Einstein’s Birkenstocks

Sometimes nature is just amazing. Physicists at the University of Oxford have been studying bird navigation and have discovered that the system seems to exploit quantum entanglement. It has been postulated for some time that quantum entanglement also played a role in photosynthesis, but no one really understands that either.

Quantum entanglement is an annoying implication of the Laws of Quantum Mechanics. So annoying in fact, that Einstein was famously quoted as saying that he expected future mathematicians to show that quantum entanglement was the wrong conclusion, and further, that if quantum entanglement turned out to be correct that he would rather be a cobbler than a physicist.

Einstein also coined the phrase associated with quantum entanglement, “spooky action at a distance”. That’s not a bad description. Entanglement involves two (or more) particles that have have a relationship, often caused by the splitting of another particle. These entangled particles then act as a system, regardless of their distance apart. That is, if the charge or spin on one particle is altered, the entangled particle’s properties will be changed as well, regardless of the distance between the particles. The mechanism for this instantaneous communication is a mystery. But it has been scientifically observed, so it does seem to be real.

In principle, it’s possible that exploiting this principle could enable rapid communication across vast distances. Even to distant stars. Although, if that turns out to be true it would revolutionize our understanding of relativity. And by that I mean stand it on its ear. Which brings us back to Einstein’s Shoe Emporium.

Not to fear, we are a long long way from even understanding what’s really going on here, much less exploiting it. However, the discovery that the principle is used in nature takes it from being an oddball mathematical construct or a weirdness in a particle accelerator, and brings it into a light where we might actually be able to study it.

Very cool. It also means that someday, being called a bird brain would be a very high compliment indeed.

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