A truly weird thing that isn’t as useful as you might think.
Hey, did you know Mark Waid was physics minor in college? Well, you had to figure something was up, with all the science stuff he puts in his stories, whether it’s the lowdown on what Counter-Earth must really be like, or even a revisit on just how Mjolnir might work, in the current Avengers story, “No Surrender.”
The tidbits don’t always make perfect sense, but I can sympathize with that. College was a long time ago, and I don’t exactly use my geophysics degree on a daily basis. But as a skeptic, I have reason to know a little something about the concept Waid introduced in last week’s Avengers #681.
Quantum entanglement is a real thing, but it’s nowhere near as ubiquitous as depicted here. In fact, it’s really difficult to entangle two particles, and requires something like a fiber coupler or spontaneous parametric down-conversion, and who even knows what the hell that is?
Here’s the crazy thing, though — the faster than light part? Totally true.
When two particles or photons are entangled, that means their “quantum states” are linked. What that really means for what we’re talking about, is if you do something to one particle, the other particle has to fall in line, no matter how far away it is. “Spin,” for example, is a property of particles, measured in either the “up” or “down” direction. If two particles are entangled such that the system has zero spin, once you measure one particle as “up,” the other one immediately becomes “down,” even if it’s now on the other side of the universe.
This is the famed “spooky action at a distance,” and nobody knows how it can break such a fundamental rule of relativity, one of the most tested and successful theories in scientific history. Some people see opportunities in those uncertainties.
When it’s someone like Mark Waid finding wiggle room to explain Voyager’s teleportation powers in classic Stan Lee-like fashion, it’s not so bad. But in the real world, people have tried to use quantum entanglement as an excuse for things that don’t make physical sense, like psychic powers. Or worse, companies try to sell you shit that somehow uses entanglement to make you stronger, or in the famous case of The Secret, try to sell you a whole belief system based on “The Law of Attraction.”
And just like in the Silver Age, it’s to be expected. “Radiation” was Stan Lee’s culprit for everything, from spider bites to Hulk bombs to blinding toxic waste, because the concept was largely new and scary to the general public. No one really knew how it worked, so it could be used as an explanation for anything.
Now, with a microwave in every home and a cell phone in every pocket, those searching for wiggle room have moved on to quantum physics, which is genuinely counterintuitive and almost fundamentally, even to the people who study it, mind-boggling. Plenty of space to use sciencey-sounding language to make people believe what you want them to.
As long as it’s to further a fun story like “No Surrender,” then cool. But when someone tells you their product uses the power of quantum entanglement to make the bags under your eyes spin down, maybe it’s time to put the credit card away and use that dangerously radioactive cell phone to call the Better Business Bureau.