A “new kind of quantum time order” suggested by a new thought experiment may help merge parts of quantum theory and relativity. Proposed by an international team of physicists led at the University of Queensland (UQ), this notion suggests a “quantum time order,” unlike the concept of time we experience in the macroscopic world.
The Theories of Relativity were devised by Albert Einstein during the opening decades of the 20th Century. These sets of ideas explain the world of large objects at extreme velocities and within significant gravitational fields— from speedy stellar jets to massive black holes. Nearly every prediction made by Einstein’s theories have been shown, experimentally, to be correct.
On the smallest scales, the weird world of quantum mechanics holds sway, where packets of energy can appear and reappear instantly in another location, and randomness shows up everywhere.
“Our proposal sought to discover: what happens when an object massive enough to influence the flow of time is placed in a quantum state?” Dr Magdalena Zych, physicist at the University of Queensland explained.
Thinking of Physics in Terms of Combat. No, the Video Game.
This new idea grows out relativity, which states that time slows down in the presence of gravity — the greater the gravitational field, the greater the effect.
Imagine a pair of spacecraft (or tanks), set to fire at each other, while dodging attacks of the other space…tank. If either vehicle fires before the other, it can destroy its opponent.
With a little knowledge of relativity (as well as a massive quantum planet-maker), one of the opponents could create a massive body whose gravitational field could affect time, altering the outcome of the contest. The tank which is most-distant from the body will fire first, potentially destroying its opponent.
On the quantum scale, temporal order — the sequence in which events take place — cannot be predicted from knowing pre-defined local conditions.
“Time has a fundamentally different character in quantum mechanics and in general relativity. In quantum theory events unfold in a fixed order while in general relativity temporal order is influenced by the distribution of matter,” researchers wrote in Nature Communications.
But, that’s just half the story. Here’s where things get weird.
Because Cats are ALWAYS Involved, That’s Why.
According to current ideas of quantum mechanics, any object can be in a state of superposition. This idea is best understood through the story of Schrodinger's cat.
Perhaps one of the most famous of all thought experiments, this notion starts with a cat in a box. The feline in the box is accompanied by a vial of poisonous gas, connected to a sample of radioactive material with a detector. The “trap” is set so that the toxic substance is released when the radioactive material randomly releases a particle.
This radioactive event cannot be predicted, and if an outside witness can not see through the box containing the cat, the animal is both alive and dead, until it is observed. This effect is not usually seen in our large-scale world, but it is common on the quantum level.
This concept sounds bizarre, if not downright implausible, but gamma ray detectors in space, like the Large Area Telescope (LAT) on the Fermi Telescope, depend on quantum mechanics to carry out their missions.
Even if a mass appearing near one of the participants was in a state of quantum superposition, a time dilation should form, Zych noted.
“There would be a new way for the order of events to unfold, with neither of the events being first or second — but in a genuine quantum state of being both first and second,” she said.
“Time is the longest distance between two places.”
― Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie
A superposition of planet-sized masses is unlikely to ever be created, at least in the near future. However, it may be possible, one day, to use this bizarre superposition in time to design a new generation of super-fast quantum computers.
“We are currently working towards quantum computers that — very simply speaking — could effectively jump through time to perform their operations much more efficiently than devices operating in fixed sequence in time, as we know it in our ‘normal’ world,” predicts UQ researcher Dr. Fabio Costa.
Time may hold a far different meaning in the quantum world than anything seen in our macroscopic world.
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