arti;cial one. You cannot think about reality without admitting
that it’s information you are handling. So we need a new concept
that encompasses the two. We are not there yet.
Have any philosophers picked up on the conceptual
implications of your research?
I have a program where I invite philosophers to see what goes
on in the lab, because it changes your intuition. A great majority of philosophers are realists, though sometimes naive realists. I often ask them, “Why are you so realistic? If you analyze
your fundamental notions you might conclude that these things
are more counterintuitive than you think.” Often the answer is,
“Yes, but I want to describe reality.” And then I say, “I also want
to describe reality, but why are you not satis;ed with describing
the reality of the observations? Why do you want a hidden reality that exists independent of the observation?” And I don’t get
What is the most fascinating new scientific question you see
looming on the horizon?
To me the most interesting question is, how do we get to the next
theory? I ;nd it extremely unlikely that quantum mechanics will
not be superseded some day by a deeper theory, because why not?
So far in the history of physics we have always found something
deeper. ;at deeper thing is usually more counterintuitive than
what we had before and takes awhile to get used to. Just compare relativity theory [which postulates that time is relative and
depends on the observer] to Newtonian space-time. ;is is part
of the motivation for our experiments. We want to peel out in as
much detail as possible what the conceptual issues are.
As a person who has spent a life with quantum mechanics,
do you think you have a deeper sense of the absurd?
It could very well be. I’ve noticed that I’m less surprised by unexpected developments than many other people. I seem to take
the unpredictability of things as more natural than many other
people. When young people join my group, you can see them tapping around in the dark and not ;nding their way intuitively. But
then after some time, two or three months, they get in step and
they get this intuitive understanding of quantum mechanics, and
it’s actually quite interesting to observe. It’s like learning to ride a
bike. Sure, there’s a lot of interesting physics behind it. But practical experience works too. It’s the same in doing quantum experiments. People learn how to play with the stu;.
You have spent time with the Dalai Lama and have taught him
the fundamentals of quantum mechanics. What was that like?
Is he a good student?
He has a very clear scienti;c mind. He’s very analytic, very precise. I explained the superposition principle and entanglement
and the randomness of measurement events, and he always
asked the right questions. I invited him to visit a laboratory in
Innsbruck, which has ion traps for individual atoms, and you can
usually look at an atom there. I wanted to show this to the Dalai
Lama because he didn’t believe in atoms. And interestingly, when
he came it didn’t work.
In the history of
physics we have always
deeper. That deeper
thing is usually
than what we had
before and takes awhile
to get used to.”
The Buddhism practiced by the Dalai Lama embraces an
unbroken chain of cause and effect. How did he respond
when you explained the random nature of quantum events?
;is was something he didn’t like. He said, “You have to look closely,
you have to ;nd the cause.” And then he said something interesting:
“If this is really true and you can convince us, then we have to change
our teaching.” ;at is a ;exibility which not every religion has.
Doesn’t that bother you, too? Don’t you find the random
nature of the quantum world a little disturbing?
Not at all. I ;nd a reality where not everything is prede;ned much
more comforting because it’s an open world. It’s much richer. To
me, the most convincing indication of the existence of a world
independent of us is the randomness of the individual quantum
event. It is something that we cannot in;uence. We have no power
over it. ;ere is no way to fully understand it. It just is.
You have said that children should be introduced to quantum
phenomena at an early age. Why?
Our brains develop according to the mental activities that we engage
in intensely. If you present children with the basics of quantum
mechanics, there is opportunity for the development of a di;erent perception of reality. ;e question is whether we want to take the responsibility of putting somebody, an individual, on a di;erent track than
everybody else. Will that person be happy or unhappy in later life?
Do you think you are happier because of your understanding
of quantum mechanics?
I am happier, sure. I consider myself very, very privileged to be
working on these questions.