How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival [Excerpt]

This book excerpt traces the history of quantum information theory and the colorful and famous physicists who tried to figure out "spooky action at a distance"
How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival [Excerpt]

W. W. Norton & Company

Editor's Note: Reprinted from How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival by David Kaiser. Copyright (c) 2011 by David Kaiser. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Click here to see a Scientific American video that explains quantum entanglement. 

[from Chapter 2, pp. 25-38:]
The iconoclastic Irish physicist John S. Bell had long nursed a private disquietude with quantum mechanics. His physics teachers—first at Queen's University in his native Belfast during the late 1940s, and later at Birmingham University, where he pursued doctoral work in the mid-1950s—had shunned matters of interpretation. The "ask no questions" attitude frustrated Bell, who remained unconvinced that Niels Bohr had really vanquished the last of Einstein's critiques long ago and that there was nothing left to worry about. At one point in his undergraduate studies, his red shock of hair blazing, he even engaged in a shouting match with a beleaguered professor, calling him "dishonest" for trying to paper over genuine mysteries in the foundations, such as how to interpret the uncertainty principle. Certainly, Bell would grant, quantum mechanics worked impeccably "for all practical purposes," a phrase he found himself using so often that he coined the acronym, "FAPP." But wasn't there more to physics than FAPP? At the end of the day, after all the wavefunctions had been calculated and probabilities plotted, shouldn't quantum mechanics have something coherent to say about nature?

In the years following his impetuous shouting matches, Bell tried to keep these doubts to himself. At the tender age of twenty-one he realized that if he continued to indulge these philosophical speculations, they might well scuttle his physics career before it could even begin. He dove into mainstream topics, working on nuclear and particle physics at Harwell, Britain's civilian atomic energy research center. Still, his mind continued to wander. He wondered whether there were some way to push beyond the probabilities offered by quantum theory, to account for motion in the atomic realm more like the way Newton's physics treated the motion of everyday objects. In Newton's physics, the behavior of an apple or a planet was completely determined by its initial state—variables like position (where it was) and momentum (where it was going)—and the forces acting upon it; no probabilities in sight. Bell wondered whether there might exist some set of variables that could be added to the quantum-mechanical description to make it more like Newton's system, even if some of those new variables remained hidden from view in any given experiment. Bell avidly read a popular account of quantum theory by one of its chief architects, Max Born's Natural Philosophy of Cause and Chance (1949), in which he learned that some of Born's contemporaries had likewise tried to invent such "hidden variables" schemes back in the late 1920s. But Bell also read in Born's book that another great of the interwar generation, the Hungarian mathematician and physicist John von Neumann, had published a proof as early as 1932 demonstrating that hidden variables could not be made compatible with quantum mechanics. Bell, who could not read German, did not dig up von Neumann's recondite proof. The say-so of a leader (and soon-to-be Nobel laureate) like Born seemed like reason enough to drop the idea.

Imagine Bell's surprise, therefore, when a year or two later he read a pair of articles in the Physical Review by the American physicist David Bohm. Bohm had submitted the papers from his teaching post at Princeton University in July 1951; by the time they appeared in print six months later, he had landed in São Paolo, Brazil, following his hounding by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Bohm had been a graduate student under J. Robert Oppenheimer at Berkeley in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Along with several like-minded friends, he had participated in free-wheeling discussion groups about politics, worldly affairs, and local issues like whether workers at the university's laboratory should be unionized. He even joined the local branch of the Communist Party out of curiosity, but he found the discussions so boring and ineffectual that he quit a short time later. Such discussions might have seemed innocuous during ordinary times, but investigators from the Military Intelligence Division thought otherwise once the United States entered World War II, and Bohm and his discussion buddies started working on the earliest phases of the Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb. Military intelligence officers kept the discussion groups under top-secret surveillance, and in the investigators' eyes the line between curious discussion group and Communist cell tended to blur. When later called to testify before HUAC, Bohm pleaded the Fifth Amendment rather than name names. Over the physics department's objections, Princeton's administration let his tenure-track contract lapse rather than reappoint him. At the center of a whirling media spectacle, Bohm found all other domestic options closed off. Reluctantly, he decamped for Brazil.

