Does relativity lie at the source of quantum exoticism?

Faculty of Physics University of Warsaw

The evolution of probabilities and the "impossible" phenomena of quantum mechanics may have their origins in the special theory of relativity, as suggested by physicists from universities in Warsaw and Oxford. (Source: FUW)  Credit  Source: FUW

The evolution of probabilities and the “impossible” phenomena of quantum mechanics may have their origins in the special theory of relativity, as suggested by physicists from universities in Warsaw and Oxford. (Source: FUW) Credit Source: FUW

Since its beginnings, quantum mechanics hasn’t ceased to amaze us with its peculiarity, so difficult to understand. Why does one particle seem to pass through two slits simultaneously? Why instead of specific predictions can we only talk about evolution of probabilities? According to theorists from universities in Warsaw and Oxford, the most important features of the quantum world may result from the special theory of relativity, which until now seemed to have little to do with quantum mechanics.

Since the arrival of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity, physicists have lost sleep over the incompatibility of these three concepts (three, since there are two theories of relativity: special and general). It has commonly been accepted that it is the description of quantum mechanics that is the more fundamental and that the theory of relativity that will have to be adjusted to it. Dr. Andrzej Dragan from the Faculty of Physics, University of Warsaw (FUW) and Prof. Artur Ekert from the University of Oxford (UO) have just presented their reasoning leading to a different conclusion. In the article “The Quantum Principle of Relativity”, published in the New Journal of Physics, they prove that the features of quantum mechanics determining its uniqueness and its such non-intuitive exoticism – accepted, what’s more, on faith (as axioms) – can be explained within the framework of the special theory of relativity. One only has to decide on a certain rather unorthodox step.

Albert Einstein based the special theory of relativity on two postulates. The first is known as the Galilean principle of relativity (which, please note, is a special case of the Copernican principle). This states that physics is the same in every inertial system (i.e., one that is either at rest or in a steady straight line motion). The second postulate, formulated on the result of the famous Michelson-Morley experiment, imposed the requirement of a constant velocity of light in every reference system.

“Einstein considered the second postulate to be crucial. In reality, what is crucial is the principle of relativity. Already in 1910 Vladimir Ignatowski showed that based only on this principle it is possible to reconstruct all relativistic phenomena of the special theory of relativity. A strikingly simple reasoning, leading directly from the principle of relativity to relativism, was also presented in 1992 by Professor Andrzej Szymacha from our faculty,” says Dr. Dragan.

The special theory of relativity is a coherent structure that allows for three mathematically correct types of solutions: a world of particles moving at subluminal velocities, a world of particles moving at the velocity of light and a world of particles moving at superluminal velocities. This third option has always been rejected as having nothing to do with reality.

„We posed the question: what happens if – for the time being without entering into the physicality or non-physicality of the solutions – we take seriously not part of the special theory of relativity, but all of it, together with the superluminal system? We expected cause-effect paradoxes. Meanwhile, we saw exactly those effects that form the deepest core of quantum mechanics,” say Dr. Dragan and Prof. Ekert.

Initially, both theorists considered a simplified case: space-time with all three families of solutions, but consisting of only one spatial and one time dimension (1+1). A particle at rest in one system of solutions seems to move superluminally in the other, which means that superluminosity itself is relative.

In a space-time continuum constructed this way, non-deterministic events occur naturally. If in one system at point A there is generation of a superluminal particle, even completely predictable, emitted towards point B, where there is simply no information about the reasons for the emission, then from the point of view of the observer in the second system events run from point B to point A, so they start from a completely unpredictable event. It turns out that analogous effects appear also in the case of subluminal particle emissions.

Both theorists have also shown that after taking into account superluminal solutions, the motion of a particle on multiple trajectories simultaneously appears naturally, and a description of the course of events requires the introduction of a sum of combined amplitudes of probability that indicate the existence of superposition of states, a phenomenon thus far associated only with quantum mechanics.

In the case of space-time with three spatial dimensions and one time dimension (3+1), that is, corresponding to our physical reality, the situation is more complicated. The principle of relativity in its original form is not preserved – the subluminal and superluminal systems are distinguishable. However, the researchers noticed that when the principle of relativity is modified to the form: “The ability to describe an event in a local and deterministic way should not depend on the choice of an inertial reference system”, it limits the solutions to those in which all the conclusions from the consideration in (1+1) space-time remain valid.

“We noticed, incidentally, the possibility of an interesting interpretation of the role of individual dimensions. In the system that looks superluminal to the observer some space-time dimensions seem to change their physical roles. Only one dimension of superluminal light has a spatial character – the one along which the particle moves. The other three dimensions appear to be time dimensions,” says Dr. Dragan.

