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You thought quantum mechanics was weird: check out entangled time

You thought quantum mechanics was weird: check out entangled time

I really think this has implications for Heathen beliefs.  Check it out.

In the summer of 1935, the physicists Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger engaged in a rich, multifaceted and sometimes fretful correspondence about the implications of the new theory of quantum mechanics. The focus of their worry was what Schrödinger later dubbed entanglement: the inability to describe two quantum systems or particles independently, after they have interacted.

Until his death, Einstein remained convinced that entanglement showed how quantum mechanics was incomplete. Schrödinger thought that entanglement was the defining feature of the new physics, but this didn’t mean that he accepted it lightly. ‘I know of course how the hocus pocus works mathematically,’ he wrote to Einstein on 13 July 1935. ‘But I do not like such a theory.’ Schrödinger’s famous cat, suspended between life and death, first appeared in these letters, a byproduct of the struggle to articulate what bothered the pair.

The problem is that entanglement violates how the world ought to work. Information can’t travel faster than the speed of light, for one. But in a 1935 paper, Einstein and his co-authors showed how entanglement leads to what’s now called quantum nonlocality, the eerie link that appears to exist between entangled particles. If two quantum systems meet and then separate, even across a distance of thousands of lightyears, it becomes impossible to measure the features of one system (such as its position, momentum and polarity) without instantly steering the other into a corresponding state.

Up to today, most experiments have tested entanglement over spatial gaps. The assumption is that the ‘nonlocal’ part of quantum nonlocality refers to the entanglement of properties across space. But what if entanglement also occurs across time? Is there such a thing as temporal nonlocality?
The answer, as it turns out, is yes. Just when you thought quantum mechanics couldn’t get any weirder, a team of physicists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reported in 2013 that they had successfully entangled photons that never coexisted. Previous experiments involving a technique called ‘entanglement swapping’ had already showed quantum correlations across time, by delaying the measurement of one of the coexisting entangled particles; but Eli Megidish and his collaborators were the first to show entanglement between photons whose lifespans did not overlap at all.

Here’s how they did it. First, they created an entangled pair of photons, ‘1-2’ (step I in the diagram below). Soon after, they measured the polarisation of photon 1 (a property describing the direction of light’s oscillation) – thus ‘killing’ it (step II). Photon 2 was sent on a wild goose chase while a new entangled pair, ‘3-4’, was created (step III). Photon 3 was then measured along with the itinerant photon 2 in such a way that the entanglement relation was ‘swapped’ from the old pairs (‘1-2’ and ‘3-4’) onto the new ‘2-3’ combo (step IV). Some time later (step V), the polarisation of the lone survivor, photon 4, is measured, and the results are compared with those of the long-dead photon 1 (back at step II).


Figure 1. Time line diagram: (I) Birth of photons 1 and 2, (II) detection of photon 1, (III) birth of photons 3 and 4, (IV) Bell projection of photons 2 and 3, (V) detection of photon 4.

The upshot? The data revealed the existence of quantum correlations between ‘temporally nonlocal’ photons 1 and 4. That is, entanglement can occur across two quantum systems that never coexisted.
What on Earth can this mean? Prima facie, it seems as troubling as saying that the polarity of starlight in the far-distant past – say, greater than twice Earth’s lifetime – nevertheless influenced the polarity of starlight falling through your amateur telescope this winter. Even more bizarrely: maybe it implies that the measurements carried out by your eye upon starlight falling through your telescope this winter somehow dictated the polarity of photons more than 9 billion years old.

Lest this scenario strike you as too outlandish, Megidish and his colleagues can’t resist speculating on possible and rather spooky interpretations of their results. Perhaps the measurement of photon 1’s polarisation at step II somehow steers the future polarisation of 4, or the measurement of photon 4’s polarisation at step V somehow rewrites the past polarisation state of photon 1. In both forward and backward directions, quantum correlations span the causal void between the death of one photon and the birth of the other.

Just a spoonful of relativity helps the spookiness go down, though. In developing his theory of special relativity, Einstein deposed the concept of simultaneity from its Newtonian pedestal. As a consequence, simultaneity went from being an absolute property to being a relative one. There is no single timekeeper for the Universe; precisely when something is occurring depends on your precise location relative to what you are observing, known as your frame of reference. So the key to avoiding strange causal behaviour (steering the future or rewriting the past) in instances of temporal separation is to accept that calling events ‘simultaneous’ carries little metaphysical weight. It is only a frame-specific property, a choice among many alternative but equally viable ones – a matter of convention, or record-keeping.

