A jarring divide cleaves modern physics. On one side lies quantum theory, which portrays subatomic particles as probabilistic waves. On the other lies general relativity, Einstein’s theory that space and time can bend, causing gravity. For 90 years, physicists have sought a reconciliation, a more fundamental description of reality that encompasses both quantum mechanics and gravity. But the quest has run up against thorny paradoxes.
Hints are mounting that at least part of the problem lies with a principle at the center of quantum mechanics, an assumption about how the world works that seems so obvious it’s barely worth stating, much less questioning.
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