Quantum physics pioneer Anton Zeilinger opens Falling Walls 2014
Over the centuries, science has used evidence based reasoning and reductionist objective approaches to challenge conventional wisdom and break down common perceptions. “This is what science is all about,” says Anton Zellinger, a Professor of physics at the University of Vienna. “In science we broke down many illusions,” such as traditional notions of a flat planet, an Earth centered universe, and human biological exceptionalism. Zellinger has focused his own research on one such illusion-buster: quantum mechanics, a counter-intuitive, mind-bending line of work from which he highlighted three key lessons: randomness, entanglement, and superposition.
In order to make the highly mathematical more concrete, Zellinger rolled supersized dice around the Falling Walls stage, demonstrating the distinction between classical and quantum randomness. We view die rolling as a random phenomenon, but it’s only stochastic in a subjective way, due to our ignorance of the multiplicity of forces acting on the six-sided cube. Theoretically, if we were able to know the angles and speeds of each die-surface contact, we could predict the resulting number and take Vegas for millions. In quantum randomness, however, things are fundamentally different, and even with complete knowledge of the system, “there would be no explanation for the effect,” as Zellinger puts it.
Quantum entanglement is perhaps even more confounding, linking two objects in a deterministic way regardless of the distance between them. If one die rolled in Berlin comes up a 3, an entangled die in Tokyo would show the same result. Positional paradoxes also show up in quantum mechanics, as indicated by famous experiments showing a single particle moving through two slits at the same time.
Unfamiliar as this all may seem, Zellinger believes these three quantum mechanical properties will soon have real effects on our lives. “We are developing a new kind of information technology,” he says, “quantum information which will someday supercede present information technology,”