Poster by Tuyen Le (coauthor of "Answering Mermin's Challenge") for Presentation at Georgia Tech in January 2020
Quantum mechanics is arguably our most successful and accurate physical theory, having been confirmed to one part in a billion. Max Tegmark and John Wheeler reported, for example, that “about 30% of the U.S. gross national product is now based on inventions made possible by quantum mechanics.” And David Mermin calls quantum mechanics, “The greatest intellectual achievement of the 20th century.” Yet, quantum mechanics is mysterious. Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman said, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”
The mystery of quantum mechanics that we resolve in this paper was introduced in a famous 1935 paper by Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen called, “Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?” The quantum property that led Einstein to believe quantum mechanics is incomplete is called “entanglement.” But, Einstein’s belief that entanglement could be accounted for by supplying its “missing elements” was shown to be false nine years after he died in a 1964 seminal paper by John Bell called, “On the Einstein Podolsky Rosen Paradox.” Bell showed that if reality contained hidden variables to account for quantum entanglement, then quantum mechanics was not only incomplete, but it was wrong. In his paper, Bell described an experiment that would reveal whether or not quantum mechanics was indeed incomplete. The experiment has since been performed many times in different forms and quantum mechanics has always been vindicated.
While the formalism of quantum mechanics is clear in its prediction for Bell’s experiment, it does not provide any explanation for that prediction, just a mathematical description for the outcomes. A layman’s explanation of this mystery was provided by David Mermin in a famous 1981 paper titled, “Bringing home the atomic world: Quantum mysteries for anybody” that Richard Feynman called, “One of the most beautiful papers in physics that I know.” Therein, he presented the “Mermin device” that illustrates the mystery of entanglement for the “general reader.” He then challenged the “physicist reader” to explain the way the device works “in terms meaningful to a general reader struggling with the dilemma raised by the device.”
Most researchers in foundations of physics believe that resolving the mystery of quantum mechanics will require an entirely new scientific worldview. In his 2004 book, Richard DeWitt writes:
New discoveries in the 1600’s, such as those involving Galileo and the telescope, eventually led to an entirely new way of thinking about the sort of universe we live in. Today, at the very least, the discovery of Bell-like influences forces us to give up the Newtonian view that the universe is entirely a mechanistic universe. And I suspect this is only the tip of the iceberg, and that this discovery, like those in the 1600s, will lead to a quite different view of the sort of universe in which we live.
In answering Mermin’s challenge we show that the principle of no preferred reference frame, which is responsible for the mysteries of time dilation and length contraction in special relativity, is also responsible for the mystery of Bell state entanglement in quantum mechanics. Specifically, the conservation of spin angular momentum following from the Bell spin states holds only on average in different reference frames, not on a trial-by-trial basis. Therefore, this “average-only” conservation constitutes an adynamical constraint with no overt evidence for an underlying dynamical mechanism, so we justify it via the principle of no preferred reference frame in direct analogy with the postulates of special relativity. Thus, we see a common theme in both relativistic and non-relativistic modern physics relating the fundamental constants c (the speed of light) and h (Planck’s constant) per adynamical explanation. All this implies that physical reality is based fundamentally on adynamical principles rather than the dynamical, causal mechanisms of Newton’s mechanistic universe.