I am a total NPR dork. I would LOVE to have Carl Kasell’s voice on my answering machine; when I was in middle school, I felt betrayed when I learned that Lake Woebegone wasn’t a real place; and I admit that I joined Ira Flatow’s Science Friday Facebook group (“for those who love Science Friday. Or Ira Flatow.”). In fact, all my scientific knowledge pretty much comes from either Science Friday or the SciFi channel.
That’s essentially my disclaimer before I jump into a discussion of quantum mechanics: my knowledge of quantum entanglement is limited to how much Ira Flatow could fit into a 22 minute segment. In other words, nowhere near enough knowledge to respond to the inevitable cries of exasperation by the all the quantum physicists who regularly read T&S…
A few years ago, Science Friday reported on a quantum physics phenomenon that Einstein contemptuously referred to as “spooky action at a distance.” The basic idea is that two particles (such as photons) if “entangled” and then separated will each somehow ‘know’ what the other particle is doing and respon in perfect unison to each others’ actions. According to the theory, even if the particles were billions of lightyears apart they would still act the same way, at the same time. What bugged Einstein is that it seemed like the particles were communicating at faster-than-light speeds. Einstein complained,
I find the idea quite intolerable that an electron exposed to radiation should choose of its own free will, not only its moment to jump off, but also its direction. In that case, I would rather be a cobbler, or even an employee in a gaming house, than a physicist.
The idea is still a subject of intense debate.
Many experiments have tested the concept. “Science Friday” reported on a 2003 test where two scientists in Austria placed entangled particles on opposite sides of the Danube river – particles nicknamed “Alice” and “Bob” (apparently, it’s conventional to name particles in these experiments Alice and Bob). If the scientists on one side of the Danube prompt Alice to spin, Bob spins at the exact same time, without any prompting. Alice and Bob are the perfect pair.
One of the scientists explained that,
entanglement is spooky… it occurs when you have two quantum systems like two photons or particles of light and each one knows more about the other, has more information than anybody has the right to know about anybody else… they retain that knowledge [of each other] as long as they don’t get messed up somewhere along the way… they know more about each other than any sibling, sister, husband or wife…
As I understand it, the idea is NOT that Alice is controlling Bob’s behavior, or vice-versa – in fact, they aren’t even communicating any information; instead, Alice and Bob’s perfect unison is the natural byproduct of their perfect, intimate knowledge of each other.
Alice and Bob’s perfect unison reminds me of the scriptural injunction to “be ye therefore perfect” even as Father in heaven. It seems a pretty daunting commandment, to say the least – how do I achieve a perfect unity between my behavior and God’s will? Why, the same why Alice and Bob achieve perfect unison of behavior – by acquiring knowledge. From personal experience, I have learned that I am most capable and willing to conform my conduct with God’s will, when I am striving to understand God’s character. It reminds me of the principle Alma taught – the word has a great tendency to lead us to do that which is just. Catania, in the comments below, pointed to an excellent passage in Helaman that demonstrates the welding of Nephi’s will with God’s:
Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and has not sought thine own life, but has sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
And now, becuase thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. ” (Helaman 10:4-5 – emphasis added).
A comment by Paul S., below, reminded me of one of my favorite Book of Mormon passages about the Atonement, 2 Nephi 9:21:
And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.
The Atonement itself is a type of “entanglement” – Christ welding himself to each and every one of us, coming to perfectly understand the “pains of every living creature.” Because of the Atonement, it’s impossible to describe my own pains and sufferings without simultaneously describing Christ’s pains and sufferings.
One final observation – “spooky action” also reminds me of the relationship shared by God, the Father and the Son – beings that retain their distinctiveness but nonetheless are perfectly unified in purpose. Here’s a parting quotation by Richard Bushman, describing the “eternal alliance” of the gods implicit in Joseph Smith’s King Follett discourse:
Critics are wrong when they say Joseph Smith created a heaven of multiple gods like the pagan pantheons of Zeus and Thor. The gods in Joseph Smith’s heaven are not distinct, willful personalities pursuing their own purposes. The Christian trinity was Joseph’s model; the gods are one as Christ and the Father are one, distinct personalities unified in purpose and will. A free intelligence had to become one with God in order to become as God. The gods formed an eternal alliance, welding their wills into one. The idea of earth life was to join that alliance and participate in the glory and power of the gods. The way to become a god was to conform to the order of heaven and receive light and truth.