The lesson carries over directly to both spatial and temporal quantum nonlocality. Mysteries regarding entangled pairs of particles amount to disagreements about labelling, brought about by relativity. Einstein showed that no sequence of events can be metaphysically privileged – can be considered more real – than any other. Only by accepting this insight can one make headway on such quantum puzzles.

The various frames of reference in the Hebrew University experiment (the lab’s frame, photon 1’s frame, photon 4’s frame, and so on) have their own ‘historians’, so to speak. While these historians will disagree about how things went down, not one of them can claim a corner on truth. A different sequence of events unfolds within each one, according to that spatiotemporal point of view. Clearly, then, any attempt at assigning frame-specific properties generally, or tying general properties to one particular frame, will cause disputes among the historians. But here’s the thing: while there might be legitimate disagreement about which properties should be assigned to which particles and when, there shouldn’t be disagreement about the very existence of these properties, particles, and events.

These findings drive yet another wedge between our beloved classical intuitions and the empirical realities of quantum mechanics. As was true for Schrödinger and his contemporaries, scientific progress is going to involve investigating the limitations of certain metaphysical views. Schrödinger’s cat, half-alive and half-dead, was created to illustrate how the entanglement of systems leads to macroscopic phenomena that defy our usual understanding of the relations between objects and their properties: an organism such as a cat is either dead or alive. No middle ground there.

Most contemporary philosophical accounts of the relationship between objects and their properties embrace entanglement solely from the perspective of spatial nonlocality. But there’s still significant work to be done on incorporating temporal nonlocality – not only in object-property discussions, but also in debates over material composition (such as the relation between a lump of clay and the statue it forms), and part-whole relations (such as how a hand relates to a limb, or a limb to a person). For example, the ‘puzzle’ of how parts fit with an overall whole presumes clear-cut spatial boundaries among underlying components, yet spatial nonlocality cautions against this view. Temporal nonlocality further complicates this picture: how does one describe an entity whose constituent parts are not even coexistent?

Discerning the nature of entanglement might at times be an uncomfortable project. It’s not clear what substantive metaphysics might emerge from scrutiny of fascinating new research by the likes of Megidish and other physicists. In a letter to Einstein, Schrödinger notes wryly (and deploying an odd metaphor): ‘One has the feeling that it is precisely the most important statements of the new theory that can really be squeezed into these Spanish boots – but only with difficulty.’ We cannot afford to ignore spatial or temporal nonlocality in future metaphysics: whether or not the boots fit, we’ll have to wear ’em.

Aeon counter – do not remove
Elise Crull
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Has Religion become Irrelevant?

Has Religion become Irrelevant?

Has religion become irrelevant? This is an odd question for a Heathen to ask others who believe in our gods, but it is a serious question.  Those of you who have read this blog for any length of time are probably rolling your eyes and sighing because I came from fairly agnostic to almost atheist beliefs, only to be yanked into Heathenry by a few gods.  Don’t get your panties in a wad; I still consider myself a Heathen.  But this question of Has religion become irrelevant? echoes this pronouncement by the National Geographic.  So, like most things that I write, I’m going to be trodding on some toes here.

The Fastest Growing “Religion”

The fastest growing religion in developed countries isn’t a religion at all. It’s what those wankers who compile statistics refer to as “nones.”  The “nones” are those without a religious affiliation, i.e., agnostics, atheists, and those who just don’t care. They’re such a growing force that they’re considered the second largest “religious” affiliation in half the nations around the world, including the United States, the bastion of Christianity.

It’s not surprising that some underdeveloped countries and former communist countries have had an increase in religion, but overall in developed countries, religion isn’t growing.  If there’s good news to be had by the pagan religions, the non-Christian faiths have grown 1.2 percent in the United States.  That’s pretty small in my book, when you consider all non-Christian faiths make up a little under 6 percent in this country.  However, we’re looking at nearly 71 percent of Americans consider themselves Christian in some way.

