Quantum physics is strange. At least, it is strange to us, because the rules of the quantum world, which govern the way the world works at the level of atoms and subatomic particles (the behavior of light and matter, as Richard Feynman put it), are not the rules that we are familiar with.

The quantum rules seem to be telling us that a cat can be both alive and dead at the same time, while a particle ca be in two places at once. Indeed, that particle is also a wave, and everything in the quantum world can be described entirely in terms of waves, or entirely in terms of particles, whichever you prefer.

Erwin Schrodinger found the equations describing the quantum world of waves, Werner Heisenberg found the equations describing the quantum world of particles, and Paul Dirac proved that the two versions of reality are exactly equivalent to one another as descriptions of that quantum world. All of this was clear by the end of 1920s. But to the great distress of many physicists, let alone ordinary mortals, nobody (then or since) has been able to come up with a common sense explanation of what is going on.

One response to this has been to ignore the problem. In the hope that it will go away. The equations (whichever version you prefer) work if you want to do things like design a laser, explain the structure of DNA, or build a quantum computer. Generations of scientists have come up with interpretations. At the level of the equations, none of these interpretations is better than any other, although the interpreters and their followers will each tell you that their own favored interpretation is the one true faith, and all those who follow other faiths are heretics.

On the other hand, none of the interpretations is worse than any of the others, mathematically speaking. Most probably, this means that we are missing something. One day, a glorious new description of the world may be discovered that makes all the same predictions as present-day quantum theory, but also makes sense. Well, at least we can hope…

Give it a try to “Six Impossible Things”

Corina