Entangled Physicists

Most people who are scientifically knowledgeable are turned off by anything that smacks of “quantum mechanics.” I can’t blame them—quantum mechanics has a bad reputation because it is accompanied by some weird baggage. How can physicists expect us to understand the impossible? The most glaring example is that of “entanglement.” But if you read on, you may find that it is relatively easy to demolish “entanglement.”

What is that all about? As Charles Seife described it in Science [1], “The laws of quantum mechanics state that two particles can be rigged so that their fates are interlinked, no matter how far apart the particles get. Even from halfway across the universe, an entangled particle will instantly ‘feel’ what happens to its distant partner. Einstein despised the idea, because he thought such ‘spooky action at a distance’ violated relativity’s basic tenet that information can’t travel faster than light. Even now, after decades of experiments showing that entanglement is real, traces of the schism remain.”

The “intelligent layperson” (and who isn’t an intelligent layperson in these days of DNA exposure?), knows that telephone and radio signals cannot travel faster than the speed of light, which is 300 million meters/second. But the physics community has accepted, without a battle, the silly notion that “two particles can be … interlinked, no matter how far apart the particles get” [2]. The standard response is that it occurs “Somehow.”

It is not at all true that “entanglement is real.” There has been a strong element of exaggeration in those experiments. Nobody has ever shown that a particular pair of photons is entangled—a photon is much too fragile, and is easily overshadowed by “noise” in the system. Instead, physicists work with a large number of photons and, based on the statistical result, they claim that this proves that a particular pair of photons is entangled. I maintain that it proves nothing of the sort.

In order to illustrate entanglement, I resort to a fairly common device: We follow a particular pair of photons that are labeled Alice and Bob, respectively, from the time they are launched to their ultimate end when they are absorbed. To bring this “down to earth,” the photons are launched as missiles in Anchorage, Alaska (the midway point), and land in airports in New York and Tokyo. The setup, meant to imitate that of a physics experiment, is depicted in Fig. 1. (This view of the airports looks threatening, but it is not more complicated than the actual plan views depicted in the airplane magazines.)

At Anchorage, the two missiles are simultaneously launched in exactly opposite directions, ALC toward Tokyo, and BOB headed for New York. (ALC is, of course, an abbreviation for Alice.) The landing strips or gates, in Tokyo and New York, can accept any launch angle between 0° and 30° ; the angle L = 16° is shown in Fig. 1(a). Angles are measured with respect to the horizontal line joining the three cities.

A pair of Alice and Bob missiles is launched every 15 minutes (so the airports know when they will arrive, but in the physics experiment the photons are launched at random intervals that are not in the control of the researcher). But—and this is very important—the launch angle L is random, anywhere between 0° and 30° . To add to this Alice-in-Wonderland scenario, the fully automated airports can afford only one surveillance camera each (that part of this narrative may be real): The A camera in Tokyo is stationary, but it can survey any landing between 0° and 15° ; similarly, the B camera in New York has a 15° aperture, but it is randomly rotated (preferably by a physicist, to prevent cheating) between difference angles D = 0° and D = 15°.

The angle D = 2.5° is depicted in Fig. 1(a). The B camera located at D = 0° is illustrated in Fig. 1(b); the other extreme, with B camera located at D = 15° , is shown in Fig. 1(c).

The rules with regard to recording data are given in Table 1.

Table 1

If A camera sees ALC, and B camera sees BOB, record 1.

If A camera doesn’t see ALC, and B camera doesn’t see BOB, record 1.

If A camera sees ALC, but B camera doesn’t see BOB, record 0.

If A camera doesn’t see ALC, but B camera sees BOB, record 0.

In other words, according to Table 1, if the cameras agree, then we have a perfect match, so record 1. If Alice and Bob don’t show up at their respective cameras, that is also a perfect match, so record 1. But if Alice shows up while Bob doesn’t, or vice versa, there is no match, so record 0.

In Fig. 1(a), where L = 16° and D = 2.5° , it is obvious that A camera doesn’t see Alice, but B camera does see Bob, so there is no match. We record 0 (row 4 in Table 1.)

After 24 hours, with 4 missile launches per hour, we have 96 data points. What do we expect? We expect the straight-line plot of Fig. 2, which shows the relative number of perfect matches versus the difference angle D. At the left end of the plot, with B camera at D = 0° [which is shown in Fig. 1(b)], every launch angle results in a perfect match since Alice and Bob are seen by both cameras, or not seen by either camera. At the right end, with B camera at D = 15° [which is illustrated in Fig. 1(c)], only one camera sees any of the missiles, so there are zero matches. As the B camera swings from D = 0° to D = 15° , the relative number of matches decreases linearly as shown. At D = 2.5° , as shown in the linear plot, we expect 83% of the recordings to be a perfect match (1), and 17% to be no match (0), and so forth.

