For the better part of a century, attempts to explain what was really going on in the quantum world seemed doomed to failure. But recent technological advances have made the question both practical and urgent. A brilliantly imaginative group of physicists at Oxford University have risen to the challenge. This is their story.
At long last, there is a sensible way to think about quantum mechanics. The new view abolishes the need to believe in randomness, long-range spooky forces, or conscious observers with mysterious powers to collapse cats into a state of life or death. But the new understanding comes at a price: we must accept that we live in a multiverse wherein countless versions of reality unfold side-by-side. The philosophical and personal consequences of this state of affairs are awe-inspiring.
The new interpretation has allowed imaginative physicists to conceive of wonderful new technologies: measuring devices that effectively share information between worlds and computers that can borrow the power of other worlds to perform calculations. Step by step, the problems initially associated with the original many-worlds formulation have been addressed and answered so that a clear but startling new picture has emerged.
Just as Copenhagen was the centre of quantum discussion a lifetime ago, so Oxford has been the epicenter of the modern debate, with such figures as Roger Penrose and Anton Zeilinger fighting for single-world views, and David Deutsch, Lev Vaidman and a host of others for many-worlds.
An independent physicist living in Oxford, Colin Bruce has occupied a ringside seat to the debate. In his capable hands, we understand why the initially fantastic sounding many-worlds view is not only a useful way to look at things, but logically compelling. Parallel worlds are as real as the distant galaxies detected by the Hubble Space Telescope, even though the evidence for their existence may consist only of a few photons.