In the midst of the Sturm und Drang, Bohm crafted his own hidden variables interpretation of quantum mechanics. As Bell later reminisced, he had "seen the impossible done" in these papers by Bohm. Starting from the usual Schrödinger equation, but rewriting it in a novel way, Bohm demonstrated that the formalism need not be interpreted only in terms of probabilities. An electron, for example, might behave much like a bullet or billiard ball, following a path through space and time with well-defined values of position and momentum every step of the way. Given the electron's initial position and momentum and the forces acting on it, its future behavior would be fully determined, just like the case of the trusty billiard ball—although Bohm did have to introduce a new "quantum potential" or force field that had no analogue in classical physics. In Bohm's model, the quantum weirdness that had so captivated Bohr, Heisenberg, and the rest—and that had so upset young Bell, when parroted by his teachers—arose because certain variables, such as the electron's initial position, could never be specified precisely: efforts to measure the initial position would inevitably disturb the system. Thus physicists could not glean sufficient knowledge of all the relevant variables required to calculate a quantum object's path. The troubling probabilities of quantum mechanics, Bohm posited, sprang from averaging over the real-but-hidden variables. Where Bohr and his acolytes had claimed that electrons simply did not possess complete sets of definite properties, Bohm argued that they did—but, as a practical matter, some remained hidden from view.

Bohm's papers fired Bell's imagination. Soon after discovering them, Bell gave a talk on Bohm's papers to the Theory Division at Harwell. Most of his listeners sat in stunned (or perhaps just bored) silence: why was this young physicist wasting their time on such philosophical drivel? Didn't he have any real work to do? One member of the audience, however, grew animated: Austrian émigré Franz Mandl. Mandl, who knew both German and von Neumann's classic study, interrupted several times; the two continued their intense arguments well after the seminar had ended. Together they began to reexamine von Neumann's no-hidden-variables proof, on and off when time allowed, until they each went their separate ways. Mandl left Harwell in 1958; Bell, dissatisfied with the direction in which the laboratory seemed to be heading, left two years later.

Bell and his wife Mary, also a physicist, moved to CERN, Europe's multinational high-energy physics laboratory that had recently been established in Geneva. Once again he pursued cutting-edge research in particle physics. And once again, despite his best efforts, he found himself pulled to his hobby: thinking hard about the foundations of quantum mechanics. Once settled in Geneva, he acquired a new sparring partner in Josef Jauch. Like Mandl, Jauch had grown up in the Continental tradition and was well versed in the finer points of Einstein's, Bohr's, and von Neumann's work. In fact, when Bell arrived in town Jauch was busy trying to strengthen von Neumann's proof that hidden-variables theories were irreconcilable with the successful predictions of quantum mechanics. To Bell, Jauch's intervention was like waving a red flag in front of a bull: it only intensified his resolve to demonstrate that hidden variables had not yet been ruled out. Spurred by these discussions, Bell wrote a review article on the topic of hidden variables, in which he isolated a logical flaw in von Neumann's famous proof. At the close of the paper, he noted that "the first ideas of this paper were conceived in 1952"—fourteen years before the paper was published—and thanked Mandl and Jauch for all of the "intensive discussion" they had shared over that long period.

Still Bell kept pushing, wondering whether a certain type of hidden variables theory, distinct from Bohm's version, might be compatible with ordinary quantum mechanics. His thoughts returned to the famous thought experiment introduced by Einstein and his junior colleagues Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen in 1935, known from the start by the authors' initials, "EPR." Einstein and company had argued that quantum mechanics must be incomplete: at least in some situations, definite values for pairs of variables could be determined at the same time, even though quantum mechanics had no way to account for or represent such values. The EPR authors described a source, such as a radioactive nucleus, that shot out pairs of particles with the same speed but in opposite directions. Call the left-moving particle, "A," and the right-moving particle, "B." A physicist could measure A's position at a given moment, and thereby deduce the value of B's position. Meanwhile, the physicist could measure B's momentum at that same moment, thus capturing knowledge of B's momentum and simultaneous position to any desired accuracy. Yet Heisenberg's uncertainty principle dictated that precise values for certain pairs of variables, such as position and momentum, could never be known simultaneously.

