Your Guide to the Many Meanings of Quantum Mechanics

The question “What is real?” is inescapable if you study quantum mechanics.Photo illustration by Nikk / Flickr

Quantum mechanics is more than a century old, but physicists still fight over what it means. Most of the hand wringing and knuckle cracking in their debates goes back to an assumption known as “realism.” This is the idea that science describes something—which we call “reality”—external to us, and to science. It’s a mode of thinking that comes to us naturally. It agrees well with our experience that the universe doesn’t seem to care what theories we have about it. Scientific history also shows that as empirical knowledge increases, we tend to converge on a shared explanation. This certainly suggests that science is somehow closing in on “the truth” about “how things really are.”

Alas, realism is ultimately a philosophical position that itself

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