Monday, December 20, 2010

What do we learn and how weird is it?

Quantum entanglement is the idea that there can be an inherent relationship between two particles even if they are separated over vast distances. Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance.”

Quantum entanglement and quantum mechanics in general has gone from theory to practical application in recent years. I’m not going to tie it in to potential alien technology or any other “new age” speculation. Quantum mechanics is the very real work of physicists. I am merely going to point out what many prominent researchers say about quantum mechanics: there is quite a bit that we don’t fully understand and some of it is quite weird.

Science News Magazine tackled the topic in the November issue. Editor-in-Chief Tom Siegfried points out that quantum mechanics is being used today in computer technology. So called, quantum bit, or qubit, computers are expected to vastly increase computation power. How soon this might happen and whether or not this will truly be the future of computer technology is a matter of debate. Quantum entanglement has also been applied to cryptography, because it allows for communication in secret and technically over vast distances. The technology is in its infancy, but companies like IBM have formed labs and researchers all over the world are working to take theory into application.

Quantum mechanics suggest that perhaps there are different possible realities. Each chain of reality would have to be consistent in and of itself, but it could be next to a chain of events altered slightly, and there could be an infinite number of chains.

The purpose of this entry is not to explain physics that I can barely understand. I’ll leave it to the fine writers at Science News. I bring it up because it raises a very big issue for extraterrestrial First Contact: how weird could reality actually be and are we prepared for the answers?

Science News Editor Siegfried sums it up well: “There are some strange things in the world that we do not understand.”

So, what happens if extraterrestrials with advanced scientific knowledge start communicating with planet Earth? Are we prepared for a massive change in not only science, but perhaps how we view reality? Are our scientists up to the task of deciphering such new knowledge and integrating it into our way of understanding? How weird could the answers be?

The existence of an infinite number of realities would at the very least cause severe indigestion in the areas of religion and philosophy. If the concepts are wide reaching enough they could also have an impact on everyday life for the rest of us. In the end, this is just speculation piled on top of speculation. But it illustrates the ultimate problem: if an advanced civilization decides to communicate with us there could be much that we learn and there could be much discomfort in that knowledge.

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