Fundamental to Einstein and company's reasoning was that quantum objects carried with them—on their backs, as it were—complete sets of definite properties at all times. Think again of that trusty billiard ball: it has a definite value of position and a definite value of momentum at any given moment, even if we choose to measure only one of those properties at a time. Einstein assumed the same must be true of electrons, photons, and the rest of the furniture of the microworld. Bohr, in a hurried response to the EPR paper, argued that it was wrong to assume that particle B had a real value for position all along, prior to any effort to measure it. Quantum objects, in his view, simply did not possess sharp values for all properties at all times. Such values emerged during the act of measurement, and even Einstein had agreed that no device could directly measure a particle's position and momentum at the same time. Most physicists seemed content with Bohr's riposte—or, more likely, they were simply relieved that someone else had responded to Einstein's deep challenge.

Bohr's response never satisfied Einstein, however; nor did it satisfy John Bell. Bell realized that the intuition behind Einstein's famous thought experiment—the reason Einstein considered it so damning for quantum mechanics—concerned "locality." To Einstein, it was axiomatic that something that happens in one region of space and time should not be able to affect something happening in a distant region—more distant, say, than light could have traveled in the intervening time. As the EPR authors put it, "since at the time of measurement the two systems [particles A and B] no longer interact, no real change can take place in the second system in consequence of anything that may be done to the first system." Yet Bohr's response suggested something else entirely: the decision to conduct a measurement on particle A (either position or momentum) would instantaneously change the properties ascribed to the far-away particle B. Measure particle A's position, for example, and—bam!—particle B would be in a state of well-defined position. Or measure particle A's momentum, and—zap!—particle B would be in a state of well-defined momentum. Late in life, Bohr's line still rankled Einstein. "My instinct for physics bristles at this," Einstein wrote to a friend in March 1948. "Spooky actions at a distance," he huffed.

Fresh from his wrangles with Jauch, Bell returned to EPR's thought experiment. He wondered whether such "spooky actions at a distance" were endemic to quantum mechanics, or just one possible interpretation among many. Might some kind of hidden variable approach reproduce all the quantitative predictions of quantum theory, while still satisfying Einstein's (and Bell's) intuition about locality? He focused on a variation of EPR's set-up, introduced by David Bohm in his 1951 textbook on quantum mechanics. Bohm had suggested swapping the values of the particles' spins along the x- and y-axes for position and momentum.

"Spin" is a curious property that many quantum particles possess; its discovery in the mid-1920s added a cornerstone to the emerging edifice of quantum mechanics. Quantum spin is a discrete amount of angular momentum—that is, the tendency to rotate  around a given direction in space. Of course many large-scale objects possess angular momentum, too: think of the planet Earth spinning around its axis to change night into day. Spin in the microworld, however, has a few quirks. For one thing, whereas large objects like the Earth can spin, in principle, at any rate whatsoever, quantum particles possess fixed amounts of it: either no spin at all, or one-half unit, or one whole unit, or three-halves units, and so on. The units are determined by a universal constant of nature known as Planck's constant, ubiquitous throughout the quantum realm. The particles that make up ordinary matter, such as electrons, protons, and neutrons, each possess one-half unit of spin; photons, or quanta of light, possesss one whole unit of spin.

In a further break from ordinary angular momentum, quantum spin can only be oriented in certain ways. A spin one-half particle, for example, can exist in only one of two states: either spin "up" or spin "down" with respect to a given direction in space. The two states become manifest when a stream of particles passes through a magnetic field: spin-up particles will be deflected upward, away from their previous direction of flight, while spin-down particles will be deflected downward. Choose some direction along which to align the magnets—say, the z-axis—and the spin of any electron will only ever be found to be up or down; no electron will ever be measured as three-quarters "up" along that direction. Now rotate the magnets, so that the magnetic field is pointing along some different direction. Send a new batch of electrons through; once again you will only find spin up or spin down along that new direction. For spin one-half particles like electrons, the spin along a given direction is always either +1 (up) or -1 (down), nothing in between. (Fig. 2.1.)

No matter which way the magnets are aligned, moreover, one-half of the incoming electrons will be deflected upward and one-half downward. In fact, you could replace the collecting screen (such as a photographic plate) downstream of the magnets with two Geiger counters, positioned where the spin-up and spin-down particles get deflected. Then tune down the intensity of the source so that only one particle gets shot out at a time. For any given run, only one Geiger counter will click: either the upper one (indicating passage of a spin-up particle) or the lower one (indicating spin-down). Each particle has a 50-50 chance of being measured as spin-up or spin-down; the sequence of clicks would be a random series of +1's (upper counter) and -1's (lower counter), averaging out over many runs to an equal number of clicks from each detector. Neither quantum theory nor any other scheme has yet produced a successful means of predicting in advance whether a given particle will be measured as spin-up or spin-down; only the probabilities for a large number of runs can be computed.

