On Assumptions In Quantum Theory

This letter is in response to the excellent article "A Quantum Threat" (Albert and Galchen, March 2009 edition of Scientific American).

The authors' last sentence, "We may, in fact, see the universe through a glass not quite so darkly as has too long been insisted" is encouraging, yet challenging.


The authors summarize the four main theories concerning the nonlocality of quantum physics. Specifically, these are the Copenhagen model of Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli, and others; the "pilot wave" theory of Bohm (but originally conceived by de Broglie in 1927); the many-universe model of Everett; and the GRW theory. In addition, the authors show how Bell's inequality (and subsequent experimental confirmation) plays out in those theories.

A key point of the article is the discussion of reality. All of the theories mentioned above, especially in light of Bell's inequality, call into question the fundamentals of reality that we all live by every moment of every day. As the authors point out, Einstein remained unconvinced (right up to his death) about nonlocality. He simply could not accept that reality needs revision to the extent that determinism does not exist. His statement "God does not play dice with the universe" was not a religious statement, nor was it trite... Einstein believed in a reality of the universe that included determinism.

The key point emphasized by the authors is that our assumption of reality needs to be revised.

But the authors, and all four of the theories mentioned above, fail to recognize another, evidently more basic, assumption. John Bell, in the development of his inequality theory (and the subsequent experiments) also fails to recognize that assumption. It is such a basic assumption that is not even recognized as such in virtually every scientific publication on quantum physics. There may be others, but the only one I could find is in a chapter footnote (footnotes 11 and 12 to chapter 3) at the back of the book "The Fabric of the Cosmos" by Brian Greene (Vintage Books, publ., 2005).


Before discussing the missing assumption, it will be instructive to look at other assumptions and their relationship to the advancement of science. In a sense, assumptions are the chapter headings in the histories of scientific endeavors.

There are those assumptions which, made knowingly, drive scientists to varying degrees of madness trying to prove or disprove. Take Euclid's geometry, for example. All of Euclid's axioms were relatively easy to "prove," except one, that one being the parallel postulate. Euclid knew that when it came to this axiom, he could not seem to bridge the gap from "here" to "there" - it seems so obvious, so intuitively obvious that two parallel lines should never intersect, but he just couldn't quite "prove" it. Centuries passed. Mathematicians would take turns trying to prove it; some thought they had it, then another mathematician would show an error in the proof. Nobody could bridge the gap.

Then a mathematician by the name of Farkas Bolyai tackled the problem (there is an entertaining discussion of this in Stephen Hawking's "God Created the Integers (Running Press Book Publ., 2007). He tried, and tried, and tired of trying, and finally despaired nearly to the point of madness. His son, Janos Bolyai, also became a mathematician, and father Farkas admonished his son, "You should shy away from it as if from lewd intercourse" - but his son ignored the father's advice and proceeded to tackle the problem of proving Euclid's fifth axiom. But Janos recognized that perhaps the effort was futile, and began asking the simple question: "What if the assumption is wrong?" This breakthrough resulted in the development of non-Euclidean geometries, and it turns out that the universe itself is, almost certainly, non-Euclidean! The angles in a triangle really do add up to more than 180 degrees, if you measure them accurately enough.

Other assumptions were dispelled by Einstein in his relativity papers. It seems to go against our human grain to think that "time" for me might be different than it is for you, simply because I move faster than you. My clock, I assume, is the same as your clock. And I also assume that two events which are exactly simultaneous (that is, they occur at exactly the same time) for me, must also be simultaneous for you. But those assumptions are wrong in our relativistic universe. Time does slow down for a body as it goes faster; and the order of occurrence for two events can be different for different observers (they don't just appear different, but the order is actually different for two different observers).

Both of the examples above illustrate assumptions that have been proven to be incorrect by mathematicians, physicists, and cosmologists. One of the curious things about those incorrect assumptions is that we humans, in our everyday life, still make those same assumptions. Our trigonometry books still teach that the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees. I still "synchronize" my watch with my wife's to meet her at the mall for lunch. We still talk, in everyday conversation, of events that happen "at the same time."

So the assumption that reality is real should not be accepted simply because our (or Einstein's) a priori knowledge seems to require it. But it should also not be rejected simply because the current theories seem to fail without rejecting it. The latter is especially true if there are other assumptions (which I assert there are) made by those current theories - assumptions which, if proven to be false, simplify all of quantum physics into a deterministic, single-universe theory.

One distinction between the examples above is the acknowledgment of the assumption. In the case of Euclid's axioms, Euclid himself recognized that he was making an assumption, a leap of faith. However, not only was Einstein the first to suggest that time might be different for different observers, but nobody even acknowledged that they were making the assumption to the contrary. The assumption itself was not even recognized.

In fact, one of the great credits given to Einstein is that he actually recognized that it is an assumption that we make, a natural, inherent, in-bred assumption, time is constant for different observers. The assumption is so inherent, so intuitive, so instinctive, that Einstein's theories of relativity actually seem to be counter-intuitive. Many lay people are unaware of the ramifications of his theories regarding time, even today!

Albert and Galchen address one other assumption that modern physics would seem to dispel, an assumption that is perhaps even more inherent, more intuitive, more instinctive, than the constancy of time. That assumption is reality itself. The "Copenhagen Model" of quantum physics, so widely accepted today, at its essence teaches that everything is probabilistic, and not fixed, not "real" in the sense that people usually use that word. The Copenhagen Model came to maturity in the late 1920's and early 1930's. Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, and others developed this model, named the Copenhagen Model after Bohr's laboratory location. Schrodinger, in particular, developed an equation that is used to this day to describe the probability of a particular state of something.

