This prologue is the opening scene of a play about Bobby Sands, a contemporary of Bell’s in time and national origin if nothing else. As Bobby contemplates (non)violence and revolution, the audience is exposed to connections, direct and inverted, across great distances of time. Bell’s lecture below introduces the concepts of entanglement and creation that effect Bobby throughout the rest of the play.
Inside a large traditional lecture hall at CERN, there is a lectern from which blooms a single black bulb of a microphone. It stands in the middle of a stage. The wall behind it is flanked by three dusty green chalkboards running its entire length. The front of the lectern holds a gold emblem of three intersecting circles, like a rounded triquetra. A dove in mid-flight emerges from their intersection. Its body forms a Ψ. JOHN STEWART BELL walks in, head down. Once at the lectern, he shuffles and straightens a handful of index cards he pulls from his coat pocket and then clears his throat. He puts the cards on the lectern and never touches them again. Instead, looking up at the audience, he says:
Bell: Good morning. Bonjour. My name is John Bell and I’m here today to talk to you about a paper I published in 1964 titled On the Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen Paradox. I suppose I’m here to explain why it’s still relevant nearly twenty years later. Knowledge builds on knowledge, as we know. Isaac Newton, said, “If I have seen further than others,” and remember this is the man, one of the men that opened the doors of the Enlightenment, he said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Some of the giants I have climbed and stood upon are Boris Podolsky, Nathan Rosen, and Albert Einstein, even if only to disagree with them. You have to surmount your differences. These three men formulated this thought experiment, a paradox, that, in essence, argued that quantum mechanics' understanding of our physical reality was incomplete. Their experiment took two particles, in what we now call an entangled state, meaning that these paired particles cannot be understood independent of each other, no matter how great a distance lies between them. Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen—I’ll abbreviate them as a single entity from now on—EPR, they understood these particles in a classical, deterministic way. They believed in the principle of locality, in the idea that an object is only influenced by elements in its immediate surroundings. EPR believed in locality, which meant they believed, believed.. Is there a better word? Believed seems too magical for scientists. But yes, I suppose we believe, it’s where we put our faith. EPR believed in the principle of locality. EPR placed entanglement in opposition to locality since it allows for reactions to occur far outside one’s own location. Einstein famously dismissed the idea of a relationship between two entities across vast unknowns as “spooky action at a distance.” Like quantum scientists were playing with Casper the Friendly Ghost. Because it was unseen, unobservable, unmeasured, it was absurd. To him. To them. EPR, they thought, essentially, that it was impossible for a pair of separated particles to be separate but entangled through some quantum grace. They thought that the idea of this relationship was either impossible or that it contained something we still don’t understand. Some… something was hidden. Basically, they weren’t pleased with how quantum physicists argued that one element can experience an effect simultaneous to its partner. So suppose that two electrons are expelled from some system, a quantum system. The law of momentum, remember that fella with the apple? The law of momentum tells us that the momentum of one of those particles must be equal but opposite to its partner. There is one interpretation of our reality from a man named Neils Bohr, the so-called Copenhagen interpretation, and it says that both of those electrons are flying out in space, neither of them have a definitive state until we measure one of them. And, it’s, you know, through that one, that the other is knowable. It says it is possible to know something about an element from its partner. And, furthermore, we can alter one through interaction with its partner. And we’re talking about an instantaneous effect, no matter the gap of space, at the exact same time as its remote partner. The effect that happens in an entanglement occurs when we try to measure that one particle. Because the act of measurement, the act of observing it, causes the collapse of a wave function in both. A wave function… that’s math we use to determine the probability of certain measurements of the object. Of the particle. We use wave functions to understand its behavior, so we can try to predict how these two particles might behave. But the best probability can do is say that something is probable, right? Anyway, basically, an entanglement between two objects means that once one of the pair is measured, that the wave function collapses, and it can happen in both places at the same time. This means that they are sharing information in a manner that exceeds the speed of light. When something happens to one, the other immediately is impacted. I apologize… I know this is getting complicated. It might help to think of this information less as something transferred, like a pulse of electricity down a wire, and more like an effect concurrently experienced by two different bodies. A synchronicity. Synchrony. Did you know that word comes from the Greek words sun, which means together, and chronos, meaning time? Sun, together, chronos, time. Together-time. Anyway, what I’m saying, at the heart of it, is that EPR, they believed that quantum mechanics was an incomplete theory due to that instantaneous response between two particles, two distinct but related bodies potentially set apart by great distances, and their whole argument relied on the idea that this connection required an exchange of information faster than the speed of light. The speed of light…
Bell pauses, turning to look at the empty chalkboards. He walks over, writes E = mc2, brushes the chalk of his hands, and returns to the microphone.
