Witnessing quantum entanglement

A common nonargument leveled against materialism is the recitation of that overworked Shakespearean maxim,

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Hamlet, Act I, Scene V, lines 919-920

But inquiry into the permutations of matter has revealed more than can be dreamed, or understood, in a lifetime. Chief example: Quantum entanglement, the phenomena by which two particles, by unknown mechanisms, become inextricably linked so that they causally affect one another instantaneously over spatial distances as great as 89 miles.

Now, the phenomena is not merely academic. For the first time, scientists hope to demonstrate the phenomena on a scale that can be registered by the naked eye. Via Scientific America:

 Although Einstein rebelled against the notion of quantum entanglement, scientists have repeatedly proved that measuring one of an entangled pair of objects, such as a photon, immediately affects its counterpart no matter how great their separation—theoretically. The current record distance is 144 kilometers, between the Canary Islands of La Palma and Tenerife.

Photons make up light—and the fact that scientists regularly entangle these tiny packets of energy raised the possibility that humans might actually be able to observe this effect. Now experiments to shoot entangled photons at the human eye are under development, and should take place later this year. “It’s fascinating that entanglement is something we could see with the naked eye—it brings us closer to this strange quantum phenomenon,” notes researcher Nicolas Gisin, a quantum physicist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland

Entanglement is measured by creating entangled particles, sending them to different detectors, and seeing how quickly a measurement on one influences the other. The idea for this experiment is simply to replace the photon detectors with human vision. Human retinas are surprisingly sensitive, capable of being triggered by roughly seven photons. And although they only have an efficiency of about 7 percent (of every 100 photons that enter the pupil, only about seven go on to reach the retina) they have a dark count of virtually zero, meaning they generate few if any false positives.

“The eye can actually detect single photons, but the signals that light sends to the brain are suppressed unless there are about seven—otherwise you would see flashes of light all the time—even in complete darkness,” explains quantum physicist Seth Lloyd of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

First, Gisin and his colleagues will entangle a pair of photons, and then amplify these signals by entangling each of these photons with another ensemble of, say, 100 photons. In the arrangement they are currently developing, one pulse of photons would then be sent at a person, whereas the other would be sent at a conventional photon detector to test what the volunteer saw, Gisin says. “Although there’s no reason to have human eyes on both sides, the final experiments can involve that,” he added.

The appropriate Shakespeare quote for the occassion is not now a cliché, but deserves to be one, and reads,

…This is an art
Which does mend nature, change it rather, but
The art itself is nature.

The Winter’s Tale, IV.V. c.1610-11

Our only accomplishment in this is crafting the tools to witness something nature has been doing for 13.7 billion years before us, and will do for an eternity after us.

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