Physics Experiment Shows the Universe Isn’t Objective?

At the quantum level, the world is far stranger than most realize and the results from a new experiment at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have some questioning if reality is independent of the observer.

Quantum Strangeness

In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger developed one of the most famous thought experiments in physics to illustrate how counterintuitive quantum nature can be. Named Schrödinger’s Cat, the experiment involves a cat in a box whose life depends on a particle not decaying. Schrödinger posited that until a researcher opens the box the cat can be considered both alive and dead at the same time. Coexisting in both of these conditions is called a superposition of states. Although this situation might sound incredible, this interpretation dominates our understanding of the quantum world. But once someone opens the box, the superposition collapses and the cat’s fate is determined.

Although physicists aren’t putting cat’s in superposition states, it is possible to detect and even create particles in superposition. They can even put pairs of particles, such as photons, into a superposition state. These pairs of particles are called “entangled” because they are linked to each other. When the entangled particles are measured in the same way, they always agree, independent of the distance between them. This is as if the particles can communicate faster than light. Albert Einstein dubbed this “spooky action at a distance” because he found the implications disturbing. Unfortunately for Einstein, this was experimentally verified. It has even been observed that measurements made at one point in time on one of the entangled pair can affect their partner particle in the past, as seen in the Quantum Eraser experiment.

The Strangeness Deepends

One thread of continuity throughout these experiments has been that observers agree on results. Whenever a measurement is taken on one of the entangled particles, we verify always measuring the corresponding result on the other of the entangled pair. You can imagine having two entangled boxes with the fates of the cats linked. But the experiment in Edinburgh has thrown things for a loop.

The physicists at Heriot-Watt University have designed an experiment using multiple pairs of entangled particles. It was found that a pair of entangled particles could have one measured yet the partner still be detected in superposition. This would be akin to having one person crack open an egg but the another person finding the same egg still whole.

Yet the results from this experiment still conform to the predictions of quantum mechanics. In fact, this experiment is an extension one proposed by Eugene Wigner in 1961 called Wigner’s friend The issue here, and that of the thought experiment, is how can these two different observations be reconciled in our understanding?


Feb. 21, 2018 has been horrible. This is my rant.

I am having a rather crappy day. Work sucked. My laptop is still acting stupid (I’m on the chromebook trying to troubleshoot) and I’m trying to do the calculation of which will probably take longer: fix the stupid PC or use my wife’s Mac and install python and my simulation program (which took forever on the PC to get to work). Understanding that I never use Macs.
As I do this, I’m realizing just how very very much I do NOT want to keep writing this thesis. I just found that I screwed up some mathematics WAY early into a derivation, and then I use the result of that for some calculations… so that all needs to be fixed. [fixing the math is easy, its changing it in the thesis. Its literally paaaaages long.) And it isn’t like the analysis is done either. And the experiment failed horribly. That much was clear 6 months ago. Or at least, it failed for me. There are clearly things than can be fixed, but my results are just miserable.
I still want a PhD. I’m just unsure I want it this bad. It feels sooooo good to write that. And it isn’t just the weight of Imposter Syndrome sitting on my chest. Which it is. But it isn’t just the constant repetition that:
  • I am really not worthy of getting my PhD because:
    • My work sucks
    • I didn’t learn enough
    • I was never smart enough to begin with
  • And I knew that before I started so why did I waste my time trying?
  • But even if none of the above is true… I’LL STILL NEVER FINISH BY APRIL!

But all those points aside (and the last one actually is a reasonable argument) I still don’t want to keep writing this. At one point this summer, I’d decided I wanted to finish this thesis, even if it wasn’t getting published. Even if I wasn’t getting the PhD. I wanted to at least finish it up and throw it on the archive or something. I wanted to have that tome that I wrote.

And now I don’t. I just want to lay down this task that feels like nothing but a burden. Worse than that, it feels like a waste of my time. A waste of my adviser’s time and my wife’s time and my adviser’s awesome assistant’s time (who sometimes I feel puts in more time, energy, and effort into this than my adviser does).

Right now, while I’m utterly exhausted and sore from work and just kind of bleeeeh, I don’t feel any real emotion towards the PhD.

But it does open some different doors I couldn’t otherwise. And some of those doors are really cool. Not just ‘great opportunities’ or high paying  jobs, but I’ve seen postings that have made me perk up and think it sounds like a fun thing to do… and then get paid for. I know there will be differences between my imagination and reality, but when it at least (on paper) sounds fun, that’s a lot better than most anything else, right? Better than where I’m at now.

So…. I don’t know. Either way: I’m working my laptop tonight. I think any more than that is a waste. Because sometimes you need to know when to just stop.