What is the purpose of the above “rules and regulations”? This is revealed in Fig. 3. To more clearly illustrate the situation, imagine that the New York airport has been modified so that the B camera can swing a few degrees to the left of D = 0° in Fig. 3, and also to the right of D = 15° . The straight line of Fig. 2 now appears as a zigzag line, shown dashed in Fig. 3. But if Alice and Bob are photons, in that aforementioned specialized physics experiment, the “Relative Matches” versus “Difference Angle” curve is measured to have a backward-S shape, as shown by the solid curve in Fig. 3. (The shape of the curve is given by cos2ø.)

In words, referring to the solid curve, if the difference angle D is small, at the top of the curve, the relative match remains close to 1; if the difference angle D is around 15° , at the bottom of the curve, the relative match remains close to zero. How is this somehow possible? Here is my fairy tale:

In Fig. 1(a), as Alice is about to land, she instantaneously tells Bob to shift from the 16° flight path to an 18° path. With camera B at the D = 2.5° position, as shown, this causes Bob to do a one-microsecond course correction maneuver and land at B gate 18° . Before, with B camera set at D = 2.5° , it saw Bob arrive (row 4 in Table 1, record = 0). But now, with Bob zooming in at 18° instead of 16° , the B camera willnot see Bob. We get row 2 of Table 1, with record = 1. The recorded data, which was expected to be 0, now becomes 1 because there is a perfect match (the cameras do not see Alice or Bob).

This sort of communication between the two photons continues throughout the 24-hour period, resulting in the backward-S shape of Fig. 3. For example, at D = 2.5°, instead of an 83% match (dashed curve), we get a substantial change – a 93% match (solid curve).

The best you can do, with a phone call between New York and Tokyo, is 0.1 second. To emphasize the bizarre nature of instantaneous communication, Nick Herbert, in “Quantum Reality” [3], has Alice on Earth while Bob is on Betelgeuse (a “nearby” star), but it is not necessary to go to such an extreme. Alice and Bob, as photons, are entangled when they leave the launch pad; from then on, no matter how far apart they travel, their landing “gates” are correlated. The launch-pad dispatcher cannot tell, in advance, Alice’s landing gate. The instructions to Bob, who obeys more often than not, are sent as Alice is landing. A minor saving grace is that, because Alice is unpredictable (but one cannot call her “unfaithful”), it is impossible to commercially exploit instantaneous communication by asking her to send messages to Bob. In the digital world, where a message would be a “1,” say, Alice would end up, 50% of the time, by delivering a “0.”

As I have pointed out above, the evidence for entanglement is not based on actually fingering a particular pair of photons and following their 10,000-mile journey, say, to their final landing pads. No — these particles are much too small and delicate to be tagged in this way. (A single photon that conveys the color green has an energy of 4 X 10–19 joule. This is minuscule – extremely difficult to detect.) Instead, the experimenters station themselves at the destinations, and electronically sense each photon as it arrives. Many of the photons don’t make it; they get lost in “noise.” But of the pairs that do reach their destinations, if D = 2.5° , 93% record 1 when we only expect 83% to do so, and so forth. Is it possible that this epidemiological survey of populations can yield an incorrect conclusion?

The Alice-and-Bob fairy tale did not begin with the Grimm brothers in 1820; it originated with Niels Bohr 100 years later, around 1920. He and his disciples were prominent founders of the new physics, quantum mechanics (QM). They were aware that QM is loaded with some weird effects, such as entanglement. Bohr’s interpretation, however, was that this is Quantum Reality, that this is the way the universe is constructed. Albert Einstein, on the other hand, did not accept entanglement as being realistic [4]. Einstein (and many other physicists) regarded QM as an incomplete theory because of the weird “side” effects. Richard Feynman’s reaction was that “Nobody understands QM.”

The situation has not changed much during the 80 years. From time to time, somebody like Herbert talks about quantum weirdness. David Lindley even wrote a book titled “Where Does the Weirdness Go?” [5]. Martin Gardner also wrote about “Quantum Weirdness” [6]. But nobody—Einstein, or Feynman, or Herbert, or Lindley—has been able to explain entanglement. If anything, it is becoming more entrenched in the annals of physics as actual experiments support the impossible conclusions. Recent blows are offered by Anton Zeilinger, introduced in Science (26 May 2000) with “Teleportation Guru Stakes Out New Ground” [7]. Can we blame the new generation, presented with unrealistic nonsense, from toying with creationism and/or an infinite number of universes held together by 10-dimensional strings?

The main point to my essay is that QM is incomplete, but nobody is doing anything about it. There are two reasons for this: First, Niels Bohr is regarded as a sort of deity whose dogma, perhaps because it is 80 years old, has solidified and become as permanent as the Rock of Gibraltar. Second, only a physicist can challenge the dogma.

