Can You Freeze A Quantum System By Observing It?


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Can You Freeze A Quantum System By Observing It?

Can You Freeze A Quantum System By Observing It?

“A moving arrow is at rest.” This is obviously a nonsensical contradiction. But Zeno, a Greek philosopher famous for his metaphysical trolling, devised a paradox whose conclusion is just this. Here’s how it goes: if you look at an arrow flying through the air at any instantaneous snapshot in time, the arrow doesn’t travel any distance. If time is composed of an infinite number of these snapshots, and the arrow doesn’t move in any of them, then the arrow is at rest during the entirety of its flight. The moving arrow is at rest.

In fact, if we’re talking about a quantum arrow, there may be a way to freeze its motion simply by looking at it, through the aptly named quantum Zeno effect. The quantum Zeno effect predicts that certain quantum events – like the electrons moving between atomic energy levels, or the decay of atomic nuclei, can be frozen through the simple act of observation. I’m going to tell you about some very real experiments that claim to have demonstrated this phenomenon. But first, let’s see if the quantum Zeno effect can save us from being shot by a quantum arrow.


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