Bell: There’s the sun again. What do those letters say to us? They say that as an object gets closer and closer to the speed of light, that its mass becomes larger and larger until it reaches an infinity, which is equal to the amount of energy required to move it. Infinite mass, infinite energy. Impossible. Those five little symbols tell us it is impossible for anything with mass to approach the speed of light. The Theory of Special Relativity. Relativity. Another funny word. I remember, as a boy, growing up in Belfast, we would use that word, relative, when we talked about our problems. We used it back then in relation to our neighbors. It was always a way to measure suffering. Relative. To me, it means sharing the same root but being distinct. Same but different. Like everything. Catholics and Protestants. The problem of a starving child was relative to another’s dead one. Anyway, sorry, that’s horrible. Anyway, EPR said that quantum theory was incomplete because it stated that something could be shared between two bodies in a new way, outside of how we understand, or perhaps understood, the manner in which data is exchanged. How we understood what it is to “know” something. EPR wanted to believe that elements were under the influence of their surroundings, that everything flowed behind the colorless light of the sun, and they wanted to believe that everything, every little thing, could be measured. Could be seen and understood. I hate that word—measurement. It’s a bad, bad word. Horrible word. To measure is to try to capture possibility. It constrains. If you took a bird and placed it inside a cage, you would never understand how far it could fly, would you? What’s a better word? Calculate? Gauge? Prove? Words are often insufficient tools. Well, in 1964, I was living across the world in Wisconsin of all places, and I wrote this paper, with words, with math, as a response to those giants. Neils Bohr, the Copenhagen chap, he actually died just a few years before it was published. Another man to summit. I climbed up and built upon these ideas and others, including David Bohm, Yakir Aharanov, even John Von Nuemann, if only to disprove everything he said. In this bramble of words and symbols, I simply put forth that a particle’s properties are indefinite, infinite, until measured. Until observed. Our eyes, the line of our sight like a gun, freezes a particle, killing its own unknown momentum, honing the possibilities of infernal, eternal arrangements. Furthermore, I’d like to illustrate the possibility that locality might not be a feature in our world. That on a quantum level there is statistical proof that one body could be impacted by other bodies across vast distances of time and space. That different types of information might be shared through means outside of our current understanding. That the universe and everything in it, every dirty, ugly thing, is connected. What if a particle is less one entity and more a three-dimensional cloud of possibility that shifts and crests in all directions until we shift our attention towards it? Until we try to pin it down with our numbers and our words? You can’t say no to something just because you don’t understand it. I mean, you can, but why would you? Why would you shut out any possibility?
Bell rests his elbows up on the lectern and, dropping his head, wraps his hands behind his neck. After a moment, he exhales and looks back up at the audience.
Bell: I don’t know. It’s… you know, it’s a sacrifice. We are all Sisyphus scaling the great broad backs of history. And we have to imagine Sisyphus as happy, right? Because it never stops. Having to explain something as vast and involved as the complexity of reality and do it as simply as possible. That’s why we use math; it’s the most simple, believe it or not. Even though most people don’t understand it. I mean, look at this.
Bell walks over and erases Einstein’s equation. In its place, he writes:
Bell: How many of you here know what that says? I’m not trying to shame you. It’s more… Why is it so difficult to understand our selves? To speak simply about the most common things? I give myself to this charge. But, sometimes, I feel as if the closer I get to a true understanding, to uncovering something that moves within the depths outside of light, I grow too large. The closer I get, the faster I become my own sun. Somehow, in the same time, I am also the energy that sustains me, rolling outward in all directions, always making new worlds with each turn. The pair of me reach out to each other, try to reach each other’s grip across nothingness, but it swallows us, in a wave of numbers posed against themselves. I think that it must be my own momentum, my own connection to an infinite, that drowns out the light. The multitude of possibility in everything unseen. But we want to look, we want to see. Lot’s wife looking back at Sodom. I look and look back into the dark. How can we know something outside of our own perception? It’s not entirely clear. I don’t know. Maybe you can tell me—is it worth it to sacrifice yourself for an idea? To be consumed by it? To argue, argue, argue. And, more importantly, does it even exist if no one sees it?
The light falls sharply.