Bell realized that Bohm's variation of the EPR thought experiment, involving particles' spins, offered two main advantages over EPR's original version. First, the measurements always boiled down to either a +1 or a -1; no fuzzy continuum of values to worry about, as there would be when measuring position or momentum. Second, physicists had accumulated decades of experience building real machines that could manipulate and measure particles' spin; as far as thought experiments went, this one could be grounded on some well-earned confidence. And so Bell began to analyze the spin-based EPR arrangement. Because the particles emerged in a special way—spat out from a source that had zero spin before and after they were disgorged—the total spin of the two particles together likewise had to be zero. When measured along the same direction, therefore, their spins should always show perfect correlation: if A's spin were up then B's must be down, and vice versa. Back in the early days of quantum mechanics, Erwin Schrödinger had termed such perfect correlations "entanglement."

Bell demonstrated that a hidden-variables model that satisfied locality—in which the properties of A remained unaffected by what measurements were conducted on B—could easily reproduce the perfect correlation when A's and B's spins were measured along the same direction. At root, this meant imagining that each particle carried with it a definite value of spin along any given direction, even if most of those values remained hidden from view. The spin values were considered to be properties of the particles themselves; they existed independent of and prior to any effort to measure them, just as Einstein would have wished.

Next Bell considered other possible arrangements. One could choose to measure a particle's spin along any direction: the z-axis, the y-axis, or any angle in between. All one had to do was rotate the magnets between which the particle passed.  What if one measured A's spin along the z-axis and B's spin along some other direction? (Fig. 2.2.) Bell homed in on the expected correlations of spin measurements when shooting pairs of particles through the device, while the detectors on either side were oriented at various angles. He considered detectors that had two settings, or directions along which spin could be measured.

Using only a few lines of algebra, Bell proved that no local hidden variables theory could ever reproduce the same degree of correlations as one varied the angles between detectors. The result has come to be known as "Bell's theorem." Simply assuming that each particle carried a full set of definite values on its own, prior to measurement—even if most of those values remained hidden from view—necessarily clashed with quantum theory. Nonlocality was indeed endemic to quantum mechanics, Bell had shown: somehow, the outcome of the measurement on particle B depended on the measured outcome on particle A, even if the two particles were separated by huge distances at the time those measurements were made. Any effort to treat the particles (or measurements made upon them) as independent, subject only to local influences, necessarily led to different predictions than those of quantum mechanics. Here was what Bell had been groping for, on and off since his student days: some quantitative means of distinguishing Bohr's interpretation of quantum mechanics from other coherent, self-consistent possibilities. The problem—entanglement versus locality—was amenable to experimental test. In his bones he hoped locality would win.

In the years since Bell formulated his theorem, many physicists (Bell included) have tried to articulate what the violation of his inequality would mean, at a deep level, about the structure of the microworld. Most prosaically, entanglement suggests that on the smallest scales of matter, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Put another way: one could know everything there is to know about a quantum system (particles A + B), and yet know nothing definite about either piece separately. As one expert in the field has written, entangled quantum systems are not even "divisible by thought": our natural inclination to analyze systems into subsystems, and to build up knowledge of the whole from careful study of its parts, grinds to a halt in the quantum domain.

Physicists have gone to heroic lengths to translate quantum nonlocality into everyday terms. The literature is now full of stories about boxes that flash with red and green lights; disheveled physicists who stroll down the street with mismatched socks; clever Sherlock Holmes-inspired scenarios involving quantum robbers; even an elaborate tale of a baker, two long conveyor belts, and pairs of soufflés that may or may not rise. My favorite comes from a "quantum-mechanical engineer" at MIT, Seth Lloyd. Imagine twins, Lloyd instructs us, separated a great distance apart. One steps into a bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts just as her brother steps into a bar in Cambridge, England. Imagine further (and this may be the most difficult part) that neither twin has a cell phone or any other device with which to communicate back and forth. No matter what each bartender asks them, they will give opposite answers. "Beer or whiskey?"  The Massachusetts twin might respond either way, with equal likelihood; but no matter which choice she makes, her twin brother an ocean away will respond with the opposite choice. (It's not that either twin has a decided preference; after many trips to their respective bars, they each wind up ordering beer and whiskey equally often.) The bartenders could equally well have asked, "Bottled beer or draft?" or "Red wine or white?" Ask any question—even a question that no one had decided to ask until long after the twins had traveled far, far away from each other—and you will always receive polar opposite responses. Somehow one twin always "knows" how to answer, even though no information could have traveled between them, in just such a way as to ensure the long-distance correlation.