But if each photon is slightly disturbed before it arrives at its destination, the same statistical result can be obtained without entanglement. Let us retain the modification of the “airport” model of Fig. 1(a) that allows the Difference Angle D to go somewhat to the left of 0° and to the right of 15° , as shown in Fig. 4. The Expected recorded data curve is the solid zigzag line of Fig. 4(a): The Match decreases to the left of D = 0° , and it increases to the right of D = 15° ; between 0° and 15° , we have the linear plot of Fig. 2. Next, suppose that some kind of force exerts a random lateral push on the “flight paths” of Fig. 1(a), with independent lateral pushes for Alice and Bob. This adds a bias after the missiles are launched. The net effect is to shift the difference angle curve slightly to the right or left; in Fig. 4(a), 2.5° shifts are illustrated. At the end of the 24-hour measurement, we have something like the curve of Fig. 4(b). This approximately duplicates the actual measured curve of Fig. 3 without entanglement!

mation that takes the place of an infinite number of lateral shoves: Assume that the solid curve of Fig. 4(a) is correct 50% of the time (no lateral push); that the 2.5° shift to the right is correct 25% of the time; and the 2.5° shift to the left is correct 25% of the time. If the three zigzags of Fig. 4(a) are added up vertically in this way, we get the curve of Fig. 4(b).

The curve of Fig. 4(b) doesn’t swing from relative match = 0 to match = 1 but, as pointed out above, many of the photons get lost in “noise,” so it is the shape that is important.

What demon can be blamed for giving each photon a slight, random push? One conjecture is that entanglement (and other strange effects) can be sensibly explained if so-called empty space is actually filled with Dark Matter and/or The Aether [8]. This is not, of course, that homonymous ether (coupled with high-fat ice-cream) that conspirators used when removing children’s tonsils many years ago. It is the aether that James Clerk Maxwell introduced around 1864. Like the air in which we are immersed, and which is the medium that carries sound waves, Maxwell’s aether was necessary for the transmission of electromagnetic (radio, light, etc.) waves. The QM people (including Einstein) abandoned the aether as being an unnecessary embellishment, while its champions maintain, supported by appropriate models and calculations, that it can act as the soothing balm that will restore sanity to “entanglement at a distance.”

Alas, the physics community rejects the aether proposal. They regard it as nutty, in the same category as, say, cold fusion. All right, perhaps the aether is not the answer but, because entanglement is the opposite of enlightenment, something should be done to bury the weird effects. Will some bright young physicist tear himself/herself away from Niels Bohr’s dogma and step forth? It will surely be worth a Nobel prize.


The energy of a photon is given by E = fh, where f is frequency and h is Planck’s constant, 6.6261 X 10 -34 joule.second. For the color green, one can use f = 5.8 X 1014 Hz. Then

E = 5.8 X 1014 6.6261 X 10-34 = 3.8 X 10-19 joule.

At D = 2.5° , here are the Relative Match, M, values for the various curves:

Fig. 2: The equation of the line is M = 1 – D° /15. At D = 2.5° , then,

M = 1 – 2.5/15 = 0.83.

Fig. 3: The equation of the solid curve is M = cos2(6D°). At D = 2.5° , we have

M = cos2 15° = 0.96592 = 0.93.

Fig. 4: At D = 2.5° , the above equation gives the three values

Solid line = 0.83, Dashed line = 1, Dot-dash line = 0.67.

In Fig. 4(b) we get

(0.5)(0.83) + (0.25)(1.67) = 0.83.


[1] Charles Seife, “Relativity Goes Where Einstein Sneered to Tread,” Science, 10 Jan 2003.

[2] Anton Zeilinger, “Quantum Teleportation,” Scientific American, April 2000.

[3] Nick Herbert, “Quantum Reality,” Anchor Books, 1985.

[4] A. Watson, “Quantum Spookiness Wins, Einstein Loses in Photon Test,” Science, 25 July 1997.

[5] David Lindley, “Where Does the Weirdness Go?,” Basic Books, 1996.

[6] Martin Gardner, “Quantum Weirdness,” Discover, Oct 1982.

[7] “Teleportation Guru Stakes Out New Ground,” Science, 26 May 2000.

[8] Sid Deutsch, “Return of the Ether,” SciTech Publishing, 1999.


Fig. 1- Layout for special-purpose airports in New York and Tokyo, with midway launching pad at Anchorage. Two missiles, ALC and BOB, are simultaneously launched in exactly opposite directions, every 15 minutes. The A camera is fixed, but B camera is randomly rotated between D = 0° and D = 15° . (a) D = 2.5° . (b) D = 0° . (c) D = 15° .


Fig. 2- Expected Relative Match, versus Difference Angle D, in accordance with Table 1, as B camera is rotated between 0° and 15° .


Fig. 3- With New York airport modified so that the B camera can swing a few degrees to the left of D = 0° , and also to the right of D = 15° . Dashed line gives Expected Relative Match versus Difference Angle curve; solid line gives Measured curve if ALC and BOB are photons.


Fig. 4- With New York airport modified as in Fig. 3, the figure demonstrates how the solid curve of Fig. 3 can be obtained (approximately) without entanglement. (a) —— , the Expected curve of Fig. 3; — — –, the Expected curve shifted 2.5° to the right; — – — -, the Expected curve shifted 2.5° to the left. (b) The curve obtained if the three zigzags of (a) are added up vertically as follows: Multiply the solid-line zigzag by 0.5, and multiply the other two zigzags by 0.25.


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