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Rethinking reality: Is the entire universe a single quantum object?


Quantum superposition or quantum entanglement concept illustration. Superposition is the ability of a quantum system to be in multiple states at the same time until it is measured. Quantum entanglement is a physical phenomenon that occurs when pairs or groups of particles are generated or interact in ways such that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently.

IMAGINE you could see through everyday objects to the stuff they are made of. If you zoomed in on the arm of a chair, say, you would see that it is made of atoms. Zoom in again and you would see that those atoms contain subatomic particles called protons, neutrons and electrons. Zooming further still, you would see that the protons and neutrons are composed of quarks.

These are the layers of reality, and this is how physicists understand the universe: by breaking everything down into its constituent parts, an approach known as reductionism. As a particle physicist, I grew up on this philosophy. It has brought physics a long way – it is how we built our current picture of matter and its workings, after all. But now, with further progress stalling, I am convinced we need to go about things differently from here.

Rather than zooming ever further inwards, I think we need to zoom out. In doing so, we may see that everything there is, including such seemingly fundamental things as space and time, fragment out of a unified whole. This might sound like philosophy or mysticism, but it is in fact a direct result of applying quantum mechanics to the entire cosmos. When you do that, you realise that the universe isn’t fundamentally made of separate parts at all, but is instead a single, quantum object.

It is a radical idea, and one we are just beginning to test experimentally. But if it is correct, it could help solve some of the most puzzling mysteries in physics and upend the way we think about the …

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