The fundamental problem with Quantum Mechanics is that it was never intended to be permanent. It was a quick-fix solution to a seemingly unsolvable situation. It was a mathematical cure for a real-life pain. Which, in-and-of-itself, is no call for concern. If it works use it, right? Thing is, we humans need to understand WHY something works. We are not satisfied with mere results. In fact, when it comes to most things we actually tend to be more interested in the why than the how. The only reason you are probably even reading this article is not because you want to learn ways to use Quantum Mechanics. It's because you want to understand what Quantum Mechanics is all about. Even our concept of justice is based on this. The amount of punishment meted is based more on the intention behind the crime than the manner in which the crime was actually committed. Which is fine.
Except when it comes to Quantum Mechanics.
As time moved on and it became ever more apparent that Quantum Mechanics was here to stay, people began demanding an explanation for the math. These elegant and simple formulas - without which MRI's, lasers, digital cameras, solar cells, and countless other inventions would not exist - needed to be understood. But reality wouldn't cooperate. Transposing the equations into words led to impossible results. Things were in two places at the same time. Nothing existed until we looked at it. And even then, once things were real, what they were and where they were was completely random. Which may sound innocuous but actually implied that physics was a game of dice, to paraphrase Einstein. Which, in turn, implied science was a speculative art and not the rigorous discipline it proclaimed itself to be.
The main culprit for this was the photon. It seemed to behave like a wave when we weren't looking at it and like a particle when we were. Remember, the math was fine. The troublesome part was that the only way to seemingly explain the math meant accepting the incredibly uncomfortable idea that this tiny thing somehow knew when we were paying it attention and when we weren't. I won't even begin to get into the avalanche of WTF's this little snowball of an explanation started. In the end, everything boiled down to one preposterous conclusion - since the world is made of particles everything was everywhere existing in all its possible versions of itself until something else came along and said hello. And only then would this cloud of multiple realities become "one real thing".
This explanation was eventually given the title of the Copenhagen Interpretation. Simply stated, things existed in a state of SUPERIMPOSITION - like a wave - until something observed it at which point it COLLAPSED into a finite point-specific object - like a particle - and, as unsettling as this was, scientists were more than willing to accept it since it meant they could get back to playing with math. *
A few decades later grad student Hugh Everett decided it was fine time someone addressed the elephant in the room. He proposed that the seemingly magical transformation of waves into particles was an illusion created by our minds. Waves didn't collapse. Particles didn't suddenly come into existence because we observed them. What was really going on was that everything which could possibly happen was actually happening - including our singular perception of these events. In other words, at every moment in time you are doing everything you could possibly be doing but each version of you has branched off into parallel existences carrying with it the concept of the singular self. So Quantum Mechanics wasn't weird, it was simply misunderstood. We were the problem. Our small puny minds didn't allow us to exist in a state of superimposition. The ability to perceive all options simply wasn't an option. Dubbed the "Many Worlds" theory and as Isaac Asimov Jose Luis Borges Cheech and Chong as this idea was and, even though it took a few decades before it was invited to any of the fancy parties, it eventually took root.
The geniuses were still restless. There had to be a better explanation. And in 1970 a new approach was presented which, to this day, is considered the best of those available. It is the concept known as decoherence. In my honest opinion, if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck it is a duck. And decoherence had a waddle and a quack a heck of a lot like the Copenhagen Interpretation. What it proposed was that it didn't take a person - an actual sentient being - looking at something for that something to become something. Even a nudge from the smallest of particles was enough to collapse a superimposition. AKA Quantum Mechanics WAS weird but not in such a personal mind-bending way as originally thought.
That being said, as long as Quantum Mechanics continues to need wild suppositions to explain why it is what it is it will continue to be a fundamentally insane - albeit phenomenally useful - branch of science which no one will ever be able to truly understand.
* Ironically, the Kings of Quantum, the perpetrators of all this trouble were the only ones who absolutely abhorred the whole mess they created. The most famous protest being the thought-experiment nick-named Schrödinger’s Cats which essentially proclaimed that accepting the Copenhagen Interpretation meant accepting that anything, in this case a cat, could be alive and dead at the same time.
Born in Malta to the son of a diplomat, Harry spent his life traveling from one side of the world to the other. After attending Brown University and Oxford where his studies primarily focused on philosophy with a slight bend towards science, Harry lived in Geneva working as a researcher then an assistant professor and later as an advisor to the U.N. Although Harry's primary job for the past few years is as an Attaché at D.N.T.'s Asian branch, he spends a lot of his time consulting for fiction writers on Marxism, Existentialism, and post-Newtonian physics. Harry now divides his time between Asia and his family home on Cape Cod.