A characteristic feature of spatial dimensions is that a particle can move in any direction or remain at rest, while in a time dimension it always propagates in one direction (what we call aging in everyday language). So, three time dimensions of the superluminal system with one spatial dimension (1+3) would thus mean that particles inevitably age in three times simultaneously. The ageing process of a particle in a superluminal system (1+3), observed from a subluminal system (3+1), would look as if the particle was moving like a spherical wave, leading to the famous Huygens principle (every point on a wavefront can be treated itself as a source of a new spherical wave) and corpuscular-wave dualism.

“All the strangeness that appears when considering solutions relating to a system that looks superluminal turns out to be no stranger than what commonly accepted and experimentally verified quantum theory has long been saying. On the contrary, taking into account a superluminal system, it is possible – at least theoretically – to derive some of the postulates of quantum mechanics from the special theory of relativity, which were usually accepted as not resulting from other, more fundamental reasons,” Dr. Dragan concludes.

For almost a hundred years quantum mechanics has been awaiting a deeper theory to explain the nature of its mysterious phenomena. If the reasoning presented by the physicists from FUW and UO stands the test of time, history would cruelly mock all physicists. The “unknown” theory sought for decades, explaining the uniqueness of quantum mechanics, would be something already known from the very first work on quantum theory.

Physics and Astronomy first appeared at the University of Warsaw in 1816, under the then Faculty of Philosophy. In 1825 the Astronomical Observatory was established. Currently, the Faculty of Physics’ Institutes include Experimental Physics, Theoretical Physics, Geophysics, Department of Mathematical Methods and an Astronomical Observatory. Research covers almost all areas of modern physics, on scales from the quantum to the cosmological. The Faculty’s research and teaching staff includes ca. 200 university teachers, of which 87 are employees with the title of professor. The Faculty of Physics, University of Warsaw, is attended by ca. 1000 students and more than 170 doctoral students.

###

From EurekAlert!

62 thoughts on “Does relativity lie at the source of quantum exoticism?

  1. The second postulate, formulated on the result of the famous Michelson-Morley experiment, imposed the requirement of a constant velocity of light in every reference system.

    Michelson-Morley only covered inertial systems. The velocity of light is not constant in accelerating frames like rotation.

    • General relativity is based on the concept that the speed of light is also a constant in an accelerating frame. It is a consequence of the equivalence of gravity and aceleration.

      • The speed of light is not constant in a rotating frame. The Sagnac experiments demonstrated that. Nothing to do with gravity.

        • The Sagnac effect is consistent with special relativity. Consider 3 spaceships traveling equidistant in a line, each at a velocity of 1/2 c. If the middle ship sends out a light signal, this signal will arrive at the same time for the front and back ship, in time t.

          Now add a remote observer at rest pendicular to the line. This observer will see the light spread out from the middle ship, but because the ships are in motion, the observer will see the light reach the rear ship in t/2 and the lead ship in 3t/2.

          This is special relativity and it is the sagnac effect. The light source is the middle ship. The mirrors are the front and back ships. The detector is the remote observer.

          • Everyone measures the same value for c. It is time that varies. That was the profound and classical physics consensus shattering understanding of Special Relativity that got lost to the general public only focused on the simple E=mc^2 mathematical conclusion.

          • Three spaceships in a straight line is plain vanilla special relativity, not Sagnac. If you put them on a curved path, you get the Sagnac effect, which has to be compensated for in our GPS satellites.

      • There are still many experimental physicists working on trying to find exceptions where the Equivalence Principle of GR breaks down or fails So far no one has done this experimentally to the limits of error.

        • It’s important to make distinctions here. Special relativity applies to inertial, not accelerated frames, and the speed of light measures the same only locally, not necessarily from other reference frames.

          We would measure the speed of light at an event horizon as essentially zero, while a scientist on the scene (bless his heart) would measure it as c. We would measure a photon as gradually speeding up as it crawled up the gravity well, while time dilated scientists along the route would still measure it as c.

          Physicists have long had trouble with rotating frames. Einstein and others (see wiki Ehrenfest Paradox for a ‘consensus’ view) have tried to apply SR Lorentz contraction to rotating disk rims by substituting Ω (omega) for velocity in the transforms. It doesn’t work, because you can’t have relativity of simultaneity in a rotating frame, without which you can’t have contraction.

          Earth is a rotating frame. Were we to string a fiber optic cable all the way around the planet along a latitude parallel, and then send a light pulse both directions, we would find the eastbound pulse returning to us later than the westbound pulse. Exactly the same distance, different times, different speeds.

