From the EPR thought experiment to synchronicity
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From the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen thought experiment to synchronicity

Guy Levrier

01 Feb 1999


In 1935 Einstein and two other physicists in the United States, Boris Podolsky and Rosen, analyzed a thought experiment (EPR : Einstein, Podolsky, Rosen) to measure position and momentum in a pair of proton systems. Employing conventional quantum mechanics, they obtained some startling results, which led them to conclude that the theory does not give a complete description of physical reality. Their results, which are so peculiar as to seem paradoxical, are based on impeccable reasoning, but their conclusion that the theory is incomplete does not necessarily follow.

The measurement on proton 1 results in a definite state for proton 2 relative to the chosen direction of measurement, notwithstanding the fact that the two particles may be millions of kilometres apart and are not interacting with each other at the time. Einstein and his two collaborators thought that this conclusion was so obviously false that the quantum mechanical theory on which it was based must be incomplete. They concluded that the correct theory would contain some hidden variable feature that would restore the determinism of classical physics.

The crucial difference between the two theories is that, in classical physics, the system under investigation is assumed to have possessed the quantity being measured beforehand. The measurement does not disturb the system; it merely reveals the preexisting state. It may be noted that, if a particle were actually to possess components of angular momentum prior to measurement, such quantities would constitute hidden variables. In quantum physics, the measurement disturbs the system.

Does nature behave as quantum mechanics predicts? The interpretation of the results rests on an important theorem by the British physicist John Stewart Bell. Experiments have been conducted at several laboratories with photons instead of protons (the analysis is similar), and the results show fairly conclusively that Bell's theorem is valid. That is to say, the observed results agree with those of quantum mechanics and cannot be accounted for by a hidden variable (or deterministic) theory based on the concept of locality. One is forced to conclude that the two protons are a correlated pair and that a measurement on one affects the state of both, no matter how far apart they are. This may strike one as highly peculiar, but such is the way nature appears to be : reality can only be non-local.

Alain Aspect and his coworkers in Paris demonstrated the pertinence of this conclusion in 1982 with an ingenious experiment in which the correlation between the two angular momenta was measured, within a very short time interval, by a high-frequency switching device. The interval was less than the time taken for a light signal to travel from one particle to the other at the two measurement positions. Einstein's special theory of relativity states that no message can travel with a speed greater than that of light. Thus, there is no way that the information concerning the direction of the measurement on the first proton could reach the second proton before the measurement was made on it. 1

Alain Aspect's experiment thus showed that quantum systems are correlated in ways that cannot be explained by classical physics. Consequently, the EPR thought experiment proved in depth Bohr right against Einstein: the quantum physics theory is valid, it implies an "undivided wholeness, in which the observing instrument is not separable from what is observed." 2

A connected Universe

"Bohr's quantum wholeness, Bohm's quantum potential, and the idea of non-locality that can be inferred from Bell's theorem are all new ways of looking at the universe. They suggest, at the atomic level at least, a universe with a remarkable degree of interconnectedness. But can this unbroken quantum interconnection justifiably be projected onto the entire universe? Some thinkers believe that it can. Indeed, nature was generally seen in this unified way until a more mechanistic science came along in the seventeenth century." 3

"David Bohm has introduced the ideas of the implicate and explicate orders. The explicate order refers to the surface of things, to a mechanical world of pushes and pulls. The implicate order, by contrast, involves an enfolded reality. The implicate order lies beyond the categories of space and time and is, Bohm believes, a more appropriate way of ordering the quantum theory. In a sense, while Newtonian physics describes the explicate world, quantum theory is science's first attempt to come to terms with the implicate. It is at the implicate level that Einstein's question about the reality of the world must be answered..."

