From Scientific American:
Paul Kwiat asks his volunteers to sit inside a small, dark room. As their eyes adjust to the lack of light, each volunteer props his or her head on a chin rest — as you would at an optometrist’s — and gazes with one eye at a dim red cross. On either side of the cross is an optical fiber, positioned to pipe a single photon of light at either the left or the right side of a volunteer’s eye.
Even as he verifies the human eye’s ability to detect single photons, Kwiat, an experimental quantum physicist at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and his colleagues are setting their sights higher: to use human vision to probe the very foundations of quantum mechanics, according to a paper they submitted to the preprint server arXiv on June 21.
Rather than simply sending single photons toward a volunteer’s eye through either the left or the right fiber, the idea is to send photons in a quantum superposition of effectively traversing both fibers at once. Will humans see any difference? According to standard quantum mechanics, they will not — but such a test has never been done. If Kwiat’s team produces conclusive results showing otherwise, it would question our current understanding of the quantum world, opening the door to alternative theories that argue for a dramatically different view of nature in which reality exists regardless of observations or observers, cutting against the grain of how quantum mechanics is interpreted today. “It could possibly be evidence that something’s going on beyond standard quantum mechanics,” says Rebecca Holmes, Kwiat’s former student who designed the equipment, and who is now a researcher at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Whether people can actually see a single photon, which requires the rod signal to propagate through the rest of the noisy visual system and be perceived in the brain, has been the subject of research for nearly 100 years. Early experiments hinted that people could see just a few photons, but classical light sources are poor tools for answering these questions. Single-photon sources have opened up a new area of vision research, providing the best evidence yet that humans can indeed see single photons, and could even be used to test quantum effects through the visual system.
Human technology had to catch up with the design of the human eye. Earlier, “classical light sources” weren’t up to the task of preforming a test like this. The idea that this spectacular design, the eye, is in fact an example of “botched” work by an unguided material process has been advanced by Richard Dawkins, Nathans Lents, and many others. As Professor Lents has written, “The human eye is a well-tread [sic] example of how evolution can produce a clunky design.” Jonathan Wells responded here most recently to this seemingly un-killable evolutionary zombie.
Now Paul Kwiat’s team of researchers want to use the human eye to confirm, or disconfirm, “our current understanding of the quantum world.” Nothing less. It would seem to be obvious that any instrument capable of doing something like that represents a very special design. That they would even consider performing this experiment reduces the “clunky design” argument, at least regarding human vision, to a new level of ludicrousness.
But it doesn’t matter. To the zombie masters, it never does. In Jonathan Wells’s definition, that is what a science zombie does. No matter what the evidence might be that you throw at it, it keeps coming back from the grave.
Photo credit: Free-Photos, via Pixabay.