[from Chapter 3, pp. 43-48:]
John Clauser sat through his courses on quantum mechanics as a graduate student at Columbia University in the mid-1960s, wondering when they would tackle the big questions. Like John Bell, Clauser quickly learned to keep his mouth shut and pursue his interests on the side. He buried himself in the library, poring over the EPR paper and Bohm's articles on hidden variables. Then in 1967 he stumbled upon Bell's paper in Physics Physique Fizika. The journal's strange title had caught his eye, and while lazily leafing through the first bound volume he happened to notice Bell's article. Clauser, a budding experimentalist, realized that Bell's theorem could be amenable to real-world tests in a laboratory. Excited, he told his thesis advisor about his find, only to be rebuffed for wasting their time on such philosophical questions. Soon Clauser would be kicked out of some of the finest offices in physics, from Robert Serber's at Columbia to Richard Feynman's at Caltech. Bowing to these pressures, Clauser pursued a dissertation on a more acceptable topic—radio astronomy and astrophysics—but in the back of his mind he continued to puzzle through how Bell's inequality might be put to the test.

Before launching into an experiment himself, Clauser wrote to John Bell and David Bohm to double-check that he had not overlooked any prior experiments on Bell's theorem and quantum nonlocality. Both respondents wrote back immediately, thrilled at the notion that an honest-to-goodness experimentalist harbored any interest in the topic at all. As Bell later recalled, Clauser's letter from February 1969 was the first direct response Bell had received from any physicist regarding Bell's theorem—more than four years after Bell's article had been published. Bell encouraged the young experimenter: if by chance Clauser did manage to measure a deviation from the predictions of quantum theory, that would "shake the world!"

Encouraged by Bell's and Bohm's responses, Clauser realized that the first step would be to translate Bell's pristine algebra into expressions that might make contact with a real experiment. Bell had assumed for simplicity that detectors would have infinitesimally narrow windows or apertures through which particles could pass. But as Clauser knew well from his radio-astronomy work, apertures in the real world are always wider than a mathematical pinprick. Particles from a range of directions would be able to enter the detectors at either of their settings, a or a'. Same for detector efficiences. Bell had assumed that the spins of every pair of particles would be measured, every time a new pair was shot out from the source. But no laboratory detectors were ever 100% efficient; sometimes one or both particles of a pair would simply escape detection altogether. All these complications and more had to be tackled on paper, long before one bothered building a machine to test Bell's work. Clauser dug in and submitted a brief abstract on this work to the Bulletin of the American Physical Society, in anticipation of the Society's upcoming conference. The abstract appeared in print right before the spring 1969 meeting.

And then his telephone rang. Two hundred miles away, Abner Shimony had been chasing down the same series of thoughts. Shimony's unusual training—he held Ph.D.s in both philosophy and in physics, and taught in both departments at Boston University—primed him for a subject like Bell's theorem in a way that almost none of his American physics colleagues shared. He had already published several articles on other philosophical aspects of quantum theory, beginning in the early 1960s. Shimony had been tipped off about Bell's theorem back in 1964, when a colleague at nearby Brandeis University, where Bell had written up his paper, sent Shimony a preprint of Bell's work. Shimony was hardly won over right away. His first reaction: "Here's another kooky paper that's come out of the blue," as he put it recently. "I'd never heard of Bell. And it was badly typed, and it was on the old multigraph paper, with the blue ink that smeared. There were some arithmetical errors. I said, ‘What's going on here?'" Alternately bemused, puzzled, and intrigued, he read it over again and again. "The more I read it, the more brilliant it seemed. And I realized, ‘This is no kooky paper. This is something very great.'" He began scouring the literature to see if some previous experiments, conducted for different purposes, might already have inadvertently put Bell's theorem to the test. After intensive digging—he came to call this work "quantum archaeology"—he realized that, despite a few near misses, no existing data would do the trick. No experimentalist himself, he "put the whole thing on ice" until he could find a suitable partner.

