In the summer of 1935, the physicists Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger engaged in a rich, multifaceted and sometimes fretful correspondence about the implications of the new theory of quantum mechanics.
The focus of their worry was what Schrödinger later dubbed entanglement: the inability to describe two quantum systems or particles independently, after they have interacted.
Until his death, Einstein remained convinced that entanglement showed how quantum mechanics was incomplete. Schrödinger thought that entanglement was the defining feature of the new physics, but this didn’t mean that he accepted it lightly.
“I know of course how the hocus pocus works mathematically,” he wrote to Einstein on 13 July 1935. “But I do not like such a theory.”
Schrödinger’s famous cat, suspended between life and death, first appeared in these letters, a byproduct of the struggle to articulate what bothered the pair.
The problem is that entanglement violates how the world ought to work. Information can’t travel faster than the speed of light, for one.
But in a 1935 paper, Einstein and his co-authors showed how entanglement leads to what’s now called quantum nonlocality, the eerie link that appears to exist between entangled particles.
If two quantum systems meet and then separate, even across a distance of thousands of lightyears, it becomes impossible to measure the features of one system (such as its position, momentum and polarity) without instantly steering the other into a corresponding state.
Up to today, most experiments have tested entanglement over spatial gaps.
The assumption is that the ‘nonlocal’ part of quantum nonlocality refers to the entanglement of properties across space. But what if entanglement also occurs across time? Is there such a thing as temporal nonlocality?
The answer, as it turns out, is yes.
Just when you thought quantum mechanics couldn’t get any weirder, a team of physicists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reported in 2013 that they had successfully entangled photons that never coexisted.
Previous experiments involving a technique called ‘entanglement swapping’ had already showed quantum correlations across time, by delaying the measurement of one of the coexisting entangled particles; but Eli Megidish and his collaborators were the first to show entanglement between photons whose lifespans did not overlap at all.