Everyone knows that Star Wars is nothing more than a (brilliant) allegory of the Gospel and the Restoration. Luke is Joseph Smith, Yoda is Peter, the Force is obviously the priesthood, and so on. With this understanding, I learned a lot as a child about how spiritual things work, including the important fact that you can use the priesthood to control things with just your mind.
Naturally, this is also how God does his work. Miracles, answers to prayers, revelations, and all other heavenly manifestations are instantaneously and immaterially transmitted from the mind of God directly to his children in need. God, bodily present at some physical location, wills something to occur, and millions of lightyears away, a mountain moves, or a voice is heard, or a prayer is answered. This is what I learned from Star Wars.
I should be careful not to poke too much fun at either Star Wars or God’s miracles, since both are actually quite important to me, but the tiniest bit of creativity is enough to realize that there are much richer and more impressive ways that God could choose to bring about miraculous occurrences other than just thinking something in his mind.
He can use his divine foresight to set natural processes in motion millions of years in advance of a desired outcome, or he can utilize the complex sociological forces of an interconnected world to cause one person to be the answer to another’s prayer, or maybe he just organized such a perfect and efficient system that it takes care of itself without any further interference from him. Surely these possibilities are more in line with rational thought. And yet, part of me still clings to the idea that God can control things with his mind and nothing more, that he actually does use the Force to accomplish his divine purposes. At the very least, I want to believe.
Fortunately for me, quantum mechanics gives us at least a glimmer of hope that Jedi mind tricks could be part of our divine potential. I am, of course, referring to quantum entanglement, one of the weirdest and coolest consequences of quantum mechanics. Forgive me if this is already common knowledge for everyone, but I will give a very brief explanation of quantum entanglement.
In classical mechanics, i.e. the Newtonian take on the laws of nature, the condition or state of an object is described most succinctly by specifying its precise position and momentum. If these quantities are known, then the future behavior of the object can in principle be predicted exactly. Of course, this is not actually possible, since classical mechanics succeeds only in approximating what actually happens as governed by quantum mechanics. From quantum mechanics, we know that the position and momentum of an object can never be simultaneously specified with perfect precision—this is the famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle—so the state of that object is instead described by a mathematical entity known as a wave function, which is used to determine the probability that the object has a certain position, momentum, or other physical quantity of interest. If you were to complain that quantum mechanics is not a very good theory since it cannot even determine the exact position and momentum of the objects it is trying to describe, then you would be missing the point. It’s not that we just don’t know how to measure the position and the momentum; it’s that a quantum mechanical object (i.e., everything) simply does not have a definite position and momentum.
One clarification is in order. Something weird happens when you try to measure some property (position, momentum, energy, etc) of a quantum object—when it interacts with your measuring device, it nearly instantaneously “chooses” a value of the property of interest according to the probability dictated by the original wave function. This is somewhat inaccurately called “wave function collapse,” since the wave function, which originally may have allowed a wide range of different values of the property, has now collapsed around a single value (or at least a very narrow distribution of values).
Getting back to the point, quantum entanglement is when two or more quantum objects interact in such a way that they can no longer be described by individual wave functions, rather they must be described by a single joint wave function containing all possible information about all of them together. In a sense, the interaction that gives rise to entanglement causes the previously distinct objects to meld into a single entity.
As a simple example, consider two photons, one with “spin up” and the other with “spin down.” Here, spin refers to a quantum mechanical property related to the polarization of the light waves. Let’s suppose they are made to interact such that their spins become entangled. Now, instead of each photon having a distinct spin, both photons are simultaneously both spin up and spin down. More precisely, they are both described by a single wave function which is the superposition of the two original spin states. Say we allow the two photons, still entangled, to travel in opposite directions for a long time, maybe two years (but it could be as long as you want). We very carefully cleared paths through space for them so that nothing would disturb them and thereby destroy the entanglement. After two years, they are four lightyears apart from each other—roughly the distance from Earth to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri. Now for the real kicker: if you grab one of the photons and measure its spin, then the wave function collapses and the photon is forced to pick a spin state, either up or down— let’s say up. Then, at that very same moment, the other photon four lightyears away is instantaneously forced to become spin down. This is truly an instantaneous process, and it happens without any medium connecting the two photons. There you have it—an influence exerted instantaneously and immaterially across vast regions of space. It’s just like the Force, and just like how I used to imagine God works.
This sounds almost too good to be true. With instantaneous communication across arbitrarily large separations and the ability to transmit a force or influence without any medium, the possibilities are endless. Alas, it is too good to be true. Here’s the catch: when you measure the spin of the first photon, you have no way of controlling or even knowing whether or not it will turn out to be spin up or spin down—both outcomes are equally probable. Therefore, you cannot control what the result on the other end will be, so you have no way of using this procedure as a means of communication. Einstein’s sacrosanct law of special relativity that no communication can travel faster than light remains intact, and we remain without a way to control events from afar with an instantaneous and immaterial force. Quantum mechanics gets us so close but still leaves us so far away.
Of course, we reach this conclusion only if we accept that quantum mechanics is the whole story. Einstein himself was actually the most famous doubter of quantum mechanics during its discovery and development, and he spent much of his life searching (fruitlessly) for so-called “hidden variables” that would show quantum mechanics to be an incomplete picture of reality. Today, however, there is almost universal agreement that Einstein was wrong about the hidden variables and we must simply accept the startling ambiguities inherent in quantum mechanics. Every now and then an interesting paper contesting this will pop up, but very little serious research is being conducted in this field. On the other hand, quantum mechanics (and the Standard Model it produced) most certainly is not the whole picture, since it fails to successfully incorporate gravity into its framework, but the ways in which it is incomplete do not seem to be especially promising for the possibility of getting our Jedi mind tricks to work.
So why did I waste your time with all of this stuff about quantum entanglement if it doesn’t even work? Well, quantum entanglement is not completely useless—after all, it forms the basis for quantum computing, which will almost certainly revolutionize the world at some point—and moreover, entanglement provides insight into the bizarre nonlocality and striking instantaneity permitted by quantum mechanics that may very well end up being useful for understanding how God does his work. And more generally, quantum entanglement is yet another beautiful demonstration of how science carries with it a stunning variety of phenomena that give us meaningful or at least entertaining new ways to revisit our religious beliefs and traditions, even if the loose ends are not coming together quite yet. There are many great and important things yet to be revealed…