Outside of my best-selling physics book Quantum Reality
, my main contribution to the advancement of human knowledge seems to be to invent things that are wrong. But wrong in ways that lead to important new discoveries.
For instance in 1982, I proposed a new laser-based faster-than-light (FTL) signaling scheme which I called FLASH
(First Laser-Amplified Superluminal Hookup) whose refutation by Wooters and Zurek, led directly to the discovery of the quantum no-cloning rule
which now plays an important role in the brand-new field of quantum computing.
In 2008, I proposed another FTL signaling scheme called ETCALLHOME
(Entanglement Telegraphed Communication Avoiding Light-speed Limitations using Hong-Ou-Mandel Effect) which was refuted before it was published by Lev Vaidman at Tel Aviv University and led directly to my discovery of the quantum no-wedding rule
which has yet to find a good technological application.
In 2009, I proved "Nick's Theorem"
which places quantitative bounds on psychic powers using arguments drawn entirely from physics--the first result of its kind to use purely materialist arguments to set definite limits to immaterial abilities. Judging from my track record, it will only be a matter of time before some enterprising young psychic researcher definitively refutes Nick's Theorem and in the process makes an important new breakthrough into the deep structure of the mental universe.
But of all these "creative failures" none matches in excitement my unsuccessful attempt to refute Bell's Theorem. My first contact with Bell's Theorem (which John Stewart Bell
proved in 1964) was in 1970 when my friend Heinz Pagels
discovered it in some obscure physics journal and brought a copy to my home in the woods of Boulder Creek. I immediately felt that Bell had to be wrong--what he was proposing was patently absurd. And Nick Herbert would win fame by proving John Bell wrong.
But first I had to simplify his proof so that it was easy to understand--and hence easy to refute. Imagine my surprise when I discovered not a refutation of Bell's Theorem, but the world's simplest proof--only four lines! This short proof now appears in many textbooks; my latest version is published here
What is Bell's Theorem and why is it so important?
The most astonishing feature of Bell's Theorem is that it is not a statement about theory nor a statement about experiment but a statement about REALITY ITSELF.
How can puny humans presume to talk sensibly about REALITY ITSELF? On what grounds could we ever hope to even begin such a discussion. Yet John Stewart Bell, a witty Irishman from Belfast, not only presumed to talk about REALITY ITSELF. He did more than talk. This audacious red-bearded Irishman announced in 1964 that he could prove mathematically that REALITY MUST POSSESS CERTAIN PROPERTIES.
What were these properties that Bell claimed that reality must possess?
It has to do with how the physical world is connected together. Is the world "local" or is it "non-local"?
A "local connection" is physics jargon for a distant influence that is mediated at all stages in the transmission. No jumps allowed. A telephone link, for instance, no matter how far the talkers are separated, is an example of a "local" connection. My voice excites the air, which is transformed into electricity in wires in my phone, which goes up to a satellite, down again into wires in your phone, into the air, then into your ear. At each stage of the process, this phone connection is subject to the famous Einstein speed limit: nothing can travel faster than light.
All physics theories and all physics experiments confirm the Einstein limit: no physical object, no wave, no energy, no information has even been observed to travel faster-than-light.
Local connections are mediated and light-speed-limited. A "non-local connection", on the other hand, would be unmediated and instantaneous. Such a connection, if it existed, would directly jump from one location to another without passing in between, and would take no time to do so. An example of a non-local connection might be my sticking a pin in a voodoo doll and you instantly getting a headache. Einstein called such non-local connections, "spooky action-at-a-distance"and like every other sensible physicist firmly believed that such connections existed nowhere in Nature.
Non-local connections are forbidden by current theories of physics. All physics experiments give strictly local results. Given that the world on the surface seems entirely local one would imagine that to explain this entirely local world, a local reality would suffice.
Contrary to this commonsense expectation, Bell proved that NO LOCAL REALITY CAN EXPLAIN OUR LOCAL WORLD.
Bell proved that reality is non-local. How did he do that? Read my proof
Bell's audacious proof has been dismissed by some as "mere philosophy" (since reality by its very nature is unobservable) and praised by others as "the most profound discovery in science". But one thing is certain, Bell's theorem has inspired physicists to examine anew the peculiar phenomenon of quantum entanglement
and has spawned the development of new quantum technologies such as quantum computing, quantum cryptography and quantum money
Bell's theorem proves indirectly that reality is non-local. One way to directly show off the world's deep non-locality would be to find a way to use reality to send faster-than-light signals. Quantum teleportation
, a recent discovery by six researchers at IBM, comes very close to directly demonstrating instant, unmediated transmission across a large distance.
Alice at location A wants to transmit an definite but unknown quantum state X to Bob at distant location B. She performs a clever quantum measurement on X which does three things: 1) destroys all trace of state X at location A; 2) instantly teleports state X to Bob at location B and 3) gives Alice one of four results 0, 1, 2, 3).
Bob at location B, instantly receives state X. Non-locality is real--this experiment proves it.
But what about the Einstein limit? The catch is this. Along with the correct state X, Alice sends three decoy states which Bob cannot distinguish from state X. The correct state is sent when Alice detects a "0" in her counter which happens randomly one time out of four. The only way for Bob to distinguish the correct teleported state from the decoys, is to receive from Alice the information that she got a "0" as a result. But Alice can only send this information via ordinary light-speed-limited channels. Conclusion: quantum information can be teleported faster-than-light. But it needs to be decoded by signals which obey the Einstein speed limit.
John Stewart Bell proved that an invisible instantly connected voodoo reality must underlie our ordinary light-speed mediated world. Quantum teleportation is one practical application of non-local reality. Certainly many more discoveries await us as we explore more deeply the consequences of Bell's astonishing discovery which might be envisioned as the first page of a brand-new chapter in How The Irish Saved Civilization.