‘Terribly misleading’ piece on physics, ESP | Inquirer Opinion

‘Terribly misleading’ piece on physics, ESP

/ 12:02 AM July 14, 2014

As a Filipino physicist who brushes up on quantum physics on a day-to-day basis, I feel obliged to write a comment on Jaime Licauco’s article, “Quantum physics, Eastern mysticism and ESP” (Lifestyle, 6/3/14). While I am not hostile to what seems to be supernatural phenomena (ESP, remote viewing, etc.), I find the article terribly misleading.

In 1935, Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen (EPR) published a seminal paper, “Can Quantum Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?” This ignited further the debate on whether there is a reality independent of observation.


While reality is a commonly used word, it has acquired a special meaning in quantum physics. So let me summarize EPR to put things in context. EPR defined “elements of physical reality” thus: If the value of a physical quantity can be predicted with certainty without disturbing the system, then this physical quantity has a corresponding element of physical reality. In doing so, they assumed what is commonly called “realism”: that objects have inherent properties which you can predict with certainty. EPR also assumed “locality”: that events happening in one location cannot influence the outcome of events in another. Both “realism” and “locality” seem to be reasonable assumptions based on our everyday experience.

It is therefore surprising that with these assumptions, one is led to a contradiction with quantum physics (in particular, a contradiction with the uncertainty principle), which states that there are properties that cannot both be known with certainty. If the conclusion is wrong, then one of the assumptions must be wrong. However, both “realism” and “locality” make so much sense that it is difficult to drop either of them.


Of course, it could also be that quantum physics is wrong, in which case one must look for alternatives to avoid the contradiction.

One of the alternatives is a “local hidden variable theory” (LHVT), which respects both “locality” and “realism.” In 1964, a physicist, John Bell, proved a theorem which sets out to test LHVTs. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this theorem, which after almost 30 years, put the discussions ensuing from EPR into the realm of experiments. So far, the results of the various experiments all over the world point to the conclusion that LHVTs are wrong. It seems that we can find in nature objects (the so-called entangled states), which are “unreal” or nonlocal or both. This much we know. I agree, quantum physics does overturn our notion of reality (and space and time too!), but to say that quantum physics provides an explanation for ESP is taking it too far.

I am writing this piece from Vienna, where a conference marking the 50th anniversary of Bell’s theorem, attended by leading physicists in the field (Zeilinger, Aspect, Clauser, etc.) has just been concluded. Did we discuss anything about ESP or eastern mysticism? Certainly no, we didn’t.


School of Physics and Astronomy,

University of Glasgow, United Kingdom

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