    • Mike,
      The article clearly says there are two postulates that are central to the Special Theory of Relativity, the first one being: “This states that physics is the same in every inertial system (i.e., one that is either at rest or in a steady straight line motion).” This clearly limits the second postulate to inertial systems (i.e. not accelerating).

  2. It occurred to me that this paper (ie. The Quantum Principle of Relativity) may obviate the need for string theory.

    We recapitulate multiple arguments that Eternal Inflation and the String Landscape are actually part of the Swampland: ideas in Effective Quantum Field Theory that do not have a counterpart in genuine models of Quantum Gravity. link

    Well I guess that settles it.

  3. Fascinating. The principles seem to me to provide an elegant and conceptually simple solution to a seemingly intractable problem.
    My university physics is 40 years in the past so the detail is beyond me, but occams razor makes me think there is something in it. The fact that the principles can be explained in one article, something that cannot be said about string theory.
    Time will tell, and we all have plenty of that at the moment (in the UK at least)!

    • It’s brilliant.
      The idea that a particle ages in three separate dimension because it has a FTL component and thus it appears to a non-aging witness to be spreading out like a wave…

      It’s what would happen. It ‘s obvious when it’s explained.

      And it fits the evidence. Evidence that is notoriously bizarre.

      I’m persuaded.

        • past, present, and future?
          ≠=======
          Actually. That makes perfect sense. An object travelling faster than the speed of light would arrive at its destination before it left its source. From our point of view it would arrive today, having left tomorrow.

          • There once was a young man named Bright
            Who could travel faster than light.
            He left one fine day
            In a relative way
            And returned the previous night.

    • Isn’t all of this akin to Feynman diagrams, where quantum field theory is described as particle and photon interaction proceeding both forward and backward in time?

      • Yes. But the new thing here is that it is the symmetry they describe between the sub and superluminal which forms the basis of it. Feynman must have had an intuitive feel for it without making it explicit.

    • For your edification and amusement, here’s a link to a guy who shows how to build something like the impossible dice using Lego.

  4. Makes sub-space communication sound a possibility. The Great Bird of the Galaxy may’ve been right again.

  5. Until the quantum mechanics idea of spin pairs is demonstrated count me as a skeptic for many aspects of quantum mechanics, including superluminal velocities. I’ll stick with Einsteins comment about “spooky action at a distance”, thank you. Stay safe.

    • Which is about the same as you don’t believe in multiplication until someone shows it to you.
      Science doesn’t care if you understand multiplication or spin pairs and you don’t get a vote 🙂

      • The imaginary part becomes understandable when one considers i^2 = -1.
        Which highlights why the multiverse folks get the arrow of time wrong. The multiverse of infinitte parallel realities exists in the future, not the past. They merely mis-interpret what the i operator is telling them.

  6. Hey senior citizens! Remember the dying extinct language of COBOL?

    New Jersey desperately needs COBOL Programmers.

    COBOL’s heyday in the 1970s means that the majority of COBOL experts in America are likely well over 60 years old

    https://josephsteinberg.com/covid-19-response-new-jersey-urgently-needs-cobol-programmers-yes-you-read-that-correctly/

    That’s what the State’s Governor, Phil Murphy, apparently meant today, when he said at a press conference that the State needed volunteers who with “Cobalt” computer skills to help fix 40-year-old-plus unemployment insurance systems that are currently overwhelmed as a result of COVID-19-related job losses.

    COBOL, for those who are unfamiliar, is a computer language that is over 60 years old, and was once the staple of software development across industry and government. By the late 1980s, however, it had become sufficiently obsolete that many universities did not even include it in their computer science curricula.

    ”old folk write code”!

    • “That’s what the State’s Governor, Phil Murphy, apparently meant today, when he said at a press conference that the State needed volunteers who with “Cobalt” computer skills to help fix 40-year-old-plus unemployment insurance systems that are currently overwhelmed as a result of COVID-19-related job losses.”

      Trump complained about the way the rescue bill passed by Congress set up the payment plans, leaving it to the States to handle, instead of the federal government, saying that some States had antiquated systems that might delay payments to people, and I imagine this situation in New Jersey was just the kind of thing he was referring to in his complaints.

    • The last time I wrote a line of COBOL was in college, decades ago. I suppose if you paid me enough (unlikely), and allowed me to work remotely (no way I’d move to New Jersey), I might be tempted to knock the rust off my COBOL skills. But it’d probably take me too long to come up to speed to help them with their unemployment insurance systems in a useful time-frame anyways.

