May 19, 2024
How ‘spooky’ is quantum physics? The answer could be incalculable
Proof at the nexus of pure mathematics and algorithms puts ‘quantum weirdness’ on a whole new level.
Proof at the nexus of pure mathematics and algorithms puts ‘quantum weirdness’ on a whole new level.

Albert Einstein famously said that quantum mechanics should allow two objects to affect each other’s behaviour instantly across vast distances, something he dubbed “spooky action at a distance”1. Decades after his death, experiments confirmed this. But, to this day, it remains unclear exactly how much coordination nature allows between distant objects. Now, five researchers say they have solved a theoretical problem that shows that the answer is, in principle, unknowable.

The team’s proof, presented in a 165-page paper, was posted on on the arXiv preprint repository on 14 January2, and has yet to be peer reviewed. If it holds up, it will solve in one fell swoop a number of related problems in pure mathematics, quantum mechanics and a branch of computer science known as complexity theory. In particular, it will answer a mathematical question that has been unsolved for more than 40 years.

If their proof checks out, “it’s a super-beautiful result” says Stephanie Wehner, a theoretical quantum physicist at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

At the heart of the paper is a proof of a theorem in complexity theory, which is concerned with efficiency of algorithms. Earlier studies had shown this problem to be mathematically equivalent to the question of spooky action at a distance — also known as quantum entanglement3.

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