34 Years After Bell’s Theorem: A Whole New Ball Game

Bell’s Theorem, a mathematical demonstration by physicist John Stewart Bell published in 1965, has become more popular than Tarot cards with New Agers, who think they understand it but generally don’t. Meanwhile it remains controversial with physicists, some of whom think they understand it but many of whom frankly admit they find it as perplexing as a chimpanzee in a Beethoven string quartet.

In a [hazardous] attempt to translate Bell’s math into the verbal forms in which we discuss what physics “means,” Bell seems to have proved that any two “particles”once in contact will continue to act as if connected no matter how far apart they move in “space” or “time” [or in space-time.] You can see why New Agers like this: it sounds like it supports the old magick idea that if you get ahold of a hair from your enemy, anything you do to the hair will effect him.

Unfortunately, things “aren’t” that simple.

Most physcists think a long series of experiments, especially those of Dr Alain Aspect and others in the 1970s and Aspect in 1982 have settled the matter. Particles once in contact certainly seem “connected,” or correlated, or at least dancing in the same ballet….But not all physicists have agreed. Some, the AntiBellists, still publish criticisms of alleged defects in the experiments. These arguments seem too technical to be summarized here, and only a small minority still cling to them, but this dissent needs to be mentioned since most New Agers don’t know about it. You can find more about this here. [See also, for general problems associated with Bell’s Theorem]

The most daring criticism of Bell comes from Dr N. David Berman of Columbia, who believes he has refined the possible interpretations of Bell down to two: (1) non-locality [“total rapport”] and (2) solipsism. We will explain non-locality below, but Dr Berman finds it so absurd that he prefers solipsism. [“Is The Moon There When Nobody Looks?”Physics Today, April 1985. He says it isn’t.]

Among those who accept Bell’s Theorem, Dr David Bohm of the University of London offers three interpretations of what it means:
‘It may mean that everything in the universe is in a kind of total rapport, so that whatever happens is related to everthing else [non-locality]; or it may mean that there is some kind of information that can travel faster than the speed of light; or it may mean that our concepts of space and time have to be modified in some way that we don’t understand.”(London Times, 20 Feb 1983)

Bohm’s first model,”total rapport,” also called non-locality, brings us very close– very, very close — to Oriental monism: “All is One,” as in Vedanta, Buddhism and Daoism. It also brings us in hailing distance of Jungian synchronicity, an idea that seems “occult” or worse to most scientists, even if it was once endorsed by Wolfgang Pauli,a quantum heavyweight and Nobel laureate. You can see why New Agers like this; it is argued with unction and plausibility in Capra’s The Tao of Physics. It means the particles “are” correlated because everything “is” correlated.

The strongest form of this non-local model is called super-determinism and means that everything”is” one thing, or at least one process. From the Big Bang to the last word of this sentence and beyond, nothing can be other than it is,since everything is part of a correlated whole. Nobody has openly endorsed this view but several (Stapp, Herbert et al) have accused others, especially Capra, of unknowingly endorsing it.

Bohm’s second alternative, information faster-than-light, brings us into realms previously explored only in science-fiction. Bell’s particles may be correlated because they are parts of an FTL (faster than light) cosmic Internet. If I can send an FTL message to my grandpa, it might change my whole universe to the extent that I wouldn’t be here at all. [E.g., he might be so shocked that he wouldn’t survive to reproduce.] This must either be rejected as impossible, or else it leads to the “parallel universe” model. I’m here in this universe, but in the universe next door the message removed me, so I never sent it there.

Even more radical offshots of this notion have been offered by Dr John Archibald Wheeler and Dr Jack Sarfatti. Dr Wheeler has proposed that every atomic or sub-atomic experiment we perform changes every particle in the universe everywhichway in time, back to the Big Bang. The universe is in constant creation, as in Sufism, but atomic physicists “are” its creators.

Dr Sarfatti is working on the theory of information-without-transportation and hopes to develop an FTL system which will indeed allow me to send an email (or its equivelant) to Julius Ceasar with all the paradoxes that might result producing multiple parallel universes.

Dr Bohm’s third alternative, modification of our ideas of space and time, could lead us anywhere…including back to the Kantian notion that space and time do not exist, but are only human projections, like persistent optical illusions.(Some think Relativity already demonstrates that…) The particles are correlated because they never moved in space or time, because space and time are just “in our heads.”

And there are other alternatives. Harrison (see URL above) suggests that we may have to abandon Aristotelian logic, i.e give up classifying things into only the two categories of “true and real” and “untrue and unreal.” In between, in Aristotle’s excluded middle, we may have the “maybe” proposed by von Neumann in 1933, the probabilistic logics (percentages/gambles) suggested by Korzybski, the four-valued logic of Rapoport (true, false, indeterminate and meaningless) or some system we haven’t found yet.

Others would rather give up “objectivity” — the basic pre-Bell axiom that we can describe an external world apart from our experiments or meddlings. Some say this rejection of objectivity was always meant by the Copenhagen Interpretation (invented by Neils Bohr long before Bell appeared,c 1926 in fact.) Generally, the Copenhagen view is stated as, We can only describe observer-observed interactions; we can never know anything about any hypothetical “observed” without an observer. Sounds like Zen to some, but others fear this is opening the door to Dr Berman’s solipsism and the moon that “is” only there when we look at it….

Bell’s Theorem “means a whole new ball game,” physicist Saul Paul Sirag told the present author once. Unfortunately, as we have seen, nobody feels really sure about the rules of the new game.

All we can say for sure is that “reality” ain’t what it used to be.

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