No one in the world can fathom what quantum mechanics is, this is perhaps the most important thing you need to know about it. Granted, many physicists have learned to use its laws and even predict phenomena based on quantum calculations. But it is still unclear why the observer of an experiment determines the behavior of the system and causes it to favor one state over another.

Here are some examples of quantum experiments with outcomes that will inevitably be influenced by the observer, which shows how quantum mechanics deals with the intervention of conscious thought in material reality.

5 Most Notorious Quantum Experiments

1. Schrödinger’s cat

Today, there are many interpretations of quantum mechanics with the Copenhagen interpretation being perhaps the most famous to-date. In the 1920s, its general postulates were formulated by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.

The wave function has become the core term of the Copenhagen interpretation, it is a mathematical function containing information about all possible states of a quantum system in which it exists simultaneously.

As stated by the Copenhagen interpretation, the state of the system and its position relative to other states can only be determined by an observation (the wave function is used only to help mathematically calculate the probability of the system being in one state or another).

We can say that after observation, the quantum system becomes classical and immediately ceases to exist in other states, except for the state it has been observed in.

This approach has always had its opponents (remember for example Albert Einstein’s “God does not play dice“), but the accuracy of the calculations and predictions prevailed.

However, the number of supporters of the Copenhagen interpretation is decreasing and the major reason for that is the mysterious instant collapse of the wave function during the experiments. The famous mental experiment by Erwin Schrödinger with the poor cat was meant to demonstrate the absurdity of this phenomenon.

Let us recap the nature of this experiment. A live cat is placed inside a black box, together with a vial containing poison and a mechanism that can release this poison at random. For instance, a radioactive atom during its decay can break the vial. The precise time of the atom’s decay is unknown. Only half-life, or the time during which the decay occurs with a probability of 50%, is known.

Obviously, for the external observer, the cat inside the box exists in two states: it is either alive, if all goes well, or dead, if the decay occurred and the vial was broken. Both of these states are described by the cat’s wave function, which changes over time.

The more time has passed, the more likely is that radioactive decay has already happened. But as soon as we open the box, the wave function collapses, and we immediately see the outcomes of this inhumane experiment.

In fact, until the observer opens the box, the cat will be subjected to the endless balance on the brink of being between life and death, and its fate can only be determined by the action of the observer. That is the absurdity pointed out by Schrödinger.

Check this animated video to better understand the concept:

2. The diffraction of electrons

According to the poll of the greatest physicists conducted by The New York Times, the experiment with electron diffraction is one of the most astonishing studies in the history of science. What was its nature?

There is a source that emits a stream of electrons onto a photosensitive screen. And there is an obstruction in the way of these electrons, a copper plate with two slits. What kind of picture can be expected on the screen if the electrons are imagined as small charged balls? Two strips illuminated opposite to the slits.

In fact, the screen displays a much more complex pattern of alternating black and white stripes. This is due to the fact that, when passing through the slit, electrons begin to behave not as particles, but as waves (just like the photons, or light particles, which can be waves at the same time).

These waves interact in space, either quenching or amplifying each other, and as a result, a complex pattern of alternating light and dark stripes appears on the screen.

At the same time, the result of this experiment does not change, and if electrons pass through the slit not as one single stream, but one by one, even one particle can be a wave.

Even a single electron can pass simultaneously through both slits (and this is also one of the main postulates of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics when particles can simultaneously display both their “usual” physical properties and exotic properties as a wave).

Diffraction of electronsBut what about the observer? The observer makes this complicated story even more confusing. When physicists, during similar experiments, tried to determine with the help of instruments which slit the electron actually passes through, the image on the screen had changed dramatically and became a “classic” pattern with two illuminated sections opposite to the slits and no alternating bands displayed.

Electrons did not seem to show their wave nature under the watchful eye of observers. Is this some kind of mystery? There is a more simple explanation: no observation of a system can be carried out without physically impacting it. But we will discuss this a bit later.

