The (Quantum) Birds and Bees
February 11, 2011 Leave a comment
Quantum science is hard for most people to wrap their head around (me included). What I gather from my limited knowledge is that uncertainty reigns, a lot of it is very weird, and it involves lots of big maths to do it. Also, it deals with really, really, really tiny things. As in the tiniest.
One thing I did not expect is that animals might be interacting with quantum mechanics. And they might be doing it better than our best scientific equipment. For example, that European robin in the picture above might be able to ‘see’ the Earth’s magnetic fields via quantum entanglement. Tiny particles in the bird’s eye react to photons, moving electrons to higher energy levels. This movement creates tiny magnetic fields that the bird is able to use to sense the Earth’s magnetic fields. And it does all this 20 percent better than the best laboratory equipment we have.
While the possibility of quantum birds is still being studied, it is being suggested that another animal could have an even more profound interaction with quantum mechanics. No, it’s not Schrödinger’s cat, but buzzing little bees. There is the remote possibility you recognize the picture above as something more than vaguely looking like a coffee bean. That is one of the two dance patterns that bees use to communicate the location of nectar to the rest of their hive. The dance language is extremely intricate and capable of communicating complex locations. Scientists have studied it for years, but have yet to find an explanation for how bees with brains the size of pin heads are capable knowing and using such a nuanced language? Well in line with the topic of this post, the secret may lie in quantum mechanics. For an extremely detailed and interesting read, you should head over to this website, but here’s the gist of it: that strange-looking coffee bean dance is eerily similar if not a downright match for what happens when you take a six-dimensional object and draw it in two dimensions. This particular 6D object is important for understanding quarks (a building block of particles and something very important to quantum mechanics). Variances in the objects 2D version correspond to particular changes in the 6D version, changes that match the very nuances of the bees dance language. The implications of the bees dance matching up with a mathematical equation important to quantum mechanics is that bees are somehow able to perceive changes in the quantum world.
But here’s where this goes from harmless theory to paradigm shifting: nothing, not even our best equipment, is supposed to be able to do that. When ever we observe the quantum something like a quark or an electron, our instruments actually change its state. These particles exist in a ‘quantum field’ where at any one time they effectively exist in all places that they could possibly exist. When our instrument tries to find its position in space at one moment in time we are disrupting the quantum field and changing its state, thus disrupting its true nature. But if bees are able to perceive the quantum world without disrupting it, then parts of quantum theory might possibly have to be entirely re-written.
All of this talk of quantum animals is in its early, theoretical state. But its certainly making a lot more quantum physicists talk about the birds and the bees.