For my series “The Uncertain Nature of Reality”, I explore the logic-defying concepts of quantum mechanics from a philosophical point of view while composing and collaging images of ballet dancers in rehearsal. I have always been interested in science and in particular quantum mechanics, a branch of physics that makes us question fundamental concepts of the world we live in.
How sure are we that our perceived reality is actually there? Quantum mechanics, which attempts to model nature at the sub-atomic level, seems to imply that there is a cause-effect relationship between reality and conscious observation. The prevailing interpretation of quantum theory, the Copenhagen Interpretation devised by physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in the 1920s, has long fascinated philosophers and physicists alike. It states that by the very act of watching, the observer affects reality.
Properties such as location, energy, spin, etc. are completely described mathematically by a wavefunction. Everything to be known about a particle can be obtained from its wavefunction. Properties, such as location, for example, do not have definitive values meaning that particles can be at multiple locations at the same time until they are measured or observed, at which point, the wavefunction is said to collapse and the location becomes known. The Copenhagen Interpretation became the prevailing view of quantum mechanics despite strong criticism by various scientists, including Albert Einstein who once asked: "Do you really think the moon isn't there if you aren't looking at it?"
Another interpretation of quantum mechanics is the Many-Worlds interpretation. It rejects the observer effect and the collapse of the wavefunction. Instead, it asserts that all possible values of a property exist at the same time in alternative universes.
The double slit experiment has shown that quantum particles exhibit different behavior depending on whether or not they are being observed or monitored. Results that could not be explained by classical physics led scientists to theorize that time is not unidirectional, the future can influence actions in the past. Quantum tunneling, superposition, and entanglement are other fascinating concepts of quantum mechanics that defy logic and make us question if this is actually science fiction.
We are just a few years away from the next significant technological leap, the advent of quantum computers, which are believed to be able to solve problems too complex for today's classical computers. Tech giants such as Google and IBM and top universities have are already developed quantum computer prototypes and expect to achieve "quantum supremacy", a term coined by American theoretical physicist John Preskill to refer to the speedup advantage over classical computers, in the next five years.
I compose the images entirely on the computer using my own photos and textures that are freely available on the Internet or that I have the rights to use. The process of creating new images based on complex concepts that I have to study and understand before I start is invigorating. It provides a mechanism for self healing sometimes and has certainly influenced my own growth as an artist.
A common characteristic of waves, whether light, water or sound waves, is that they form an interference pattern on a screen after passing through a double slit barrier. Light waves, in particular, are made of photons which are quantum particles. An interesting experiment showed that even throwing one photon at a time through the slits, an interference pattern was produced. It was like the photon was interfering with itself.Puzzled by this unexpected behavior, scientists decided to monitor the path the photon took to find out which slit it was going through and what was causing the interference. However, by introducing an observation, the interference pattern did not happen. Even more strange was the fact that it didn't matter when the observation was made. Observing the photon after it goes through the slits changed how it behaved in the past, before going through the slits.
How sure are we that our perceived reality is actually there? Quantum mechanics seems to imply that there is a cause-effect relationship between reality and conscious observation. Some scientists believe that without the presence of the human mind, the physical universe may not exist at all as a “physical” universe unless the human mind is present. From this quantum perspective, the human mind, our consciousness, creates and sustains what seems like a universe much vaster and older than, as well as independent of, ourselves.
Superposition is a concept of quantum mechanics that allows particles to exist in all possible states at the same time. This means they could literally be located in two or more places at once, until they are "observed."
The principle formulated by Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz in 1969, states that no two distinct objects exactly resemble each other or have exactly the same properties. Based on our understanding that quantum objects cannot be viewed as individuals with well defined identity conditions, the principle fails in the quantum domain.
The uncertainty principle, first recognized by German physicist Werner Heisenberg in 1926, is certainly one of the most intriguing aspects of quantum mechanics. It has often been regarded as the most distinctive feature in which quantum mechanics differs from classical theories of the physical world. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the uncertainty principle (for position and momentum) states that "one cannot assign exact simultaneous values to the position and momentum of a physical system. Rather, these quantities can only be determined with some characteristic “uncertainties” that cannot become arbitrarily small simultaneously." Loosely applying this definition to the ballet dancer depicted in this image, we know the dancer is moving (has momentum). Therefore, we cannot know for certain where the dancer's legs are, we can only know the probabilities of them being at specific locations.
Entanglement is a concept of quantum physics that binds particles together in such a way that any action performed on one particle will reverberate on any entangled particles irrespective of distance. One particle could be on Earth while the other on Mars for example. Entanglement permits instantaneous connection over long distances suggesting communication between entangled particles happens faster than the speed of light, which defies Einstein’s law of relativity. Entanglement, which Einstein referred to as “spooky action at a distance”, still puzzles scientists today. The more science understands entanglement, the less “spooky” it becomes.
According to the prevailing interpretation of quantum physics, the Copenhagen Interpretation, quantum elements behave like waves. When observed (a measure is made), the wave function is said to collapse and quantum elements assume their expected particle behavior.
The fundamental idea of the Many-Worlds Interpretation is that there are myriads of worlds in the Universe in addition to the world we are aware of. In a quantum experiment, all possible outcomes exist at the same time, each in a separate universe.
Artworks are currently being sold by Saatchi Art.