3. The heated fullerene

Experiments on the diffraction of particles have been conducted not only for electrons but for much larger objects. For example, using fullerenes, large and closed molecules consisting of dozens of carbon atoms.

Recently, a group of scientists from the University of Vienna supervised by Professor Zeilinger tried to introduce an element of observation in these experiments.

To do this, they irradiated moving fullerene molecules with a laser beam. Then, warmed by an external source, the molecules began to glow and inevitably displayed their presence in space to the observer.

Together with this innovation, the behavior of molecules has also changed. Prior to the beginning of such comprehensive surveillance, fullerenes quite successfully avoided obstacles (exhibited wave-like properties) similar to the previous example with electrons passing through an opaque screen.

But later, with the presence of an observer, fullerenes began to behave as completely law-abiding physical particles.

4. The cooling measurement

One of the famous laws in the world of quantum physics is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle which claims that it is impossible to determine the speed and the position of a quantum object at the same time.

The more accurate we are at measuring the momentum of a particle, the less precise we are at measuring its position. But the validity of quantum laws operating on tiny particles usually remains unnoticed in our world of large macroscopic objects.

Recent experiments by Professor Schwab in the U.S. are even more valuable in this respect, where quantum effects have been demonstrated not at the level of electrons or fullerene molecules (their characteristic diameter is about 1 nm), but on a little more tangible object, a tiny aluminum strip.

This strip was fixed on both sides so that its middle was in a suspended state and it could vibrate under external influence. In addition, a device capable of accurately recording the strip’s position was placed near it.

As a result, the experimenters came up with two interesting findings. First, any measurement related to the position of the object and observations of the strip did affect it, after each measurement the position of the strip changed.

Generally speaking, the experimenters determined the coordinates of the strip with high precision and thus, according to Heisenberg’s principle, changed its speed, and hence the subsequent position.

Secondly, which was quite unexpected, some measurements also led to the cooling of the strip. So, the observer can change the physical characteristics of objects just by being present there.

5. Freezing particles

Freezing particlesAs it is well known, unstable radioactive particles decay not only for experiments with cats but also on their own. Each particle has an average lifetime, which, as it turns out, can increase under the watchful eye of the observer.

This quantum effect was first predicted back in the 1960s, and its brilliant experimental proof appeared in the article published by the group led by Nobel laureate in Physics Wolfgang Ketterle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In this paper, the decay of unstable excited rubidium atoms was studied (photons can decay to rubidium atoms in their basic state). Immediately after the preparation of the system, the excitation of atoms was observed by exposing it to a laser beam.

The observation was conducted in two modes: continuous (the system was constantly exposed to small light pulses) and pulse-like (the system was irradiated from time to time with more powerful pulses).

The obtained results are perfectly in line with theoretical predictions. External light effects slow down the decay of particles, returning them to their original state, which is far from the state of decay. The magnitude of this effect for the two studied modes also coincides with the predictions. The maximum life of unstable excited rubidium atoms was extended up to 30-fold.

Quantum mechanics and consciousness

Electrons and fullerenes cease to show their wave properties, aluminum plates cool down and unstable particles freeze while going through their decay, under the watchful eye of the observer the world changes. Why cannot this be evidence of the involvement of our minds in the workings of the world?

So maybe Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli (Austrian physicist and Nobel laureate, the pioneer of quantum mechanics) were right after all when they said that the laws of physics and consciousness should be seen as complementary?

quantum experimentsWe are only one step away from admitting that the world around us is just an illusory product of our mind. Scary, isn’t it? Let us then again try to appeal to physicists. Especially when in recent years, they favor less the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, with its mysterious collapse of the wave function, giving place to another quite down to earth and reliable term decoherence.

Here’s the thing, in all these experiments with the observations, the experimenters inevitably impacted the system. They lit it with a laser and installed measuring devices.

But this is a common and very important principle: you cannot observe the system or measure its properties without interacting with it. And where there is an interaction, there will be a modification of properties. Especially when a tiny quantum system is impacted by colossal quantum objects. So the eternal Buddhist observer neutrality is impossible.

