What is the fundamental nature of reality? Philosophers have been debating this question for well over two thousand years. They still are. In Spooky Action at a Distance, George Musser draws a direct line between the speculations of early Greek philosophers and those of modern thinkers. They’re tackling the same kinds of fundamental questions: What is essentially real? What is emergent? What is perception? Take them out of their lab coats and put them in togas, and the advocates of loop quantum gravity, string theory (in its various forms), quantum graphity (sic), the S-matrix, and others, bear a striking resemblance to a bunch of debating Epicureans, Stoics, Skeptics, and Pythagoreans.
The title, Spooky Action at a Distance, refers to a strange property that seems to allow one subatomic particle to be instantly affected by another subatomic particle with which it has been ‘entangled’, no matter how far apart they may be. Imagine two billiard balls. After a brief meeting, you roll them away from one another. When they reach opposite ends of the pool table, you spin one clockwise. The other immediately spins to match. It’s as if they’re linked, as if the the space between them doesn’t really exist. So, maybe it doesn’t; not the way we normally think of it, anyway. Of course this doesn’t really apply to big things like billiard balls because the strange effects seem to cancel out at large scales, but the effect is real, and it leads to questions about the nature of time, matter, and pretty much everything else.
We call investigators of reality ‘physicists’ now rather than ‘philosophers’. The biggest difference seems to be whether or not they use esoteric equations to help them out. In that sense, this book is probably more philosophy than science, which is not a bad thing. It’s implied that a lot of complicated math lies behind modern ideas, but Musser kindly refrains from exposing us to it.
But a brilliant mind is still a brilliant mind by any name, and they are looking for answers. What they all seem to agree on is that space and time, and pretty much everything we think of as ‘reality’, can’t be quite what they appear to be. Not fundamentally, anyway. There’s a deeper reality behind our familiar apparent reality. They’re just not sure what it is, and from how it sounds, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. The questions aren’t easy. The answers aren’t obvious, but the current speculations are fascinating, mind-bending. It may take another two thousand years before we (or maybe our robotic successors?) finally figure it all out. Maybe we never will, but it’s important to try. There’s no chance at all of finding answers if we don’t ask questions.