Side Adventure of a Grad Student: NYC; Or How America is More Than Just A Country

Edit: I initially started this post on the 22nd. It took me a while to finish it.

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, meaning that the last 4 days, which I spent in good ol’ New York, New York, were the last days of summer. It also means that today,  the equatorial plane will pass through the center of the sun and the amount of day and night are nearly equal.

Equal. Equality.

This was my first trip to The Big Apple. Having grown up on the West Coast, I’d only interacted with the city as something abstract, as a movie set or as a historical setting. Sometimes it was this far away place (with a literal continent between us) where things were ‘happening’. And I’d been to San Francisco and L.A., so Having confined most of my early travel to the bounds of California with brief excursions into the neighboring states (and even shorter trips to Tijuana, Mexico), it never really occurred to me that I might visit the famed city.

Some of it failed to live up to expectations, as anything that’s built up in your mind will. Times Square was impressive and even a bit sickening with the bombardment of advertisements. Impressive, but I didn’t get that grandiose feeling I thought I’d have. But there were places that exceeded already high expectations.

Our first day, after a long bus ride and subway rides in both DC and NYC, we walked the Brooklyn Bridge. Now that was a sight! We inadvertently took part in a bit of a march for a union protest (possibly a strike) against Charter Spectrum. Having dealt with that company before as a customer, I can’t don’t want to imagine how they treat employees. Later we went to Times Square, had some Japanese curry, and ended up walking over a half marathon worth of steps.

I caught my first Broadway show (Miss Saigon) and a strange off-Broadway ‘experience’ called Sleep No More. I walked through Chinatown (lunch and a massage) and Little Italy (obligatory cannoli eaten). I had New York Style pizza, which it turns out I’ve honestly had before at “Celestino’s New York Pizza” right next CSU Chico’s campus!  And finally even a legitimate NYC bagel that I scarfed down on our last morning.

It is this last morning, one where we grabbed bagels and the Staten Island Ferry, that is really where the unexpected happened.

I don’t think anyone would confuse me for a knee-jerk “America is the best nation ever. Period.” kind of person. I think it is important recognize flaws, otherwise you’ll never correct them. Yet, that right there, that idea of perpetually correcting flaws, whether they are inherent in the system or just in how it is enacted, is something core to the American ideal.

The Staten Island Ferry runs for free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is free for all passengers. And it goes by Liberty Island, affording a tremendous view of the Statue of Liberty. This view shook me to the core. I wont deny getting teary-eyed seeing it up close for the first time. Buy why? It is a 131 year old statue, that was a gift. I’ve even made fun of it a few times, as something that France gave us so they could unload people they didn’t want. Not really a funny joke, and I’ve made a lot of those. Buy why is this statue important? Why would it make me get misty-eyed.

First, the statue could have just been something that was a a celebration of our citizens being free, having carved out a space for ourselves (and ourselves alone) to be free from tyranny. And some of our citizens really stick to that idea. That America is exceptional and exceptionally alone in its awesomeness.

Anytime I hear the phrase America First, it makes me sick. Because they are wrong. The French designed and made the statue and gifted it to us but we decided which way she faced. As it was a joint venture, we built the base (pedestal) for it. In an effort to pay for the pedestal, Emma Lazarus wrote and donated a poem called “The New Colossus” which you are at least somewhat familiar. It is inscribed on a bronze plaque and contains the famous lines “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Lady Liberty stands with a broken chain at her feet. She faces outward with her torch and calls to “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” She is the essential idea of America. America is not a group with some shared ethnicity or creed or even birth place. It is the acceptance of an ideology “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed […] with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Inherent:          in·her·ent          /inˈhirənt, inˈherənt/     adjective

  1. existing in something as a permanent, essential, or characteristic attribute.
    “any form of mountaineering has its inherent dangers”
    synonyms: intrinsicinnateimmanentbuilt-in, indwelling, inborningraineddeep-rooted;

Inalienable:       in·al·ien·a·ble      /inˈālēənəb(ə)l/         adjective

  1. unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor.
    “freedom of religion, the most inalienable of all human rights”
    synonyms: inviolableabsolutesacrosanct;

This is not to even slightly imply that this has been implemented well. At the time the Declaration of Independence was penned, slavery was legal. Genocide of Native Peoples was well underway. It needs to be remembered that we are NOT just a nation of immigrants. We a nation of the decedents of slaves and those who owned them, of native people and those who slaughtered them, the victims and perpetrators of some of the malicious acts in history. Men of color gained the right to vote before women did. Cycles of distrust and violence and isolationism repeat and repeat and repeat. These attitudes still persist.

But the idea is… we move forward. The Preamble to the Constitution doesn’t say “to form a perfect Union.” It says a more perfect Union. Old-timey speak for closer to perfect.