Why People Don’t Believe

I read through the article and it had some interesting points. People are quick to point to science as the reason more people are leaving the churches, and they’re not entirely wrong.  As science is able to provide answers, it becomes apparent that those things that people long ago thought were miracles or impossible are actually quite explainable.  But although science had a lot to do with secularism, the ability for the skeptic to meet with other skeptics online and in person helps solidify the feelings of there being no god or gods is probably a stronger pull. After all, people usually feel closer to their gods when they are together and praying than alone. (I said usually.) It helps to have people who believe the same things you do around to strengthen your beliefs (or lack thereof). The other reason for lack of belief has to do with education. The more educated you are, the less likely you’ll believe in a deity or deities. (This isn’t to say that highly educated people don’t believe in a god or gods.  This simple shows that there is a correlation between education and atheism.)

Science, Dammit!

I talk quite a bit about science, and quite honestly, I tend to accept scientific explanations over things that are often called supernatural.  Too often people make up stories about things and they’re retold as fact, but the reality is that without critical thinking and scientific proof, it’s just old wives’ tales and urban legends.

As science and technology continue to advance, less and less natural phenomena is ascribed to the supernatural. The Earth revolves around the sun.  We do not have a sun which has a tangible chariot being driven by Sunna across the sky, nor is the moon carried in a physical chariot across the sky driven by Mani.  The sun and moon appear to move across the sky because of the rotation of the Earth. But neither are fixed.  The moon rotates around the Earth, and the sun is moving and dragging us along in the Sagittarius Arm at 45,000 miles per hour.

Does Religion and Science Conflict?

It’s easy with the talk of science to discount religion in its entirety. Religion was often used to answer the tough questions of the universe: How did we get here? How was the earth made? In much earlier times, people told stories to explain how these things happened.  They weren’t accurate or factual, but they were satisfying stories and were told by people to others in a way to understand the world around them. 

Logic and reasoning gradually took hold.  As we searched for answers, we eventually came up with theories that fit the overall evidence that we found. As our methods and testing became more advanced, we could actually accept the theories as fact, or near fact.  Stories about Odin and his brothers forming humans from trees are interesting, but we know from archaeology that humans evolved over millions of years to what we are now.

Religion and science often clashed over dogma, especially when the Roman Catholic Church held power. Heretics were often excommunicated, or worse. But facts are facts. People can claim that the world is flat all they want, but because the world is really round, eventually the truth wins out.

Is Religion Relevant?

So, the question remains is if religion is still relevant when we have science to explain nature and the physical laws of the universe. More and more religion has taken to explaining what is in the gaps rather than coincide with what we know is true.  Known as the “god of the gaps” or divine fallacy among atheists, many religious types use that as a reason for why their god(s) exist. It goes something like, “well we don’t know what started the big bang, therefore the Christian God  (or name your favorite creator god, i.e., Yahweh, Odin, Atum, Vishnu, etc) must have created it.”  It’s a fallacy because it assumes that we won’t find an answer.

If we take our myths at face value, we can say with certainty that they are wrong. The gods didn’t carve humans from trees; the Earth isn’t the bones and body of some frost giant named Ymir.  But if we take them at a metaphorical level, we begin to see the mindset and even the understanding of our ancestors and recognize certain elements in them that science postulates is true.

Let’s look at another religion, for the sake of argument. The number of miracles the Christian god has performed has decreased rapidly with the advent of cameras.  When multiple people can record video on their cellphones, it’s hard to claim supernatural occurrences.  Those who do are highly suspect due to clever video editing. They often use pseudo-science to back up claims. In other words, I suspect a large portion of their magic is just fallacy, wishful thinking, and outright falsehoods.

I use the Christian god as an example because so many in the United States call themselves Christian, but the statement holds true for pagans in general. I haven’t seen any of the M-word* that convinces me that it truly exists that can’t be rationally explained through science in some fashion.  (Granted it may be in areas such as quantum physics, but it may be able to be explained.)

That being said, I’ve experienced enough weird shit as a Heathen that hasn’t been captured on video because I don’t go around with a cellphone taking video of everything I see.  Even if I did, it happen so fleetingly that I couldn’t have picked up my phone fast enough to capture it. Some isn’t visual. Some happens in my head and my dreams.  

I suspect religion and our belief system will remain relevant largely because we’re human, and we may not be able to know everything there is out there. Even if science figures out everything about our universe, there are other dimensions and other universes out there, if one is to believe in the multiverse. If there is just one universe but it is infinite, then there is even more weirdness that we can’t possibly wrap our heads around because it is bigger than we can ever reach in billions of lifetimes.

The TL;DR Takeaway

Gods, if you’ve gotten this far on this post, I must thank you.  If you’ve skipped everything I said above, go back and read it.

