If anyone is the Kissinger of quantum physics, striving to forge peace in the century-old dispute over the meaning of the quantum, it is Howard Wiseman. A theoretical physicist at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, Wiseman thinks the debate hasn’t been resolved because it can’t be, given our present state of knowledge. Only when physicists develop a unified theory will they grasp where quantum physics stands in the grand scheme of things. In the meantime, the antagonists should call a truce by acknowledging that they’re making equally defensible assumptions. They should stop complaining the other side is just being thick-headed.



I interviewed Wiseman in October at the Emergent Quantum Mechanics conference in Vienna. In this video, he boils the debate down to a schism between realists and operationalists, who clash not just on quantum theory but on the goals of science. (Each of those groups, in turn, is a fractious bunch.) Realists think quantum physics is nonlocal; operationalists don’t. But they’re reading different meanings into the word “nonlocal.”


Wiseman himself has worked on everything from atom lasers to spooky action at a distance involving a single particle, as opposed to the pairs and trios that usually figure in quantum experiments. The solo-particle version hews closely to Einstein’s original thinking on the phenomenon, as I discuss in Chapter 3 of my book and in this animation. Wiseman has also sought (in this paper and that) to set the historical record straight about the Einstein-Bohr debate and has put forward a new interpretation of quantum mechanics that seeks to combine the best features of existing approaches.