One aspect of ‘reality’ where the mind’s eye leads us astray is quantum worldviews. Quantum physics describes subatomic particles, but it’s contentious whether it goes much larger: microbes, cats, quantum physicists? People often look for analogies that seem to encompass consciousness, ecology and non-Western worldviews. I’ve found these attractive ever since reading Gary Zukav’s Dancing Wu Li Masters, though my physics degree then cautioned me to think inside the box. Part of the appeal? The quantum language — ‘duality’, ‘entanglement’, ‘many-worlds’, ‘non-locality’ — and the science’s radical forms of uncertainty appeal to the abstract mind and visual imagination: the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat-in-the-box, alive-and-dead-at-the-same-time (‘superposition’, not superstition), until the instant the curious observer opens its box and the cat becomes one-or-the-other. But visual imagination cannot go there, and the words don’t mean what they do in everyday talk.
A new thought experiment clarifies what’s at stake in rival interpretations of what quantum physics says is real. It’s worth getting through the confusing middle to the end. Einstein famously hated the standard interpretation’s ‘anti-realism’. The alternatives are just as troubling. At least one expert “is holding out for something new. ‘I think the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics is none of the above’.”