This is explained by the term “decoherence”, which is an irreversible (from the point of view of thermodynamics) process of altering the quantum properties of the system when it interacts with another larger system.

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During this interaction, the quantum system loses its original properties and becomes a classic one while “obeying” the large system. This explains the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat: the cat is such a large system that it simply cannot be isolated from the rest of the world. The mere design of this mental experiment is not quite correct.

In any event, compared to the reality of consciousness as an act of creation, decoherence represents a much more convenient approach. Perhaps even too convenient. Indeed, with this approach, the entire classical world becomes one big consequence of decoherence.

And as the authors of one of the most prominent books in this field stated, such an approach would also logically lead to statements like “there are no particles in the world” or “there is no time on a fundamental level”.

Is it the creator-observer or powerful decoherence? We have to choose between the two evils. But remember, now scientists are increasingly convinced that the basis of our mental processes is created by these notorious quantum effects. So, where the observation ends and reality begins, is up to each of us.

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This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Philip John Edwards

    What if a quantum process is video recorded without a human present and studied or measured later? Is this possible and if so, how much later do you have to wait before a human can measure it?

    1. konstas

      It doesn’t matter if a human is present, it’s still an “obesrvation”. You have interacted with the electron using a world’s object, you have something from outside the electrons system, observing it.

      Using the Copenhagen approach, the wave collapses just then. Using the many world’s aproach, you don’t have anymore a wave of the electron, but a wave including the electron and the camera and the rest of the data from our own world.

      So no matter the approach, after the camera starts recording, it’s too late and the special quantum effects are gone. Also it doesn’t of course matter when you will watch the video or even if you watch the video at all.

  2. Jussi

    Once again article about quantum physics from author who doesn’t understand even basics of quantum physics.

    No intention to offend, but this is just how the things are.

    1. Nebojsa

      Can you then explane? No offence but can you?

    2. Al

      Expert opinion?

  3. Otto Bhan

    Vedy intresting.

    This post is wonderfully informed and presented in a lucid coherent fashion.

  4. annie

    I’m a reality based physicist and this tells me that scientists do not yet fully understand wave-particle duality. It could be that in reality electrons or light or matter is best modelled in another way rather than the way we do today and this is because some experiments come up with “impossible” results as does the thought experiment which sensationalist types claim results in a cat which is both dead and alive – until you look at it. And remember, looking at something is a physical interaction. It’s not anything spooky or metaphysical – you actually change the dynamics or state of a system when you look at it or make observations. There is nothing unreal or spooky going on. That’s not to say that we do not live in a simulation however. Consider Einsteins frozen block universe, that may be true (or it may not) but if it is it would still have to describe a consistent formality of “laws of physics” otherwise its “occupants” would see so-called glitches in the “matrix”.

  5. Defiant


    Does this mean I don’t have to pay my taxes? If reality is an illusion…then the IRS is too!

  6. B Goodchild

    Yes i can verify all of the above is true , not to mention i identify with the cat Shrodinger !
    My reality is just an illusion as every time i step outside my house i am totally invisible !!!!! just like the cat in the box !!!!!
    yes it’s hard to believe but there is a mountain of proof
    when driving people pull out in front of me from driveways and side streets ! didn’t see me !!!
    when waiting in a Que !! even if i’m first inline someone will surely think they are first and step right in front of me ! didn;t see me !!
    Waiting at the airport for someone i don;t know and a giant sign with their name on it !!! others will come and stand right in front of me ALMOST on my toes !!! Yep totally invisible !!!!!
    BUT !!!! BUT!!!
    my wave collapses when i’m noticed i realise i’m very dead because they always take my money EG= police officers parking inspectors , Tax Man etc…etc….
    so as you can imagine i only go out very late at night !!!!!!!
    lucky i’m a Black Cat !!

    1. Ryan

      An illusion doesn’t mean that something is invisible or doesn’t exist. An illusion represents something that may not exist the way you see it. You cleary don’t understand what is being said here.