If you are worried some immigrant is coming to ‘steal your job’ then you have no real understanding of how economics works and are clearly lacking the skills to compete. If you are pissed off that some athletes did the most peaceful protest possible, by taking a knee during the anthem, then wake the hell up. If you are NOT pissed that peaceful protesters were surrounded by police in battle armor, sprayed in the face with pepper spray, while they tried to leave but COULD NOT due to the police not letting them… so they were then thrown to the ground and beaten, then you REALLY need to wake the hell up.

This is America. A place that is NOT perfect. Yet it is our duty as Americans to push forward toward an ever more perfect country. Wake up and join the fight for freedom or you can just sit there, and through your complacency, spit on the very idea of this country.

Why I Need Feminism (and Beyond)

Recently there has been a bit of a kerfuffle over some newer entertainment projects. In case you’ve missed it, people have been complaining about Wonder Woman, the new Star Trek trailer, and Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, just to name a few.

Now, for a moment I want to focus on Wonder Woman. If you like action movies, or comic book movies, I highly recommend it. And I’m not alone. And one of the things I liked about it, among many, was how fresh it was to get a different perspective on a familiar story. I’ve heard/read about men feeling strange watching it. And not in the down-in-my-pants kind of way they were expecting. They felt strange watching a story where (for a while) men weren’t in it. At all. They saw no one who looked like themselves on screen. And this was new. And it is new. When I say “I didn’t feel that.” it isn’t supposed to be in some self aggrandizing, look-how-evolved-I-am thing. But I didn’t feel that but only because I was completely enraptured by a new take on a story.

I really like new things. I think variety is great. Not all the time, as my go-to lunch has been a peanutbutter and jelly sandwich for as long as I can remember, but that’s likely due to my obsession with peanut butter more than anything else. But in general, trying new things is good. Getting different perspectives and varying ways of thinking.

In physics we have great reverence for those who change how we see things. Newton, Einstein, and Feynman were all men who helped radically shaped how we saw the understood the world. And there is a long line of European physicists and mathematicians who have done the same. The vast majority of them have been dudes who were white. I feel like we get down to two big options here. Perhaps I’m missing something but it seems that either: a) white men are just much more genetically predisposed to everything from the arts to science to finance to… everything, basically. Or b) we’ve missed out on a lot of brilliant minds that didn’t have the right conditions to succeed.

I seriously doubt that it is the former. I’ve met too many amazing people from all around the world and the color of their skin or what was (or wasn’t) between their legs didn’t have any difference. Now, I could be wrong. I just really doubt it. So let’s just move forward with that as an ansatz.

So what does that tell us? Now, I’m going to be selfish and just focus on myself and what detriment that has directly on me. Many of these things may apply to you and maybe not. You can decide for yourself. And I’ll grant you that an intellect like Feynman’s only comes along once in a great while. But if we missed even one person with that genius, we are behind where we could be. I am behind where I could be. I study physics more because I want a greater understanding of the universe. There is good chunk of our understanding I’m already running up against. As much I wish I was, to be perfectly honest, I’m not the guy who is going to figure this all out.

Then I start thinking about all the other sciences. And engineering. And I wonder where we’d be if we’d had those other brilliant minds working. Would be walking on Mars right now? With the arts, how many great symphonies haven’t I heard? What great stories have we missed?

So that’s why I need feminism and an end to racism. I want all the advantages.

Finding things that shouldn’t be there: or new evidence for a fifth fundamental force

A big part of being an experimentalist is looking for things that shouldn’t be there. If every test you do comes out exactly as you planned, you haven’t learned anything. Currently we have a rather robust theory that covers particle physics. It is so robust in fact, that it is dubbed The Standard Model. But there are some problems with it. Mainly that it doesn’t include gravity. There is also hope that the strong nuclear force (QCD) and the electroweak force can be framed in a way that unifies them as the electroweak force is a unification of electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force. But we don’t know how to do that yet.

One way for researchers to find new ways is to find new things that happen in the universe that are unexplained by our current theories. One such unexplained happening is the anomalous magnetic moment of the muon.

Continue reading “Finding things that shouldn’t be there: or new evidence for a fifth fundamental force”

Why is Gravity so Weak?

A video I star in just hit the internet! 

I’ve been working for a few months in concert with an animation company and helpful people at my university (Washington University in Saint Louis) to make a video talking about my research. And now it is online!

Give it a quick view (it is less than 3 minutes) and let me know what you think, please.

A New Website

As crazy as it may seem, I’m finally putting up my own website. The last time I had one it was on GeoCities. Yeah, that was a long time ago (but not in a galaxy far, far away). My hope is that I’ll use this as a place to begin to do some science writing, record my travels and some of my random observations, and maybe even post some of my poetry.