Readers of my blog may remember a previous post with a similar title, wherein I posited the idea of Phased Uncertainty to explain why macroscopic objects don’t behave like subatomic particles. Obviously, I’m not the first person to wonder about this, but now with the advent of more sensitive new technologies, more and more physicists are actively seeking to answer the question.
A little background. According to current Quantum Theory, no particle has a fixed position, energy, or momentum. Each one exists in a multitude of states, all at the same time. In a way, each particle can be considered a wave, and it is described mathematically by a wave function. It is only when someone actually looks at it that the particle’s wave function “collapses” and it takes a definite state. Werner Heisenberg came up with this idea, that it was the very act of measuring that makes the wave function collapse and the particle take on definite properties.
So the question is, if all subatomic articles exhibit this behavior, why don’t macroscopic objects? At what point (or at what size) do quantum rules end and Newtonian rules begin?
Some physicists are trying to find out. H. Dieter Zeh (now deceased) suggested that in the macroscopic world the wave function of each particle becomes “entangled” with the wave functions of all the other particles around it, making it impossible to keep track of the zillions of interactions going on. He called the process “decoherence.” Basically, the wave function describing all the possible states a particle could have “decoheres” when it mingles with the wave functions of all the particles around it. (This sounds a lot like the “phased uncertainty I propose in the aforementioned post.) Unfortunately, the theory doesn’t explain why a particle would take any particular state, which is what we see when we measure it.
Another hypothesis is known as Continuous Spontaneous Localization, which posits that wave function collapse is a random but rare event that is constantly occurring, and it has nothing to do with measurement. Even though it’s rare, the sheer number of subatomic particles in a macroscopic object make it inevitable that collapse will occur. However, this doesn’t seem to explain (unless I’m missing something) why enough of the particles in an object would all collapse to the same state, especially if collapse of any single particle is so rare.
So here’s what I’ve been thinking (and keep in mind that I am not a physicist and couldn’t begin to explain any of this in mathematical terms, which is really the only thing that counts). We know molecules are stable; we’re surrounded by them and composed of them. The only way any molecule could be a stable construct is if the wave functions of the composite atoms (protons, neutrons, and electrons) all collapsed to the same state as soon as the atoms joined up. In other words, much like Zeh’s decoherence, at the instant two or more atoms join to form a molecule, they entangle and assume the same physical state. If this didn’t happen, molecules could never form, because the composite atoms would each remain in their own undefined state, unable to coalesce into a stable structure.
Why this happens, of course, remains unexplained, but it seems to me that there must be an as-yet undiscovered and undefined natural law (or force) that causes it to happen.
Of course, this could all be wildly off the mark, and physicists are probably chuckling and shaking their heads at my naivete. But a lot of crazy ideas have been put forward (and are still being put forward) regarding quantum physics (the “Many Worlds” hypothesis, for example), so I’m not afraid to give it a shot. Besides, entanglement is a proven phenomenon, though no one knows exactly how and why that happens either. Perhaps if the mystery of entanglement is solved, that will explain why atoms become instantly entangled and assume the same physical state when they join to form a molecule. Or vice versa.