It’s not often scientists get to say this, but a new study has shown once and for all that the master scientist was wrong to turn his back on quantum physics.
Dr Einstein famously didn’t believe it was possible for two tiny particles – known as photons – to transmit information between them instantly, no matter how far apart they were, because doing so would break one of the universe’s fundamental rules – that nothing, including information, can travel faster than light. His view is known as ‘local realism’.
While quantum physics has shown it’s possible through a process known as entanglement, which Dr Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”, there has long been a small loophole through which his opposition has survived.
In previous experiments, pairs of photons have been entangled, then sent to different locations where they were measured.
“If the measurement results tend to agree, regardless of which properties we choose to measure, it implies something very surprising: either the measurement of one particle instantly affects the other particle (despite being far away), or even stranger, the properties never really existed, but rather were created by the measurement itself,” the Spain-based Institute of Photonic Sciences said in a statement (ICFO).
Dr Einstein argued the photons themselves could influence the method of measurement, affecting the result.
“It would be like allowing students to write their own exam questions,” said ICFO. “This loophole cannot be closed by choosing with dice or random number generators, because there is always the possibility that these physical systems are coordinated with the entangled particles.”
So instead scientists in 10 countries around the world turned to gamers – more than 100,000 of them in fact – to generate unpredictable and random numbers, which were used to control the measurement equipment.
“People are unpredictable, and when using smartphones even more so,” said study contributor Prof Andrew White of the University of Queensland.
“These random bits then determined how various entangled atoms, photons, and superconductors were measured in the experiments, closing a stubborn loophole in tests of Einstein’s principle of local realism.”
Essentially, the measuring equipment was being controlled by random bits of information created by people across the world, far away from the measuring equipment.
“Human choices introduce the element of free will, by which people can choose independently of whatever the particles might be doing,” said ICFO.
“The obtained results strongly disagree Einstein’s worldview [and] close the freedom-of-choice loophole for the first time.”
ICFO researcher Morgan Mitchell said it proves that either we change the universe just by looking at it, or there truly is some way for particles to communicate instantly.
“We showed that Einstein’s world-view of local realism, in which things have properties whether or not you observe them, and no influence travels faster than light, cannot be true – at least one of those things must be false.”
Dr Einstein went to his grave believing both were true.