The state of a thing is worth exploring for an assumptions-based discussion. For instance, there is the question, "Is a half-gallon of milk in the refrigerator?" Or for that matter, "Is there a refrigerator?" You know where your refrigerator is, and you likely would agree that you know that with 100% certainty. If you happen to be within view of your refrigerator as you read this, quantum physicists of the Copenhagen ilk would say that the Schrodinger equation has collapsed, and they would agree that it is 100% certain that the refrigerator is there.

But if you are not in view of your refrigerator, those same physicists would say that the degree of certainty is actually ("really") less than 100%. Really! Keep in mind that the Copenhagen Model is generally and widely accepted today. Most physicists would even go so far as to say that the Copenhagen Model has been "proven" or at least demonstrated experimentally.

The famous thought experiment known as "Schrodinger's cat" is a great example of the Copenhagen Model's approach to reality. Put a cat in a black box. In the box, also place a small bottle of cyanide with a hammer delicately balanced above it. Also in the box, place a tiny amount of uranium, just enough that the chances of the decay of one atom of uranium in exactly one hour are exactly 50%. Attach a geiger counter to the hammer so that if the geiger counter clicks even once, the hammer will fall, the cyanide bottle will break, and the cat will be dead. In other words, the experiment is set up so that there is exactly a 50-50 chance that the cat would be alive or dead in exactly one hour.

The assumption of reality that we all basically live by would dictate that the cat is "really" EITHER alive, or dead, but not both at the same time. Ignoring that assumption, the Copenhagen Model, and more specifically the Schrodinger equation, would actually specify that the cat is BOTH alive and dead at the same time until someone opens up the box to observe the results, at which time the Schrodinger equation collapses and the cat is either alive or dead.

Oddly enough, Schrodinger himself never quite bought that. His conversations with Einstein are captured in a delightful book, "The Age of Entanglement" by Louisa Gilder (Alfred A. Knopf, publ., 2008). In that book, Einstein is quoted as having written to Schrodinger, "You are the only contemporary physicist, besides Laue, who sees that one cannot get around the assumption of reality - if only one is honest."


So, what is the assumption that all of the quantum models, Bell's inequality, and Albert and Galchen's article make? What is the assumption that hardly anyone even acknowledges is an assumption? It is the assumption that causality moves forward through time and that locality for two separate particles must come from the past.

To begin with, Bell's theorem takes the side of Einstein, assuming that there are hidden variables. He then proceeds to develop an inequality that could be verified experimentally. His inequality proved logically that there is a contradiction between hidden variables and quantum mechanics. He actually showed that quantum mechanics could NOT include hidden variables. It was simply a matter of testing... if experiments resulted in observations greater than 2 (or less than -2), then his inequality is NOT obeyed by nature, and the assumption of hidden variables is incorrect. Experiments (including those of Alain Aspect mentioned by the authors) have quite well proven that the resulting number is greater than 2, and in fact is the 2?2 predicted by quantum mechanics.

However, Bell made the assumption (and I have never seen any acknowledgement in the literature that this assumption is there) that the particles of the experiment are endowed with an instruction set (hidden variables) that tells them beforehand what they will be eventually. This assumption is not just implicit in Bell's work, it is explicitly revealed by Bell's language. From Bell's "On the Einstein Podolsky Rosen Paradox" (online at http://www.ffn.ub.es/luisnavarro/nuevo_maletin/Bell%20(1964)_Bell's%20theorem.pdf) the introduction states that "It is the requirement of locality, or more precisely that the result of a measurement on one system be unaffected by operations on a distant system with which it has interacted in the past" (italics mine).

And in his formulation, Bell states that "Now we make the hypothesis... that if the two measurements are made at places remote from one another the orientation of one magnet does not influence the result obtained with the other. Since we can predict in advance the result of measuring,... it follows that the result of any such measurement must actually be predetermined."

Nevertheless, lack of recognition of the assumption notwithstanding, Bell stated correctly in his Generalization that "for at least one quantum mechanical state, the 'singlet' state in the combined subspaces, the statistical predictions of quantum mechanics are incompatible with separable predetermination." Hawking stated this in another way in the introduction to "God Created the Integers" when he said that "the future can only be determined probabilistically." But neither of these statements, nor Bell's theorem, addresses post-determination that would result from causality moving backwards through time.

And so, if we remove the assumption that causality moves forward through time, Bell's inequality no longer applies, and hidden variables are once again permitted. The only difference is that in this model, the hidden variables are moving backwards through time and locality and determinism exist coming from the future.

In February of 2006 I proposed (http://www.emediawire.com/releases/2006/2/emw238911.htm and on my website at http://rjdehaas.com/time/index.php) the name "backyons" for those hidden variables travelling backward through time. I proposed that negative-time quanta, backyons, "provide the hidden variable necessary to establish a deterministic model of quantum physics. Backyons provide information about the future to systems, thereby determining which of multiple possible outcomes must arise. One single universe (the "ultimate observer") outcome is demanded by this model..."

The backyon model also allows reality without uncertainty. Also, the model offers a sense in which it is more understandable that we "remember" what the past was, but cannot "remember" the future - a conundrum that puzzled philosophers going back to Augustine. We can "remember" the past because we are causing the past as we send backyons backward through time.

Backyons continually flow backward through time. At the moment I release two entangled photons, they already have the information from the future as to what they will become. The "cause" of what they will become comes from the future, not from me, and not from the photons at the time of release.

This is the simplest model yet proposed to explain spooky action at a distance. While it does dispel the assumption that causality moves forward through time - an assumption which is hard to grasp in my day-to-day living, it is no harder than to accept the assumption of a non-Euclidian universe or the assumption that time for me is different from time for my wife. And it certainly is an easier assumption to accept than that reality does not exist!

Ronald J. DeHaas
PO Box 397
Owosso MI 48867