  7. Wayne McMichael

    Copenhagen interpretation is fine if you realize that the universe is made of consciousness, that awareness is a measure of that and that everything is conscious, but it’s degree of awareness is limited by the amount of consciousness it can channel. It is an energy that flows into us, through us. That flow of energy is what we perceive as the passing of time. So things all over the infinite universe collapse. It’s the nature of everything.

  8. Trev

    When the rest of the world catches on to the importance of information quantum physics provides, each individual will come to understand we create our own reality simply by being conscious of all surroundings (consciousness). Then our world will transcend beyond imagination!

  9. Renee Michelle

    I have been a passionate follower of the latest developments in theoretical quantum physics for over 15 years, and this article is not news to me. In fact, about 10 years ago, when physicists published their shocked discovery that mere observation of a particle wave collapsed its infinite potentiality into a fixed point in time and space – I exhaled with a sigh of weary relief, saying to myself, “it’s about time!”

    You see, I’ve long held fantastical ideologies and a knowing that I could not validate for lack of current scientific awareness, and this was one of the pieces that fit perfectly. In a nutshell, my own “theory” is that the quantum world is where the Divine intelligence that created ALL there is to be seen, heard, felt, tasted, smelled..sensed in any manner…met the very outmost boundery of the physical world of matter.

    Because “thoughts are things”, it is my belief that the quantum world is a direct result of Man (who was created in God’s image) exercizing his Will through thought, desire and action. What we think and do today create our reality tomorrow. This is not an analogy – I mean this literally. It is my belief that “dark energy” is the unrealized collective unconscious energy of human thoughts making their way to conscious reality, before any action is taken to bring the ideal to fruition. I believe “Dark Matter” is that which represents the same, only now, through action, what was previously disorganized, “unformatted” ethereal thought forms at their early stages of taking on the properties of matter, has now become a physical property. It is measurable in that it is identifiable as “matter”, but physcisists are unable to even conceive of the potential scope of what this unknown matter form represents.

    These are the musings of one, and I respectfully offer them to all who read this for their consideration. By all means, call it utter non-sense – that is your God-given inherent right. But it would not hurt in the least to fathom the concept for mere fancy, and imagine where your thoughts may take you after some pensiveness over my “theory.”

  10. Jonathan Thomas

    If you look at a crowd of 10,000 people all standing very close to each other, your brain sees one body. Imagine an infinity of the tiniest pieces of matter imaginable, this is our reality, instead of the brain seeing every little piece, it just sees the whole, an illusion of a whole that is solid.

  11. Mike Dill

    A thoughtful article, thanks. From your observation, “We have to choose between the two evils,” I’d suggest you might find the writing or presentations of recent non-dual thinkers to be useful. Other than 3.6% interstellar gas and dust, current physical theory accounts for only .4% of the universe. Over time what’s happening is that physicists at the top of their field keep discovering that eastern spiritual traditions have so far had the best approximations of physical reality. I’m a life-long psychonaut and have given this decades of attention.

  12. Brandon Moore

    This is random, but does anyone else think of Gordan Freeman or the half life series while reading this LMAO. 😀

  13. ijsido

    wrong, no such thing as thought provoking or not thought provoking, can think anyx no matter what.

  14. Hunter Z

    The cat experiment is a bit confusing.
    Is it not equal to flipping a coin, and letting it land in the box?
    Would the coin exist in both states of heads and tails?
    If so, then I find this experiment unfulfilling…

    If not, then what is the difference?

  15. RockyM

    It is self evident that there can not be any experience at all, whether designated as real or imagined, without conscious awareness. It is absolutely impossible to have any experience outside this incomprehensible moment.

    Nothing can exist in any form until the idea of of it, the thought of it exists “first”. Try to heave any experience without awareness. Planck had it right when he concluded late in his life In 1944 and said
    “As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”
    Since there is no matter until a conscious awareness creates it, and we observe ourselves to be made of that matter, the only real question is Who observes us giving us our own ability to observe?

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