The 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics is a fitting end to “spooky” entanglement

“Science progresses one funeral at a time.” — Max Planck

What was so spooky anyway?

In 1935, Albert Einstein and two colleagues (Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen) wrote a paper elucidating the conceptual problem quantum entanglement posed for our classical notions of space and time. Either quantum physics disobeyed Einstein’s theory of relativity (in some sense), or quantum physics was not a complete theory. Einstein dismissed the former, referring to it as “spooky action at a distance.” The paper is the source for concepts such as the EPR paradox, EPR pairs, and the like. In fact, entanglement was coined by Erwin Schrodinger in response to the paper, claiming it was the single essential feature of quantum physics. The conclusion of EPR, on the other hand, was that there must be some deeper reality behind the equations of quantum physics that could be known. Since the theory didn’t specify what these might be, they were referred to as “hidden variables.”

The death of spooky entanglement

As the Prize citation points out, the detailed study and understanding of entanglement gave rise to quantum information science, a now mature and multidisciplinary field that underpins the latest achievements in cryptography, sensing, communication, and computation. It also has produced novel insights into problems older than quantum physics itself, including the nature of gravity, causality, complexity, reality, and even free will. In short, entanglement is no longer as “spooky” as even the likes of Einstein once thought.

What’s spooky now?

A Nobel Prize in Physics for quantum information is well-deserved and, dare I say, long overdue. But let’s now focus our attention not on the past but on the present quandaries in quantum physics. Indeed, Aspect himself is a co-founder of a quantum computing company and works at the forefront of experimental many-body physics, trying to understand emergent phenomena in quantum gases. Simple particles following rules can get together to create the complexity of the world we see around us, and no one has a satisfactory answer for how that happens and why — that is an example of today’s quantum “spookiness.”

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Chris Ferrie

Quantum theorist by day, father by night. Occasionally moonlighting as a author. csferrie.com