How weird is quantum?

Quantum mechanics is an undoubtedly weird branch of physics -- waves behave like particles, particles can be in two places at the same time, and can instantly exchange information over great distances.

As such, it’s often invoked by miscellaneous cranks as a possible underlying mechanism for all sorts of pseudoscience, from homeopathy to crystal healing.

But one respected physicist also thinks that developments linking quantum mechanics with information theory and computing may eventually lead to an understanding of telepathy and psychokinesis.

Brian Josephson, winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize for Physics for his prediction of the effect now named after him, has written favourably of the results of a US government experiment into psychic communication.

The study involved attempting to “mentally transmit” one of four images to another person, who would then pick from those four options that which most closely matched his/her perception.

While the participants would expect to get the right answer a quarter of the time by random chance, they were actually correct more often -- a third of the time.

Josephson and University of California statistics professor Jessica Utts write that because the sample size is small, this deviation is actually more likely to be statistically significant than a similar deviation from a larger sample.

There is not, as yet, any known way in which the human brain could harness the unusual properties of quantum mechanics to produce these paranormal phenomena, and the notion has attracted criticism from other physicists.

But there are many instances within quantum mechanics in which information appears to be transmitted instantly at a distance -- notably in quantum entanglement and the EPR paradox.

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