Spooky Action at a Distance

Much has been written about the puzzling phenomenon of quantum entanglement, where one particle can influence another instantaneously, an effect present whether they are separated by a few metres or the whole of the universe. Once thought of as a theoretical oddity, it now seems to be used in processes as basic as photosynthesis. Albert Einstein famously referred to entanglement as “spooky action at a distance,” and it, along with a number of other phenomena, violate the supposedly local nature of space. Something that happens here and there at the same instant, and in the same way, implies that those two positions are linked, or indeed are the same.

Although it seems foundational to our existence, George Musser argues in, yes, Spooky Action at a Distance that the idea of space was invented by the Greek philosopher Democritus, the figure who, in the fifth century BCE, presciently proposed the idea of atoms. Space, and specifically locality, or action happening because things bumped into other things, led from this. But if space doesn’t exist, what does? After four chapters of disassembling local action, Musser presents a number of mind-bending ideas, such as the idea that the apparent distance of things is only a matter of scale: the things that we can see are actually within our grasp, but we lack the necessary dexterity to touch or hold them.

A number of interesting hypotheses have been proposed to build space up from first principles, and also explain wormholes, black holes, and entanglement. The late American physicist John Archibald Wheeler proposed that the effects of space could be made from a “bucket of dust,” the motes of which became the string theorists’ D0-branes. The Polish priest Michal Heller proposed a top-down approach where a single algebraic equation determines the cosmos, and it’s imperfections account for singularities. It should be noted that none of these new models, as lovely as they are, have been proven.

Originally published on thewalrus.ca. Edited by Emily Keeler.