  7. Just to make trouble as a skeptic in a world run by skeptics I’ll throw a little religious luminosity into this theory: a world of particles moving at subluminal velocities (son), a world of particles moving at the velocity of light (father), and a world of particles moving at superluminal velocities (holy ghost).
    No offense meant to science. But quarantine makes people a little wiggy sometimes. Hang in there everyone!

  8. Daily mail:
    The member of Cobra (Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms) the emergency committee led by Boris Johnson, said last night that while the latest intelligence did not dispute the virus was ‘zoonotic’ – originating in animals – it did not rule out that the virus first spread to humans after leaking from a Wuhan laboratory.
    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8188159/Did-coronavirus-leak-research-lab-Wuhan-Startling-new-theory-no-longer-discounted.html

  9. Perhaps particles vibrate along a line. So it’s action is like a straw. It vibrates so quickly that it appears the particle is capable of being in two places at once.

    Then a particle can pass though the slit as a whole on it’s narrow side. And as it moves freely in the new space it appears as if a single particle went through the slits separately.

    That’s the Dave theory.

    • Dave:
      …”Perhaps particles vibrate along a line. So it’s action is like a straw. It vibrates so quickly that it appears the particle is capable of being in two places at once”…

      Is this the ‘stage-coach effect’? You know, in the old Westerns, when the stage is going forward at full gallop, but he wheels are turning backwards.
      Cheers
      Mike

    • Engineers rely on it … if you remove quantum theory every atom collapses. So all the engineer needs to do is come up with another theory to stop the atoms collapsing and thus his structure 🙂

  10. “Why does one particle seem to pass through two slits simultaneously?”

    Because they aren’t particles. They are quantums of energy traveling as wave fronts.

    • explain the photoelectric effect and why there is a threshold frequency for emission then.

    • If the slits are electrically isolated from each other, and the two slits are biased at different voltages, the interference pattern will shift. This means to me that the slit material is participating in the diffraction. Why does no one talk about this?
      This means to me that the first particle is setting up conditions for the following particles, probably ahead of the first particle. Debroiglie’s pilot waves, etc ??
      ????

  11. Such an interpretation would give support to the concepts we the unviser we perceive and live in is a holographic projection universe. That is a reduced set of the dimensions that we detect are merely like a movie that appears to viewers as a 3 dimensional representation being shown against a flat 2 dimensional screen. Such a sub-universe would also likely be “degenerate” depending on which dimensions are being projected/observed.
    The problem is no one can think of an actual experiment that we could conceivably carry-out that establishes the validity of such a construction (or rules out), because we can’t step outside the “box” we occupy. As such, these theories just remain fanciful constructions in mathematics. And there are lots of those to choose from.

  12. What does this mean for Feynman’s idea of anti-particles as particles moving backwards in time?

    And does it finally decide in favour of Copenhagen over Many Worlds? Wave function collapse seems here just to be inherent in the modified principle of relativity requiring the ability to describe an event in a local and deterministic way?

  13. Is a ‘unfied force field theory’ now within grasp. Such must logically emanate from the atom itself from which also came the first evidence for quantum mechanics. It seems it was initially believed that quantum mechanics was simply the physics of the tiniest units of matter as distinct from the physics of the macro scale we can observe. It is a bit surprising, perhaps, that someone from that period didn’t do the “what if” thinking just out of curiosity or just for fun.

    “…taking into account a superluminal system, it is possible – at least theoretically – to derive some of the postulates of quantum mechanics from the special theory of relativity, which were usually accepted as not resulting from other, more fundamental reasons,”

    An elegant proof. An unexpected result of restoring the superluminal category of particle motions to the original special relativity theory from which it had been thrown out! “Modifying” the the special theory of relativity seems a bit too overstated.

    I guess the Michelson-Morley Experiment establishing ‘the’ speed of light was so impressive that it closed the book on the subject and superluminal speed got chucked out.

  14. As i recollect building special relativity into Schroedinger,s wave equation led to an imaginary solution from which Dirac boldly inferred antimatter rather than ignoring the imaginary root. Could it be that inventing a cosmological constant Was not Einsteins biggest mistake, as he believed, but his second biggest. The biggest being ignoring the validity of the tachyonic solution

  15. “…taking into account a superluminal system, it is possible – at least theoretically – to derive some of the postulates of quantum mechanics from the special theory of relativity, which were usually accepted as not resulting from other, more fundamental reasons,”

  16. Wow!
    What a fun post. Thank you Charles.
    You really goosed my coffee consumption this Easter Monday morning.
    Cheers
    Mike

Comments are closed.