So, what do I think?  I believe that the gods and probably religion will remain relevant as long as we are human. They may morph over time and may just become metaphors, or they may grow with our knowledge.

At this time, I’m willing to accept that there are other beings, more powerful than ourselves, who either set in motion the creation of our Universe, or are manifestations of the very forces they wield. We know that string theory insists that there are at least 10 dimensions, and maybe more.  Who knows what is hiding in those areas we can’t see?

Yeah, maybe it is the god of the gaps fallacy written large. But all I know was I was willing to stand by my agnosticism until Tyr and Thor pulled me into Heathenry.  At some point, you’ve got to make a decision about your beliefs.  I know I did.

*M-word = magic

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Heaven, Hel, and Valhalla, or Going to Hel in a Handbasket (Part 1)

Heaven, Hel, and Valhalla, or Going to Hel in a Handbasket (Part 1)

One of the things that keeps cropping up from time to time is the question of death and what comes afterwards. As a person who is past middle age (unless I get to live more than 100), it’s a question that preoccupies me a bit more. Once we shrug off the mortal coil, our very short lives seem pointless if there’s nothing afterward.  So, I’m going to tackle this in a scientific and possibly philosophic view.  Stay with me on this. It may be a bit on the ugly side.  And, it’s probably going to be several posts.

What Science Has to Say About an Afterlife

I was pretty sure what science had to say about the afterlife, but I wanted to make sure before I gave you some antiquated information. So, I decided to check the Interwebs for anything new on the subject, and apparently, there is. Seems there was a study finished in 2014 that looked at out of body and near-death experiences. As a scientist, I look at the conclusions people have drawn with full skepticism and will try to couch it in terms of logic.

Q: I told you. You’re dead, this is the afterlife, and I’m God.
Capt. Picard: [laughs scornfully] You are not God!
Q: Blasphemy! You’re lucky I don’t cast you out, or smite you, or something. The bottom line is, your life ended about five minutes ago under the inept ministrations of Dr. Beverly Crusher.
Capt. Picard: No, I am not dead. Because I refuse to believe that the afterlife is run by you. The universe is not so badly designed
.” — Tapestry, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Scientists and God

First, let’s look at what scientists believe in terms of a god.  In 2005, about two-thirds of the scientists surveyed admitted they believed in a god, and presumably, an afterlife. This surprised me, because a large portion of what we see in the news suggests that most scientists are atheists, when they are in fact not.  You end up seeing more atheists (about 38 percent) in the natural sciences such as physics, biology, and chemistry and fewer atheists in social sciences (about 31 percent).  So, even in the disciplines such as physics, brilliant people such as Stephen Hawking who claim their is no god or afterlife are in the minority. In another study, some 76 percent of doctors believed in a god and 59 percent believe that we have an afterlife waiting for us.

Now, whether there truly is an afterlife isn’t a matter of opinion.  There either is an afterlife or there isn’t — it’s not a popularity contest where the most believers choose their fate after death. You may be the only person who believes that we all become weevils on the great celestial potato in another dimension, but if you’re right, you’re right, and the rest of us wankers are clearly wrong. The reality is that with our current technology, we won’t know until we die.

Studies Suggest Something Else — Maybe

In 2014, a study concluded that actually searched for an afterlife.  About 40 percent of people who were clinically dead and resuscitated had a near-death experience. One man who was clinically dead for three minutes could recall accurately the work being done to resuscitate him even though technically the brain stops working about 30 seconds after the heart stops. His experience was the “out of body” kind, where he was hanging out in the room “watching” everything.

So, this may be proof that when you’re “mostly dead,” you’re still a little bit alive and aware.  Or it might simply be a delusion that our minds put together when we get jumpstarted.  Who knows?

Mostly Dead, or When are We Actually Dead?

To confuse matters, after you die, you aren’t totally dead for days, if not weeks. The body goes through a type of rally where stem cells reactivate and try to get you living again, even if it’s a lost cause. Some researches found live stem cells in cadavers that were 17 days old.

This, of course, gives us a gigantic problem.  Science isn’t really sure when we’re all dead.  When we die, we’re mostly dead.  To quote Miracle Max, “Mostly dead is still slightly alive.”

“Miracle Max: He’s only mostly dead. If he were all dead, there’s only one thing you can do.

Inigo Montoya: And what’s that?