A few years went by before a graduate student came knocking on Shimony's door. The student had just completed his qualifying exams and was scouting for a dissertation topic. Together they decided to mount a brand-new experiment to test Bell's theorem. Several months into their preparations, still far from a working experiment, Shimony spied Clauser's abstract in the Bulletin, and reached for the phone. They decided to meet at the upcoming American Physical Society meeting in Washington, D.C., where Clauser was scheduled to talk about his proposed experiment. There they hashed out a plan to join forces. A joint paper, Shimony felt, would no doubt be stronger than either of their separate efforts alone would be—the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts—and, on top of that, "it was the civilized way to handle the priority question." And so began a fruitful collaboration and a set of enduring friendships.

Clauser completed his dissertation not long after their meeting. He had some down time between handing in his thesis and the formal thesis defense, so he went up to Boston to work with Shimony and the (now two) graduate students whom Shimony had corralled onto the project. Together they derived a variation on Bell's theme: a new expression, more amenable to direct comparisons with laboratory data than Bell's had been. (Their equations concerned S, the particular combination of spin measurements examined in the previous chapter.) Even as his research began to hum, Clauser's employment prospects grew dim. He graduated just as the chasm between demand and supply for American physicists opened wide. He further hindered his chances by giving a few job talks on the subject of Bell's theorem. Clauser would later write with great passion that in those years, physicists who showed any interest in the foundations of quantum mechanics labored under a "stigma," as powerful and keenly felt as any wars of religion or McCarthy-like political purges.

Finally Berkeley's Charles Townes offered Clauser a postdoctoral position in astrophysics at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, on the strength of Clauser's dissertation on radio astronomy. Clauser, an avid sailer, planned to sail his boat from New York around the tip of Florida and into Galveston, Texas; then he would load the boat onto a truck and drive it to Los Angeles, before setting sail up the California coast to the San Francisco Bay Area. (A hurricane scuttled his plans; he and his boat got held up in Florida, and he wound up having to drive it clear across the country instead.) All the while, Clauser and Shimony hammered out their first joint article on Bell's theorem: each time Clauser sailed into a port along the East Coast, he would find a telephone and check in with Shimony, who had been working on a draft of their paper. Then Shimony would mail copies of the edited draft to every marina in the next city on Clauser's itinerary, "some of which I picked up," Clauser explained recently, "and some of which are probably still waiting there for all I know." Back and forth their edits flew, and by the time Clauser arrived in Berkeley in early August 1969, they had a draft ready to submit to the journal.

Things were slow at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory compared to the boom years, and budgets had already begun to shrink. Clauser managed to convince his faculty sponsor, Townes, that Bell's theorem might merit serious experimental study. Perhaps Townes, an inventor of the laser, was more receptive to Clauser's pitch than the others because Townes, too, had been told by the heavyweights of his era that his own novel idea flew in the face of quantum mechanics. Townes allowed Clauser to devote half his time to his pet project, not least because, as Clauser made clear, the experiments he envisioned would cost next to nothing. With the green light from Townes, Clauser began to scavenge spare parts from storage closets around the Berkeley lab—"I've gotten pretty good at dumpster diving," as he put it recently—and soon he had duct-taped together a contraption capable of measuring the correlated polarizations of pairs of photons. (Photons, like electrons, can exist in only one of two states; polarization, in this case, functions just like spin as far as Bell-type correlations are concerned.) In 1972, with the help of a graduate student loaned to him at Townes's urging, Clauser published the first experimental results on Bell's theorem. (Fig. 3.1.)

Despite Clauser's private hope that quantum mechanics would be toppled, he and his student found the quantum-mechanical predictions to be spot on. In the laboratory, much as on theorists' scratch pads, the microworld really did seem to be an entangled nest of nonlocality. He and his student had managed to conduct the world's first experimental test of Bell's theorem—today such a mainstay of frontier physics—and they demonstrated, with cold, hard data, that measurements of particle A really were more strongly correlated with measurements of particle B than any local mechanisms could accommodate. They had produced exactly the "spooky action at a distance" that Einstein had found so upsetting. Still, Clauser could find few physicists who seemed to care. He and his student published their results in the prestigious Physical Review Letters, and yet the year following their paper, global citations to Bell's theorem—still just a trickle—dropped by more than half. The world-class work did little to improve Clauser's job prospects, either. One department chair to whom Clauser had applied for a job doubted that Clauser's work on Bell's theorem counted as "real physics."

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