"...even if mainstream scientists continue to think in traditional ways, there are indications that some physicists are beginning to explore new ways of understanding the universe. Indeed, people have always had an intuitive sense of their interconnectedness to nature. The native American experiences skanagoah or great peace when alone in the woods, an electrifying awareness that involves a sense of unity with all of nature. Similar experiences are reported by artists and mystics of all cultures. In fact, it appears more natural to view the universe as connected and immanent, than as mechanical and separate. The philosopher Edmond Husserl argued that the crisis facing modern men and women lies in the meaninglessness of the world around them. He traced the root of this problem to the Cartesian-Newtonian desire to objectify nature. But when nature becomes an object, then human values and relationships are sacrificed. The result is an empty, meaningless universe." 4

I am precisely one of these artists who feels that his inspiration comes through this interconnectedness with nature, as described by quantum physicists, along with a sort of martyrdom in a dehumanized mankind obsessed with objectifying nature through a delirious materialism, as criticized by philosophers. To us, artists, this interconnectedness comes to us as signs, to show us the way, if we accept to become sensitive to them and if we have a sense of purpose in life...

To the general public and the scientists, these signs were until recently nothing more than simple coincidences. Carl Jung, the world-famous psychanalyst, after hesitating for years, was one of the very first to seriously research in depth the phenomenon , which he called "synchronicity". He wrote:

"If I have now conquered my hesitation and at last come to grips with my theme, it is chiefly because my experiences of the phenomenon of synchronicity have multiplied themselves over the decades." 5 And he defines synchronicity as "the coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events which have the same meaning." On this subject, some scientists seem to have drastically changed their minds lately, John Wheeler among them, who writes:

"We had this old idea, that there was a universe out there, and here is man, the observer, safely protected from the universe by a six-inch slab of plate glass. Now we learn from the quantum world that even to observe so minuscule an object as an electron, we have to shatter that plate glass ; we have to reach in there ... So the old word observer simply has to be crossed off the books, and we must put in the new word participator. In this way we've come to realize that the universe is a participatory universe." 6

As artists, we must have the will and the way to interpret the signs, when we recognize them as such, and to apply them to the cause for which they will produce the best possible results. The will is up to us to make the effort - a real effort. The way is through recognnizing the essential characteristics - frequently elusive - of the synchronicity event. For this, Carl Jung gives as example the case of one of his young women patients who proved to be psychologically inaccessible, because her extremely Cartesian rationalism made her believe that she knew better than everybody else about everything. Jung writes:

"After several fruitless attempts to sweeten her rationalism by a somewhat more human understanding, I had to confine myself to the hope that something unexpected and irrational would turn up, something that would burst the intellectual retort into which she had sealed herself... She had had an impressive dream the night before, in which someone had given her a golden scarab - a costly piece of jewelry. While she was still telling me this dream, I heard something behind me gently tapping on the window. I turned round and saw that it was a fairly large flying insect that was knocking against the windowpane from outside in the obvious effort to get into the dark room. This seemed to me very strange. I opened the window immediately and caught the insect in the air as it flew in. It was a scarabeid beetle, or common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), whose golden-green colour most nearly resembles that of a golden scarab. I handed this beetle to my patient with the words "Here is your scarab." This experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance. The treatment could now continue with satisfactory results." 7

We see here appearing clearly the main characteristics of a synchronicity event : one must be able to establish a meaningful correlation between the objective outer event and the person's inner psychological state, and the correlation must be acausal.

"The second essential feature is the lack of causal connection between the outer event and the subjective inner state ... In this sense, neither the outer event (beetle) causes the inner (dream) nor vice-versa. Instead they are acausally related through meaning and not simply a chance coming together of outer events and inner psychological states." 8

To recognize signs, interpret them correctly and benefit fully from them, the artist must be pure, because purity is the only way to eliminate the background noise, which prevents him from receiving a clear message.

1 Encyclopaedia Britannica

2 David Bohm, Wholeness and the implicate order (London and New York: Routledge, 1980), p.134

3 F. David Peat Einstein's moon: Bell's theorem and the curious quest for quantum reality (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1990), p.156

4 [3] pp.157-158

5 C.J.Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, Collected Works, Volume 8 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978), p.419

6 Quoted by F. David Peat, in Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind (New York: Bantam Books, 1987), p.4

7 [5] "On synchronicity", pp.525-526

8 Victor Mansfield, Synchronicity, Science, and Soul-Making (Chicago: Open Court, 1995), p. 24