon statistics and data (hidden variables in Tuesday’s election include: “momentum,” “the opinions of undecided voters,” and “pundit’s hunches.”) This isn’t to say that there weren’t hidden variables at play — clearly the statistical models used weren’t fully complete and will someday be improved upon — but hidden variables alone weren’t the dominant influence. Indeed, Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term. However, happy as I was to see statistics trump hunches, the point of this post is not to wax political, but rather to describe the recent failure of hidden variable theories in an arena more appropriate for this blog: quantum experiments.

The November 2nd issue of Science had two independent papers describing the results of recent delayed-choice experiments. The goal of these papers was to rule out hidden variable theories as an explanation for aspects of quantum mechanics.