“I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” So quipped the late, great physicist Richard Feynman in the 1960s — and his words feel just as fresh today. The quantum mechanical explanation of how the universe works at the atomic level offends intuition. Schrodinger’s cat, the unfortunate moggie trapped in a box with a radioactive atom whose unpredictable decay will release poisonous gas, is both dead and alive until we open the box to look. A particle has no definite position until we measure it, its precise location neither here nor there, but a tangle of probabilities. Hang on. Looking, measuring — do our actions really make the difference? Isn’t that poor feline either dead or alive before we open the box? Surely the world behaves independently of our perception of it? Albert Einstein thought so: he championed realism, in which the universe can be understood and described without regard to our interactions with it. His nemesis was the Danish physicist and ...

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