Miracle Max: Go through his pockets and look for loose change.”The Princess Bride

I bring this up because it begs the question of when our spirit/soul/souls actually leave. Do they leave with the loss of our conscious selves, or does it leave with our bodies once they’re actually “all dead?”  Or do they hang around in the grave?

 Lost Souls

I haven’t even touched on the quantum theory that information cannot be destroyed. Or the fact that our linear view of time is simply our way of dealing with reality, but in quantum theory, time is mostly irrelevant.  In some part of the universe, everyone is alive.  The fixed points are causes and results.

After all this much ado about souls and afterlife, scientists can’t seem to agree on whether there is an afterlife or not. It pretty much falls under the “we have no credible evidence of souls, afterlife, or gods.” Perhaps that is the place where religion fits in — where science can’t answer.  If, at some time science provides us with an answer, either yea or nay, we’ll probably have to look at our ancestors’ views as a way they explained the world around them — just like we do today.

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Why Bad Things Happen: One Heathen’s Perspective

Why Bad Things Happen: One Heathen’s Perspective

Bad things happen.  When I look at things like the Paris attacks, I can’t help but wonder why.  And as a former Christian turned Heathen, it’s easy for me to fall into the “why did god/the gods let this happen?” mode.  The words, “shit happens” really does embody the Heathen and pagan view, so you’re probably going to get my rationale when it comes to this. Here is my perspective on why shit happens.

Christian God Versus Reality

You’ll see me talking about the Christian god quite a bit, because, quite frankly, as Americans, we deal with a Christian-pervasive society.  While it is true that some folks have grown up without being in Christian family, I think most of us still have the Christian influences in our lives. Growing up in a Christian household, I was told to trust in god. That god had a plan. That god would take care of me. That everything would be okay.

If you’ve gone through some tough times, you know damn well that reality is never that cut and dry.  That bad things happen to good people all the time and bad people do get away with things. Sometimes we see karma in action, but more often, we are left wondering how in the Hel we can pick up our lives and move on.

I can point to many instances of bad things happening to good people: children having cancer, tornadoes and hurricanes killing good people, and terrorist attacks. In many cases, the victims were Christians and perhaps very good people. The Christian god was asleep at the wheel on that day when bad things happened, otherwise, he wouldn’t have let it happen, assuming he was an all-powerful and benevolent deity.

Why the Gods Don’t Interfere — at Least Not Much

I personally believe that no god is truly all-powerful. Some are more powerful than others, which makes sense. But none of them are everywhere or paying attention to everything. My own patron god doesn’t always hang around my life because, quite frankly, it’s boring to him. Other gods may pop in and out as they will, but they aren’t with me all the time.  Yep, sometimes I’m alone.

I went through some trying times and, quite frankly, got a little snotty with one of the gods for “abandoning” me. He showed up in a dream later and told me that he couldn’t prevent what happened. It was the Wyrd, and he thought it sucked too. But he did have some solace for me, which made me hesitate and think about the situation. In retrospect, he could’ve told me to fuck off and send me back to whatever I decided: Christian, Agnostic, or Atheist.  But he didn’t.  Instead, he sought to console me, which was surprising. At least to me.

Our Place in the Wyrd

Basically, we’re all stuck with our Wyrd or fate. We like to think of ourselves as masters of our destiny, but even science says that free will may be an illusion. This sucks big time. The only thing that affects the universe is our choices, and depending on what we decide, our decisions spin off another universe. That’s amazing, if it doesn’t make your head hurt. We coexist in the past, present, and future, but we can’t perceive those times because of our limited, linear thinking. Or to quote the good Doctor:

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff…”

Yeah, I just quoted Doctor Who.  Get over it.

Basically, if you believe in physics and science, some things are just beyond even the gods. The Norns are possibly the only ones who handle our destinies, but even then, they just spin, measure, and cut. They don’t show us what the measure of our lives look like.

What’s more, we really don’t know what else is going on beyond our simple point of view. There may be something; there may be nothing. We just may be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What to Take Away from All This

Bad things happen. Good things happen. Not everything that happens is something we want. Sometimes it happens for a reason. More often, it happens for no particular reason other than our choices, or no choices, or a single quantum flip. Sometimes the gods can help us; other times they can’t. That’s why in the end we have to deal with all the unfair things life throws at us, as well as all the good things. When we as Heathens understand that our destiny is due to our choices combined with quantum physics, we can finally understand the nature of the universe and the gods just a little better.